A PIERCING RIPOSTE TO THE MUNDANITY OF DAY-TO-DAY LIFE
It’s been nearly four years – too long – since Pennsylvanian nu-pigfuck proponents Pissed Jeans unleashed a full-length album of grotty punk bangers. Now they’re back with Honeys and you know what? It could be their finest work since their impressively nasty 2005 debut Shallow.
It’s not like Pissed Jeans have even tried to mature or develop their sound, but Honeys sees the band pulling out their best moves. They tread in puddles of dissonant noise, stall the tempo into deep, greasy grooves and bust out violently visceral party spoilers that are indebted to America’s most marginal hardcore bands. And then there’s the lyrics. Frontman Matt Korvette gets his kicks from unleashing the deranged scraps that float around the gutter of his psyche, alternating between corrosive screams and threatening coos that recall a particularly strung-out Nick Cave. He paints portraits of the everyday loser trying to muster up enough rage to resist the crushing apathy brought on by a life of parking tickets, microwavable meals and mortgages. Across Pissed Jeans’ discography, Korvette has found himself yelling about receding hairlines, ice cream and pet-related allergic reactions. As the band’s discarded former name Unrequited Hard-On would suggest, Pissed Jeans have always been obsessed with sexual depression, self-pity and disgust.
Bathroom Laughter, the contemptuous, scuzzed-up cut that opens Honeys was shared recently to celebrate the Jeans’ big return. The semi-intelligible lyrics that sandwich Korvette’s berserk yelps report scenes of screaming in hallways and crying in kitchens. So what’s on his mind this time? “It’s kind of about being the older guy at a party”, he tells us. “It’s written from the standpoint of me just being stood there while there’s all these people having fun around me and I’m just thinking ‘have fun now, while you can, because this is going to end in tears’. So I guess it’s kind of a negative take on … umm, y’know … socialising.”
The iconic and enduring Seattle label Sub Pop anointed Pissed Jeans some time during 2006, around the same time that they relocated from their home city Allentown to Philadelphia. But despite all the international festival appearances and widespread coverage, they’re financially bound to their day jobs. Korvette still slogs it out 9-5 as an insurance claims adjuster. “Yeah, I tried to get out of it. But you know how it is man, gotta pay the bills”, he says with no trace of resentment, demonstrating an almost Zen-like wisdom. So have his work colleagues heard Pissed Jeans yet? Are they aware of classics such as Caught Licking Leather or Ashamed of My Cum? “Nah, it’s a pretty boring office environment I work in. I don’t think anyone there has even heard of Nirvana, so I’m pretty safe. I don’t have to worry about explaining Pissed Jeans to the co-workers.”
But instead of dealing with stress and existential ennui by scoffing Xanax or generally acting like a neurotic, passive-aggressive arsehole, Korvette has an outlet to lose his shit onstage. “It’s such a good release”, he says. “I’d probably be much more of a dick in real life if I didn’t have Pissed Jeans. I’m generally pretty laid back and friendly. When you’re frustrated and you’ve had to deal with people you can’t say ‘fuck you’ to even though you really want to, it’s good to let it all out on stage. It’s a full-on mental flush”.
It’s well documented Pissed Jeans are incredible live. Korvette often peels his shirt off, lobs speakers around the stage and busts out rhythmless dance moves. He’s got a vicious sneer, and his eyes are either closed while he nods in a trance, or staring into space with a slightly vacant but homicidal gaze. Pissed Jeans have come a long way since cutting their teeth at Allentown’s now-closed underground dive Jeff the Pigeon. We detect a sense of pride when Korvette tells us that these days the band play to both gender balanced, leftfield indie crowds as well as sweaty moshpits at hardcore bro-fests. He’s not up for dictating the movement of an audience, but he tells us that he’ll do anything to jerk them out of a sense of indifference. “We’ve definitely had some crazy crowds doing all sorts of shit, but we’ve played to crowds recently that just want to stand there, and that’s fine really, as long as people are into it. The worst response for me is when you play to an audience who just don’t really care. If that’s happening I’m like ‘fuck, I’m really losing ‘em’. I’ve got to do something to make them pay attention, even if they’re watching and being disgusted. I just want them to have a memory of our show.”
For all its drudgery, the music of Pissed Jeans is constantly thrilling. As a band they dive into thick, tarry pits of sludge then leap back out again, landing on their feet. They’re able to constantly channel a sense of intensity and this has probably got something to do with the fact they’ve been making noise since their adolescence. “We’ve been playing together for a long time”, Korvette explains. “The track Something about Mrs Johnson on the new album was actually recorded in 1995. We were just digging through old tapes and we found this weird little instrumental track that Randy and Brad had recorded in Brad’s parents’ basement. It was cool throwing something on the album we recorded as teenagers and for it to fit. Especially since we’re at a place where we all feel sort of old now.”
Although Pissed Jeans aren’t exactly crinkly old-school punk vets, they’re no spring chickens these days either. It took them a while to cook up this new record, and Korvette explains that it’s because they’ve been busy having kids and behaving like functional adults. But he’s not too horrified by the prospect of middle age appearing on the horizon. “It’s not that much of a bad thing. Like, I feel a lot less insecure than when I was 20 or something, and I’m not that old really”, he says. “But I kinda miss being younger. I’ve noticed now when I hear about the stuff that kids are into these days, I feel completely stupefied. Maybe a few years ago I could’ve understood shopping mall hot topic screamo stuff, even if I wasn’t into it, but now it’s like there’s all these bands who’re selling out arenas full of teenagers with weird internet social media apps, and I’ve never even heard of them.”
Although it’s difficult to picture Korvette waving an iPhone at a B.o.B. concert, it’s not as if he’s out of the loop. In fact, he runs White Denim, a label which specialises in vinyl-only, one-pressings of an eclectic range of underground bands and beatmakers. On his website Yellow Green Red (which we definitely recommend checking out) he interviews upcoming punk bands and raves about everyone from intense hardcore acts like Nukkehammer to electronic deconstructionists Emptyset. “I listen to more techno than anything else. My favourite EP which came out last year was His He She & She by Blawan, that record is just fucking killer. I’m really drawn to that darker, gothic, dungeon techno. Marcel Fengler is also cool and I really dug a couple of EPs from Shed last year. And Hessle Audio, man I love a lot of that shit. Some of the stuff those guys put out is so bizarre. I feel like people are gonna discover that shit in like 20 years and be like, ‘this label was fucking crazy!’
To those only casually familiar with Pissed Jeans and Korvette’s outrageous onstage persona, the fact he’s a focused label head with impressively diverse and refined taste is probably hugely surprising. But it shouldn’t be. Because, actually, it requires genius to be able to sound as dumb and unhinged as Pissed Jeans.
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Words: David Reed
Photo: Brad Fry
Honeys is released on February 11th via Sub Pop.