By Raymond Simon
Photo by Shawn Brackbill
The front page of The New York Times boasts that the paper features “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” but there are some things that its editors deem too indelicate for their readers.
So when Nate Chinen, an open-minded, knowledgeable music critic, penned a favorable review of Pissed Jeans’ album King of Jeans for the August 16, 2009 issue, there was that small matter of the band’s moniker.
“The most surprising reaction to the name is The New York Times‘ refusal to put it in print, calling us ****** Jeans instead,” Matt Korvette, the band’s lead singer and chief lyricist writes via email. “I don’t get it.”
Sure, the name is sophomoric, but by refusing to print one relatively mild cussword, the editors missed the point. On stage, Pissed Jeans projects an image of beer-fuelled loutishness, but what’s really unsettling is its blend of sludgy, abrasive punk and seemingly artless lyrics, focusing uncomfortably on frustration and self-loathing.
Consider the album’s opening number, “False Jesii Part 2.” On a first listen, it appears to be a typical blast of self-loathing. Korvette bellows “I could put on a tight black shirt, but I don’t bother/I could hit the gym so it looks real nice, but I don’t bother.” Behind him, the band-Bradley Fry on guitar; Randy Huth on bass; and Sean McGuinness on drums-crash and roar but in a structured, propulsive manner that belies the refrain, “No to everything.” In just under 2:30, Pissed Jeans makes ennui rock.
According to Korvette, Pissed Jeans traces its origins to sometime around 2003, when he and three high school buddies were playing in the Gate Crashers. Early on, the cacophonous quartet gravitated to the scene around Allentown performance space Jeff the Pigeon and released some early efforts on Parts Unknown, an indie label based in Toms River, NJ.
Eventually, Pissed Jeans moved its home base to the City of Brotherly Love, where they began gigging regularly at local venues including Johnny Brenda’s, the Khyber, the Mill Creek Tavern, the Ox, and even Pi Lam. Nowadays, Korvette states, “Three out of four of us have lived in Philadelphia for five or six years. I’d say we are a Philadelphia band.”
Even more significant than the band’s relocation was a serendipitous phone call from Sub Pop, the Seattle label most widely known for breaking grunge. “A Sub Pop employee heard us on WFMU, liked us, and got in touch,” the lead singer explains. “Being on Sub Pop would open doors for any band! It’s essentially a debut to a wider audience, plus a stamp of approval that says, ‘This band is legitimate and approved by a known tastemaker.'”
The first fruit of this union was 2007’s Hope for Men, a clangorous record that hammers away at listeners. “Fantasy World,” a typical cut, features a driving riff, monolithic rhythm and Korvette wailing, “I accidentally unplugged it in my fantasy world/And we gotta go back there/Where there’s dust, behind the television.”
When asked who comes out to hear Pissed Jeans’ blend of Black Flag and Black Sabbath, Korvette replies, “Usually a few meatheads, some older music nerd types, and hopefully some attractive, intelligent women.” Operating under Sub Pop’s imprimatur has certainly brought the band some high profile gigs, including a spot at 2008’s Sub Pop Festival and the invitation-only gathering, All Tomorrow’s Parties.
These accomplishments haven’t gone to the band members’ heads; all four maintain their day jobs, the feelings of which are summed up on “Dream Smotherer,” from King of Jeans. Over howling feedback and roiling drums, Korvette roars: “I don’t mind stacking up papers in a pile/And I don’t care if it takes half an hour to get there/Yeah it’s alright, I lose my days and keep my nights.”
Despite the mundane subject matter, Pissed Jeans’ lyrics are surprisingly literate. “I try really hard to write interesting and thoughtful lyrics,” the front man explains. “It’s an important aspect of the band, so why half-ass it? It’s fun to come up with ideas that I think are interesting.” In fact, Korvette finds inspiration in many sources, ranging from his day job to Hot Topic, and from driving home from school to the comics of Joe Matt.
Pissed Jeans isn’t touring right now, but they have just released a new single, “Sam Kinison Woman.” “We don’t write new songs at a very fast pace, and we don’t operate as a band with a business frame of mind,” Korvette says. “So we do records whenever we are ready.”