Jeff Rosenstock has been releasing music consistently for almost 20 years at this point and has amassed a sizable cult following doing it. Following the release of a 46-track, fan-made tribute to his career, Punknews staffer, and Album Minus Jeff contributor, Sean Crawford, sat down with Rosenstock to discuss the compilation, his relationship with the songs on it, and those gosh darn record flippers!
Have you listened to much of this compilation yet? How much have you been able to check out? I've listened to little bits of it. I've listened to the ASOB stuff. I can't believe it. It's actually hitting me right now that I haven't sent that to Dave or anybody in the band and I should.
I saw some members also responding online. I noticed John had a response. Yeah yeah, but, like, Dave and JT: we haven't been in a band together for so damn long. I bet they'd be really stoked. "Royal Fuck Deluxe" is a song that I wrote with my fucking band in high school and I'm goddamn 35 years old right now. It's cool that's a thing. I've listened to a handful of it. I usually don't because I feel like it makes me feel like a different person than the person I am, which is a weird way of putting it. Does that make any sense?
Yeah. How do you feel about listening to your own songs just in general? Do you listen to your own records in regular rotation or does it feel weird to do that? I listen to the demos nonstop because I'm searching for cracks, basically. When I'm done demoing I listen to those lot to internalize the songs and to think about what I like about them, what I want to bring from that into the recording, and so on. Then, once we're done recording, I usually don't listen to it. I feel like, when I'm listening to the demos, I'm listening for mistakes so we can fix the mistakes. Once the record's, done you can't do that. But I feel like I've just never trained my brain to listen to music that way. I guess if I had instrumentals of Mike and Kevin and John, I'd listen to that a ton.
Are there any records from throughout your career that you do feel comfortable listening to normally? Is there an album that you feel separated from to the point where it's just like putting on someone else's record? I think they're all different to listen to. It's hard to listen to your own music. There's a lot of music I like so I listen to other people's music in my spare time. I feel like I'm constantly listening to my own stuff because I'm recording it and making it. That said, sometimes I'll be tired or a little drunk or a little stoned and I'll listen to it on the train. It'll be like like looking at an old photo album or something because the memories of making them are so strong for me. I'll listen to the Antarctigo Vespucci stuff sometimes if I'm missing Chris, like "oh yeah, here's what we were doing in 2015".
Do you have a favorite own song? "80s Though the 60s" is is one of my favs. I did some acoustic shows over the weekend where I played that song for the first time in a while. I was stoked about that one when I was done with it. That one's up there. "9/10" too. I guess like the soft rock songs.
Is that including your entire career or just the solo stuff? "Future 86" for Bomb the Music Industry!. That was one I was really stoked about. I dunno, there's a lot of songs and it's weird to say if I have favorites or anything like that, but there's definitely songs where I felt like "alright, cool, I think I got this one". "Saddr Weirdr" was like that too.
Would you consider playing Bomb the Music Industry! songs with a full band again, or is that just reserved for acoustic shows now? Nah, I'll play a song or two acoustic as long as that doesn't lead to more people like asking if we're going to do Bomb the Music Industry! songs as a full band. Then I'll probably stop doing it. That band was a different band. I'm in another band now and we have songs that we've made together that we don't have time to play in our set. I want to go out and play the music that I'm making with this band right now. Obviously, points of view change and things change and whatever whatever whatever, but as far as the way that I see it right now, as the person that I am right now, Bomb the Music Industry! was a thing that existed for that period of time, and when it stopped it was really important for me to be like "that existed for this period of time and I don't want it to ever exist as this thing that we're doing because people liked it". Bomb the Music Industry! was always a thing that was happening that a lot of people didn't like. And I felt like that antagonism was a very important part of it. I feel like coming back as any kind of well-revered thing would be kind of antithetical to the whole thing that was happening in Bomb the Music Industry! for most of the time. Like promoters not writing back to our emails or like fans of other bands that we would open up for hopping on our MySpace and leaving comments calling us slurs and stuff like that. I felt like that fight was a big part of Bomb the Music Industry!. To come back with this band and be like "alright, here we go playing a Bomb the Music Industry song!. Aren't you so lucky?" seems kind of pointless to me. That said, we did a show with Pup, the The Dream is Over release in Canada, not as Bomb the Music Industry!, but with Mike Costa playing drums for us - it was me, John, and Costa - and we played a Bomb the Music Industry! song and nobody gave a shit.
What song? We played "493 Ruth".
So what are the conditions that would have to take place for there to be a Bomb the Music Industry! reunion? My initial reaction would be "there are no conditions," but for a hypothetical, I would say it would be that me and Matt and Tom and Mike and John are all in the same place, and we're all home from tour, and we're all at a bar, and there are some instruments around and we would play. Nobody would know about it. Sorry.
I was just rewatching the BTMI! documentary the other day and I was just kind of amazed by how you were able to keep that band operational still balancing basic life necessities. Do you have any advice for bands that want to live by that sort of "code" in a sustainable fashion where you can eat food and have shelter and pay rent and stuff? I would say find a job that gives you a flexible schedule and fucking cling on to it. Just dig your claws in and don't let go of that job. Take every shift that you can possibly get and make your money with that job. With Bomb the Music Industry! it was never ever ever ever ever ever my thought that like "hey, when is this band finally going to take off so I can stop working". It's not like I had jobs that I fuckin liked or cared about. To me, the two things always felt like they were separate. It's weirder for me right now to just be working on that stuff. I'll walk by restaurants and bars and coffee shops with "help wanted" signs and think, "maybe I'll get a job there at some point". Then it's just like, "wait, no, that's not what's happening right now". This is a hard thing to put into words and it might come out kind of clunky, and I apologize for that, but the idea that the way you make money has to be the thing that you are also passionate about is something that never resonated with me. I never thought that the thing that was the closest to my heart also had to be the thing that I paid taxes on. I always thought that that was a kind of thing that I did in my spare time. It was important to me enough to try and have these jobs that would let me have enough time to indulge in that stuff. I think, if you want to do it try and find a production job or try and find a restaurant where they're hiring and they need somebody, but there's a lot of people who work there, but there's also a lot of people who work there who go on tour, so if you get back you could get back into the schedule pretty fast.
How do you feel about the state of the punk scene today? Like, specifically, are there any big problems that you see in the way that it's operating? It feels weird to me to say it, but I'm not playing house shows right now so I don't feel like I'm a fucking authority on what the punk scene is doing today. We're playing bigger stuff and what the punk scene is doing has mostly anchored in what is happening in small DIY spaces. In my city particularly things are getting shut down and that's a real a real bummer. In two years Shea Stadium, Death by Audio, Suburbia, fuckin, Silent Barn: those are four places I knew that I could always book shows for any band coming through town and they're all gone now. So that stuff is a real bummer. Watching development come in and make it harder to find spaces for that is tricky. But I also have to keep in mind when I think about that stuff, it's like "oh boo hoo the punk House is done," but also there's families who have lived there for generations who are getting pushed out. Like, "woe is me, my punk house is gone," but people who have lived here for more than a handful of years are also getting pushed out and mistreated. So I always think about that when I think about that stuff. But when I talk to people at shows and stuff it seems like every show I go to, someone's telling me about the punk house they have or that they're just starting up. So I think good stuff is happening. It's funny because I have a block of interview time today because that's how weird my life is now, but I was just talking to somebody about this too. I think the state of punk is that it's always underground and it's always stuff that's not being reported on, that's not in the public eye. That's kind of the beauty of it. That's kind of the freedom of it. I guess the shows that were playing, which, you know, they're punk shows because we're a punk band, I'm happy that it seems like we're more and more aware of not fucking sexually assaulting people at our shows. And I would like for it to completely stop. Like now. It seems like our crowds, for the most part, have started treating people around them better which is really nice. Unfortunately, I was just one person who sucks and makes it bad, which sucks for me because I feel like punk is a place where you should be allowed to exist as the person you are without being intruded upon. It sucks when people don't understand that that's what this is for and that there's not a lot of spaces in life that are like that. So we have to make spaces like that. That's something that I think is coming more into the light now and people are becoming more aware. And I think that's good but not as good as it is just fucking stopped.
I appreciate you being so public about bringing so much awareness to shows. I think the fact that you're calling it out is really powerful because, otherwise, I feel like people tend to think, "this is a punk show: I can do whatever I want," without regard for how that will make other people feel. Thanks, yeah.
On that note, I know you've said in the past that you're a fan of NoFX. How do you feel about the whole Las Vegas controversy? I mean, I feel like I haven't felt an emotional connection to that band in a while and it's hard for me to talk about that without me feeling like I'm just kind of talking shit about strangers, about people I don't know, because I don't know them. So, no, I don't know what to say about that. What can I say? If it wasn't for Fat Wreck Chords, I wouldn't make the music that I make if I didn't hear Fat Wreck Chords records in the 90s, then I wouldn't have known that I could just kind of do stuff on my own. NoFX not putting out records on Epitaph and putting them out on their own, even though they were already pretty famous, when I saw that happening, I was like "holy shit, you can leave the biggest punk label you're on and just do it on your own? Wow!" and I was a big moment for me. I don't think there's anything I could say about the NoFX situation that somebody who has a stronger opinion about it hasn't already said. People deserve to be treated respectfully. I think the NoFX situation isn't as important as that we should fucking ban guns in our country. How about that? I think if everybody who is up in arms went out and actually made efforts to start a real conversation about banning guns in our country, I feel like that would be productive. That's what I feel about it. I don't think as much by NoFX as I think it's fucking crazy that we can still have guns here and people get shot every fucking day. Was that a good question dodge?
I feel like that was a good assessment. I'm gonna do a 180, because I don't have a good transition or anything. Okay, just a heads up that I have 5 more minutes to be on the phone and then someone else is calling me.
Great, so I'll just touch on the important things. You've been talking for a while about represses of Vacation, I Look Like Shit, and Three Cheers, and you've also expressed some disdain for people who flipped these records on Discogs and stuff like that. Although, are you ever kind of flattered slightly that your records go for that much? No. I feel like people put those records up for that much… you know whatever, live your life I don't fuckin give a shit, but if you put a record up for that much and you're not donating it to charity, especially with Bomb the Music Industry!, then you missed the whole fucking point of the band. So, no, it gets me stressed out. I wish, if people didn't want that record anymore, that they'd sell it for like twelve bucks to somebody. And then I'm sure there's plenty of people who have that record and don't listen to it. I wouldn't even have to repress it. Think of all the vinyl waste we'd save!
When are you expecting to get those out?. [Vacation is out now] I Look Like Shit will probably come by the end of the year. Three Cheers is gonna take just a second longer because I don't have the artwork for it. I need to find it or find a way to scan the CD files and get it in there so that it doesn't look shitty. I can be really picky about that stuff so it kind of takes a while. They're all coming: it's just taking a while because you want to get it as right as you possibly can.
Thanks so much for sitting down with me! Yeah, thanks for talking with me!
Rosenstock's new album is out now via Polyvinyl. He's also finishing up a USA tour this week and will be in Europe in the Fall.