Interview: Why time doesn’t mean a thing to Philly punks Pissed Jeans

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Pissed Jeans drummer Sean McGuinness | Photo by Rachel Del Sordo

Pissed Jeans doesn’t mess around with lots of small releases. Sure, so they put out Sam Kinison Woman/The L Word three years ago. They also had two other EPs before their first full-length, Shallow. But point being, everything they release gets a physical pressing. This band doesn’t pussyfoot around with Bandcamp pages and songs that are exclusively available online.

And sure, the Jeans haven’t released a new full-length record in four years. So what? The forthcoming Honeys is drenched in enough scuzzy distortion and stark, white-knuckled aggression that it almost feels as if it’s been pent up inside the foursome for way longer. Contrary to how it seems, they never took a break from writing. They’ve just been at this one for longer than you know.

“We’re obviously good at taking our sweet time,” Sean McGuinness, Pissed Jeans’ drummer, says over a beer on an incredibly frigid January afternoon. “It’s not necessarily with quality in mind, but there’s a certain vulnerability that comes with making music and showing that inner-creative side that you can tend to hold back or be bashful about.”

McGuinness goes on to say that they had began writing songs for Honeys shortly after 2009’s King of Jeans, but the music didn’t leave their practice space in McGuinness’ home for quite a while.

“We trust our instincts,” he says. “And we have a pedigree that we strive for. But that sounds too high-brow. We had an idea going into the new material that we wanted to be, not necessarily more upbeat, but a little more snappy and straightforward.”

Despite wanting to take some of the mud out of their sludgy post-hardcore, the record (released nationally tomorrow on Sub Pop) still has what McGuinness calls “classic Jeans.” And he’s right. There’s a certain swagger to Honeys that goes beyond punk rock attitude. With those fresh-yet-classic vibes, it stands up to the time they spent, drowns King of Jeans in urgency and proves that time doesn’t mean a thing to these teenage adults.

The opener, “Bathroom Laughter,” was flushed into the blogosphere months ago – so you already know no one’s actually laughing on this one. In fact, there’s mention of crying in the kitchen. Believe it or not, crying is brought up again on a trip into a pit of patheticness on “Chain Worker.”

“I cry red, angry tears that no one sees / sometimes mistaken for blood.”

Now this feels like “classic Jeans;” it’s dark and noisy, indistinct and makes you “fill in the blanks yourself” as McGuinness says. Or there’s “Romanticize Me,” where singer, grunter and guttural screamer Matter Korvette articulates:

“If you’re trying to feel better / There’s one thing you can do / Take all of your dreams / And pretend that it came true.”

It seems like someone’s wishing he’d tell them he loves them. But he’s vain. Or so he screams repeatedly at the end of the following, surprisingly melodic, “Vain in Costume.” Even if Korvette is as vain as he claims, he can back up his knowledge for all things in vogue on the blog posts he contributes to Spin, in which he discusses high fashion.

“He’s been into fashion ever since I met him,” McGuinness says. “It’s just his thing. And you know, when hardcore or loud rock bands [are mentioned] I don’t think you draw a parallel between that music and high-end fashion. Maybe that sets us apart.”

Sure – maybe the slimy “Loubs,” about taking a peak at some lady’s shoes, marching to the step of Christian Louboutin stillettos, does set them apart from most other punk bands. But then again, the Jeans are known for being knee-deep in topics of everyday life. That’s why when Korvette wishes he had his tap shoes on (so to speak) upon receiving news of the death of a co-worker in “Cafeteria Food.” There’s a resounding “Hell yeah” in all of us, remembering that one work partner you couldn’t stand.

Reportedly, producer Alex Newport often gave Korvette a similar response upon hearing his lyrics as he wrote them in Milkboy Studio.

“Newport just sits back and laughs at how sinister Matt’s lyrics can be,” McGuinness says. “But it just gives him more confidence to keep doing what he does. He’s in the most vulnerable position, putting his thoughts and ideas out there. But Matt isn’t a guy that lets pressure bother him.

Alex Newport first worked with them on King of Jeans, and McGuinness says that record was the one that brought them the farthest outside of their comfort zone.

“At the time we were afraid he was going to change our songs,” he says. “But Newport’s more about giving ideas about tempos, enthusiasm and knowing the right takes to use.”

Pissed Jeans took about a year and a half to write Honeys. That’s because they made sure each song was ready before heading into the studio (aside from two they wanted a second opinion from Newport on; McGuinness wouldn’t share which ones). Also, the band had big things happen in their personal lives since the last record. For McGuinness, the biggest was his son’s birth.

“We were lucky to have the whole recording experience work out like it did,” he says, “between four dads, a dude in New York and two guys with a studio it could be tough to plan. We were lucky.”

And they definitely are grown up, satisfied adults now. But on Honeys’ closer, “Adult Angst,” Korvette reminds everyone, “There’s no reason to ever grow up.” Fatherhood and each of the members being a tricenarian hasn’t slowed down their kiddish attitudes toward each making music together.

“I think Randy’s unplugged Matt’s mic in the middle of songs before and Matt’s played guitar,” McGuinness says about bassist Randy Huth messing with the Jeans’ singer and Korvette stealing guitarist Bradley Fry’s instrument mid-set. “And I’ve sung my fair share of Pissed Jeans songs. But I’ve been punked harder than anyone else in the band. It’s a constant struggle, not even out-punk each other, but to maintain that edge.”

That sort of “let’s just have fun at this” outlook is what’s keeping Pissed Jeans sounding fresh to the top rung of the clothesline. Their name is more and more regularly becoming part of regional vocabulary, too. And it will likely extend beyond this locale soon when Honeys hits.

“I don’t think the tourism board is going to put up a billboard in Philly that says, ‘Hey, Pissed Jeans lives here.’ But if they did that’d be cool.”

Pissed Jeans performs at Underground Arts on Friday, February 15 with Lantern and Leather; tickets and information for the 21+ show can be found here. Their new LP Honeys is in stores tomorrow via Sub Pop Records

  • Spirit Intrigued Ted

    this band makes sense more than most bands. they make grown ups wish they would stop caring about dumb things like other grown up’s. they refuse status while making themselves status. they love pure while pimping, eat organic while shatting hormones, drink wine disguised as beer, and sit by the fire with coloring books. these guys make memories while dying each day. they are the middle child. they are america’s europe.

  • Mr. Knowitall

    Misunderstanding of the word pedigree.