Punk prodigy and former Bomb the Music Industry! frontman Jeff Rosenstock will open for Modern Baseball Thursday, Nov. 5 at Saturn. He’s touring behind the release of his second solo album, We Cool?, and spoke on the phone prior to the show about his writing process and inspirations.
Weld: You have roots in the DIY scene, and you offer all your music for free online. Do people ever question your motives?
Jeff Rosenstock: I try to be pretty transparent about everything. I love DIY house shows and stuff like that. I didn’t really know about that [expletive] until I my early 20s. I guess it doesn’t sound that weird, but I was playing in bands when I was 16, and we were playing on tours, and I was playing small venues and small bars and stuff like that. And when that band broke up and Bomb The Music Industry! started, the free music thing — it seemed like people who wanted to book us were doing house shows. It was the place I felt most comfortable doing shows for sure. It was really low pressure, and everybody there was just hanging out, having fun. And, yeah, I love house shows. I love the idea of you just doing it in your house, you know?
Weld: Is performing on a stage in a venue becoming your comfort zone?
JR: It’s nice to have a shift. Like, macaroni and cheese is awesome, but if you eat macaroni and cheese every day for like 15 years, you’re going to feel like [expletive] and not like it anymore. Playing on a big stage is fun. You get to run around. I love jumping around and running when I’m playing, so that’s super fun. A lot of times in house shows, you’re cramped up. You can’t really move anywhere.
It feels more natural for me to be on a bigger area to be able to flail around and not worry about knocking someone’s teeth out with my guitar or something. I just like playing music. I think we do our best to keep it personal. It’s still the same thing we would do if we were in a basement, you know?
Weld: You have compared your sophomore solo album We Cool? to Bomb the Music Industry!’s final record, Vacation, in that they’re both fleshed-out, complete albums. How do you distinguish these albums from your earlier work, like Scrambles or To Leave or Die in Long Island?
JR: I don’t know what I was [expletive] talking about. I try to make the records all full records. Those are the records I liked when I was growing up. And not just in a Pet Sounds-y way. When I was a kid, hardcore records were just unstoppable. You take a Charles Bronson record. It doesn’t stop. They go, and there are samples in between stuff, and it just keeps going. Dillinger Four records were always like that. Against All Authority records were like that. I feel like the records I listened to a lot as a kid have this constant momentum to it. Most records are just song, song, song, song, and those records are really good, too. I’m just trying to write complete things. And it makes sense, because I’m writing them all at the same period of time, within a year or two of each other.
Weld: Do you find that complete, cohesive albums act as autobiographies?
JR: I think for me, it’s all pretty autobiographical, but I try to get out of that a little bit just because I know I do that, and I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I think whether or not you are literally saying, “This is what I’m doing,” or not, if you’re doing an album like that it’s going to say a lot about you. Even if you just look at the lyrics and you take just the tone or general vibe of the records without the lyrics, I think that says something about your personality at that period in your life, you know?
If you take the really early BTMI stuff — that [expletive] is manic and completely off the walls, and I feel like I’ve figured more [expletive] out since then, and that’s making a different sound now, but even without the lyrics if you listen to Goodbye Cool World, you’re like, “This guy is [expletive]… what the hell is going on, man?”
Weld: Both We Cool? And Vacation deviate a bit from your ska background.
JR: With Vacation, I didn’t want to put so many ska songs on it. I just always thought it was funny that no matter what when you’re in a ska band, or when you were in a ska band at any point, no matter what, somebody’s going to be, like, “Oh, it’s a ska record.” And I thought it would be funny to see if when Vacation came out people called it a ska album, and they did. I was like, “This is awesome. This is so funny. There’s not anything that’s even close [to ska] on that record!”I love ska, though.
Weld: The documentary Never Get Tired: The Bomb the Music Industry! Story was released in August and is currently in screenings. What has that process been like?
JR: It was weird to watch that movie in a room with 200 people including my parents. It’s a really personal story, and it’s a lot of stuff I don’t tend to talk about that much except when I’m doing interviews with people. I never felt it was something interesting that anybody wants to hear me go on and ramble about. So, I think that a lot of stuff in that movie watching it with friends was like, “Oh, so you’ve been doing a thing for the last 10 years. You haven’t just been [expletive] around with your life.”
Weld: Do you feel like you’ve just been messing around with your life?
JR: I mean… [Laughs] At times. I think everyone does at times. I feel good that people have liked the music that I’ve made. That’s really made me feel good about it, but it took me a long time to get to that place. For a long time it felt like, “What am I doing? I really, really, really need to get a job at this point.” It took me a while to be okay with trying to focus on recording other bands or producing other bands and doing graphic design, and having that be the whole thing because everything else in society is pointing you to— there’s a road that’s perceived to be the “correct” road, which is just, you know, you go to college, you major in something, get a job, move up the ladder in that, get married, have a kid. And that’s just not what I did.
So, when you see your buddies go down that path, it makes you go, “Oh [expletive], what am I doing? Why am I still stuck in this first stage, where like, I’m still in high school and I’m playing in a band?” It took me a while to get past that point. I don’t really feel that way anymore. After I’ve gotten past that, I just feel incredibly lucky that I get to be able to do what I have been doing, and I just try to savor it. I think in the Bomb days it was a little more stressful, and I think when Bomb started to stop and I wasn’t doing anything it gave me a lot of perspective on it.
Weld: Did something shift when Bomb stopped?
JR: Yeah, I think just going and having a job and not really doing it for a while… I tried to see if that world would work for me, and it didn’t really. But I think that accidentally starting this new thing and then Antarctico Vespucci came together. Now that I’ve realized that this is going to be something that will be really hard to stop doing even if it fails, I’m just trying to enjoy every second of it and not complain about sh*t that’s happening. Just trying to not feel like a [expetive]-up, like I’m [expletive] up my life by doing it. Everybody has a weird thing that they do, and this is the weird thing I’m doing.
Weld: It sounds like you found some validity, or you uncovered it. There has to be a part of you the whole time thinking, “You this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” Was there ever?
JR: Honestly, not really. I was working really hard in Bomb. I was booking all the shows and stuff. I think that when you are actually booking the shows and you’re the one not getting emails back to you (and I feel like I say this all the time), when you’re writing to a venue and they don’t write back to you, it’s like, “[Expletive] me. What am I doing? Why am I doing this?” And you feel like everything that’s happened is just because it was a fluke and it was luck and nothing’s ever going to be good again because you have this calendar and you’re trying to book a whole tour and you don’t have anyone to shield you from those blows — that like, “Hey, nobody gives a [expletive] about BTMI,” which is true.
I feel like I focused on that the entire time it was happening, which is okay, but also I feel like that was good at the time because it made me appreciate when good things happened. And then and now, it’s not any different — we play a show and 10 people show up and I’m like, “Oh, [expletive], 10 people are here? This is rad! We’re in the middle of nowhere in, like, Eureka, California, and there are 20 people at our show. This is crazy! 20 people are here! I can’t believe 20 people are here to see my band.”
Weld: Does writing songs come easily to you when you’re feeling good, or when you’re bummed out?
JR: Writing lyrics comes easier to me when I’m bummed out, but the songs and the melodies and all the music and stuff, I think usually that comes to when I’m in a good mood. It comes and it’s a weird thing and it’s like, “Okay, I’ve got this song in my head. I’d better hurry up and try to get it down.” I’ll record it into my phone or at home and see where it takes me because it just pops in there somehow sometimes. Which I’ve now learned is a weird thing that most people don’t experience. And I don’t know if that’s generally good mood or bad mood stuff. I think it’s generally good mood.
I think the better songs musically come out of good times. But the lyrics are always trying to get something out that’s just driving me crazy in my head and then getting it and feeling a little better about it because, I don’t know, it’s not in there anymore, or because it feels good that it’s not in there anymore, and then I feel really lucky that I’ve found a productive outlet for mental illness, you know?
Weld: Do you have experience with mental illness?
JR: I haven’t been to a doctor since I was 20 or 21, and I was on things, and I saw a bunch of friends on stuff and it wasn’t working out well for them. So at a certain point, around when I met my current wife, I decided that I was going to try and get off all this stuff, and I managed to do that and I haven’t been to a doctor since.
I think about it sometimes, but I’m not really sure what to do about it. That’s a big question. Probably something I need to get to one of these days when I’m not terrified of how it will turn out, you know? I definitely feel really lucky that not only do I have a positive outlet, but that it apparently means something to other people and helps other people get through it. That’s [expletive] huge for me. Without Operation Ivy when I was a kid and Green Day, I would’ve gone berserk.
Jeff Rosenstock will perform at Saturn on Thursday, Nov. 5. Modern Baseball, PUP and Tiny Moving Parts will also perform. Doors open at 7 p.m., while the show begins at 7:30. Tickets start at $14.