Pissed Jeans and Lindsay Hunter Raise the Bar for Feminist Punk
Pissed Jeans are a thinking person’s sludge-punk band. It’d be pretty simple for a band that kicks up this much of a racket to spew out nonsensical or meaningless lyrics, but these Philly dudes see their music as an opportunity to provide some truly biting commentary on the important stuff. It’s part of the reason why they've recently been taking four years to release a new record. Good shit takes time.
Their new LP, Why Love Now, marks their first since 2013’s Honeys, and it seems to be arriving just when we need it. Confronting issues like gender politics and social stratification, the band made sure that their message of tolerance was heard loud and clear on their fifth album. Smack dab in the middle is a centerpiece called “I’m a Man,” featuring Ugly Girls author Lindsay Hunter delivering a satirical monologue of heated, acerbic and lascivious wit. It might just be the most feminist track you’ll hear in 2017.
Why Love Now was produced by No Wave icon Lydia Lunch, a seasoned artist whose creative output over the last 40 years has been extensive, but not so much as a producer. Still, Pissed Jeans felt that Lunch was the perfect visionary to help achieve the level of abrasiveness and innovation that they were searching for. Turns out they were right.
We called frontman Matt Korvette early on a Tuesday morning to discuss what it was like working with the legendary Lunch, why they don’t want to leave their day jobs and why punk isn’t gonna get better with the Trump administration.
Thanks for doing the interview at 9:30 in the morning.
Fuck it! Y’know, I’m awake! I’m just happy to work with anyone’s schedule. I’m already up and working. It’s not like I’m rolling out of bed with an empty six-pack.
The new album, Why Love Now, took four years, just like the last record, Honeys. When you began making an album, did you expect it to take that long?
Mmmm … I figured it would take a while. Time flies by. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years. I don’t know what I’m doing to make time go by like this, but we really just take our time. I think now, more than ever, we want to make sure our albums are as good as they can be. We’re not just filling it up real quick to get one out there. We don’t operate on the year-and-a-half album schedule like other bands. I mean, if it works for other bands, that’s awesome. We just don’t have the ability to come up with enough material that we think is of a level of certain quality quick enough.
Are you guys hyper-critical when it comes to the music you make?
I feel like we’re all really psyched on everything we’ve done. There isn’t a record where we’re shaking our heads or trying to never talk about it again. But with this last record, it’s been a bit tricky because we want to keep sounding like Pissed Jeans, so we don’t want to just rewrite our old songs. There have been songs we’ve come up with that sound really good, but they sound almost like a band that sounds like Pissed Jeans. So, we had to whittle those away until we had songs we were psyched on.
Would you say there are more or less “fuck that shit” type songs on Why Love Now than usual?
Huh. I would have to do some statistical analysis on that to really answer this intelligently. It’s hard to say, but I feel like there is a lot of major anger on this record directed at a lot of different places. But I feel like that’s always been in the DNA of Pissed Jeans.
I feel like there will likely be more anger on the next Pissed Jeans record.
Yeah, we have no plans of stopping. We’ve been a band for so long, but if you condense the time that we’ve spent actively being a band, it’s probably only three or four years. Only because we take long breaks. If we had to do this as a career, I’m not sure. Maybe it would work out great, but we never go out there thinking, “Uh, time to go out and do our song and dance again so we can eat tomorrow.” Instead, playing music is just a great mini-vacation from real life for us.
So, you guys all have day jobs. Have you ever wanted to pursue music as your main profession?
Not really. I don’t know. I like just having a life where I work and then can be done for the day and not worry that my art is marketable or that enough people are liking it. My nine-to-five job is not based on people liking me. Like, I don’t have to give them my personality and entertain in order to get paid. It’s nice not having that pressure, so I can do whatever I want with the band. Honestly, if no one showed up, it would be a bummer, but at least I would be pleased that I could do what I wanted to do. And, of course, if people love Pissed Jeans, that’s great! I’m all for that. But we’re not gonna try and have social media giveaways every week just to keep fans interested. I don’t fault artists that do that either. I’m sure it’s nice to be a full-time musician, but we’ve never really considered that.
How does a band get Lydia Lunch to produce an album? She’s not exactly known as a producer.
Well, it was pretty simple in this case: We just reached out and asked her, and she agreed after some discussion. We just thought it would be an interesting idea, and it worked out really well.
So, what made you think of her as a candidate to produce the album?
Previously we had worked with Alex Newport, who is really great and taught us so much. We’re so proud of those records he did, and we’d love to work with him again some day. But honestly, we felt like mixing it up because we had done two records in a row with him. And I wanted to throw a wrench into the works, because we’re a pretty well-oiled machine in how we write songs. There aren’t many surprises between us anymore. So, I wanted to take us out of that comfort zone a little and bring someone in who is very different from us and see what would happen. It was a little risky. Working with Alex would have been the opposite of risky.
What was it like in the studio with Lydia?
It was awesome. She was as crazy as you’d imagine her to be. There was no lull in her energy. She was ferocious and hilarious and scary and intimidating. She would just fire off thoughts on the songs, and be engaged in what was going on. But she didn’t really tell us what to do, which I wouldn’t have wanted anyway. We were just there to get her feedback and criticism, and it was great. We got so many good stories out of her. Honestly, she was super motivating in ways I wouldn’t have expected. Like, she could tell when we needed some positive reinforcement, and it was great. The first day I was recording vocals, I wasn’t as good as I expected and I was feeling stressed, and that night she just texted me the most encouraging statement, and then I just got really energized by that.
I hung out with her a bunch outside of the studio. I was kinda her handler. Like, I would get her two bottles of white wine before picking her up to go to the studio. If you’re a band on Sub Pop, you might as well use that leverage to have some fun, y’know? And she wasn’t looking to grab a paycheck wherever she could. She definitely wanted it to be something she would care about and be proud of.
Was there any discussion of Lydia contributing vocals to the album?
Not really. Maybe in the future? We didn’t want to just shoehorn something in. If there was a part that called for it, then definitely, but nothing came up. And she was content. She’s got nothing to prove. And she’s one of the most confident people I’ve ever met. She can easily have nothing tomorrow and live happily, while the rest of us would probably hang ourselves because we were unable to survive. She would gather up a bunch of garbage and make a sweet penthouse out of it.
Men are really ruining the world right now, and so a song like “The Bar Is Low” seems like very apropos.
It’s pretty topical, yeah. But that was just me being legitimately disappointed in the state of what is expected of guys — myself included. It seems like every week there is a dude who’s being outed for, y’know, harassing his ex over texts for the last three years. And he’s either my favorite bartender or he plays guitar in an awesome band, and now I’m finding out he’s been keying his ex’s car or writing rude messages on Venus and Serena’s YouTube page. You know what I mean? What the fuck? It’s just a real bummer that it’s not shocking anymore. I’m probably a bit naïve, too. That shit has been going on forever; it’s just now it’s able to come to light more. Maybe it’s a good thing that it’s coming up and being revealed instead of getting completely ignored or nobody knowing about it.
I’ve gotten rid of some records over the past couple years by bands that have revealed themselves to be assholes.
There’s so much of that! You get fatigued with all of the outrage, and it’s like, how can you get so upset when it becomes a weekly thing? I don’t have any solutions for it other than to not tolerate [it] myself and to make sure I’m not doing it, and to have uncomfortable conversations with people in my social sphere who are tolerating it. That’s all I’ve got.
“I’m a Man” would make good entrance music. Where did that song come from?
I’m a big fan of Lindsay, and we became friends out of mutual appreciation, I guess. And we just had this track, and I thought it would be cool to have a different vocal take on it. I wanted Lindsay to write something for the record, maybe even just for the inner sleeve, but I don’t think anyone reads inner sleeves anymore, so I didn’t want it to be wasted. So, I asked if she had anything to go with the track, and she sent us “I’m a Man,” but it was too long, so she edited it down and recorded it. I thought it was horrifying and frightening and implicating and so uncomfortable to hear. I was thrilled.
What did Lydia think of it?
Oh man, she was moshing to it. It was great! That was the test, because she’s the queen of uncomfortable, provocative, stalker-y sex reading, and she was fist-pumping and throwing chairs. So, that was a good sign.
I noticed you misspell “ignore” in “Ignorecam.”
Yeah, I play a lot of phone-based Scrabble. So, I guess that was my homage to seeing words as a jumble. It just seemed more interesting to get it wrong.
So, when you play it live will you try and get the spelling wrong the right way?
That’s the beauty of Pissed Jeans. I don’t even really have to turn my microphone on. Singing is completely secondary to whatever else is happening. No one will be checking up on that.
What was the impetus for writing the line, “I used to play punk, now I'm just singing the blues”?
Outside of the context, it’s just kinda trying to sound pretty hopeless, like I’m wistfully remembering my youth. That was the type of mood I wanted to have. But I think it’s also a weird spot to be in a band that came out of DIY warehouses and basements and continues to exist years later, when the initial tastemakers who loved us early on have clearly moved on. I mean, how can you not? You’re not gonna pretend that Pissed Jeans is a cool secret, because we’re not anymore. We’re in a weird spot where we are beyond hype. We made it through that cycle, and now we just exist as a regular band. I’m always curious as to how people place us. Because I always see myself more as that 24-year-old punk playing in a warehouse than I do playing Pitchfork Fest.
Tell me about the press photo, where you guys are standing in front of the Kurt Vile mural.
It was Brad [Fry, guitarist]’s idea. We just thought it was a funny idea. I just love the thought of us posing in front of graffiti art as if we didn’t realize it was already the album cover to a very well-liked guy from our town. Kurt Vile is cool and a friend of ours, so we knew there would be no issue. He’s got a great sense of humor. Like, if anyone wanted to pose with a Pissed Jeans album cover, I’d be psyched.
I also love how that wall has changed so much since that album cover. Now it’s a bank parking lot, and that area has undergone this supreme gentrification. The way time has progressed in the last few years I thought was very interesting.
The best thing about it is the elderly lady driving by right in front of you.
We didn’t plan that. But when we saw it happening, we said, “Snap one when they go by!”
Finally, what do you make of people saying that Trump being president will inspire punk rock the same way Reagan did back in the 1980s?
I think it’s so stupid. It just seems very antiquated and irrelevant. Anyone who’s treating it like punk hasn’t been relevant over the past decade just hasn’t been paying attention. And anyone who thinks you need awful tyranny to make good songs is just silly to me.