Read the Pitchfork review of Jeff Rosenstock’s most recent album, WORRY., and you’ll be greeted with phrases like “one of the most important figures of modern punk” and “magnum opus." Keep reading and you’ll encounter references to Jawbreaker, ska music, and Ian MacKaye; three very influential, albeit different, elements of punk music that contributed heavily to my, and I imagine countless others, never ending love affair with punk rock.
Thankfully, perhaps embarrassingly, I had not read that review prior to sitting down with Jeff in an old gymnasium during the Pitchfork Music Festival. Rather, my preparation was based almost entirely on months of constant listening to WORRY., and then We Cool? (the album that preceded WORRY.), which led me to a side project called Antarctigo Vespucci involving Chris Farren and Jeff, and so on down the rabbit hole, until one night I found myself up too late watching The Making Of WORRY. on YouTube.
When we talked, Jeff was in the middle of a North American tour with Laura Stevenson. I showed up to the media area with two cans of Goose Island – a 312 Urban Wheat and a Four Star Pils. I offered Jeff first choice and he chose the pils, mostly because he said he had been drinking the wheat all day.
What are you guys listening to on tour?
We were just in Canada and we had a playlist of basically all of the Canadian music that we know. It’s like a 100 song playlist. We’ve got some Hawksley Workman, we’ve got some Weakerthans on there, some Matthew Good Band, and what’s that fucking band? Our Lady Peace is on there, bands that are ‘okay, I don’t know if i would really listen to this.’ Then we have some Neil Young on there, and then we got this guy Kim Mitchell that’s this arena rock Canadian guy that has a song called “Go For A Soda” where the chorus goes ‘might as well go for a soda, nobody hurts and nobody cries’ which is like what the fuck?
What year is that from? Is it recent?
No it’s like 80’s. Check it out.
I will check that out.
But yeah that’s mostly what we’ve been listening to on this trip. Our aux jack is also fucked up so that’s been annoying. That’s unrelated. I’m sure your readers care about our aux jack.
You never know. Do you have a go-to beer on tour?
No. We usually ask for whatever shitty beer, a little bit of shitty beer and local stuff I think is fun.
Did you have anything good local beer while you’ve been out? Anything memorable?
Yeah but I don’t remember the name of it. Fuck. There’s people that are going to be mad at me about this when they read this. Hoppy? Heady Hopper? Is that one?
Heady Topper! In fucking Vermont they just had it. It’s one of the beers they gave us. So sick. I’m also a really big fan of New Glarus in Wisconsin. The Scream DIPA they have, that’s like the fucking best. That beer’s really good.
So you live in Brooklyn?
Are there any beers coming out of Brooklyn that you’re a fan of?
I’m proud of Sixpoint. I remember when Sixpoint, when Sweet Action was the beer at this bar, it’s like the only bar that I ever went to in New York that would consistently stay open and give you drinks way past 4 o’clock and did not give a shit. They had a deal where they had mini-pitchers from like 12-6 on weekdays for a dollar and they always had a $3 beer which was Sixpoint Sweet Action. Seeing where Sixpoint’s at now, I’m like ‘Yeah, I’m proud of you guys.’
I don’t go out for beer that much, but there’s a place called Keg and Lantern, where they make all their beers. Keg and Lantern is next door to my house, like a block away from my house. They brew their own. It’s like a sport bar, like an Irish sports bar, but the people who run it love beer and food, so in my mind the sports bar nature kind of pushes people away, they’ll go find something quote unquote cooler nearby, but they have good beer and food and I can just like have a beer that was made here. And they used to have a really good happy hour, so in my mind it’s still cheap, but they haven’t had that happy hour in like three years.
So you’ve been doing music for a very long time.
How did it all start?
The first band I had was with my brother and his friend Isaac. I was in sixth grade and I guess they were in sixth. Maybe I was in fifth and they were in sixth. And my brother is one of those people that is amazing at everything. He was a great drummer. And Isaac Burker was this metal/death metal/fucking metal head dude who I learned so much about music from. I haven’t seen him in such a long time. He plays in Straylight Run, which was John Nolan’s band after Taking Back Sunday. I think he still does stuff with him, I don’t know. I know we had a song about chainsaws.
Was it metal?
I don’t know what it was. We liked Guns and Roses Use Your Illusion [I and II]. See this is probably why I have a problem making music that makes any sense because one of the first times I was making music I was getting really into Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, and those records have so many different things happening on them that I was just like ‘Oh this is what stuff sounds like.’
Do you have a favorite? [Use Your Illusion] One or Two?
Oh. Are you fucking with me?
Okay. Well, I’m in on album cuts on those records. I had the Use Your Illusion II tape first. We went to the store, scratched off the parental advisory sticker, gave it to our Mom and were like, ‘Yeah, this is a clean version.’ And then we would turn it down when there was cursing, in the car.
I got [Use Your Illusion I] on CD from Columbia House. So, still not supposed to be listening to it, but my mind was already blown with “Get In The Ring.” I think I just liked it because there was so much swearing, which is the dumbest reason to like anything. [Use Your Illusion] One has more hits. One has “Coma”. “Estranged” is on Two, which is maybe my favorite song of theirs. “Coma” is so good though. I would listen to both of those records front to back pumping my fist.
If there was only one album though, which one would you pick?
[Use Your Illusion] One, I think. Eh, it’s really hard. I’d flip a coin. What was sick about the Use Your Illusions was they felt like a mixtape. Underrated records.
After a long day, we’re drinking a beer in a gymnasium and there’s some cosmic emotional resonance to some shit.”
So your experience in music started with a band you were in with your brother back in sixth grade, what’s the evolution that gets us from there to your earlier bands Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb The Music Industry!, to your solo stuff, and then the album WORRY., which is what I found first, and have just been working my way back through it all.
There is a lot [to work back through]. The first band is the band with my brother. Then we’ve got a band I was in with a friend of mine called Aural Assault. A-U-R-A-L Assault, which was like a hardcore band with horns, but we never had any horn players so we just wrote hardcore songs about taking the bus in Long Island to the record store. [The songs] weren’t good. Mind you none of these bands played any shows.
Then there was a band I started with another friend called the Hippy Bugs, which is the worst name of a band possible. I think that band started because me and my friend were at party, like thirteen years old, and we were just trying to impress girls so we were like ‘We’re in a band.’ And that band, I think, eventually turned into the Arrogant Sons Of Bitches.
Then what happens with ASOB is we’re on tour and we get into a big fight, part of which is me saying ‘hey man, we’ve been working a record for years and we’ve haven’t focused on putting it out but we’re focusing on shirts and I just want to make our record and give it away for free.’ So it was a really big fight because, to put it diplomatically, doing that at that time would have been a pretty big risk. They’re all still my friends, but I was like ‘I want to do this’ and then we broke up.
That’s when I started putting out music for free with Bomb The Music Industry! and it turned into a whole thing and it was really exciting and really fun. Then basically the soul of Bomb The Music Industry!, the person who no matter what’s going on on stage I know I could look over at him and get a vibe together, he moved to Australia. So we broke up and it wasn’t because of any money shit or anything like that, it was just ‘Hey Matt’s moving. I’m having a hard time with this. Let’s end it.’
And so then how long until you started doing Jeff Rosenstock?
Here’s the thing that worked out for this thing to happen now, I spoke to Sean [of AJJ] like the day after we broke up and he was like ‘oh, that’s a bummer because we’re doing a tour and we were going to ask Bomb to do it.’ I asked if I could just play under my name and he said okay.
A bunch of songs I was working on, that I was getting really anxious about putting out into the world for whatever reason, I finished them up because [it was] crunchtime: I was going on this tour, I gotta have a record. That ended up being the record I Look Like Shit, which is the first [Jeff Rosenstock record] and that’s stuff that I just recorded in my apartment. I think that record turned out cool. Most people who found WORRY. probably did not go back to I Look Like Shit and feel too much of a sonic connection.
Right after I started listening to Worry., I started going back and heard “You, In Weird Cities” [from Jeff’s second album, We Cool?], and immediately texted my friend about it. I was like ‘this is us’ because he had moved away for awhile and now he was back in Jersey but we still never see each other because we both have two kids and it’s just tough. So he listened to the song and got right back to me and was basically like ‘these lyrics are me’ and we went back and forth for a minute. And oddly that whole exchange validated, or heightened, my interest in that song and then I started diving deeper into that record. And then the other records and so that’s the last six months of my life. You have no idea. And now I’m sitting here with you.
That’s cool. I think neither of us have any idea, you know what I mean? And I feel like that about stuff all the time, about music I like. It’s neat to hear it about mine.
Sometimes some things just hit you, you know?
Yeah. After a long day, we’re drinking a beer in a gymnasium and there’s some cosmic emotional resonance to some shit. There’s intangibles where I feel like certain things scratch at certain parts when you’re listening to music. I don’t know, for me it’s like that.
Thanks to Amanda Fotes for the header image.