Jeff Rosenstock

Protest Punk

We talk NO DREAM, police brutality, Craig of the Creek, retaining vitality as we age, and The Arrogant Sons of Bitches' THREE CHEERS FOR DISAPPOINTMENT.

June 9, 2020

Young Fenimore Lee: You’ve been Tweeting a lot about recent events (police brutality at BLM protests, etc). How do you feel about what’s been going on lately, and how do you feel like we can contribute?

Jeff Rosenstock: It’s going to be difficult to live with ourselves until this problem gets solved. I’m hoping that it’s not going to be just one week of civil unrest that eventually tapers off with people forgetting what they saw the police do this weekend. I think for people like us, who already understand what’s going on, it’s going to be protesting, trying to raise awareness, raise funds, all those things. I’m hoping that people who are opening their eyes to this stuff for the first time don’t think this is a problem that started in 2020. I think it’s important that if you’re just becoming aware of this, to look at the books, the articles, the movies, and everything that people are sharing, that are saying, “hey, just so you know, this did not just happen. Look at all this stuff. It’s ugly, but you’ll come out of it understanding that we can’t allow this shit to stand anymore.”

Young: You've talked about how working on Craig of the Creek was a big part of why there is so much punk on NO DREAM, along with running, driving a lot, and the music you were listening to. What music were you listening to?

Jeff: It was a lot of stuff that I liked when I was a kid: The Mr. T Experience, The Muffs, Green Day, Scared of Chaka, Dillinger Four, The Suicide Machines, The Chinkees. Stuff like The Ramones and The Undertones; bands that put out records that have a lot of good songs on it, where you can listen to the whole thing and it’s all good. But it’s not like I wasn’t listening to those bands before. I was also thinking about making an urgent punk record, one that has a different pace than the punk I’m hearing now.

Young: Why do you think you were listening to more of that stuff in particular?

Jeff: I think it’s because I was always in motion. I was listening to a lot of ambient stuff also, which blossomed around the time when I was working on POST-. That was me trying to slow down. I’m making circular motions with my hand that you can’t see, so that’s not very helpful. (laughs) But yeah, stop spinning so fast, stop oscillating at such a high speed. By the time we started working on NO DREAM a year and a half later, I was listening to music that would give me energy, that would get me back to oscillating at that high speed, you know?

But I feel like it’s important that as you get older, that you remain urgent, that you continue to push yourself to not get burnt out by things. And I think that translates to protests, too. That translates to what you see on the news and how you feel about things and act about things. I think that it’s important to remain energetic and feel ready to fight for a long time. That’s maybe where the energy came from. It certainly was not a “go back to the feeling of the Bomb days, or return to your roots” energy. I think that shit is lame and it’s weird when bands do that. You don’t fucking know what was special about that band when you were that band, so it’s dumb to try to guess what it was. This is more about continuing to charge when you’re old.

Young: To keep that spirit that people say goes away at a certain age.

Jeff: Yeah. I think that you can allow yourself to let it go away, or you can just keep poking the nest. I get really self conscious about not being able to do whatever I want to do when we play live. I don’t want to just stand there and be out of breath. “Yeah, thanks for coming.” (laughs) I was like, alright, I better get used to being out of breath for an hour every day.

Once, we were playing in Bruce Lee Band, and we were opening for Less Than Jake, and Less Than Jake gave me this foam head to run around on stage. I remember after 10 seconds, I was like, “I’m going to die. I have no oxygen in here and I’m going crazy.” Afterwards, I was in the alley gasping for air, and Dan P is like, “I knew you went too hard in those first 10 seconds!” So now, when we’re playing these long-ass sets, I try not to put everything in the first minute.

(Photo by Christine Mackie.)

Young: In an interview you did with Dan Ozzi, you talked about how you “don’t think of the music industry at all,” that you think about bands and your friends. We’re young writers and musicians - what do you think we need to do to make waves in the music industry, and make large scale changes in institutions that feel impossible to change?

Jeff: Once I stopped looking at music as something that was to be my livelihood, and I just got another job and remained passionate about music, and I stopped putting the focus on trying to get ahead and what the next step was, and I was just enjoying the moment that I was in, that’s when all the special things happened for me as a musician. It’s still pretty much the same right now. It’s different because we do rely on this to stay afloat in a way that we didn’t before, because we’re just on the road so much, but we all still do have other jobs. So, I think that doing the thing you want is most important, and nurturing it the way you want to is more important than trying to figure out what steps you have to take to monetize it. You know? And it depends on the amount of time you would have to put into it. It’s tricky, because it’s hard to dedicate a ton of time if you’re working all of that time. It takes late nights, and sometimes it doesn’t even happen at all.

Young: Have you been following Glass Beach at all?

Jeff: That’s a band that everyone in the world recommended to me all on the same day, and it kind of makes it hard for me to dip my toes in at my own pace, but they’re cool. They got cool vibes.

Young: I don’t know if you know this, but their singer Classic J was in the crowd vocals on WORRY., which is a cool tidbit.

Jeff: I saw that, and I think that’s sick. It’s funny how that works out. I was in San Jose at this show that our friends in The Albert Square were playing, along with some other touring bands. The show was in the back room of this pornography shop in a strip mall. Three or four years later, I found out that the other bands playing that show were Modern Baseball and Tiny Moving Parts, who we went on tour with. There’s a picture of me in the corner of that back room doing whatever. I think I found this out three months after that tour, and my friends were like, “holy shit, Jeff! Is that you?” And I was like, “oh yeah, I was totally at that show.” I think Walter Etc. was at that show too, and I produced their next record. But yeah, long story short, people who go to shows… that’s cool. (laughs)

Ali Cyrus Saeed: Last year, you issued a re-press of Three Cheers for Disappointment by The Arrogant Sons of Bitches. I understand that the protracted difficulties associated with making this album contributed to the dissolution of the band. Since then, the album has reached a mythical status in the online music community. You’d been hinting at this repressing for a long time, so why was last year the right time?

Jeff: We just had some time off, so we were able to repress it, because we do a lot of these things ourselves. Christine and I can’t receive two thousand records at our apartment when we’re on tour. We knew we wanted to get Three Cheers back in press, if only because it was going for 100 dollars on Discogs and I just didn’t want to see that happening anymore.

I don’t know anything about its mythical status online. I do my best not to look at that stuff because I want to remain focused. But I’m always like, “how do people find out about Three Cheers for Disappointment?” Our band existed after ska was popular and before everybody was Really Online (we just had message boards to talk to each other, there was no social media), so I’m always confused about how people found out about it.

Ali: How did you feel while revisiting the album? Was it all just business to you at that point, or was it emotional?

Jeff: Yeah, for sure. Whenever I’m listening back to that record (which is not like I do it every day, but for a test press or something), I’m always so stoked that we played so fast on that record.

Ali: I can’t imagine how any band could keep it together as well as you guys did.

Jeff: (laughs) That’s nice of you to say! We were on tour for a long time, and that album was our thing that we recorded at the end of our band being a band. I listen to it, and I think about the people who I made that record with. Joe Bove’s bass lines on that record are so fucking sick. I think about Steve Foote who recorded that record. I think about my friend AJ who recorded a version of that record that was on a hard drive that disappeared, but also wasn’t good, so we scrapped our record 60% into it. I just think about my friends. It was nice just to see Dave’s name written somewhere. Reflecting on it feels like looking at a picture or something, and being like, “Oh, yeah, that was a wild thing. That was a time in my life, and I like those people.” You know? And we all still talk to each other, and we’re all still friends.

Ali: Do you miss living in New York yet?

Jeff: Uh, I don’t know where I miss living. I moved out here in January, went straight to work on the show, and then we recorded NO DREAM. Then I came back, and I was like, OK, time to do the artwork. Once I did the artwork, I had cartoon work. Finally, I’m ready to see what Los Angeles is all about... and then COVID happened.

Young: Who should we be paying attention to in the punk scene that no one is talking about?

Jeff: I know two sick bands that my friend Jack Shirley, who recorded NO DREAM, has recorded that I really liked – Screaming Fist from the bay area and Soul Glo from Philly. Soul Glo is a sick band, they’re saying real shit and I like them a lot. I was listening to some stuff that Jack was playing me while we were working on the record, and I was just like, this is fucking awesome. And Screaming Fist, they’re fucking sick. They’re great. Fast, punk, very good.