New York's Bomb the Music Industry don't have surprising ethics for a skrappy and fun punk band—they always play all-ages shows, they rarely charge more than $10 for tickets, they record all their music themselves, and all their albums are available online for free via the donation-based Quote Unquote Records. Only within the past year have they started actually selling t-shirts. Before, the only way you could get a BTMI shirt was to make one yourself or bring a plain shirt to their show, to be "designed" with the spray paint and stencils the band brings on every tour.
Times are changing, though. Well, slightly. All their music is still available online for free (including their great new album Vacation), but the band, for the first time ever, actually has a publicist. And a "radio guy," even! No, being in an endearingly rowdy pop punk band isn't making them rich by any means, but now Bomb the Music Industry is at the point where their music is getting out into the world by more than just word of mouth. And when their van breaks down, they can actually afford to fix it.
While driving through Eastern Washington, en route to tonight's show at Healthy Times Fun Club, the band's singer, Jeff Rosenstock, talked to me about the band's new record, getting punched in the face by rowdy fans, and what it feels like to finally admit that Bomb the Music Industry is more than just a goofy, Nintendo-loving punk band that no one should bother taking seriously. (Kind of.)
I follow you guys on Twitter. According to some recent Tweets, so far on this tour you've been beat up, you sprained your wrist, your van died, and then someone pissed on it. Would it be stupid to ask how your tour is going?
[Laughs] The tour's going great, aside from that stuff! There's been some really weird drunken aggression/macho bullshit. It's only been a couple people at shows, but those couple of people have made a big difference. It's been weird. In Minneappolis we all went to a lake after the show to go swimmingand some drunk kid in a Ramones shirt tackled me to the ground onto the concrete—sprained my wrist, got my legs all cut up.
Was it just a crazy fan? Like a 'I love you so much I want to hug you!' thing? Or a 'Fuck you, I'm more punk than you!' thing?
I feel like it's somewhere in the middle. [Laughs] I don't really know. I felt bad. It seemed like the root of it was dude had too many beers, did something dumb, and felt really bad about it. I didn't really hold that against him so much. I'm fine.
Is this a new trend for Bomb the Music Industry shows? For rowdy fans to attack you?
[Laughs] Every couple of shows there's one person who shows up who's just completely celebrating being a messy drunk. Very early in the day they'll get hammered and keep drinking so when we show up they're already plastered. By the first band they're heckling, and by the time we play they've either been thrown out of the club or they've passed out outside. They got so excited about Bomb the Music Industry that they got SO DRUNK that they didn't get to see Bomb the Music Industry. We get one of those every couple of days. They're fantastic.
[John DeDomenici, bassist, yells from the background] There was one in Ottowa! He was standing outside, beligerantly screaming nothing at cars. He finally realized that we were possibly in Bomb the Music Industry, told me he was super excited to see Bomb because last time we came through he got too drunk and passed out, and he's just out there just cursing and screaming. He made it inside the club and he was standing there, and then he just couldn't handle it. He went outside, threw up in a bush, and passed out. He missed our set twice. Two times! I'm not saying we're great, but if you like a band a lot, get your shit together and watch them! What the hell? [Laughs]
Is your wrist feeling better now, Jeff?
It's getting better. We had to switch things around. I think I'm going to be playing guitar again by the Seattle show. I've been playing keyboards instead of guitar and we learned around 12-14 songs that we can play as that line-up, so we've been doing that. It's been fun, but it's fucking weird aggression that we're totally not down with. Like yesterday, for example, while we were playing I got punched in the face. And while we were talking between songs somebody just threw my keyboard to the ground. It was like, 'Okay, dude. What the fuck? Do we have to act like your dad? Tell you 'No! You don't get to hear anymore songs until you behave yourself.' It's been weird. At another show, because I'm not playing guitar, I've been running around in the crowd a little bit more—usually I'm just flailing around, being a sassy, spazzy idiot, not really hurting anybody, just kind of vibrating, and this dude, every time I came near him, he'd try to tackle and throw me around. At one point I was like 'Dude, you've got to stop doing that!' and he just left. I don't get it. That shit's frustrating. But our alternator died on a Sunday and we managed to find a mechanic that was open and we had the money to fix it. We're doing okay.
The new record is called Vacation, but the record itself, at least lyrically doesn't feel like much of a vacation. Going through the tracks, first you get in a bike accident, then you have to choose between alienating your friends or alienating your fans, you experience illness, recall a summer where everybody died, spend time regretting a relationship... there are a lot of unhappy themes in there. How'd it get the name Vacation?
I started writing about a lot of the dark stuff, but the dark shit is really dark shit that I haven't really talked about with too many people before. Especially that song "Sick, Later" that you were talking about [That's the song about the summer where everybody died. -Megan], that's about stuff that I haven't really worked through yet. But the approach this time around was to be like 'Okay, I can work through this. This isn't the end of the world.' A lot of it is trying to be able to identify the problems that are making me the headcase that I am, and then just being able to relax. To be like 'Okay, that's that. That's happening, and that's fine. I can move on from this.' Which I don't think a lot of the last records really touched upon so much.
You touched on it on Scrambles, there are some songs there that one could apply to depression or feeling really down. But, yeah, on Vacation it feels like you're talking specifically about some of the things that maybe caused the feelings you were expressing on Scrambles. And then for it to be called something lighthearted like Vacation, while listening to it I was like 'This is not a vacation!'
[Laughs] I guess that's the kind of vacations I have! It's weird, a handful of it was written on three different trips that I got to take for free because I got bumped from two Delta flights and I got $1,000 in Delta miles. It was fucking awesome. I got to go to Miami to watch my friends get married for free, I got to go to California on the Fourth of July for free, and I got to go to Belize for free. [Because you have to use the miles before they expire] I was kind of forced into relaxing a little bit and taking it easy. Which I think is a theme on the record—it's a lot of bad stuff but it's about showing yourself that it's okay to take it easy. Shit's gonna happen, but it's okay. Shit happens to everyone. I think that's the main difference between Vacation and the other records. There are positive points on the other records, but this one is not really overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative. Hopefully. Hopefully it's kind of like, you know, everything is manageable. You can take a step back, and it's fine.
One thing that you're constantly saying in interviews is that you're not very good at anything you do and that you're just fucking around. But as you continue to have more success, at some point you might have to admit that you're doing something right, right?
[Laughs] I guess. Since I haven't been playing guitar a lot over the past couple days I think I admitted to myself 'I'm an okay guitar player. I can't wait to get back into this.' I don't know, I don't think is self-hatred as much as, you know, we're just goofin'. We're just having a good time. We want to play the songs right and we're proud of the songs, but we also want to have a good time and we don't want, I guess, the word 'professionalism' to get in the way of that at all. In fact, unprofessionalism sometimes derails our shows. I'd rather have that than just play the songs by the numbers. Like, we've been playing the same set for six days in a row and it's kind of driving me crazy. I like challenges. I think when you present yourself a lot of challenges you're generally not going to be doing anything perfect because you're always going to be doing something kind of tough.
Right. But that also doesn't mean that you're necessarily bad at it, either. Just because you're not Jimi Hendrix on guitar doesn't mean you're not somebody who can't deliver a solid song.
Well thanks for saying that. We all think we're pretty awesome. It's all marketing, you know? [Laughs] We're trying to market the fuck out of this bad punk thing right now. It worked pretty well for Sum 41, so... we're trying to ride their coattails.
With the marketing and everything, though, obviously it wasn't done on purpose—you talked about this in the A.V. Club interview—but it has worked out well for you guys.
It's funny, like, we only ever realize the stuff that's going to work out well after we do it. There's not a plan. It wasn't intentional. I think that's the theme of Bomb the Music Industry. I feel like we've tried a few times to [purposefully] make things work and it's always worked out really shitty for us.
In the song "Everybody That You Love," I really like the video and I really like the song, it's a lot of fun, but one of the things that you bring up in it, with the line 'All the people I love the best are starting to get frustrated with me being a mess and the people I hardly know are always impressed," you can't be the first artist to be frustrated by that, especially if you tend to be more creative in less than ideal emotional states, which is sounds like you do. Is that really something you really battle with?
I think it gets back to what we were talking about earlier, I tend to write about things I'm not particularly proud of because that's more interesting than "I'm cooking curry!" and "I know HTML code!" Like, that's not very interesting. It's weird because it turned into that thing where people think all of us are just constantly falling down drunk and being loud and rowdy and obnoxious all the time, and they're still, like, "That's awesome!" And those are the moments where I'm like, "Oh, man, I'm a piece of shit." [Laughs] It's weird that all the people I hold close to me are like, "Yeah, dude you are being a piece of shit!" But then some people are like "Yo, what you gotta do is you gotta get fucking wasted! Awesome!" That's not to downtalk unwinding or act like, we aren't pretty heavy drinkers, especially on tour, but, you know.
At one point there was a Bomb the Music Industry documentary in the works. Is that still happening?
Yeah, that's still happening. I like music documentaries a lot and all the ones that I think are really interesting take place over a long period of time. And Sara Crow (the director) felt the same way. So I think that's where we're at—if the documentary came out today, there really wouldn't be an ending. There's a lot more to capture. It's funny because since the Kickstarter campaign people have been like "Where's the documentary?" But [Sara] doesn't want to make a documentary in just a year and half. Like, fucking Dig! took like eight years to make. I think Some Kind of Monster took three or four years to make. And those movies are awesome. So I think to make it a really good movie people just have to be a little more patient.
I'm glad to hear it's still happening, especially because you guys are at a really interesting point in your career. I'm not comparing you by any means to Against Me!, but they're a band that started much like you guys did—I saw those dudes in a basement and I gave them $3 because it was all I had on me and they still gave me a shirt. But when they started playing real venues and finding more and more success, and then, ultimately, signed to a major label, it polarized every discussion about the band. People didn't care so much about what the recorded sounded like, but what label the record came out on. Are you worried about maneuvering the evolution from what you started as into new, for you, territory? History proves it hasn't always worked out well.
We have radio people for the new record, we have a publicist for the new record—those are really weird steps to take. But they're both really, really great guys who I like a lot. We did it really organically, we're doing it because it makes sense. If we put out this record without that, the people who've already heard Bomb the Music Industry are the only people who would hear this record. We wanted to push a little bit beyond that. We're lucky—people want us to be a band, people want us to be a on tour. We're just trying to do it as honestly and naturally as possible. We're not signed to a major label and we're definitely traversing all the weird music business stuff out ourselves. We are the label. We still do spraypaint shirts for free, and all the music is free. All the stuff that was important to us is still there and that's always gonna be there. We're just adapting a little bit to the fact that this has worked out better than any of us thought it was going to.
Do you think you'll tour more now, too?
Yeah. I don't know. It's hard to say. We all work and do things at home. It's important to all of us to keep our home shit together so that this band isn't stressful, so it's fun to be in the band. I'm engaged and Tom [Malinowski] has a recording studio, Matt [Keegan] teaches private lessons, John works for a production company and he's kind of high up there, Mike [Costa] has a deli job he's had for awhile—we have shit to come home to. We have our friends and we cherish that a lot. So I don't think we're ever gonna be the band that's on tour for 10 months out of the year.
Or you could just tour a lot and be miserable because, as we've learned, you write good songs when you're unhappy!
[Laughs] Oh, man, yeah. The world doesn't need another "I miss my girlfriend!" record. Fuck that.
Bomb the Music Industry play Healthy Times Fun Club tonight with the Sidekicks and Pretty Old, 8 pm, all ages, $7 at the door.
You can download the new Bomb the Music Industry record, Vacation (and all their other records, for that matter), via the donation-based Quote Unquote Records.