When my gal was young she assumed her uncle was Billy Joel because he played the piano and lived in Allentown. No dice, Joel was just singing about rusty, steel-lined Allentown — plus, the piano man was born in the Bronx. Now, though, there are more than likely kids who can claim shared blood with Allentown’s reigning scuzz-rock export, Pissed Jeans. (Ok, Air-Conditoning reigns as well.) The ice-creaming loving quartet rips a punk crash with plenty of AmRep’s, sounding a bit like Jesus Lizard without as bass-y a groove — but dig those frantic guitar parts and the deep-in-Jeff The Pigeon wale. The band’s shredding sophomore album (and Sub Pop debut) Hope For Men is messy, eerily catchy, sex-bombed fun. They’re the most intriguing Sub Pop signees since Wolf Eyes.
Yow-on-Black Flag vocalist Matt Korvette runs the estimable White Denim, but when not releasing records, he works as a claims adjuster. That’s right, a claims adjuster. I spoke to Korvette the day after Pissed Jeans’ Webster Hall show with Man Man and Celebration last week. Sniffing out insurance fraud might not seem like the most exciting gig, but as you’ll soon learn, a day at the claims adjusting office includes more than it’s share of explosions. After out discussion, check out Hope For Men’s “People Person,” which goes out to Korvette’s temperamental co-worker. Now please step back from your keyboard, Miss.
STEREOGUM: How long have you worked as a claims adjuster?
MATT KORVETTE: It’ll be four years in January.
STEREOGUM: Do you plan to stick with it?
MK: Hopefully not. It’s starting to wear me down, honestly. The longer you stay, the harder it is to get out, or so I’ve been told. I’m more interested in finding a place where I’m being mentally stimulated and around interesting, intelligent people. The money is so good, though.
STEREOGUM: Any idea where you’ll go next?
MK: No, and that’s the problem. I’m incredibly passionate about music, but never to the point where I’ve thought “wow, wouldn’t it be great to make money doing this?” I just can’t correlate a successful career with music in my head, I don’t ever want to subject my creativity and artistic output to the fact that I need to be paid for it to survive. I’m certainly not going to turn money down, but I’m not seeking it either. It sucks, but so it goes for any genuine artist, I’d imagine. If I do change careers, I would probably look somewhere outside of claims handling in the insurance world, or somewhere completely different. I’m pretty open to any new, interesting options.
STEREOGUM: What kind of background do you have? Did you go to school for this?
MK: I don’t think anyone goes to school to end up in insurance. It’s like a community of lost souls, tempted by the pay and benefits who never really had a passion for anything else. I have a Bachelors in Computer Science, but I realized that I had no interest in that sort of thing shortly before graduation.
STEREOGUM: What had you initially planned to do? How did “claims adjustor” make it onto your radar?
MK: I initially went to school for a concentration in English, but switched to Computer Science because I dug the logic and math involved and it was something I was good at. When I finally graduated, I was lucky enough to choose between two job offers, one for Car And Driver magazine working for their internet team in Manhattan, and this insurance gig in Philadelphia. I had no friends in New York and had plenty in Philadelphia, plus there was a girl I had just started flirting with who happened to work two blocks away from the insurance office. I’m still unsure if I made the right choice, but I’m generally pretty happy with my life.
STEREOGUM: What’s a typical day at the office?
MK: I suppose in a nutshell, my job is to guide and help an injured person through the Workers’ Compensation process, from the day they are injured to the day they return to work. This involves dealing with their employers, their doctors, their attorneys, their corporate brokers, and themselves. I spend a lot of time on the phone and in front of my computer, documenting all that I’m doing. Rarely is there any particular task that involves any sort of ingenuity or craftiness, it’s mainly just a huge pile of small, intuitive tasks that builds up quickly. We also get to spy on people, which is one of the most satisfying parts of the job, especially when you catch a guy who says he can’t get out of bed mowing his lawn and wrestling with his kids on a trampoline. I recently had to investigate a teen-aged girl, so I looked her up on MySpace and found out that she refers to herself as an “Emo Slut.” So I got to talk to an emo slut on the phone recently, which beats talking to a radiologist any day.
STEREOGUM: Why were you investigating “Emo Slut”? Also, how do you go about spying? Just walking past a house? Hanging out in a parked car? I realize it differs with each case, but…
MK: Well, the more information you have on a person the better, really. It’s interesting to search people on MySpace, because it’s amazing the information they’ll freely give away on there. Surveillance is conducted in a number of ways, many of which I’m not even privy to myself. We hire licensed private investigators, which I don’t think is any secret. There definitely is a lot of “hanging out in a parked car” in that job description, though. It’s another interesting career, but I don’t think I could deal with the sporadic nature of it. One week, maybe hanging out late at night waiting to see if a guy leaves the house to meet up with his mistress, one week waking up at 4:00 am to catch a guy leaving for a hunting trip.
STEREOGUM: So you report to an actual office? Are you an independent adjuster or do you work for a specific company?
MK: I work in an office, fairly stereotypical. I sometimes feel like Jim Halpert, sans a roving camera to stare blankly into. I work for a Fortune 500 company.
STEREOGUM: What’s the typical claims adjuster like? Or are they all over the map?
MK: I can only speak for the few dozen I’ve met, but generally they are bitter, jaded, and angry. In a 40 hour work-week, the average adjuster is expected to complete 50-60 hours worth of work, so naturally there is a lot of burn-out and unhinging going on. I’ve seen so many conversations between adjusters and inanimate objects, people just screaming at fax machines or punching the printer. One lady literally smashed her keyboard to pieces, that’s not just an internet myth, I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. This sort of job can bring you down. I do my best to leave my work at the office, though, and thankfully I’ve got a lot of fun hobbies and friends to keep me excited and stimulated when I’m not in the office. Some people only come home to Dancing With The Stars and their cats, so I can understand the constant resentment and anger.
STEREOGUM: What’s the strangest claim you’ve had to deal with?
MK: In a world of so many lumbar-spine strains and carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s refreshing to get a woman who had her ribs broken by a co-worker’s hug, or a cook who stole a piece of steak and then choked on it. My response was actually interrupted just now by a woman looking for reimbursement for her shoe, which was apparently damaged in a slip and fall. It never ends.
STEREOGUM: Ever deal with a claim involving pissed jeans (the occurrence, not the band)? Bad, terrible joke, but had to ask…
MK: I don’t think so. I’ve dealt with a number of seizures and loss of consciousness, but none where the person actually lost their bladder control. I often handle claims for a pharmaceutical company that works with monkeys, and I’ve had a number of monkey-feces related injuries. Good for a laugh, and they are easy enough to handle.
STEREOGUM: Folks slipping and sliding on monkey shit, or is this mainly bacterial?
MK: Mainly bacterial. It’s pretty serious. I just dealt with a woman whose job title is “lavatory animal technician.” I’ll ask her if she has any co-workers in bands, that would probably make for a really interesting interview.
STEREOGUM: Do your co-workers know about Pissed Jeans?
MK: No. Early on, I mentioned to a couple co-workers that I played in a band, but they seemed so disinterested that I never brought it up again. If we have to play some shows, I “go on a trip with my friends,” which is basically the truth. I had to attend a Workers’ Compensation conference in Vermont a year ago, and performed “My Funny Valentine” at a karaoke bar, which was apparently impressive enough to warrant people still bringing it up today. It’s flattering, but I’d rather keep a low profile here.
STEREOGUM: Any chance we can get “My Funny Valentine” on tape?
MK: With the insane technology in most cell phones these days, anything is possible. Although my latest karaoke staple is “I Love This Bar” by Toby Keith — gets the crowd in a much better mood. Also, I prefer the Chet Baker rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” which isn’t on most karaoke machines.
STEREOGUM: One last thing: Does that lady who smashed her keyboard still work with you?
MK: Yeah, right nearby my desk actually. She is also 5’1″ with a strong eastern-European accent and a constant scowl. Definitely the most intimidating person here.
[L to R: Matt Korvette, Bradley Fry (guitar), Randy Huth (bass), Sean McGuinness (drums)]
Hope For Men is out on Sub Pop.