Q&A with Jeff Rosenstock

Jeff Rosenstock speaks of the current state of our country post-election and how all of us can make a difference if we just take a step outside of our house.

Do you have a favorite song off the new album? Or one that’s the most fun for you to play?

It kind of changes, I feel like there’s a bunch. I think the song “…While You’re Alive”, the second to last song, I think that ended up being my favorite on the record. I just really like that song. I don’t know. It’s always weird to be like ‘Oh I like my song the best or whatever’. They’re all fun to play. We’re all pretty proud of the record and I’m stoked with how it turned out.

If you had to pick one song, if someone was like, “Who’s Jeff Rosenstock? What’s this new album?” Which song do you really want people to hear?

I guess I’d suggest “Wave Goodnight to Me” just because I think, you know, it’s a pop song. It’s a power pop song but the lyrics are about the events that lead to gentrification basically, and that lead to not even just gentrification but the wool being pulled over your eyes, and realizing that the wool is pulled over your eyes after it’s too late and things have changed for the worst and you can’t do anything about it. And that song is a lot about that, and also it’s a pop song. I really like pop songs when they have dark undertones, and especially now with the kind of stuff that resonates with me or whatever, which is generally anti-corporate punk shit, so yeah that’s why I guess I feel like that about that song.

In the wake of the election, does your music, this album in particular, “Worry.”, have any new meaning? 

Yeah, and I mentioned that song specifically because we played yesterday, and that’s the first time since knowing that fucking Donald Trump is going to be president of America, which is a terrifying thing to say out loud, and I hope somehow something happens, but that’s not how democracy works. It’s just crazy. This record was written before that was even a thing, and was recorded while those Republican primaries were still happening. I think there were still like 15 people in the primary just all screaming at each other, all seemed pretty insane. But like there’s stuff that’s just basically about advertising. Like this is a media-created president. It makes me sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist or whatever, but I really feel like the media led us to electing him by giving him tons and tons of free air time no matter how bad. And they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity and he got a fuck ton of publicity from all these news agencies that were reporting on him negatively. But you know they were still reporting on him and they weren’t reporting on Hillary really, in the same amount. Like I didn’t see Hillary Clinton’s speeches constantly on TV and people being like “Oh fuck what’s going on?”, you know? And I think that the whole event of the election was there to like drive ad sales, like they present it as a fucking boxing match, you know? And it just kind of makes people afraid. It makes people want to stay inside and just buy shit and keep staying afraid and keep feeling like we have no hope and we can’t do anything. So playing a lot of the songs yesterday, because a lot of it is not necessarily about having no hope in the wake of Donald Trump, but just like with the way police brutality is so rampant right now and gentrification is crazy and just like targeted ads and stuff. It’s all designed to make us feel like we can’t achieve anything. And then we watch these ads and we’re like “Oh but I can buy this and that will make me feel better”. And just kind of playing these songs yesterday, a lot of that sunk in with me. That it’s fucking real. This shit is really fucking happening. I think the scary thing is that we don’t really know what the solution is right now. We just know that nobody represents us anymore, they represent corporations, and they don’t really represent people anymore.

The album seems to come across the ideas of hope and not knowing what to do for the future, so I guess this changes now with the election, but what’s your philosophy on hope?

I think it’s by design that we lose hope in situations like this because that’s how people remain in power. And in reality, even discounting the amount of voter repression that happened in a lot of states that voted Trump, even not accounting for that, Hillary Clinton still won the majority. And there was a lot of people who just voted for her because they didn’t want Trump to be in there, and there was a lot of people who didn’t vote for her because they just didn’t like Hillary, but they didn’t want Trump, so they didn’t know what to do. So basically my point is that there’s more of us than them. I kind of didn’t feel like that on election night. It was pretty bleak, but then looking at the numbers afterwards was like, no there are more of us and what we need to do is just kind of get together and get our shit together and understand that we are no longer represented. And I guess the thing is if you feel like there is no hope, that’s a big fucking task to do. That’s a lot to do, to start fresh, to build a new ship, that’s hard. And it’s really hard to accomplish anything if you’re feeling too depressed to leave your fucking house, too depressed to turn off the TV, so yeah I think that they’ve used hope as a slogan for us, so they can take it away from us whenever they want. But at the end of the day, while all of this terrible stuff is happening, we can’t deprive ourselves of good feelings. We can’t deprive ourselves of the feeling that we can achieve something, or the feeling that we can be in love, or the feeling that we can have a happy moment throughout the day. It’s incredibly important to keep that going or else we’re just fucked. I don’t know if you’re like me in any way, but there’s winters where I just did not leave my house for a couple of weeks because I was just so depressed, and this is kind of the winter of our country, but not leaving our house isn’t going to fucking solve anything, so it’s kind of weird, like yeah, it’s an incredibly bleak situation but we got to fucking brush ourselves off and get the fuck up right away, and do something. And sadly we don’t really know what that is, but I think the first step is just acknowledging that if we do get together we can do something. So I guess the first step is just everybody getting together and uniting and kind of taking it from there, you know, and understanding that there are still a lot of good people left in America, even though our leader is going to be, you know, a misogynist, racist bigot.

At the end of “…While You’re Alive”, you say “Love is worry”. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, why do you say that? 

You know it’s just the fact that when you care about somebody, when you care about something or you care about an idea, you feel concerned about that being taken away from you or it being compromised or anything like that, and a lot of the time that’s what it is. Love is just worrying about somebody, just wanting to make sure that they’re ok and that they’re going to be accounted for. I mean, 2016 is fucked up and a lot of stuff has been coming to the surface in this country, whether it’s that there is actually a white supremacy movement, whether it’s that police brutality against African Americans is a real thing, like it’s finally, it’s really coming to the surface so that you can’t fucking ignore it anymore. And I can’t imagine how people with children feel, who are seeing this kind of stuff for the first time, who are finally kind of being woken up, and I just kind of feel like, you know, that kind of love, you’re just afraid. You’re afraid for the other people in your life, and whether it’s your family, or your partner, or just your friends, or just that you love kind people in general, like right now is the time when we all feel fucking concerned and nervous about that because we don’t know what’s going to happen, like, we don’t know what’s f**king happening. It seems kind of like it’s going to be ethnic cleansing in America, which is so fucked, and how do you not worry about the people you love in that situation?

Sorry, I haven’t talked to anybody about this before I talked to you by the way. Like we’ve all been kind of like ‘Yeah we know we don’t need to get into this’ so I apologize if I’m just kind of unloading.

No, dude it’s ok! I’ve also been kind of like ‘yeah he’s president, don’t want to talk about it right now’.  

No we have to talk about it! That’s the thing. I think that like internet culture has been kind of teaching us to be afraid to talk about things. It’s kind of the same mentality that everybody was like ‘Hillary is going to win. Hillary is going to win’. It’s like ‘No! You fucking idiot’. Nothing is a fucking given. You have to talk. You have to speak up for yourself. You just can’t be quiet because some dumb shithead is telling you that like the liberals have an agenda to shame people for being racist. You should be ashamed if you’re fucking racist, fuck you, you know? Like there’s things that I feel like over the past year, it’s been encouraged to stay silent about them, and I don’t fucking want to, and I don’t think anybody should.

In this album there’s a ton of variety. For example, “We Begged to Explode” versus “Planet Luxury”, which is almost screamo.  

Yeah those songs could not be more different. I like all kinds of stuff, and I feel like a lot of the time in my earlier bands, I found myself being a little pigeon holed into being a punk band or a ska band or something like that, and at the end of the day, like that’s not all that I listen to. I listen to a lot of music. And I think it started getting into a little bit of a trap where it felt like I could only make a certain kind of music because my voice sounds a certain way and I play guitar a certain way and because I like loud stuff. I kind of felt like because I’m such a punk at heart, especially musically, there was no room for me to explore other avenues basically, other textures, other pallets, and then I think yeah I just started writing the last “Bomb the Music Industry!” record, which was a band I was in before this, and I was just writing it because I was writing, I wasn’t trying to do a thing or anything like that. And I just kind of started exploring more quiet stuff occasionally. It’s not like a super quiet record or anything, but like once that ball kind of started rolling, I realized that the thing I love about art is a lot of it is just tension and build up and stuff like that, and I think that if you’re just going ‘loud loud loud fast fast fast’ all the time, you can’t have that same feeling of relief. And same thing if you’re just kind of like cool and collected the whole time, like it doesn’t build to anything. So I just wanted to try and make a record that felt like it explored it all, and I’m always trying to do that, something that just like, can get quieter than anything you’d hear on a punk record and then just like explode into a blast beat that you’d never hear on a pop record or an indie rock record or anything like that. So yeah I’m trying to be more fearless with writing, and I’m always trying, and I don’t know if I’m achieving it, but I’m trying, and that’s the best I can do, is just try to explore all the things I like and not feel locked down to anything.

The songs on the second half of the album, from “Blast Damage Days” to “Perfect Sound Whatever”, all lead into one another. Was it just one big jam?  

I kind of wrote this record chronologically for the most part, and I was stuck with how to end it. And I knew that I wanted “…While You’re Alive” to be towards the end, but it just felt like everything I was adding to make it a complete song was not making the song any better. And I was kind of fucked up over it, and it was also the first time I’d booked studio time before having a completed record, or especially before knowing like ‘oh yeah I got to tweak some of this stuff but this is pretty much good’, and so I was just kind of freaking out and I talked to a buddy of mine, and he suggested just kind of doing the back half. He was just like, ‘Well I mean, if you’re problem is that you don’t want to make these songs any longer, why don’t you just try smashing them all together and making it one thing?’. And right away I knew the eight songs out of like the thirteen songs I had that would all work together. I knew how I wanted it to feel dynamically and it all kind of worked itself out, and I spent a week just kind of writing the music, just kind of making it all work together, and then had one really dark day after I found out that our friend’s diner got robbed, just a few months after we got robbed, and I just lay face down on the mattress and wrote all the lyrics for the last eight songs on the record and it was just kind of like “Oof ok”. So yeah they are all different songs, but at the same time, we did play most of that live, straight, in a row, me, Mike, John and Kevin in a room, amps turned up, no headphones on, just rocking. So that’s why it sounds like it’s all together, because we truly played it all together all in a row.

Sorry to hear you got robbed man.

It’s long ago enough and also we were really lucky in that the people who love our band and who have liked the music that we have made over the past decade or so all chipped in and helped us replace our gear almost immediately. I mean we lost sentimental shit, like I lost my guitar, and Mike lost his guitar, and those were both things that were very specific and that we’d had for years and years and years, but we also got our stuff replaced because I don’t know, karma worked out for us that day. It was such a harrowing experience but it’s like ‘What, am I supposed to hate the fucking world now? How’s that going to change anything? My shit is still gone. Like it’s not going to change anything’.

What’s the story behind “Pietro, 60 Years Old”?

I got married about a year and a half ago, and when we went to the courthouse to get the wedding papers, there was a couple in their sixties or seventies. They were probably in their seventies but seventy is hard to rhyme, and they were there, and the guy Pietro spoke a little bit of English, and his wife to be, Maria, spoke no English, and they had no witnesses, so me and Christine were like ‘Oh yeah, we’ll be your witnesses’, and that song is about them. I was just thinking about the idea that you find the person for you more toward the end days, and I think that’s beautiful. And I also thought about them living in New York, and that they’re living in the city that’s plagued with luxury housing, that is just going to sweep in and potentially kick them out of where they live, and if their neighborhood changes, it seemed like he was a little concerned about that to. And I was just thinking about being in love for the first time, and being in real love until the fucking end when you’re seventy, and also the fear of being uprooted because of luxury living. So I thought that was a good way to start out that whole second side which kind of speaks to a lot of that stuff in greater detail later on. I thought it’d be nice to start it out with the story of two old people who I will probably never see again, and probably don’t know that there’s a song written about them.

Do you have any general advice for young people or college students?

It’s weird because I understand that I’m of a different generation now, that’s the first time I’ve ever said that out loud. But I know because I wasn’t born with the internet existing. But I would just say, get off your phone and get off your Facebook and have a conversation with somebody and realize what actual people are like, because people are a lot meaner and have a lot stronger, stranger feelings when they’re just typing it out, but I think when you talk to people I think you realize that we all just want to look out for those who we love and those who we care about but a lot of people are fucking crazy misguided.

We’d like to give a big thank you to Jeff Rosenstock for taking the time to do this interview and Nadia Deljou of co-sign for coordinating!

Interview conducted by Amar Fernald.

Listen Live