You can finally stop hunting for those rare, out-of-print Mean Jeans 7-inches. Thatâ€™s because the Portland party punks having compiled all of those tracks in the form of Singles, a 20-track collection of early releases, compilation songs and other bits and pieces, which drops on Dirtnap Records on March 21, 2015.
And thatâ€™s not all the band has on the agenda â€“ theyâ€™re also headed to Europe this spring and are in the process of putting the finishing touches on a brand new album that weâ€™ll hopefully hear before the end of the year. With so much going on, Punknews editor Adam Eisenberg caught up with frontman Billy Jeans to discuss the new singles collection, the bandâ€™s humble beginnings and Mean Jeansâ€™ rocky professional relationship with JÃ¤germeister.
What can you tell us about the Mean Jeans singles collection?
Weâ€™ve got this singles collection coming out. The nature of a singles collection is that itâ€™s songs we recorded before, so the idea wasnâ€™t initially that crazy exciting to me, but itâ€™s been fun to unearth some old tracks. I guess I was kind of surprised that we had 20 songs that we put out on singles. We got this guy Josh Freydkis to do the artwork. Itâ€™s not always easy to identify an artist whoâ€™s on your level. It sucks when you ask someone to draw you a t-shirt or something and they put a lot of work into it and then they send it to you and you donâ€™t like it. Thatâ€™s something I always fear happening, but this guy Josh Freydkis who drew the singles collection artwork is definitely on our level. I think I threw out spiders, or something really stupid, like, â€œHow about some slugs and spiders and an arcade,â€ but he suggested, â€œWhat if itâ€™s a hole in a brick wall where youâ€™re walking down the street and you look into the hole and thereâ€™s like a Ninja Turtles Foot Clan-esque lair of weird creatures partying?â€ And I told him just to run with it. Iâ€™m refreshingly excited about putting that out.
And then youâ€™re off to Europe?
Yeah, weâ€™re going to get that released in time to go do a European tour. Itâ€™s been four years since weâ€™ve gone to Europe, so weâ€™re excited about that. Iâ€™m excited about the band weâ€™re touring with in Europe, who Iâ€™ve never met. A dude who was a fan of Mean Jeans gave me a cassette tape in Chicago of a band that he likes, not that heâ€™s associated with. Theyâ€™re called Nancy. Itâ€™s a two-piece, kind of Ramones-y but total rock â€˜n roll band. I asked them, Iâ€™ve never met them, but I asked them if they wanted to go to Europe with us, so in mid-March weâ€™re going to Europe with those dudes.
The singles collection is interesting in that it very effectively traces the evolution of the band from its earliest days until now. What do you think is the biggest difference for the band from the beginning to now?
Thatâ€™s a good question. Itâ€™s interesting to think about. Itâ€™s fun for me to look back and to recognize how little forethought is put into what youâ€™re doing, and thatâ€™s probably where the magic of a lot of good music comes from, and thatâ€™s something that you canâ€™t recreate anymore once youâ€™ve been playing music with the same dudes or putting out albums and now you know what youâ€™re supposed to do. You get the feeling youâ€™re supposed to go to a recording studio and youâ€™re supposed to record with someone who knows better than you do what youâ€™re supposed to doing, like with microphones and that kind of shit.
To trace it back â€“ I believe the singles collection is in chronological order â€“ to trace it back to the beginning, itâ€™s kind of hilarious and nostalgic for me at least, and hopefully hilarious to someone else, how amateur and juvenile some of the early Jeans is. We as people and musicians will always be amateur and juvenile in spite of our age, but itâ€™s like, the first 7-inch, which I hadnâ€™t really revisited in a while, those are four of the first songs we ever had, and were like, â€œWe should really record this stuff,â€ which we had no idea how to approach. So we used my ex-girlfriendâ€™s laptop, because she had one, and we opened up GarageBand and just put it in the corner of the room with the internal laptop microphone on and that is the 7-inch. Itâ€™s just Jeans Wilder and myself playing live into a laptop, then afterward doing the vocals just screaming into the laptop with no actual microphone.
To me itâ€™s funny because now, the self-consciousness of being in a band and doing it for years, you inherently want to improve on what youâ€™re doing, so we wouldnâ€™t find ourselves recording our new album on a laptop with no microphones, but I donâ€™t know that itâ€™s any better going to an actual studio. The approach has more self-awareness to it now, and I miss the stupidity of early Mean Jeans and not knowing how to approach being a band or putting out a release.
After we recorded those four songs, we put them on MySpace, and a record label called Rehab Records, which we had never heard of, they donâ€™t exist anymore, they wrote us an e-mail that said, â€œHey, weâ€™d like to put these songs out,â€ and we were like, â€œYou mean these shitty recordings that we did on my ex-girlfriendâ€™s laptop in the corner of the room?â€ and thatâ€™s kind of how we started being a band.
Late last year you toured with Kepi Ghoulie, playing a Mean Jeans set and also backing him on an all Groovie Ghoulies set. Howâ€™d that come together?
Mean Jeans all live together in a house with a guy named Jon Barron and the Groovie Ghoulies were often on the turntable in that house. To all of us itâ€™s just classic, good, party rock â€˜nâ€™ roll. Jon Barron organizes a festival called SMMR BMMR here in Portland, and I think he had booked Kepi Ghoulie and weâ€™re all fans of Kepi Ghoulieâ€™s music, and big fans of the Groovie Ghoulies, thereâ€™s a million records there and some of grew up on those. Part of his style is that he does solo shows and heâ€™s played with a bunch of different backing bands. Jon Barron suggested we meet Kepi and he was like, â€œWhat do you think of Mean Jeans backing you and playing all Groovie Ghoulies songs?â€ We had never met Kepi at the time, I think we met him the night before the festival and practiced once. He has an awesome attitude about it and heâ€™s always having a great time. He loves playing and he loves partying on stage. He just told us, â€œHey, pick any songs of mine, any Groovie Ghoulies songs you want. If you learn how to play them, Iâ€™ll play them with you.â€
It was a particularly great experience the first time and every other time that we wound up doing it, because itâ€™s our favorite Groovie Ghoulies songs. Itâ€™s just totally what we wanted to do. That was a one-off experiment and we played that set with him and a had a great time, and wound up doing that three more times. We did it at Fest in Florida, we did it in Seattleâ€¦ Then the idea came up of us touring together and doing a Mean Jeans set every night and also backing up Kepi. We love the dude and heâ€™s got his act together a lot more than we do as far as a tour. If itâ€™s left up to the Mean Jeans, itâ€™s not going to be a successful tour. Weâ€™re a bunch of fools, weâ€™re dumber when the three of are put together than we are individually. Having him there, a partier of a different breed than we are, who jumps at the opportunity to do it and is super fun â€“ usually when two bands tour with each other youâ€™ve got seven people in a van, a lot of different personalities, but this is two bands, four people and it was just nonstop rockinâ€™. The highlight of that tour, other than just spending time with Kepi, and throwing balloons every single nightâ€¦ When you go on tour with Kepi Ghoulie, part of what you have to do is blow up 70 or 80 balloons every night because he throws out balloons. Heâ€™s a balloon guy. The highlight was that CJ Ramone showed up at our show in Brooklyn. I think Kepi had met him once before and talked to him about playing a Ramones song with us on stage. We had never met the guy. We met him backstage and he got on stage and we did â€œSwallow My Prideâ€ together. He sang it. That was probably the highlight of the tour because it was a sold-out show and it was really fun.
Can we expect any new music from the Mean Jeans this year?
We are currently mixing a new album we recorded. I guess I havenâ€™t really shared that with anyone. We did a bit of thinking and talking, â€œSo what are we supposed to do for our new record?â€ This kind of relates to what I was saying about how when we first started recording songs, it was really natural, albeit juvenile. I found it really tedious that we were talking and discussing whatâ€™s the next step. So we all said, â€œFuck that, weâ€™re just going to record these new songs.â€ It was really natural. We donâ€™t know what weâ€™re doing with them, theyâ€™re not complete. There are 20 new songs that 90 percent exist, that will exist at some point in 2015. We just had to focus on making the songs as good as possible, making the recording sound as good as possible, and fleshing out this new material before figuring out what to do with it. Iâ€™m not saying we have a 20-song LP coming out or anything like that, we intentionally havenâ€™t figured that out yet, but we have a new record coming out soon, hopefully.
You recently tried to auction off a JÃ¤germeister guitar via social media. Howâ€™d you come to possess that guitar?
We made a music video for the song â€œAnybody Out There?â€ Apparently we featured a lot of JÃ¤germeister in this video. I had a bunch of people ask me if we were sponsored by JÃ¤germeister, or if that was product placement or if they paid for some of the video, when in reality I think we were just drinking a lot of JÃ¤germeister at the time. We had never had any contact with the company, we were just drinking JÃ¤ger Bombs nonstop at the time. Sometime after that we were contacted by JÃ¤germeister. I guess they sponsored a lot of bands â€“ I donâ€™t really know what that means. Means Jeans are not a sponsored band. They wound up sending a JÃ¤germeister guitar to my house, along with a bunch of other really silly stuff. It was already strung up, all-over print artwork of JÃ¤germeister, itâ€™s got fancy looking ivory JÃ¤germeister inlays on the fretboard. I found it hilarious that it showed up at my front door, because I donâ€™t actually know why it did.
They have a music division, or some shit like that. I was contacted by them, and in exchange for sending us this JÃ¤germeister paraphernalia, they wanted us to do A, B and C. I donâ€™t remember, but a bunch of tedious tasks that you will not find anybody in Mean Jeans doing. We did not hold up our end of the deal that wasnâ€™t designed by us. JÃ¤germeister sent Mean Jeans a bunch of JÃ¤ger bullshit that we didnâ€™t ask for. I guess they sent it with the expectation that we would do something to help promote JÃ¤germeister, which inadvertently I guess we had by drinking lots of it in a music video. That relationship disintegrated pretty quickly because we didnâ€™t do anything they wanted us to do.
As far as us getting rid of the guitar, I like the guitar. I always enjoyed looking at it, but Iâ€™m just personally in a place right now where I have way too much bullshit and Iâ€™m trying to get it rid of it. How many more days do I need to have this fucking JÃ¤germeister guitar at my house? Truthfully, it doesnâ€™t sound very good. Itâ€™s not a guitar Iâ€™m interested in playing, it was mostly just fun to have around. If somebody else wants it they can have it. Itâ€™s now on its way to the next rightful owner.