Punk as fuck meets Orchester – Jeff Rosenstock im Interview

Jeff Rosenstock über sein neues Album WORRY., das Einkommen mit seinem Pay What You Want-Label, seine Songs als Arrangements mit Orchester und seine Produzenten-Rolle bei der Smith Street Band.
Wieviel verdient Jeff Rosenstock mit seinem Pay What You Want-Label Quote/Unquote Records? Wird er seine eigentlich Orchester-tauglichen Songs immer in minimaler Gitarre-Bass-Schlagzeug-Besetzung spielen? Und wie klingt das neue Album der Smith Street Band, das er derzeit produziert? Wir unterhielten uns mit dem DIY-Punk pünktlich zum Release seines neuen Albums WORRY.

Jeff Rosenstock im Interview

Hi Jeff, i just gave WORRY. the first couple of listens. My impression: While the lyrics on „We Cool“ had a big focus on your own emotions and state of mind, the new songs cover a little more your observations of society. How did it feel to sing so openly about your depression? Did it help dealing with it?
Jeff Rosenstock: I’ve sang pretty openly about depression for most of my career as a musician. The big difference with „We Cool?“ was that SideOneDummy gave the record a farther reach which meant I ended up TALKING about depression a lot more to strangers, which I don’t particularly like doing – I’m not terribly articulate and tend to ramble when I talk but songwriting forces me to try and make a good point and get the fuck out of there.
That made me want to take a different approach to writing lyrics on this record. I wanted to write a record about love and I wanted it to feel real, not cliché, but there were a lot of „external forces“ that made that feel impossible. That eventually led this record to be more about the things in the outside world that try to get in the way of love and happiness, and whether or not it is possible to fight through that. Also, this is the first time I ever wrote lyrics for a record knowing it was gonna be on a bigger label, so I tried my best to take the opportunity to get punk as fuck.
In „Festival song“ and „To be a ghost“ you lash out on today’s music festival industry and the internet culture. What disturbs you about both? And how do you deal with it being a part of all of this yourself, as playing bigger live shows and reaching out to your fans over social media platforms are important factors for (especially DIY-) musicians.
Jeff Rosenstock: Plenty of things disturb me about both and again I think I’m better singing about it than talking about it. That said, it bums me out that there are less and less places where you can exist without being marketed to and sold something, and as time goes on the focus of that advertising is growing sharper so we kind of blur the essence of our human spirit and our existence as valued consumers.
Playing bigger shows isn’t that big of a deal – the shows we’re playing aren’t THAT MUCH bigger and unless you’re playing a rad DIY space or a squat you’re going to see fucking beer signs selling you a product everywhere. The social media thing is often stressful to me, but I try to remember that it’s not that way for everybody else and I do want to let people know about the music I’m making. I try to focus on the parts of it I like – cracking dumb jokes and communicating with fellow music listeners, and try to keep the peace of mind that my music is always free on Quote Unquote Records and no one has to buy anything if they don’t want.
You’ve been releasing your music on a „Pay What You Want“-basis longer than almost anybody else in the music industry. What percentage of downloaders leave money at „Quote/Unquote“? Is it this release ethic even close to being called a business model? Or does it hardly cover the bills of the server costs?
Jeff Rosenstock: People ask me this all the time and the truth is I don’t really look at the figures. I looked during the Bomb the Music Industry! record Scrambles, we made about $2,000 for 20,000 downloads in the first month or something which isn’t a lot of money to some people. But for me it was a record that cost $300 to make, and I knew a ton of people had heard it cause it was up there. At this point the donations go straight to the bands, so I REALLY don’t look. I don’t look because that’s not the fucking point. The point is, was and always will be sharing music I love that I’ve made or my friends have made to anyone who finds it.
Also my server costs like $3.99 a month, so I’m completely unconcerned in turning a profit.
To me your songwriting on We Cool & WORRY has a strong storytelling touch and the songs could easily be parts of a musical on stage with a „Pet Sounds-Wall of Sound“ instrumentation. Yet, your live performances are raw, loud and reduced. Last time I saw you live, you played as a trio with 1xguitar,1xbass,1xdrum. Has the thought of performing with strings, piano, horns and the whole shabang ever crossed your mind?
Jeff Rosenstock: Yeah, I’d love to but I haven’t figured out a way to make it happen financially yet. Our band is also a family, and I’ve always been cautious of bringing someone along just cause they play clarinet or whatever. It would be a dream to have a big ensemble doing something though, maybe I’ll be able to pull that off in new York some day. When it’s 3 – 5 of us we’re aware of all those other parts and figure out how we wanna handle it. Sometimes John doubles his bass through an octave pedal and guitar amp so I can shred and it’ll still sound heavy, I play a lot of keyboard stuff and Kevin plays a lot of sampler stuff. Then again sometimes if we feel like just bashing it out with the three of us with no extra shit, we’ll do that. It’s fun to have a different vibe based on how we’re feeling that day, it gives the live set more energy as opposed to doing the same shit, same set up, same songs, day in day out.
I think you’re again recording & producing the new Smith Street Band album, right? Do you have a different approach recording and producing your own stuff vs other people’s stuff? What do you like about the Smithies and their music? Can you give us some clues about their new material?
Jeff Rosenstock: When I’m working with other people, my job is to look out for the song. I want everyone in the band can focus on being stoked about what they’re doing and trust that I’m focused on the big picture. I think about recording experiences I’ve had and you can overthink things and get down on yourself. So I’m there to take that shit off everyone’s plates to an extent. I want fire and energy and joy. I love the bands I work with and I want to protect and fight for the intangible things I love about those bands.
Besides just being really good people and friends, I think Smith Street is one of the few new „punk“ bands I’ve liked in the last bunch of years. I like that everyone is always playing something interesting. I like that everyone’s parts have personality. I like that they want their songs to sound huge but are also not interested in faking it through grids and autotune. Punk, which is supposed to be this reckless artform, has been shackled to exact beats and pitches in the last decade or two and I think that fucking sucks. It makes punk boring, it makes it feel more like a case study. I love that they don’t wanna do that shit. I also think Wil’s voice and lyrics are unlike anyone else. He sings powerfully in his natural voice, which is not common in Australia where a lot of bands are taught to sing in American accents. He also writes very honest lyrics and isn’t afraid to paint himself in a negative light if it means being completely truthful. Their next record was tracked live, has mostly been on tape and is going to fucking kick ass.
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