Jeff Rosenstock and his computer started Bomb the Music Industry! after his previous outfit, the Arrogant Sons of Bitches, called it quits. Since then, BTMI has become a nationally renounced touring act, Jeff has founded the first donation-based record label in Quote Unquote Records, and the focus of that first BTMI song has retired from the White House. Gene Axton recently talked to the BTMI frontman about The Fest 8, managing a record label, and more.
Editors note: This interview was conducted well before the Fest, but fell back in the queue.
Once again, punks will be making the October trek to Florida for The Fest 8, and Bomb The Music Industry will be playing another festival date. What has been the best festival to be a part of, performing or otherwise?
The Fest is always really awesome, but I gotta say that playing Harvest of Hope this past year was probably the most fun I've ever had playing a festival. Everyone had to camp out, which made for a lot of chillin' amongst the bands. We got to hang out with Bridge and Tunnel, Cheap Girls, Less Than Jake, O Pioneers, Good Luck and countless other buddies we don't usually see all weekend. All the concert-goers who were stay camped out and their campground looked like some Lord of the Flies shit. There were fires everywhere, no regard for the safety of anyone. It was awesome. I think the best part though was that we got to play with bands we usually wouldn't get the chance to, like KRS-One, Mountain Goats, Kool Keith performing as Dr. Octagon. John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats actually parked next to us and we were totally geeking out. Eventually I worked up the courage to say "hey" to him, and after a few minutes of talking we were drinking beers and champagne by our van with him and his wife talking about Propagandhi b-sides. I think that's the most we've ever felt like a real rock band.
The Fest brings people together because of their mutual music interest, but much more happens away from the stages and crowds. Whatâ??s your favorite story from Halloween in Gainesville?
Last year we (Quote Unquote Records) made foolishly challenged The Max Levine Ensemble, Delay and other Big Record Label folks to a game of kickball. Less Than Jake was in town the night before and Bouncing Souls played only stuff from their first two records, so needless to say we were pretty hung over in the morning. Our team consisted of Bomb the Music Industry!, Cheap Girls and Rick Johnson Rock and Roll Machine. I almost misdirected Cheeky from their house show to the kickball game. I'm really glad we weren't playing for money. Half of our team was drunk at 11 in the morning, our catcher was drinking tallboys throughout the entire game, Ian from Cheap Girls had a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other hand and was batting away fly balls. At some point a group of wandering anarchists joined our team and they were getting really mad at how shitty we were. When it was all done, they wouldn't line up to shake hands because they're anarchists!
Who are you most looking forward to watching perform this year at The Fest?
I was really excited when they announced 7 Seconds, as they are one of the most influential bands in my life. When I heard Snuff announced though, I lost my shit. One of my first punk rock memories was taking the train to New York City to see Snuff with Less Than Jake, All and Discount. After weeks of convincing my folks to let me go, convincing my friends to go with me and two hours or so of travel I found out that the show was sold out. I remember leaving thinking "Man, Less Than Jake totally sold out. This is bullshit" 'cause you know when you're fifteen it's Less Than Jake's fault that you can't get into their show. Anyway, I've had the chance to see every other band but I don't think Snuff had ever been back here. I still listen to those Snuff records constantly, and I can't believe I'm actually gonna get the chance to see them!
Quote Unquote records was an extremely innovative idea, and years later is still going strong. Now that the label is established and has found some success, what do you see in Quote Unquoteâ??s future?
I think Quote Unquote Records is just going to keep doing what it's doing. One of the strange things about it is that it really isn't that unique an idea anymore, so I'm always conflicted whether it should end at some point, serving more as a time capsule of this era of our buddies and punk rock. I've thought about stopping it at twenty-five releases, then forty, then fifty… it keeps getting further away. By this fall we will have put out new music by Barnaby Jones, The Brass, Hard Girls, Kudrow and The Taxpayers… maybe even more. I guess to me it's exciting that all of us and our buddies are still making music that we care about, and if that ever stops then we'll see what happens with the label. It's simple enough that as long as the music's good, nothing has to change. Also, if it stops it's easy enough for all of us to keep putting up our music somewhere else, just decentralized.
What do you look for in an artist when considering them for Quote Unquote?
When considering an artist for Quote Unquote, it usually helps for us to have been friends for a really long time. I saw the Riot Before in a basement and asked if I could put their record out, I saw The Wild twice and once I saw all the stuff they were doing with their non-profit space the Wonderroot I thought it would make sense for us to do stuff together. Other than that, all the bands have known each other for years and years and years and for the most part it's people who are making music that really doesn't fit into any category straight on. I like that Quote Unquote is a punk rock label, but we've only put out two or three traditional punk rock records. If artists we don't know are ever looking to put something out on Quote Unquote I usually just let them know how easy it is to do it themselves and tell them how I do it. That seems better than being like "FUCK YOU! YOU CAN'T PUT OUT SHIT CAUSE I DON'T KNOW YA!!!! HA HA HA!"
Quote Unquote has, at this point, put out a good number of releases from bands other than Bomb The Music Industry. Which ones stick out in your mind as your favorites?
I had known Kate Wadkins since we were fifteen years old, and when she played me Choke on a Cheeseburger I thought it was so so so fuckin' good… it's really rad to even be a small part of a record that I like that much. Conversely, Shinobu has also been one of my favorite bands since before we met or toured together or anything but when I first heard Strange Spring Air, it really didn't hit me that hard. I can't stop listening to it now though. Those are two records on Quote Unquote that I still listen to a lot. The first two Pegasuses EP's are also some of my favorites.
You still release BTMI records via Quote Unquote, but also put out physical releases on CD and vinyl through labels like Suburban Home and Asian Man. What prompted your decision to go through other labels for physical releases, and what label did you enjoy working with the most?
I had kind of known Mike Park for a little bit and he knew what I was doing with Quote Unquote Records and I heard he thought it was cool, so I wrote him an e-mail to see if he wanted to put out our record. I pretty much figured he wouldn't respond but he did and thus began Bomb the Music Industry!'s long dance with commerce and hypocrisy. We were also spending money on recording for the first time ever with Get Warmer too, so it made sense to see if they'd like to put it out. We were gonna ask them and No Idea and if they both said no, we were gonna just put it out ourselves again. We're pretty lucky that Asian Man said yeah. I consider everyone who has put out a Bomb the Music Industry! record a very close friend at this point, which rules 'cause I always thought that a label meant someone steals money from you as you try to get signed to a bigger label. Everyone who has put out our records has been excited about them, so I guess that's all we could really hope for. It still feels totally weird to sell records though.
Sporadic time signatures, horns, acoustic guitars, drum machines, and more all come together in BTMI to form an extremely unique listening experience that doesnâ??t abide by genre rules but keeps true to itâ??s roots. Do you feel that the current punk and ska scene is too set in itâ??s ways?
It's never been a matter of "Let's break down some fuckin' boundaries, maaaan." All other bands I had been in had set instrumentation… for example, The Arrogant Sons of Bitches had two guitars, a bass, drums, keyboards, trombone, saxophone and vocals. Writing songs, I had to make sure that all those instruments would always have at least something to play. So once it was just me writing and recording songs in my bedroom to make no one else happy but me I could say "Okay, this song only needs an acoustic guitar and a drum machine," or "Fuck it, let's have five guitars, two organs, a piano, three synthesizers, two basses, horns and a thousand people singing," and everything else in between. I think the current punk and ska scenes are pretty diverse when you think about it. When I was growing up it seemed like the range of punk rock went from Green Day to The Casualties, and those two bands aren't terribly different. These days people think of Defiance, Ohio and Fucked Up as punk rock bands. People think of The Slackers and Fatter Than Albert as ska bands. There are definitely a lot people taking interesting risks.
On the new album, Scrambles, you tackle issues such as the punk sceneâ??s counterproductive sense of superiority (Â«Shut Up The Punx!!!Â») and the lost, inadequate feelings of a recent college graduate (Â«25!Â»). What turned out to be your favorite song on the record?
I really like "Fresh Attitude, Young Body", "Saddr Weirdr" and "$2,400,000." The lyrics for all three of those were written pretty quickly, demoed immediately after lyrics were written and didn't change all that much from the demos… "Saddr Weirdr" even kept a lot of the same recorded instrumentation and vocals from the demo which was recorded almost right after it was written. "25!" was like that too. I tend to be happier with songs that I don't have to spend a ton of time fixing shitty lyrics for, songs where it just feels like "FUCK! AHHHHHH! I'M FREAKING OUT I HAVE TO STOP THIS SOMEHOW!!!!!" Scrambles is funny like that, because I think overall it's definitely the most negative album I've written since the last ASOB record but it's also the one that me and other people have been the happiest with. "$2,400,000" is especially fun because it's a lot of stuff we've never done anything close to at all, it's really long and slow and people either really love it or fucking hate it. On this last tour when an audience had been particularly drunk, obnoxious and annoying (talking really loud in the front during the quiet parts of the Cans set, asking for ASOB songs, etc), we'd open up with that and bum everyone out. That's how we have fun.
For the last two records, BTMI has recorded and toured as a more cohesive unit. Has that changed the writing process at all?
Actually, it hasn't really changed that much. Just about everyone who did stuff on Get Warmer were Georgia folks who stayed down there when I moved back up, and aside from Matt Kurz were pretty tentative members. We hadn't really developed as the ten or eleven real, full band members until the tour we did with the Slackers and at that point a significant amount of Scrambles had already been written and demoed. Even after all that I've done a lot of stuff on my own, recording and touring wise. It makes it less stressful with everyone's jobs to be able to come and go when they have to, and that was the original intent of this band. They in turn, have been totally cool about letting me do stuff on my own when I feel I need to do it. And it hopefully makes it so every show you go to is a uniquely shitty time instead of the same shitty time you had at the last five shows.
Being an artist who tours nationwide, Iâ??m willing to bet there are many opportunities to listen to music while in route to the next destination. What are some of your current and all time favorites to listen to? What are some other things you like to do to waste time while on the road?
As a band, we have all been listening to a lot of Good Luck and Andrew Jackson Jihad. As for me, I've been listening to a lot of 90's bands I had missed out on (Archers of Loaf, Superchunk), good ska/punk records (The Suicide Machines, The Chinkees) and turn-of-the-century emo (The Promise Ring, The Get Up Kids.) But to be honest, a lot of the times we try to put on music that we don't actually like, and that most people couldn't possibly like. The first time Matt toured with us he just didn't understand why we were trying to find the worst songs on whoever's iPod. The pinnacle of this was John and Mike listening to a five or six hour 311 bootleg set, that was performed on 3/11. It was 69 songs and had a song called "Juan Bond" on it which Nick Hexum said "sounds like kind of a Mexican James Bond." Now, I'll admit that I liked 311 a lot when I was in high school and that has recently transcended irony and nostalgia and has turned into a lot of 311 listening in the van, but "Juan Bond" is probably the worst song anyone's ever written. I highly suggest everyone try to find it. Also, at the end of "Daddy" by Korn, when Jonathan Davis starts crying and whimpering… we listen to that a lot. We used to listen to Disco Musical Stories a lot, which are Indian retellings of fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk done to modern American disco music. That shit is in every way fucking awesome. Sadly, there are always like ten of us on tour and there's always a good chance someone went to bed at six in the morning the night before, so we usually don't have much time to waste on the road.
Lastly, what message do you have for the people who are migrating to Gainesville to see BTMI during The Fest 8?
We recently went on Priceline and got a four-star hotel in New Orleans for like ten bucks more than a Motel 6 (I recommend all touring bands who are planning on staying at a shitty motel do this instead) on Bourbon Street. So with no responsibility and walking distance the most tourist-drunk-attractin' place in the world, we all got really really trashed. Some of us passed out naked sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor, some of us made out with total strangers, some of us went to the docks at five in the morning drinking beers… needless to say, we were all either really hungover or still very drunk in the morning. While waiting on a very long line for Po Boys, we decided that this year at the Fest, there would be no synthesizers, horns or basses. We decided that we're all going to play electric guitars, we're going to play one thirty minute long garage/blues song, trade off solos and make up the lyrics as we go along while shooting super soakers filled with malt liquor into the audience. None of us have spoken about The Fest since then.