In the video for ‘False Jesii Part 2’ – the big single on Pissed Jeans’ third album King of Jeans – the four band members rock out half-heartedly on a stage full of half-bored-half-stoked women while singer Matt Kosloff shouts, ‘I don’t bother.’ At one point, drummer Sean McGuinness catches a can of a beer and a slice of pizza without missing a beat. Elsewhere on stage, Bradley Fry and Randy Huth shrug-pogo around with guitar and bass. It’s the laziest cool thing, like, ever.
Pissed Jeans formed about ten years ago, although Kosloff, Fry and Huth made music together throughout high school. In 2005, they released an angry debut, Shallow, then McGuinness joined in 2006 and they linked up with Sub Pop for 2007’s Hope For Men, King of Jeans in 2009 and Honeys in March 2013.
With roots in hardcore, they’ve drawn comparisons with the likes of Fang and Flipper and even been hailed as prophets in the current pigfuck/noisecore resurgence embodied by Brooklyn bands like The Men and White Suns. But Pissed Jeans don’t fit neatly in a box. In a 2005 interview with Chicago-based fanzine Blastitude, Kosloff – who goes by the pseudonym Korvette – put it like this: “The idea was to start a different kinda punk band focused on dead-ended carnal cravings, sexual depression… that sort of thing. Mainly we just wanted to bludgeon the listener will dull, monotonous droning rock music that just sucks the energy out of you, the musical equivalent to watching a toilet flush.”]
But with new album Honeys Pissed Jeans are starting to transcend their grisly beginnings. The band members are all thirty-plus and fathers now and they all work serious day jobs – Kosloff also runs record label White Denim, a reviews website YellowGreenRed.com, and a blog on Spin.com about high-end fashion that makes “people look at you and wonder if you’re from outer space or The Matrix or something”. Honeys could be described as a record about the sock-drawer details of getting older but as fast and relentless as ever it resonates with aficionados of all ages and backgrounds.
They were one of Spin magazine’s ‘40 Must-See Acts at SXSW 2013’ alongside Baauer, Earl Sweatshirt and A$AP Ferg, and yet they’re one of the only bands currently in the game that gets even the most jaded purist punk-head pumped as hell. Couple that with the fact that they barely play any shows – fifteen last year, “maybe eighteen this year” – and you get an idea of the kind of satellite band Pissed Jeans is. We caught up with Kosloff at home in Philly – where he likes to “do nothing and stare at the couch” – a couple of days after SXSW 2013, where the only act he saw was rapper Riff Raff.
The video for Bathroom Laughter is so weird. Can you tell us how that came about?
I think we just found a really good guy to work with, he just understood what we’re all about and our sensibility and ran with it. So it’s kind of humorous but also kind of dark and a vague commentary on things. […] We just wanted to make something that was amusing and not try to be artsy or anything, ’cos that can be dull.
So many music videos suck…
Yeah the singer’s like shrouded in a cloak and you can kind of see his vague outline and then you see a little bit of a guitar swift through and then there’s mist and stuff. Who wants to watch that?
Haha no one. You do a lot of stuff outside Pissed Jeans – YellowGreenRed and White Denim – how’s all that going?
It’s all very hobby based. Even Pissed Jeans is something I do for fun, which kind of takes any stress out of it. I don’t worry about making money or deadlines or promotional blah blah blah. I get pretty obsessed with the things I like, and so I just take them as far as I can. […] People get so serious and to me it’s always just been this thing that’s super fun, you know? Like a way of escaping things that aren’t fun. Even if I get some records for review that pretty much suck I still wanna make sure that people are aware that putting out records is great, and that it’s probably fun for them. It doesn’t have to be all cutting down people mercilessly or some super competition where it’s all very important, because it’s really not. It’s good to kind of just take a little more of a light-hearted approach maybe.
So you think the DIY way of doing things is alive and well?
Oh yeah definitely. Everything changes with the internet, it makes things a lot easier you know, for better or worse. I can just type on the internet instead of photocopying stuff and sending it out to people. And you can find out about it without me having to send you an envelope to England and paying international postage.
It’s a lot easier but then people don’t have to try hard to find out about music. Like maybe before you could only afford four tapes you know? So you listen the hell out of them, even if they suck. Whereas now you can download the entire Sub Pop discography for free if you want and just listen to twenty seconds of each song once and never develop an appreciation of anything. So I don’t know, there are pros and cons.
Does not living off the band mean you don’t have to compromise?
Yeah I think so. I’m sure we’ve compromised things here and there. Everytime any band does a record I’m sure there are things they wished they’d done differently. No matter whether you’re Coldplay or the crappiest grindcore band in your basement. Chances are everything’s not perfect but you’ve just got to try your best you know? I’m pretty pleased with everything we’ve done. I don’t have any major regrets record-wise. And yeah we’re not desperate to survive off Pissed Jeans, I mean we don’t, so we can do whatever the hell we want.
Why do you think fatherhood hasn’t mellowed Pissed Jeans?
I just like different sounds of music. I don’t think that I have to be in the exact mind-state of that music to really connect with it. I listen to a lot of different stuff that has a lot of different emotions and I’m not necessarily in those modes all the time. I don’t know, I’ve just always been drawn towards punk and hardcore and I guess that just hasn’t let up. I mean I’m definitely more choosey because I don’t wanna hear the exact same record 500 times by 500 different bands, but just the basic style I think is pretty great.
Do you think Philadelphia is a big part of the way Pissed Jeans sounds?
If it is it would only be because we’re all pretty comfortable here. We’re not struggling or freaked out or like destitute or living in a house with nine other roommates. And I think that comes through how we do the band, it’s not a life-or-death struggle you know? It’s more of a casual thing.
But it’s got a healthy punk scene, right? Someone told me last night that there’s like seventy houses that put on shows…
Oh yeah. There are tons of house shows but there’re also lots of music venues here. It’s definitely a town that’s set up well for having bands come through. There are so many different venues to play and it’s a really receptive city for live music I would say. It’s one of the industries that seems to be growing here.
So much new music sounds overproduced and Pissed Jeans is a refreshing antidote to that. Do you think punk is in good shape at the moment?
I mean I don’t even know because punk is such a broad thing and we’re on Sub Pop, so we’re not necessarily raging against the system you know? But, as you were saying, some of the competition out there, the competition that inspires other bands to exist, is so awful that it’s not that we’re great, it’s just that the competition is so much worse. Some of these bands that sing about trees and the forest without any actual words and a thousand-layered vocals and effects that kind of go nowhere, they’re kind of hard to relate to or you’ve just heard it over and over again you know? I think people are getting tired of that. It’s been a decade or so of that being the main thing when it comes to indie rock.
Do you think of songwriting in terms of telling stories?
Maybe not so much stories as a specific thought like, here’s something I’ve been dwelling on and I want to relate it to you. So it could come out as a story but it’s more just an instance in my life or a thing that I think about. I definitely want to get a specific idea across. I don’t just wanna be like, ‘Love is mysterious.’ Who cares? Or like, ‘The world is shit.’ Who cares again? Give me something to think about! Not just these super broad general statements that are really kind of meaningless.
In the song ‘Male Gaze’ you address some gender-related no no’s. What made you wanna write that?
That’s one song that I hope people do get something out of, as much as they can from a Pissed Jeans song. It’s just that I think it’s super shitty and unfair how tough it is to be a woman, in general, but also being involved in music and how people feel that they’re kind of enlightened but they’re really not, you know? There can be a great band with women and invariably someone will be like, ‘Oh, she’s also really hot.’
I’ve definitely been misogynistic here and there growing up and I’m just trying to check that behaviour and stop it. […] I’m happy to bring it up but a lot of Pissed Jeans songs are just there to help me personally and just kind of keep myself on track to not become that assholish guy. Having female fans is so great. I would love it if women were like, ‘Pissed Jeans is our band.’ That’d be awesome.
Why do you think you appeal to different ages, too?
I don’t know but I think that’s totally great. It makes me so happy to hear that because I would hate to be a band that’s only enjoyed by one specific type of person. I feel like we generally keep things pretty simple and easy to understand musically, and lyrically for the most part, so that kind of opens it out. It’s just loud, fast punk music or whatever and that’s pretty enjoyable for everyone. Who’s not gonna like that?
Who’d be in your dream super group?
Man, I don’t know. Hmmm, dream band? You’d probably want myself of course. And maybe Nick Cave and Danzig and we all just sing the exact same words at the same time kind of like Daft Punk or something.
That sounds amazing.
Right? No guitars or anything like that. Just the three of us, all wearing matching outfits.
What, like chanting?
Hmmm, I don’t know we’d have to figure that out.
Pissed Jeans play the Electric Ballroom, London 11 November 2017, and Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on 12 November 2017.