Pissed Jeans' Matt Korvette: I love anything that involves throwing away money frivolously
Everything somebody needs to know about Pissed Jeans can be found in their name. The Philadelphia via Allentown quartet's four LPs boast the Jesus Lizard's spiraling discord and lyricism absent of any modern-day decorum. More like their name, however, is frontman Matt Korvette's ability to undercut such waste-laying punk with pressures and pleasures that are often feeble and unadmirable. Since 2005, Korvette hasn't carved out an anti-yuppie manifesto as much he's publicly splayed his own inadequacies.
Their latest record, February's excellent Honeys, carries on their well-lit torch with topics like wishing cancer upon co-workers and doctor-phobias. Gimme Noise caught up with Korvette prior to the group's Friday stop at the Triple Rock.
City Pages: You still work nine to five right?
Matt Korvette: Mhm.
In a perfect world, would you do Pissed Jeans full-time if you could?
Hypothetically, yeah sure. I'd be kind of an idiot if I were like "No, no no. Working in an office is just too good to pass up."
The only reason I ask is because so much of the band's identity is authenticated by this common-man vantage point. Do you think that would be compromised at all if you guys didn't have banal jobs?
Yeah, probably. But what a wonderful position that would be. Now I'd have to write songs about hanging by the pool and how it sucks to get sunburns. I'd be willing to make that shift. We'd have to make a lot of money to do that though. I wouldn't want to be a band that is famous but is secretly barely getting by where we're keeping our stuff in storage lockers for months out of the year.
And keeping up appearances is the best way to spend too much money.
There are so many bands that I will see and think, "Oh, my God. They're huge," on the indie circuit or whatever. But they're really only making like $30,000 per person, you know. It's pretty sweet for being in a band but not for living a life.
And even if you guys were able to make the money you want to make doing Pissed Jeans, I feel like some of the subject matter is relatable across classes. With "Health Plan," you're pretty much singing about going to the doctor the way Keith Morris would sing about cops.
That song's a very personal song. The premise for it kind of came about in talking with my bandmates on the way to practice. We all kind of admitted that we're scared as hell of going to the doctor just because they may find something wrong. And it's such a costly thing with copays and stuff even if you're essentially fine. And usually the doctor wants to see you at the most inconvenient time where you're at work or doing some other nonsense. Then there's just the fear of him saying, "Oh yeah, you have a giant tumor." It's like I'd prefer to not know and then past out one day and never wake up.
Do your co-workers know about Pissed Jeans?
I actually just recently changed jobs. At the old job, people definitely knew, but they were also definitely weird about it. Some people would know, but I wouldn't have any idea what they would know. Then some people who can't even tell you what day it is would seem like they know. No one would come out to me and say anything directly about it, and I was kind of getting skeeved out by it. My new job is more nationally based, so I'm not there with all these pencil-pushing people who live in the same town as me. I have a better chance at being more anonymous.
The lyrics on "Bathroom Laughter" revolve around how any expression of emotion in an office space is only acceptable in these areas that are removed from everyone else. Do you feel the subject matter of Pissed Jeans' records shapes the decision for you to keep this part of your life private?
Maybe a little bit. For the people I worked with, just the concept of an original-song-playing band comes from outer space. These are not like cool office people. They've never heard of Wilco or the Flaming Lips- bands that even most people would consider relatively mainstream. Beginning to try to frame the thought process to all of it was too difficult, you know. I don't even want to get into a position where I have to try and explain it.
Even if your co-workers may be a bit culturally detached, I feel like they may embrace the subject matter of Pissed Jeans more than anyone. I find it hard to believe that they're any happier to be at the office than you are.
I'm also trying to figure a way out of [that life] too though. Not just through music. I'm trying to reprogram myself from what I've learned since elementary school, middle school, high school, college and work. You're dropped on an assembly line when you're like five. I think about how I may be more happy if I spend less money, and it's tough, man, because I love spending money. I love all these things that I was totally set up to specifically want to love. I try to keep it in all of our songs where there's like a struggle. The stuff that's on my mind the most is the stuff I'm struggling with.
So where does your money go?
I just love spending money. I love buying records. I love buying clothes. I love going out to eat. I love home furnishings. I love anything that involves just throwing away money frivolously. Except gambling, I guess. I love having stuff.
The subject matter on "Honeys" also seems a bit more balanced, specifically when speaking most directly from a male vantage point. "Romanticize Me" ends with the words, "You should really be thankful when I say/'Come on, let's do it.'" "Male Gaze" balances that misogyny out a few tracks later. Did you consciously strive for that balance?
"Romanticize Me," from a bad point, is just showing a view that I can have where it's like, "I know I'm lazy, and I know I'm selfish and doing things wrong. But I'm just too lazy to change." It's that person who gets it enough to know that they're wrong but still rather just be set in their ways. For me it's a song to help me work that kind of thing out for myself. You can see the faults strongest when you're pretending they're not faults in a way. I like singing that song pretending it's appropriate rather than going "Don't be like this, and don't be selfish."
Did you write "Male Gaze" or "Romanticize Me" first?
It's hard to say. I don't really write lyrics until the very end until we're about to record. I will come up with ideas of the songs months in advance and just kind of dwell on what things I would like to include. By the time the song is being recorded, I quickly put together the ideas I've had in a while. They're both older thoughts that I wanted to include, specifically "Male Gaze." I wanted to do something on the theme of misogyny but, once again, not something that's just chiding the audience. I wanted to kind of own up to it myself and how I want to be better.
The repetition of "I'm guilty" in the song definitely adds to the impact.
There's a lot of female Pissed Jeans fans, which is awesome to me. We're this loud male punk band, and I feel like guys sometimes will just discount women's interest in loud rock music. It's so much more fun to play to an audience of women instead of a crowd of sweaty guys who are trying to always grab at your shirt. Why have I been playing to teenage boys all my life? What a waste.
One of the other things you've said in recent interviews about live shows is how you still enjoy punk as a vehicle to push people's buttons even though it's harder to do that nowadays. You guys started from a much more in-your-face approach with songs like "Ashamed of My Cum." Do you feel subtlety has been more effective for you as a songwriter?
I think more of it has just been whatever's moving me at the time. The band kind of started out with the idea of harping on sexual frustration and the malaise of being this heterosexual guy and the weariness that comes with that. I think we wanted to do that without going too absurd. Like the feeling of thinking, "Why did I just waste half an hour of my life masturbating?" It's more real and relatable than singing about a pope having sex with two lesbians while a cop is getting fucked in the butt with a knife. Nobody cares about random nonsense that is just shocking for the sake of it. And there's really not even swears in Pissed Jeans songs, because that is even too easy.
You guys also keep tours pretty short on account of the nine-to-five obligations.
Touring is a weird concept that I think everyone kind of accepts as the norm. For me, if a band puts out a killer record then I'm content just to have the record. I like to see a band, but also it's great just having a record. I never instantly think, "Well, now they have to come to my town." We love playing live, but we prefer to do it when we want. We're not thinking about every market we need to hit after the album comes out.
It sounds like you have a more liberated experience than a lot of bands that make it their full-time profession.
It definitely is something to be said. I also just love coming home and laying on the couch.
If you guys were to ever do a long tour, do you think you'd miss the easy drudgery of normal life?
Yeah, definitely. It's a bit of a safety net for sure. One thing too is that when we tour now, we're able to have a lot more fun. We're not all living together in one house like we're brothers. We totally relish each other's company. There's no being on the road for six months together and now when somebody clips their fingernails I want to kill him. It's all easier when you're not just doing it so you're not homeless.
Pissed Jeans. With Total Trash and Gay Witch Abortion. $12. 8 p.m. Friday, April 19 at Triple Rock Social Club. Click here.
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