The New Dimension of Mean Jeans

We’re not even half way though 2016 and Mean Jeans have already had quite the year. After a long stint on Dirtnap Records the band transitioned over to Fat Wreck Chords where they have already released the Nite Vison 7-inch and their new full-length Tight New Dimension , which was released on April 22, 2016. The band also went on the pretty extensive Hepatitis Bathtub Tour opening for NOFX and Direct Hit!. With so much going on with the band, news editor Ricky Frankel caught up with Billy Jeans, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, to talk about Mean Jeans’ eventful year thus far.

Photo Credit: John Leonard / Fat Wreck Chords

On the band’s Facebook page you label yourselves as “cool punk / dumb punk.” What do those labels mean to you guys?

There were two separate articles – I believe one was from Spin and I believe one was from the weekly paper in Oregon where we live. One described our music as “cool punk” and the other described it as “dumb punk.” So those are not genres or terms that we came up with ourselves, but in both cases we were amused. I don’t know if it was because the people writing them didn’t know what sub-genre they wanted to be using or if they’re just total clowns, but I like that in an age where there are a thousand sub-genres and silly-ass names for each of them, I like “cool punk” and “dumb punk” because they don't bring anything to mind. They don’t really mean anything and I thought that maybe it was cool that a journalist didn’t know how to describe our music. I think there might be quotations around “cool punk” and “dumb punk” wherever we wrote that. You know, we typed that into Facebook or whatever website once upon a time – not terms we walk around using, but they are references to articles where we were described as “dumb punk,” which is a great genre name as far as I’m concerned.

Do you think that there are any other bands that you think fall into those sub-genres?

Ooooh! Good question.

Thank you.

I doubt there’s anyone else who is claiming either of those genres. It's a little bit cocky to call yourself “cool punk,” but “dumb punk” I can think of a few “dumb punk” bands. I’ve always been a fan of stupid music in addition to lots of other stuff – Weird Al probably has some dumb punk songs, The Crumbs, The Queers, you know punk bands that just intentionally play dumb music. I love a bunch of that stuff.

Is there a story of how Mean Jeans signed to Fat Wreck Chords?

There is a very short story and I’ve been advised not to recommend this to any other bands, but we recorded our new album – we completed it and then we were like, “I wonder if any other bigger record labels would put this album out.” And we were all like, “Hell yeah! We should send it to some labels.” And then we couldn’t think of a single label that really made sense. I mean there are truly plenty out there that would have been like “ Oh cool! Yeah you have a bigger following or more people paying attention, or more clout” or whatever it may be.

We could only think of two record labels, which I think really just is representative of how stupid the three members of Mean Jeans are. But we thought of two record labels and one of them was Sub Pop Records and one of them was Fat Wreck Chords and we sent the album to and and said, “Do you want to put out our new album?” And someone at Sub Pop was like, “I will listen to this,” and that was the end of that and someone at Fat responded with, “Yeah we’ll put it out.”

Wait! You guys did… wait a minute! That is like the biggest long shot-way to get signed! That’s crazy!

Well it was so stupid that it worked. So who recorded Tight New Dimension? A guy named Andrew Schubert recorded it. We had songs. We wanted to record them. We talked to some friends about what the best options would be and we traditionally recorded it in Portland with a couple of different friends and we were like, “Let’s try something different.” We wanted to try something new and see what happens even if it's a failure rather than repeat the same thing. We got put in touch with Andrew Schubert who is in Los Angeles and he’s a lunatic and he recorded friend’s band’s record that I liked. And he had Mean Jeans tattoo. I had never met him, but given all that information I was like, “Alright, this will probably work.” So we went are recorded it. We paid for it and e did everything and when were done. We were like, “Oh, we never really thought about what we would do once we were done with this album.” We out last couple LP’s on Dirtnap Records and there was just a conversation where we were wondering there is someone else who would put this out – not out of any dissatisfaction with Dirtnap Records, who have a great relationship with and we love and respect – we were just wondering what else could happen. Roll the dice. See what other possibilities were out there. A fairly idiotic move to just send it at, but that was all we could come up with.

I know you guys were with Dirtnap Records for quite a while, was there a specific moment when the band knew it is time to move to another label? How did you know it was time?

No, there was not a moment like that. I think really everything that I just described is the full extent of thought put into any that. We had completed recording and we were like, “Oh shit! What are we going to do with this?” You know, I never even asked Dirtnap if they wanted to put out our next record. Our approach was let’s just make a sick record and don’t really think about what happens beyond that. So we just went into the studio, had fun with it and by the time it was done it was just sort of an after thought that we wondered if anyone with a bigger following would put this out.

I was at the Los Angeles show and it was my first time seeing you guys live, and what always strikes me is when a band has a drummer that sings. Your drummer Jeans Wilder sings lead in many songs, was that planned during the inception of Mean Jeans?

He and I started the band together in his mom’s basement. It was just us writing a couple of songs on guitar because both of us played guitar. I don’t know how to play the drums, he does. So we were like, “Let’s record these” and he played drums on those. We hadn’t really differentiated between who was singing what. It was kind of like whatever happened, happened. So he and I are the songwriters of the band. Yeah, there’s not too much intention behind who is singing what. And I don't think he banked on being the drummer of the band or that he necessarily wanted to be the drummer or that he necessarily WANTS to be the drummer of the band still. That’s just kind of the way the cookie crumbled. He’s brought up the idea in the past that maybe he should move to second guitar and we should get a different drummer, but then we never really figured that out. In addition to that, I don’t thin anyone really wants to start a band where they are the drummer and the lead singer because it’s kind of tough.

Yeah that’s hard. That’s like using five limbs!

Yeah. Maybe it’s not the best look either, but its really just what happens. I would say that Jean Wilder is a great drummer so I’m not dying to find another one and he’s a better singer than I am.

So that line up for The Hepatitis Bathtub Tour was great, especially at that show because Bad Cop/Bad Cop opened for you guys. I’m sure something crazy happened “behind the scenes,” but is there any specific outrageous or funny story that happened while on tour with NOFX and Direct Hit!?

No one has asked me that question yet. The whole thing was hilarious and fun. NOFX definitely has made it a priority to have fun on tour. That’s part of the identity of the band and that is very much the identity of the Mean Jeans. We don’t really do anything unless it is going to be really fun. We spent the night at Fat Mike’s punk house in Las Vegas. I didn’t know him prior to the tour or know that much about him really, other than that he does NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords. He does have a punk house, which is not where he lives and it was a hilarious evening that I won’t share all the details of, but it’s badass that Mike has a place that is really just for guests and partying. It’s got little bunk beds for bands. It has a vending machine that is just for beer. It has a putting green, a pool, a hot tub, and a waterslide. That was a particularly fun night of the tour. I know that he dressed many of the people – well it was just the Mean Jeans and him and his wife, but he dressed some people up in some strange latex stockings and some other weird bondage, rubber gear that really I don’t know what it was. I was wasted so I don’t know what the hell that was, but that was going on for sure.

You guys like to write songs about partying, does your philosophy of partying differ from Andrew WK’s in anyway? Or is it somewhat the same?

That’s a good question. Most people are familiar with Andrew WK’s first album and I imagine you and I are. I’m a fan and I’ve seen him play many times and I’ve seen him speak, but at the same time I haven’t totally followed his career and I imagine that his “party vision” upon releasing his debut album has matured and transformed since. And the last time that I saw him he looked like he had gained a hundred pounds of pure muscle – like he had been lifting weights none stop, so maybe at this point partying to him is weight lifting, which is completely tight. Do you know that book series 33 1/3?

Yes I do.

It is authors writing about classic albums. Well at one of the shows on the NOFX tour, the author the Andrew WK I Get Wet 33 1/3 book came and we didn't know him or anything, but he brought us a signed copy of the book and I likened our partying philosophy to Andrew WK’s. How does our philosophy compare to his? I think we’re both opened minded what the practical definition of partying is and I think that he is about empowering the individual person to overcome their personal obstacles in life.

We are probably communicating on a much simpler and stupider level. I think at the heart of it is bringing fun into music and in to people’s lives and for us that’s not something that we sit around a table and discuss, but it is at the core everything that Mean Jeans do. Like I mentioned, we really don’t do anything unless it is going to be really fun. So amusing ourselves was probably the beginning and we’ll still get an offer to do something and we’ll be like, “Actually that doesn’t really sound that fun. So we’re not going to do it.” I think all of my answers have shown you that we’re not really good businessmen and that’s fine with me. I think that the band started to have fun ourselves and then the further it has gone a long, when we play live we’re doing it to have fun. When we write songs, we want them to be fun songs and we want that to translate. If we are playing a show and people aren’t having fun at the show then there is no fuckin’ point and we should probably just end the song and end the set and let the better band play or whatever. I think songwriting, live performances, the lyrics, the artwork – it is all about sharing the experience of having fun in a world where we are supposed to be taking ourselves seriously. I’m pulling that one out of my ass.

(laughs) The album art for Tight New Dimension is pretty trippy. Who made it? How did you guys come to the consensus that this would be the cover? It’s pretty “out there,” but also fairly consistent with your other album covers I would say.

Thank you. I’m glad that you think it is “out there.” That was certainly part of the intention behind it. There’s a lot of intentionality the album art. I’m a big fan of it. I did most of the album covers for Mean Jeans so far, but in a similar way of our approach to whom we were recording with and who was putting it out, we were like, “Well maybe we could do better. Maybe somebody else could do a better job.” So there’s a guy named Josh Freydkis who we got connected to through some mutual friends and I totally loved his art. He does like some silly animation and I really tortured him with making this album cover because it is not just a simple idea that you could sum up in a sentence two. And I think I might care a little too much about what it really looks like about it achieving some otherworldly, insane idea, which is what we did. So I have a lot of respect not only for his artwork, but his attitude because he is a chill-ass dude and he endured a hundred maniacal emails that I wrote him that probably did not make that much sense in the end.

The concept was that on our first album the Mean Jeans were cartoons in a haunted junkyard, filled with awesome bullshit, stuck in a col-de-sac with Venus flytraps trying eat us. That was like us in a cartoon world and I still that it is very much that we are a cartoon-y band, playing cartoon-y music.

So when we made another record we felt we needed to take it a step further and that’s already a pretty ridiculous place to begin and so we’re like, “What’s even further out than that? Oh! Alright. Let’s take it to outer space, except the spaceship will be a Jagermeister bottle and the stars will be like macaroni and cheese.” So that was the second album cover. I made both of those. They look okay. Someone with actual skills probably should have taken over.

And then we moved over to working with Josh Freydkis who did our singles collections also and the concept for that was that you’re looking through a hole in a concrete wall, into a Ninja Turtles-esque, subterranean lair, but it is filled with rock and roll rats and bondage slugs that are skating and playing arcade games, which is dumb as hell when I say it out loud.

For Tight New Dimension we realized we had taken that artwork to outter space, we were like, “How can we take it even further into the realm of ridiculousness than that?” And that’s where the concept for a Tight New Dimension was born because what’s even further out than outter space is another dimension. And we were like, “Well what kind of dimension are we talking about?” “A tight one! A crazy dimension.” And so one specific album cover inspired us visually. It’s definitely not punk, but it’s an Italian disco duo from the 80’s called Righeira. They're his song was “Vamos A La Playa.” It’s a tight song – not mind blowing, but the album art is mind blowing for that record . That was our primary visual influence and it has the two Italian guys from the band like lounged out, drinking cocktails in front of a futuristic TV in some weird dimension. It’s really beautiful in my opinion and we wanted to take that and put it into our own realm. We wanted to put the Mean Jeans in another dimension that is beyond space and time – beyond the beyond.

Is that Alpha 5, the robot from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in the background making a martini? That might be a reach I realize…

(laughs) It's a cousin of Alpha 5. But did Alpha 5 from Power Rangers ever bartend?


Probably not. This is his harder-partying cousin named Disco Six.

(laughs) I’ve always been curious about this as vinyl collector. Do bands signed to Fat Wreck Chords have a say in what color the limited preorder comes?

Yeah the pink color was our choice. That might have less to do with pink be less to do with the ultimate choice and more with the fact that we have put out a lot of records over time and Jeans Wilder is a bit obsessive about them all being different and somehow appropriate to the release in some color scheme way – even if it is far fetched. So we had no pink colored vinyl up until this point. Most other standard color we have done. You know we have like twelve singles. This is the fourth LP and the pink worked for us.

I noticed that there are more guitar riffs on Tight New Dimension instead of just straight chord progressions. Was that a concerted effort to include those or was it more natural?

You are right. Power chords. There are… I don’t know…how many are there? Sixteen or something? There are only so many power chords and that’s fun, but once you have written 80 songs that are all power chords, then the riffs come into play. We’re lovers of punk and rock and roll – big time and so many of my favorite songs have a killer guitar riff in them. You can start a band and not know how to play guitar, but once you have been doing it for eight or nine years you got t be kind of good at guitar, especially if you play shows all the time. So I think that might have been a piece of it also as just playing guitar for a while. I started writing pop riffs and I love catchy pop guitar riffs, but it has also created a problem because on a record you put down the rhythm guitar and then you put down the lead, but live we are a three-piece and I don’t even think we could get it together enough to get another person into the band. But it’s rough because you could keep the song solid by not paying the riff or you can start playing the riff and there’s no other guitar to fill up the space and it sounds like shit most of the time. So that does kind of suck. Our first album is much easier to perform live because there are very limited guitar solos and riffs, but then over time it has become too fun writing riffs. In the studio, I understand and respect people who are minimalist about it particularly when you are playing “dumb punk” like we are, but it’s more fun to put more shit on. It is – like, “Oh, let me put down a background vocal on top of that” and “Let me put down this riff that I just came up with,” and you’re having fun doing that. So it’s problematic, but the sound of the band has to keep going somewhere. It’s no fun to try to write the same record or something.

Can you talk about the lyrics to “Allergic To Success?” They seem to be on the more negative side of the lyrics you have written in the past. What is the story behind them?

I think actually most of our lyrics are quite negative in the end. I think that song still falls in line with the ethos of the band and our positioning in the modern world. That one is about not being able to succeed n the way that everyone around you in your life is defining their success and how it is easy just feel like a complete loser because you don't have any nice stuff or money or future prospects. I think that I want to write about that and I like listening to songs I can identify with. So that one is really about how there is supposed to be a recipe for success and it’s always illusive and there is pressure to be something more than who we honestly are – I’m referring to the Mean Jeans. You know, we’re trying to have fun and travel around the world and play guitars and do what we love to do. But I think there’s a lot of pressure to be something other than that and be something more serious than that and get the money and power, or whatever it is that people are after and we're not. But we’re constantly reminded of how the lack of success in your life – at least in the way that people traditionally define it. That’s definitely true for our lives and maybe that’s also part of being like a little bit older than you are. People are settling down. People are doing shit and I’m still up to like doing the most idiotic idea ever. In a traditional sense we have no success to revel in as individual people, or as a band to be honest. Well, I mean Fat Wreck Chords is now supporting you. That has to say something, right?

Sure! Yeah. I need all the encouragement I can get.

You have a song on the new album called “Michael Jackson Was Tight,” did he influence your music, if so how?

Unfortunately, I’m not the right person to be answering that question. Jeans Wilder and I write some songs together and we write some songs separately. That is a Jeans Wilder one. I know from being buddies with him that Michael Jackson has had a huge influence on him and that song is tribute to him. I know he was heartbroken when Michael Jackson died and I think he was thinking about how tight Michael Jackson was and thought no one had written a song about how tight he was so he wrote the song “Michael Jackson Was Tight.” Now that Prince has passed away, will you guys write a follow up song called “Prince Was Dope?”

(laughs) I don’t think he is that big of a fan of Prince. “Dope” would be a great secondary adjective for the sequel to the song. I’m behind you on that one.

Since we’re talking about Prince’s passing, I should say that Jeans Wilder has a solo record on Burger Records under the name The Hound of Love. It's awesome. I absolutely love it. It’s not punk, but it’s primarily synthesizer and drum machine pop music. He is a collector of like 80’s drum machines and synths. He has tons of them and I know for a fact that was the thing he most appreciated about Prince was his use of synths and drum machines. At the same time I can’t speak for Jeans Wilder, but some artists, their writing hits you and so not so much. I don’t think he’s sitting in a chair right now, strumming a guitar writing “Prince Was Dope.” It’s going to be tough because everyone awesome in the history of rock and roll is way older than us and frankly they’re dropping like flies. It’s a sad time I think because I don't know who the modern “rock stars ”are. You can make fun of rock stars as much as you want, but Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie – just in the passed five months there have ben some pretty brutal ones so I have made a point recently of going out and making sure, even if they cost $70 – going and seeing my favorite people from the history of rock and roll while they’re still around. I just saw Iggy Pop, Tom Petty – you know I love that shit. And they’re going to be gone and then who’s left? I don't fuckin’ know. Over the next 365 days, if you just wrote a song about how tight, dope, radical, or sick the rock stars who are passing are – there’s an album right there. Maybe we’ll put that one out (laughs).

Billy thanks for taking the time to talk. Would you like to say anything to the Punknews readers/commenters or would like to add anything else?

San Dimas High School football rules!