It shouldn’t be a surprise that a person over thirty is still enthusiastically making art and music, especially in the DIY realm where fun, instead of financial success, is the focus. But I rarely hear about those people. I’ve occasionally wondered, “When I turn 30 .. will I just vaporize?”
That’s why it was such a relief to talk to Jeff Rosenstock. “On my 30th birthday something clicked,” he told me on the phone. “I was like, ‘oh, wait, it’s cool man … We’re getting older every second of the fucking day, and if it sucks for me, it sucks for everyone else, and it’s not really a big fucking deal cause we’re all going through it.’” The sentiment resonated with me, as did Cynthia Schemmer’s 2014 piece for the The Media, “Not Dead Yet”, which also discussed staying connected with art and punk while creeping towards 30.
Jeff asserted that playing music for him is like “breathing or eating breakfast” — something that doesn’t change with age. His unwavering passion for making music has resulted in a lengthy discography; he’s released an album or two almost every year for the past seventeen years with various bands, including The Arrogrant Sons of Bitches, and most recently before his solo venture, Bomb The Music Industry!, a band so steadfast in their punk ethics that they didn’t even sell tee shirts at shows, and instead offered fans free stencils to make their own.
When I told my friend, the zinester and show booker Alyssa Rorke, that I was interviewing him, she told me that Bomb The Music Industry! informed her understanding of DIY ethics and “shaped her into the kind of punk she is today.” I couldn’t help but agree.
With his solo project, Jeff holds tightly to that ethos while continuing to garner success. His latest effort, We Cool?, released on March 3rd via SideOneDummy and his own, not-for-profit label, Quote Unquote Records, was so highly anticipated, that when it came out, it crashed SideOneDummy’s website. Surrounding its release, we talked about the “illusive” act of getting older, his upcoming tour with Andrew Jackson Jihad, the new record, and his love for Kathleen Hanna.
You’re leaving for tour tomorrow with Andrew Jackson Jihad, how did you all meet and decide to do this tour together?
We met Andrew Jackson Jihad because my old band Bomb The Music Industry! and them put out records on Asian Man around the same time. We did a big tour together that was us, and them, and Lemuria and Khepi Ghoulie and The Queers. We became good friends and me and Sean have always stayed in pretty close touch and we’ve done some solo touring together.
What’s rad about Andrew Jackson Jihad is that they kind of blew up and they’re paying it down to all their buddies and taking them on tour. It’s so cool that we’re going to be playing in pretty big rooms. We’ve never done that with people we’re such close friends with. They took out Hard Girls and Cheap Girls and they’re taking out us and The Smith Street Band. It’s rad and I’m super stoked about the success they’ve had. It’s rare that a band would get that amount of success and still stay true to their friends and their fans. They treat everyone really well.
Rad, yeah I’ve only heard good things about them. So I know We Cool? is your first solo record with a band on it, will you be taking that band with you?
Yeah, for the most part. Mike from Hard Girls is meeting up with us. We’ve got me, John, and Kevin all playing miscellaneous instruments besides the instruments we actually know how to play [laughs] so it’s going to be super fun. And it’s going to be fun to tour with a band again playing songs I wrote. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that and I’m fuckin’ stoked.
Did you always kind of intend to have a band with your solo project, or was it a gradual progression?
It was a gradual thing. There was no intent for this to become some kind of thing. I put out the first album because I was going on tour with Andrew Jackson Jihad and I didn’t wanna just do the shitty versions of Bomb The Music Industry! songs, especially since Bomb had just broken up and I didn’t want it to be like, “oh hey my band just broke up, here’s me just doin’ it by myself.”
After we broke up, I kind of just assumed I’d get a job somewhere and keep making music on my own. But then I got offered to produce The Smith Street record, and there was a full month where I wasn’t going to be able to work a job anyway, because I was going to Australia produce it. So that gave me a bunch of time to actually work on We Cool?, and then SideOneDummy got in touch about putting it out, so I though, “oh ok, maybe this will be a thing then.” And they did an awesome job with the record.
So it’s a thing for a while, and hopefully it can just be a thing, that’d be really cool. But if everything fails and we play every night and everyone’s just like “fuck you, go home,” I’ll still go in my fuckin’ tiny room and make records on my computer like I always have.
I doubt that’s gonna happen.
You never know, we’re pretty shitty, we’re pretty bad. Bad people, treat everyone like garbage, play like garbage, it’s kind of our bit, it’s our style.
Gotcha. Well, related to you saying, “if this fails” or talking about doing your band as “a thing”, I’m guessing you aren’t equating success with financial success. I know from what I’ve read that you’re all about “success isn’t determined by making money”, which is extremely admirable.
If everything fails and we play every night and everyone’s just like “fuck you, go home,” I’ll still go in my fuckin’ tiny room and make records on my computer like I always have.
I really respect that. And a lot of people I know really respect that. And I know that so many people who have that belief get burnt out with all that they do. You make music, tour, run your own record label, and have a day job as well. How do you keep it up?
I just never imagined that anything would be something I’d make money from. I had a pretty standard band and it didn’t work out, and I was like, “Ok, well, I’m still writing songs, I’m still recording songs, so I’m just going to keep doing that.” And that turned into Bomb The Music Industry! And that was all so slow and such baby steps. When Bomb stopped, I told my parents and my fiancé, “yeah, I’m just not gonna do this anymore, this is too fuckin’ stressful. I’ll just get a job and just write songs and do whatever like I did before.” And they were all just kind of laughing at me, like, “yeah, sure you will.”
It was never in my head that this was something that was gonna ever really work out. I stayed determined to do it because it’s something I feel like I need to do. Music is something like breathing or eating breakfast or going out and having beers with your buddies, or going to the beach when it’s nice outside. For the past year or so, it’s worked out that this has taken up a big chunk of my life, which is something I was always sort of terrified of because I didn’t want to get burnt out on it, but it’s fuckin’ awesome, it’s rad, I’m stoked. It’s just something I really like to do, and I’ve never lost that kind of passion for it. And there are times I wish I had less of a passion for it, because then I could be like a normal fucking human being, and not be sad about money and shit all the time, or feel bummed out because I leave all the time. But it’s just something I really really really enjoy doing, for lack of a better way to put it, and I’m just super lucky that I get to do it.
Any success stuff is weird to me. I just kind of want to do it, and it’s awesome that anyone actually hears the stuff I do in my apartment, or the stuff I did in my parents’ house when I didn’t have anywhere to live. So its awesome, it’s rad you’re into it, thank you for saying that.
For sure. And the stuff you were saying about wanting to be a “normal person” and not having to say goodbye when you go on tour, is definitely something I can relate to as a musician and that I talk about with my friends who also play in bands. I read this interview you did like four years ago with The Stranger when you were still with Bomb The Music Industry!, and at the end of the interview, you said that you, and other members of Bomb, don’t like to go on super long tours, because you like to have your lives. So now you’re going on this tour with Andrew Jackson Jihad, and it’s not a super long tour, but are you anticipating more tours, and are you kind of mapping out what you hope to do with your solo project, or are you just sort of taking it day-by-day?
I don’t know. I really love playing shows and I really love traveling, but I feel like once I’m three or four weeks into a tour, mentally I get kind of fucked up. I get kind of homesick. I love the person who I’m going to be spending the rest of my life with, it’s not super fun to be without her and I know she’s not super stoked when I’m out. So there’s that. It’s not like she’s giving me shit about it or anything like that, but she’s like, “it’d be nice if we were hanging out”.
I can get weird on tour. I get the bad brains on tour. And I don’t know, I’m just stoked about this record and hope to push myself to do things that I’m not super comfortable doing. Going to Australia for seven weeks to do that Smiths Street record, that was a long time to not have a home base, so that was crazy, but I did it and it turned out nice and I had a really good time. So, this is a longer tour than I’d ever book, but, fuck it. I don’t wanna turn around five years from now and think, “oh that would have been fuckin sweet if I wasn’t such a coward about going on tour for an extra two or three weeks every now and then.” I just gotta go for it.
Also, I’m older now and the people I’m touring with all sort of understand my headspace, and I understand their headspace, and I just have to enjoy it. This past year of not touring, there were so many things I missed about it, and so many things I didn’t want to take for granted. I just want to enjoy every second of it because, I don’t know, I could die or the van could explode or I could have six babies and this could all be done in a second. I don’t know what’s going to happen, so instead of looking at it as if it’s a long thing I’m looking at it like, this is awesome, going on tour with my friends, and I’m going to get to play music again for a bunch of people I haven’t gotten to play music for or with for a very long time, so I’m super fuckin excited about it.
Speaking of getting older … on I Look Like Shit, you seemed to have a definitive idea that aging sucks, but on We Cool?, your attitude has shifted a bit. In the first track “Get Old Forever”, you sing, “stale regrets are a waste of time/ only one thing remains secure/ we all get old together”, and it seems like you’re coming to terms with aging, and feeling solace in the fact that you get to do it with your friends, and that it’s just a natural part of life.
Yeah, yeah! On my 30th birthday something clicked and I was like, “oh, wait, it’s cool man. I’m doing what I’m gonna be doing and everybody is kind of in that same spot.” That’s one thing that’s constant for everybody. We’re getting older every second of the fucking day, and if it sucks for me, it sucks for everyone else and it’s not really a big fucking deal cause we’re all going through it. So yeah, it’s fine. It’s funny because so so many people have talked to me about this record in relation to aging and you’re the first person I’ve talked to that sort of gets that, like, alright, it’s not that big a fuckin’ thing. We’re all in this, life is weird for everybody. Everyone’s got some fucked up journey and this is what mine is.
I love that. I always love to hear people embrace age, because it’s what happens, we are human and we get older.
I mean, I’m trying to. A lot of days I wake up and I’m just like, “fuuuuuck whats gonna happen!”
We’re all in this, life is weird for everybody. Everyone’s got some fucked up journey and this is what mine is.
Haha yeah, for sure! One of my favorite zine-writers Cindy Crabb writes this zine called “Doris”, which she’s been doing for like 20 years, and in it she talks about how it can be difficult to stay positive and motivated in punk while aging, but that ultimately making zines is something she does because she loves it, and it’s always great to hear people who have that passion and aren’t afraid to talk about the fact that, yes, they are aging.
Yeah, and I think it goes back to what we were talking about before. If you don’t put as much financial pressure on it, it’s easier to keep that youthful energy to it, because that’s what’s tied to art. I mean, look at fucking Kathleen Hanna. The Julie Ruin’s record that came out a few years ago is fucking insane, it’s so good, and, I don’t know, how old is she? She’s still screaming like she’s a kid. I was floored by that record. I couldn’t believe how much vitality she still has in her, especially after going through lyme disease. That stuff’s inspiring to me. I always get stoked when older people are still making energetic and interesting art. That Sleater-Kinney record is like that too. It’s cool, it gives me hope.