Q&A: Pissed Jeans’ Matt Korvette On Growing Old, Keeping Shit Simple, And His Excellent New Album, Honeys
One their forthcoming album Honeys, Philly’s hometown heroes Pissed Jeans further refine what I like to think of as their own very specific brand of adult punk rock. Not that what they do isn’t plenty juvenile — Honeys boasts songs about women’s shoes and toilet humor — but it also addresses very thirtysomething real world concerns about things like health insurance and the bullshit doldrums inherent in getting older and having to do things you don’t always want to do in order to pay the bills. You’d be hard pressed to find a contemporary punk rock record that slays more deliciously than 2009’s King of Jeans, but with Honeys they might have just succeeded. I called up front man Matt Korvette to discuss the making of the album while he was simultaneously engaged in the very adult task of driving to the post office. Very punk rock all around.
STEREOGUM: It’s funny; right when I was about to dial your number my phone rang and it was my mom. I’m like, “I have to call you back, I’m interviewing a band.” And she’s like, “Ooh! Exciting what’s the band?” And I said, “Pissed Jeans.” And she goes, “Ugh! Don’t they want anybody to like them … that name!”
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, I’d probably defer to your mom’s wisdom on that.
STEREOGUM: Which I thought was pretty funny, it was like being a teenager again. She hated the name of every band I ever listened to.
MATT KORVETTE: Well now indie rock bands are naming themselves things like, “Responsibility” and “Good Tidings,” these phrases that not only are parents would approve of but our grandparents would nod respectfully at.
STEREOGUM: You guys don’t tour a lot in general do you?
MATT KORVETTE: No, not really. I mean we definitely hit the road, but not a lot.
STEREOGUM: Is it just out of necessity? Because of everybody working day jobs and stuff?
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, it’s definitely because we all have jobs, and we can’t take off four months out of the year or whatever. And that’s an excuse, but I’m not sure even want to do that anyway, so this way we don’t even have to discuss it.
STEREOGUM: As the band goes on is it becoming a more difficult balance or an easier one?
MATT KORVETTE: It just constantly changes, so it’s easier in some ways. We’ll get more responsibilities but we’ll also get more used to it. So I guess I would say it’s probably the same difficultly as it’s ever been, but just certain aspects might change here and there. Like we all know how to do this band pretty well at this point. Like, we don’t have to practice a ton.
STEREOGUM: I guess that does make it easier. What is the usual way of working for you guys? Does song writing come out of jams, or is there a specific way you tend to work?
MATT KORVETTE: Well generally Brad, who plays guitar, will come with new songs, and by songs I basically mean a riff, or a couple parts and we’ll just kind of work on it and see if it sounds good and then we’ll just try to figure out how it’s gonna be structured. But it’s usually just based on one specific riff and the vibe that comes with it. Then based on that we’ll kind of figure out how it’ll work. I mean we all kind of talk about each other’s parts, so it’s kind of nice. I don’t think anyone’s afraid, or too self-conscious, to be like, “Hey try this on the bass,” or “try this on the drums.” I mean Randy’s written a few songs too, but it generally comes out of Brad as far as the music.
STEREOGUM: How long did it take to make?
MATT KORVETTE: Two weeks? Yeah, I think it was two weeks from start to finish with mixing. We generally go into the studio knowing exactly what we want to do and then do it as quickly as we can. But it’s also, it’s not like we had to wait for the pedal steel guy to show up, or there wasn’t a turntable guy who couldn’t get the right thing. It’s pretty easy, we’re all familiar with our gear, and we can get one day to our sounds … maybe one or two days to get the levels and sounds right out of everything. And then we record the instruments and then do the vocals. Wham bam. Done.
STEREOGUM: I love how much this record really addresses the mundane … and the struggle of getting older. At least it seems that way to me, I hope I’m not projecting.
MATT KORVETTE: I think we’ve always been really interested in the struggle of getting older … even if it’s just the transition of college to not college … or high school to college. Sort of transitioning to an older state. Mainly it’s just sort of things that are on my mind, or that stick with me and that I feel like could be interesting song topics. Stuff that I would talk about in real life are where our song topics come from. It’s not like it’s time to retreat into an interesting fantasy I’ve created, like the trilogy of a character that I wrote … who’s half mortal, half monster – that’s not Pissed Jeans.
STEREOGUM: Well, I think that’s what’s so refreshing about it, at least that what I connect to about it as a 38-year-old person.
MATT KORVETTE: That’s cool, I mean I feel like a lot of bands who are hard core punk that might sound similar to Pissed Jeans might approach with song titles like “life is shit,” “now this is fucked up,” “I know this it wrong,” “I’m wasting away,” and it’s like, alright but could you give me an example? It’s just kind of a generic cop out to be like, “Well no one will have a problem with these lyrics and no one will care, so let me just say these generalized things over and over again” just to get it out of the way to have actual words, instead of just scatting over it.
STEREOGUM: Your songs are a lot more observational than that. If anything, the record demands several listens before you can start to unpack how clever the lyrics are … they get buried under all that furious ROCKING.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, well also I don’t feel this broad way of, “life is crap.” That’s not how I’ve feel now and I’d rather relate to someone having a specific issue.
STEREOGUM: I was having this conversation with someone a few days ago who is around my age who makes visual art. We were talking about channeling the anger you have when you’re a teenager, which is so visceral. He was saying that as people get older they often just mellow out and lose that energy, like a kind of resignation takes over. OR, as is the case with him for him it was something more akin to “Now I’m even more fucked up and pissed off now that I’m older, the more cognizant I am of how fucked up things really are, the more I have a deeper understanding of it and the more furious I am.” He claims to be even more furious as an adult.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah well I agree with that. I actually don’t even know how angry I was as a teenager. I was too busy having fun.
STEREOGUM: It sucks worse now that you’re older because you can see the big picture that you couldn’t when you were 15. You see how fucked up life can truly be … and you can see how much time you wasted as a young person just being totally ridiculous.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah totally! My parents were really cool with me, they treated me really well. I wasn’t like having to sneak out of the house at night or whatever. So, I was just too busy going to shows and skateboarding and wrestling with my friends. Y’know, having fun.
STEREOGUM: Well, you’ve been doing this band for a while and it seems like, especially for the last record and this one too, there’s a lot of increased interest in what you’re doing. People are stoked about it. I assume some of you guys have families and those kinds of real life things to deal with at home. Was there ever a point where you had to seriously question, “Am I going to keep doing this forever, or am I going to stop?”
MATT KORVETTE: No … we just don’t know to NOT do it. And I think the answer is, it’s not like, “Guys unless we can play 40 shows this year we need to pack it in.” I mean I would gladly go a year without playing a show, if we were too busy, and then just start up the next year. I can’t relate to indie rock release scheduling and the music industry in that way. I don’t think in terms of, “Well I wouldn’t want this album to come out in November because everybody’s already done their ‘best of’ lists already,” and that stuff … like, who cares? The records I like come out 5 months after the record is released once the label is able to actually put it together. It doesn’t matter like, “Oh well, what about Record Store Day? I mean we really got to consider …” like that stuff all exists, but it’s not how Pissed Jeans exists. It’s never been a concern for us, so it’s not a problem I guess.
STEREOGUM: It must be fun to play these new songs live.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, that’s how we approached this record. To come up with an album, not like a concept or anything like that, but just to have an album where we wanted to play a lot of the songs live, because they’re fun to play live.
STEREOGUM: That’s a good approach I think.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, I think we’ve shown our experimental side as much as we can, and there’s definitely weirder stuff on this record too, but overall there’s nothing too out there.
STEREOGUM: There’s a real conciseness to lot of these songs, nothing is longer than 4 minutes.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah we don’t drag anything out, really.
STEREOGUM: So what will the rest of this year be like for you? Will you play more shows this time around? How are you working it?
MATT KORVETTE: I don’t know, I know we’ve figured out what we’re doing through April, and then after that … who knows. It really just comes down to someone sending us an email with a jpeg of a pile of cash and we’ll show up. And any interesting offers are considered really. Hopefully we can go to the west coast, I’d love to do that but it’s just a matter of figuring it out. Also there’s Europe too, so there’s a lot of things we’d like to do, that we probably won’t get to, but we can at least try.
STEREOGUM: I heard there was a song on this record that dates back to your early days as a band.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, there’s just one track. It’s called “Something About Mrs. Johnson” and it starts off the B-side. That was recorded by Brad and Randy in like 1995. Yeah I was just going through old tapes a few weeks before recording and hearing it and was just like this is totally great! Stupid guitar idiocy recorded in Brad’s parents’ basement. You know just completely free and having fun and testing out guitar sounds, and I just felt that it fit with the Pissed Jeans vibe. And I just thought it would be a good little touch of nostalgia, with music that was recorded 8? 15? 17 years ago? Some ridiculous amount of time.
STEREOGUM: It’s fun when that sort of thing happens. Did you make music where you were a teen?
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah we’ve always played in band together, Me Brad and Andy in particular. I mean Brad and Andy go back further than my involvement. I got involved as a freshman in high school. But even before then in middle school, junior high I guess, I just started screwing around with bass and just trying to do stuff.
STEREOGUM: I mean it’s cool when you can unearth something old and it’s like the immediate reaction isn’t embarrassment or horror.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, well embarrassment is also kind of a delight from those tapes. ‘Cause generally it’s not you, it’s someone else who you’re friends with and now can’t remember. There is a lot of significant Green Day influence happening on some of those early recordings.
STEREOGUM: I would never have even guessed that. What were the most formative bands for you as a teenager?
MATT KORVETTE: Well, I feel like as a teenager there’s such a wide swath of – like from 13 to 19, you know, it’s like worlds apart. I was probably getting heavy into Wolf Eyes when I was 19 and when I was 13 I was really into Rage Against The Machine, and maybe those two aren’t that far apart if you think about it … it’s a similar energy.
STEREOGUM: I think what you guys do in Pissed Jeans is such a breath of fresh air. I appreciate the straightforwardness of it, which I also think is really smart. That isn’t a question, I’m just saying.
MATT KORVETTE: That’s good to hear. You never know, I mean I really like it a lot, but you never know how other people are going to react…so it’s cool that people seem to be into it. You know … Pissed Jeans. The name alone. It’s clearly not going to be for everyone.
STEREOGUM: Have you been surprised by the reception to the last couple of records?
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, I’d say I’m surprised and suspicious, ’cause I feel like King Of Jeans was a great record, and I’m really proud of that one and I really like the first two too. There’s no record where I’m like, “ugh! What were we thinking?” With Pissed Jeans I feel like it’s all stuff I’m super proud of, but I think King Of Jeans totally nailed what we’re all about and I think the reaction we got to it was great, but it was a small reaction. There were a lot of outlets that liked it initially and quickly forgot about it. And I wasn’t like, “Oh why isn’t this place that loves Vampire Weekend also gushing about Pissed Jeans?!” I kind of get that a lot of major new music outlets aren’t going to talk about music like Pissed Jeans in general, but with this one there’s seems to be a lot more interest, and I’m like, why? I mean do you guys really think that King Of Jeans is really so much better than the last one, because I don’t know if I necessarily think that. Are people feeling us right now because music writers are sick of endlessly having to cover bedroom electronic recording projects for the past six months? If so, that’s not cool if it’s just because our competition blows.
STEREOGUM: I think it’s probably some weird amalgam of all of those things. I think the tide … especially when you’re immersed in writing about it, it comes in these waves. You try to view each record as its own individual thing, but after getting like 20 records that sound like that — like a dude in his bedroom made this really pretty, but ultimately unmemorable electronic music — getting a Pissed Jeans record is, quite literally, like a blast of fresh air.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, and I listen to a lot of that stuff too, I’m not just only listening to guitar music I’m listening to so much electronic music. But I can see the tides of where the zeitgeist is at getting kind of sick of it maybe.
STEREOGUM: I ask myself these questions all the time. I want to be fair to people. I’m like, why do I like this? Is it just because it reminds me of something I liked when I was a teenager or is it because it just happens to be great? These are important things to think about when you’re trying to write honestly about someone else’s art. In the case of your band, I could see how some outlets might not be inclined to give it the same amount of attention because it seems what you are doing is simple.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, I personally differ in my tastes regarding what is simple. Like in electronic music, I want repetitive stuff that just drills its way into my head. I don’t want to hear, “Well you know there’s seven keyboards running here, two that are run through Ableton, and there’s a live harpist being manipulated,” it’s like, I don’t care, you’ve already lost me.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I think when confronted with something that works on a really elemental level, something that does make you wanna smash something or drive really fast in a car — it just works on a primal level. People forget sometimes how rock music can work on a really elemental level — and be good AND smart AND say something. So I think … not that you guys have to be the signifier of that, but people just forget that it doesn’t have to be so complicated.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, and I think that’s something that relates to us. We were playing in bands that had pretty good chops — not myself particularly — but the other guys that were playing in Pissed Jeans were really good at their instruments and that’s something that makes you want to push your songwriting skills to write a riff that’s a little complex on first listen, and kind of intuitive. And Pissed Jeans was kind of like, “Hey wouldn’t it be fun if we took a step back and wrote songs that were way below our skill level,” and those ended up being, “Wow, those songs are the most fun to play!”
STEREOGUM: That’s funny. Because that’s also a skill. Restraint is a skill.
MATT KORVETTE: Yeah, cause you still gotta make it sound good. There’s a little trick there. It’s all pretty irrelevant if it doesn’t sound good.