Jeff Rosenstock is the singer/songwriter for Bomb the Music Industry! and was the singer/songwriter for The Arrogant Sons of Bitches (1995 - 2004). Both these bands’ songs are free via Quote Unquote Records ("The First Ever Donation Based Record Label"), a label Jeff founded that has released something like 60 albums, including Small Loud by Very Okay, which, according to my last.fm, is my most listened-to album of the past few months. My junior year of college I listened to "Future 86" on repeat and if I listen to it now I feel different almost immediately; there's probably five to ten songs by BTMI! and TASOB that have that effect, which I like, on me. I used to listen to TASOB songs off this Purevolume page while at work in NYU's library, inputting things into a computer. I didn’t know that Jeff also went to NYU (one year ahead of me, I think) until after we'd both graduated.
VICE: What do your parents do, exactly, when they come to your shows?
Jeff Rosenstock: They pretty much just stand and watch and talk to my buddies, who they know pretty well at this point. My mom, however, does her best to embarrass me. I've gotten used to it at this point, and I know it's just her way of being a mom, but maaaaan, when I was a kid I was NOT having it. Specifically, my old band played a show with World/Inferno Friendship Society (who at the time were not only my favorite band, but kind of inspired me to continue playing music) and my mom had gone to the show ’cause it was a town over from where my parents live. After the show, I was talking to Jack and trying to play it cool or whatever and my mom came up to me and started tucking train schedules into my pocket and saying "Look, I don't want you to get sick. Just take a cab home from the train station." Jack was obviously and naturally not impressed.
Do they ever sing or scream your lyrics?
I would be pretty embarrassed if they screamed my lyrics. Not in a "my parents are sooooo annoying" way but more in a "oh, fuck, my parents read my diary" way. Even though it's pretty naive of me to think that they haven't listened to any of the lyrics. Whenever they say, "You know that song of yours where the words are etc. etc. etc." a little piece of Comfortably Creative Artist Jeff dies.
What music videos do you like? What thoughts do you have about music videos in terms of Bomb The Music Industry!?
I really like the video for The Thermals' "Pillar of Salt." It's very fun, very simple and seems like it was cheap to make. I also generally love any video Michel Gondry makes 'cause I like those handmade special effects. We've had a handful of thoughts for Bomb the Music Industry! videos, but it seems like they never get off the ground. There was gonna be a video for "493 Ruth" that, thinking back on it, was pretty much that Thermals video meets the White Stripes "Hardest Button to Button" video. I had an idea for "Slumlord" that involved my TV, computer, etc. disappearing from my apartment, but instead of being stolen (as I suspected) they were actually planning a surprise party for me. Laura had an idea for "Struggler" that involved a lot of cartoon bluebirds and me shooting them. The only video we do have, it had almost nothing to do with us. Bryan Schlam and some other folks put a lot of work into reserving equipment, testing shots, storyboarding, etc. We just showed up in LA and said "What do we do? Also, we're drunk!"
I like the "Slumlord" idea. What chance is there of a video being made, do you think? Do you just feel more focused on the music, or doing other things, or would it cost a lot of money or something?
That shit costs a lot of money, and I suppose I don't really know how to do it well. I'm actually a pretty decent editing power horse, but I really like sprawling, beautiful, pretty shots, and I just don't have the equipment or know enough about colorization to make that shit happen. Any videos I've ever made have seemed shaky. When it comes to recording, I think the aesthetic I like is a lot easier to accomplish with smaller means. I'd love to learn how to make budget music videos, but I'm already investing in too many other budget forms of art.
What changes, if any, have you noticed in your lyrics, from Arrogant Sons of Bitches to now?
If we're talking early ASOB, well, there's definitely some embarrassing language peppered throughout all those songs. There's a certain kind of insensitive/ignorant heartbreak that you can really only express that way when you're 15, but as you meet other people in the world, you realize less hateful way to say things--or maybe just hateful in a different way. A deeper way. Also, I think the end of ASOB and beginning of Bomb the Music Industry! was a lot of "the world is against me" kind of stuff, and I just don't feel that way anymore, so that may be more noticeable in the lyrics. I feel more like the world is against everybody, but if you don't get hung up on that you can meet some nice friends.
I like how the lyrics to "Sort of Like Being Pumped" and "493 Ruth" make me think about our "limited time." I feel emotional listening to those songs, focusing on the lyrics. When you write your lyrics do you think of other people's lyrics that you like, and maybe want to reproduce the effect they have on you?
Yeah, man. Lyrics fucking destroy me sometimes. More recently I've had friends who have just been writing shit that has knocked me on my ass. Specifically the line in Good Luck’s "How To Live Here": "If sometimes living doesn't terrify you / And love doesn't pulverize you" gets to me every time. Sean from Andrew Jackson Jihad seems to be a master at writing stuff like that, where an entire verse can be insanely powerful and then there's just one line that puts it even further over the top. "We fuck holes in the earth, we fuck everybody else and we fuck because we are lonely?"…. Honestly, I'm just trying my best to not sound like a whiny, dumb asshole most of the times. Lyrics have always been so huge and life-changing for me, that it's really an honor (despite how cliché that must sound) when anyone says that my lyrics have had an impact on them.
In high school I had thoughts about punk music, such as, "Epitaph is like Sega, Fat Wreck is like Nintendo." I also equated Asian Man Records with Nintendo, I think. I thought that Hot Water Music's drummer was "holding back," like I wanted him to just "go crazy" with polyrhythms and jazz-type things, but he mostly wouldn't. Sometimes he would. What kinds of things did, you think?
When Let's Face It by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones came out I thought it was total bullshit that Dicky Barrett wasn't screaming anymore, and that record wasn't any good at all. Eventually I got used to it and liked it. I hated industrial music because unless it had real drums, it wasn't rock and roll. I remember thinking that Offspring were really punk, but Green Day were posers. I read RIP magazine a lot and had two letters published. I had a 'zine, and Epitaph and Fearless were the only labels that really sent me any CDs to listen to. Thus, I developed a strong love for bands like Down By Law, Whitekaps, Gas Huffer, The Joykiller, 30 Foot Fall, and Bigwig. Fat Wreck only sent me a cassette tape of Me First and The Gimme Gimmes' Have a Ball, which my mom really liked. I interviewed Karl Alvarez from the Descendents asking him why they went soft on Everything Sucks, without ever actually hearing the Descendents. My buddy wrote the questions and was afraid to ask them. I remember he referenced the song "Suburban Home" and asked me if I knew it. I said no and he was like, "Uh... it's a pretty popular song of ours."
Why do you think ska has this thing around it, like it isn't "cool"? I've always liked ska, but almost every person I meet now seems to view it as strongly "not good" or something. What insight do you have into this?
Maybe it's the world's way to continue to pick on the high school band kids post-high school. I have no insight into this except that it sucks and it's totally stupid. I try to ignore it, but we're obviously in the thick of it. Any amount of slow songs we have don't make us a "waltz" band or a "piano rock" band, but put a minute and a half of ska on a record and you're a ska/punk band. At the same time, I like ska; I always have, and fuck all those jerks. What do they think is cool, The Knife? Hercules and the Love Affair? That shit is way shittier than ska.
What jobs have you had in the past few years?
I currently drive a truck around delivering fake trees, large obelisks, and other props for high-profile photo shoots. It's strange to walk into a Duane Reade, see the cover of Vanity Fair, and think, "Oh yeah, I remember that wooden duck on wheels." I also work at Brooklyn Brew Shop, which makes beer-making kits for small apartments. My duties there consist of bagging hops, wrapping thermometers, and shredding nutmeg. I ordered a $50 whiskey on the tab at one of those companies' staff parties.
If you were making enough money from your music and record label to not have a job, would you not have a job? Or do you like having a job, for stability or something?
I like working and I like being a busy guy. If I had enough money from my music and my record label that I wouldn't have to worry about rent, food, utilities, and bills, and could put some money aside for when I'm old and dying, then yeah, I probably wouldn't be out hustling for work. But unless I found something to do and things to build and create throughout the day, I would go crazy. I think that goes back to the ethics that were instilled in me by positive 80s hardcore--I like to work on shit.