People love to reminisce about the early days of Sub Pop. There’s a certain romanticism that comes with recalling the DIY movements of zines and hand-drawn flyers, led by west coast bands leading the fight not only to become heard, but to be respected from an ambivalent public. Bands like Mudhoney and Nirvana were masterful in spurring reactions from discontent, of course.
But even amidst the struggle for relevance amidst a media landscape that shifts daily, contemporary sludge-punks Pissed Jeans embody that very same homegrown mentality while honing in on a hardcore vibe that’s entirely their own. In light of their fourth album, the CoS Top Star-earning Honeys, I chatted with perpetually shirtless frontman Matt Korvette about the new record, male gazes, adult angst, and not digging My Bloody Valentine.
Why do you think fuzzed-out bands often muse about honey? You have Mudhoney, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey”, and now the title of your new album, Honeys.
Huh. You know, I never thought about the lineage of honey in rock. I kind of like that it’s a word people know the history, now that I think of it. I like to imagine Pissed Jeans as having a place in a long line of rock bands that come and go. I think anyone would only want to be remembered, myself included, and it’s kind of cool to think if a band 10 years from now invokes honey in some way and be part of this wonderful chain of rock bands.
Yeah, it’s a cool concept to be handed down from generation to generation, and you guys have probably helped in some way spearhead a new wave of thrashing bands like Iceage, The Men, and White Lung, who you’ll be touring with soon. What’s more, you’re one of the only bands on Sub Pop right now that seems like you could have been there when the label first started.
I mean I was a huge Nirvana fan as a little kid in elementary and middle school before I got more into underground punk. There’s something about Sub Pop’s earlier records that’s just so appealing that’s not totally sold on the music, like how the bands looked, how the records looked, those kind of come across. You just want to be there. We never would have dreamed that Sub Pop would have known who we were, but this wasn’t some sort of conscious effort to tantalize Sub Pop to put out a record by us, but I can totally see how we fit in with that and we’re definitely not trying to ignore that.
It’s kind of fun being a rock band on Sub Pop. They still kind of have that irreverence that can kind of be ignored if they put out a record that’s like, super serious, emotional, quiet, library-reading music. And that’s not our thing, so it’s kind of fun doing that. I mean, Mudhoney’s still putting out records too, and they’re great.
Being one of Mudhoney’s labelmates, do you ever look back at the history of Sub Pop and take to heart the DIY movements that helped put bands like Mudhoney out there like zines? How can you continue to do something like that with the changing media landscape?
Totally. We barely got on Facebook recently. We haven’t purposely avoided it, but we do come from a background where you do things like zines and go to tons of shows. I mean, emailing’s cool but it’s taken us a while to get on Twitter and Facebook, and we’re still not very active with that kind of stuff. There are bands that are a lot more savvy with that kind of stuff. It feels kind of weird. I’d much rather copy an 8.5 x 11 sheet with some stuff, you know?
Definitely. It definitely closes the gap between the band and the audience and becomes interactive for both parties involved.
I mean, I also don’t mind having people not know what I had for breakfast. You know like ultra-Twittering and Instagram world where you show, here I walked to the post office and now here I am in my car. It’s kind of nice to do a zine because it’s a product, or an insert on a record where you can keep some mystery to it while still connecting. We don’t put out tons and tons of records of radio and live sessions, recording demo practices. We’d rather make sure what we give you is as good as we can. And not overload you. So if you buy every Pissed Jeans record, you don’t have to buy a ton of records. The ones you have are all good.
I’ve always thought that the bands that we remember the most tend to release one rock-solid record maybe every three or four years, as opposed to releasing an overwhelming number per one year. It loses that aspect of longing when you have so many out.
Yeah. It’s nice to anticipate as opposed to saying, “Oh god, there are seven more I have to buy?” As a fan that’s tiring. I’m definitely a music fan, and I’ve definitely been worn out by bands I like putting out so much stuff.
It’s funny that you mention the Twittering and Instagramming of lives and breakfast food, because I was going to ask you a food question — just one, though.
Oh yeah? I was hoping for more food questions.
Sorry to disappoint! So you have one song on Honeys entitled “Cafeteria Food”. What’s the deal with cafeteria food, were you scarred in elementary school by mystery meat or something?
Ha, not really. That song’s more about actively disliking people that you can’t outwardly dislike and just kind of waiting for their eventual demise. Where you gotta suck it up, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And you know, thinking about how microwavable meals will probably end up giving you cancer someday.
People can be toxic, after all.
Yeah. It’s a nice and pretty harmless way of getting it out [in the song].
You’re from Allentown, PA, which is a fairly nondescript place. What about growing up there fueled the aggression that is intrinsic to your music — suburban discontent, your upbringing?
I think there was definitely no pressure. Music was made solely for the fun of doing it. We didn’t move to Allentown to become big. We were friends who grew up in the area, and we went to high school together and have played in bands as long as we’ve been teenagers and ever since. It’s just always seemed like a natural thing to do. We never had concerns about people liking our music, we’re not professionals, so it just lets us do what we want and not having to worry about everyone’s expectations.
When you inevitably place yourself in a hub, say like New York or Nashville, where people make entertainment their business, I feel like it becomes this thing where everyone’s trying to outdo each other in some degree.
Three out of four of us moved to Philly in the past eight or nine years, so we do live in a city but it’s not an entertainment hub where people go to make it. It’s a comfortable city.
I was reading a bit about the recording process of Honeys, and you mentioned this notion of ‘adult angst’ in an interview to describe the lyrical content. Do you think we never grow out of angst?
Yeah, it would be weird if we did I think. At least speaking for myself. I feel like there are people who seemed to have never experienced any angst or discontent ever. And they’re probably some of the stupider people. It changes as you grow and you hit new levels, you know, like when you’re a college freshman, working your first job in your early twenties, hitting 40, whatever. You’re always going to hit new, weird experiences. It’s always much easier now to think, Oh, I can totally ace high school, or I can be the coolest guy in college, you know? Because you look back at that experience and you think about how you could have done it right. But when you’re at that age you’re trying to figure it out. Like I can look at my life and age right now, and by the time I do, I’ll be older.
Would you do it differently if you had the chance?
There’s definitely things I would do differently. But I’m also totally pleased I don’t have any serious regrets.
Good deal, that’s the right way to live.
Yeah, I’m pretty fortunate.
What’s your greatest fear?
Right now, probably my biggest fear is dying.
Is it the uncertainty about death that freaks you out?
No, I think it’s probably because I have a kid now. Suddenly when you have a kid, your life becomes a lot more important. I would be so devastated if I died and he didn’t have a dad to raise him. Whereas before you have kids, you don’t want to die but if you do it won’t be as brutal. Your parents will miss you definitely, and your girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever, but it’s not as big of a deal.
Have you heard the new My Bloody Valentine record?
Ah I haven’t, no.
Yeah. I have a one of their records, but I don’t know, they were never a band I really checked out. They’re a band that everyone raves about so much, you know? Like they’re so crucial, life-defining to so many people that it was kind of a turn-off.
Interesting. So was the hype the thing that turned you off?
Yeah, I was turned off from the beginning from checking it out. If it’s something so universally beloved, like oh my god, I remember when I first heard My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, that sort of thing. I’m sure it’s good, but I don’t know. There’s too much of a build-up about them for me to get into it.
Fair, although I must say I’m a little surprised that it’s never been on your radar.
There are tons of bands that people totally get behind, like universally loved bands, that I just never checked out. I do get affected by other people, although I try not to be. Although there are some things I love that are hugely popular and I can’t explain why I love them. But it may have to do with how I first heard it, or something about it resonated with me. It helps for things to be personal — like you discovered it, or you have some sort of relationship to it as opposed to being like, well 30,000 friends said it was good so I had to listen to it with them. It’s hard to have an experience with a band when it’s like that.
Totally, music becomes special when you can associate a defining memory with it. I’m a big MBV fan, but I know a lot of that is because the first time I heard them, it was entwined with a pretty pivotal turning point during my teenage years.
What are some of the bands that hold that sort of resonance for you?
Like a pivotal moment band?
In my teenage years, I can think of Spaz and Saves the Day. Doctor Octagon. They opened my mind a bit, there’s been tons.
So that was back then. What have you been listening to lately?
I listen to tons of music, like too much. Super into techno, I listen to a lot of electronic and dance music and awful-sound punk music. Those are the two genres I find myself listening to the most.
I would never have thought techno, but that’s cool.
Yeah, I can’t get enough of it, really.
Do you go to techno shows or raves often?
Not really, I would go more often if I could stay up that late I think. It’s more of a personal thing. I love going out and dancing, but if there’s an artist I love, chances are I’d rather listen to it at home comfortably and chill myself.
What is the male gaze you speak of on Honeys exactly?
It’s basically just the rampant sexism and misogyny that’s out there. I’m sure you would know better than I just how guys will not take women seriously and de-value their opinions?
Yeah, and sometimes they don’t realize they’re doing it. Often it can be a thing where people point fingers and say, “You know, that’s all frat guys, but here in the music industry we’re past that.” When really, guys in bands are just as bad. Record critics are just as bad. DJs are just as bad. It’s my song where I’m trying to acknowledge not only that, but that I’ve done that too.
I can look at women and think they’re hot, and have that be the main thing I’m thinking of. I grew up in America too where you’re supposed to watch Baywatch and these ridiculous shows where women have plastic surgery. And it just becomes engrained how you’re supposed to see the world. I’m trying to get myself out of that, own up to it and apologize.
Mm. It certainly happens more than anyone is willing to admit.
It’s definitely an uncomfortable topic. But it’s important for guys like me to see this, to stand up against it. As opposed to being like, “okay women, you have to fight to tell guys to stop guys from being pricks.” You not only have to deal with this shit, you shouldn’t have to be the only ones to say hey, stop it. I love that women listen to Pissed Jeans and I don’t think that women are like, not into loud rock music. It’s so stupid that people feel that way, or for people to say, “Oh she likes Pissed Jeans, well her boyfriend must have gotten her into them.”
There’s this whole perception that punk is this all-inclusive boys-club.
Yeah, just trying to put it out in the open and work on it really. It’s not going to be solved tomorrow, but we can work on it. We being us guys. I hate that it’s all on the women, it’s so lop-sided. I hate that you have to try and take care of yourself because no one’s going to give you respect. Meanwhile, I don’t have to worry about that. I don’t have to worry about walking into a club and getting like eyed at, women coming up and harassing me and if I don’t go home with them I’m called an insulting name. I’ve never had to worry about that. Like if I don’t dress sexy enough, I’m a dork, and if I dress sexy I’m a slut?
Yeah, admittedly I don’t know what that’s like from the guys’ side, to not have to constantly demand respect. Which is sad.
It just sucks. I think it’s important to bring up into discussion. I would love for Pissed Jeans to be the rock band that girls can say yo, I’m down with that. Because they get it more than other guys. I want women to come to our shows. Let the obnoxious sweaty guys stay outside. There’s women in my life that I love, and I don’t want them to be treated that way. It’s a simple human rights issue. It’s fucked up, and it’s something that would be great to try and change.
Yeah. Shit, you’ve floored me with your answer. That’s awesome.
Really I just want for women like you to be able to exist easily, against idiot dorks who are just into music because they don’t do anything else, you know what I mean?
Definitely. Kind of a silly question by comparison, would you rather throw back some drinks with Mark Arm or Iggy Pop?
Well they’re both interesting guys. I’d probably have to say Iggy Pop, because I have had drinks with Mark Arm and he is a true gentleman. But I’d be curious to see what Iggy’s like at age 85.
He can’t be that old. Is he?
Nah, I just guessed. But I’d have to opt for him. Sorry, Mark.
What’s a record you wish you would have made?
That’s a tough question. There are just so many to choose from. I’d probably have to pick my favorite album of all time, which is called Aspirations by X. The Australian X. I love that record so much, it hits it perfectly. Definitely a Pissed Jeans influence.
I’m sure you guys get asked a lot about pissing jeans, or if someone has ever pissed their jeans at a show of yours. What I want to know is if anyone’s ever pooped their jeans at a show of yours.
Now, that’s something I don’t ever want to know. I hope I never know the answer to that question. The closest I got was one time after the show, we were trying to sell shirts. This one guy comes up, he’s pretty drunk, and he goes “Hey, I’ll piss my jeans if you give me a free t-shirt.”
Yeah! And we were like no that’s horrible man, don’t do that. And he said “Ah, you sure?” But he clearly already had, it was pretty gross. Bad band name choice, kind of gets you in the end. Like imagine if you band was called the Diarreah Eaters, and people took that to heart. Much better to be something like, The Lottery Ticket Accepters. Or the Comfortable Couch Sitters. Maybe then people would come up to us and say, “Man I’ve got this really comfy couch you guys gotta try out.”
Or the Free Ice Cream Taste Testers.
I guess things would have really gotten weird then if you guys had gone with your original band name, Unrequited Hard-On.
That was probably just as crass. I barely can recall how that band name stuff went down. Maybe I should have paid better attention at the time.