After seven albums, a couple of split EP’s and a crazy amount of shows around the world, Long Island natives Bomb the Music Industry! are calling it a day. One of the most creative punk outfits of the past ten years, BTMI! crystallized everything there is to love about punk, and threw it right back up in a sea of arrangement heavy fast and epic as fuck indescribably amazing music. We caught up with singer and man in command Jeff Rosenstock to offer you one of the last chances of finding out about the band while they’re still going. If you are lucky enough to be in New-York this week and have the superpower of getting into sold-out shows, BTMI! will be playing three final gigs which are bound to be insane. First one is at Amityville Music Hall in Long Island on January 16th and the rest are at Warsaw in Brooklyn on January 17th and 19th.
(WARNING: Many links in this interview lead to free /donation music so have your hard-drives ready for some great albums)
Hey Jeff so for those not familiar with Bomb the Music Industry!, can you give us a quick recap of who Bomb the Music Industry are?
Bomb the Music Industry! was the name I chose for a recording project where I put a song Sweet Home Cananada on the internet for free. When people responded to it, I decided to make an album and release it for free on the internet and as a reaction to the consumerism I was seeing in the punk scene, decided Bomb the Music Industry! would spray paint YOUR shirt instead of selling shirts and would burn you a CD of music if you brought a blank CD-R instead of selling music. We would also be a “collective” so no one would ever feel the financial pressure of having to make a band work as a career or get fired because they were leaving their job too much to tour.
The idea of making something that was so clearly for the sake of music and not the sake of money resonated with people and afforded us the opportunity to travel around the world. Once that happened, we made it a point to only play all ages shows and do everything we could to keep the ticket prices below $10. We eventually did start selling shirts and records when it got to the point that people would be more frustrated that there was no way for them to show us support at shows. We always spray painted shirts though (unless we forgot or lost the spray paint) and everything we’ve ever recorded has been released for free on the internet.
Regarding your own genre, both as BTMI and your solo project, what would you now classify your music as (as restricting as musical genres are, I always feel that describing BTMI to someone whose never heard of you is very difficult) and how did your music evolve the way that it did, from crazy fast 8-bit ska-punk to what we can here on Vacation or on your solo releases?
I think I would loosely define all of it as punk – my perception as punk is a genre of music with no restrictions. The first three Bomb releases were made in my bedroom, so it was all drum machine sequences, a lot of synthesizers and eventually a lot of piano. Also, I like a lot of different kinds of music so that stuff was pretty much everything I liked played really really fast. I even used to bump all the tempos up 5 bpm past where I wrote them because I wanted to make it feel like a live show where you see the band and there’s even more energy because they’re playing everything a little faster than on the record.
When I moved to Georgia and tried to start an actual band for Bomb the Music Industry!, I got away from the spazzy stuff and started trying to make interesting-sounding and cinematic-feeling music that is rooted in the pop-punk that I loved as a kid and still love today – your Jawbreakers and Green Days. There were also a few awesome punk bands from Athens, mainly Hot New Mexicans and Pillow Fort that got me excited about paring down the arrangements a tiny bit to let the melodies come through more. I think that’s been the only huge change, and it’s mostly just a natural move once you have a drummer instead of a drum machine. The thing I’ve always been proudest of in Bomb and my solo stuff is that I’m not afraid to get super quiet or super loud. I think a lot of bands usually pick one or the other.
You guys were all involved in the New-York ska-punk scene (with The Fad and Arrogant Sons Of Bitches) and witnessed the slowing down of the American third-wave ska scene and the emerging of a kind of more pop/indie/folk/emo orientated punk. Why do you reckon this happened and in what kind of musical direction do you see the modern punk “scene” going? Do you reckon ska-punk will ever make a come-back?
The trouble with the ska/punk days is that there were just too many bands doing it – and that’s also what the greatness about it was. Everyone in high school who played a horn could be in a cool band. How often do band nerds get to be cool? But like any genre, when there’s too many bands doing it there are a lot of bad bands and with ska, those bands tended to be offensively bad to a lot of people so the genre as a whole got shunned. That’s kinda stupid to me. I’m sure ska will be more popular again some day, everything goes in cycles. I have no idea where the modern punk “scene” is going, but it’s nice to see bands like The Sidekicks and The Smith Street Band who write great songs with thoughtful lyrics get a lot of props these days.
BTMI has always struck a special chord lyrics-wise, with highly quotable lyrics and concrete subject matters that a lot of people in the 20-30 year old bracket can really relate to (unemployment, distancing from family and friends, love and death). You’ve also made it a point of engaging with your audiences, playing house-shows, having that whole pre-show barbecue thing going on, holding the vocal coach lyric contest… Do you feel that BTMI is a band that people have a much closer connection to compared to other bands?
I think I’ve kind of lucked out in being able to reach certain people. I try not to think about any of that stuff though, what’s important to me in writing is just remaining as honest as possible. As far as the other stuff goes, I just always try to do stuff that if I saw another band do it I would say “hey, that’s awesome!”
At the time, your label Quote Unquote seemed to be one of the only labels to push donation based music (I find it hard to remember any other label or band doing this apart from the odd Radiohead stunt), but now 5 or 6 years down the road it’s almost a norm to release music for free. What was the reasoning behind the creation of Quote Unquote and have you achieved what you wanted when you started the label?
I started Quote Unquote Records because I was giving my music away for free online and it seemed to be working out well. I could go on tours and break even. So when I took my buddy The Matt Kurz One on tour and people were freaking out about how awesome he is (which, watch some youtube videos if you haven’t seen it) I wanted to help even more people hear his songs, which I think are awesome. So I thought, this worked for me, maybe it’ll work for Matt. And since I didn’t wanna push my anti-capitalist bullshit on him I thought, and we’ll ask for donations if anyone feels like donating. My buddies in Pegasuses-XL in Athens, GA were doing a similar thing and Rick Johnson, who was on the previously mentioned tour, was into putting something up there as well. Then it just kinda snowballed into a pretty cool thing, but I was never really aiming for that. I just wanted to put out my friends music, because I thought it was so amazing and people needed to hear it.
Do people actually donate and have you seen a shift in the donation habits?
I actually don’t monitor the donation habits anymore aside from Bomb records (Vacation, Adults…, Scrambles, Get Warmer, Goodbye Cool World, To leave or die in Long Island, Album Minus Band) and we haven’t put anything out since Spotify became so ubiquitous. I didn’t get as many donations for my solo record as Bomb but that’s expected as Bomb the Music Industry! is a lot more popular than just me as a solo dude. So I don’t really know, but I also don’t really care. I make music because it is something I love and need to do. All that money is just gravy to me. A lot of the time, I’ll use my donation money to take a touring band out for breakfast or buy them a round of drinks or something.
Quote Unquote has released some great albums over the years, from the perfect fuzzy pop of ROAR, to Chewing on tinfoil’s Irish flavored ska-punk and Laura Stevenson’s awkwardly beautiful folkiness, what have been your favorite releases so far and what’s going to happen with the label over the next couple of years?
No clue what’s in the works for Quote Unquote. There’s a few records by bands I love that I’ve always been planning to put up but never have. I think once I redesign the site I might do that.
My favorite release is Cheeky’s Choke On A Cheeseburger. That’s a record I never get tired of listening to… it’s also one of the only straight up punk records on Quote Unquote. That band and that record were a real bright spot during a kind of tough time in my life, which was when I first moved to Brooklyn. A few of them lived up the street from me though, and we’d have breakfast and coffee at their apartment on the weekends which was really comforting. Yeah. Love that record, love those gals and guy.
Laura Stevenson’s first record is one of my favorites ‘cause we had been friends for so long, and I had heard some of her early stuff but this was just such a massive evolution and step forward. I feel like she finally figured out how to make the sounds in her head if that makes sense, and that’s an exciting thing to hear on a record. The first two Pegasuses-XL EP’s for sure because they were just so uncompromisingly weird and out there while being energetic and poppy and that’s my favorite thing for a band to do. Both those Roar records I find really affect me emotionally.
But honestly, I could go on and on and list everything that’s on Quote Unquote eventually. I don’t put out music I don’t like. I gotta say though, the most recent thing that’s on there – Crying – that band is fucking tight as hell.
You also started Really Records a couple of years back, can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind that and what makes it different from Quote Unquote?
Really Records is simply my physical record label. The idea behind it was originally to fundraise for records that I thought deserved to be released in a physical format. Most of the bands on the label felt uncomfortable with that, so it kind of just became a normal small record label where I’ve gotten to release a handful of records that I think are amazing and also my own stuff from time to time.
BTMI have released a pretty crazy amount of material over a relatively short period, if you had to choose 3 songs to define BTMI, which ones would they be and why?
It’s hard not to say Future 86 because it’s the first one. I also think that song is a good definer because it’s got the loud / quiet thing going on, it has a lot of instruments on it (saxophones, organs, fuzz bass) and a bunch of Beach Boys drum samples. It’s also still one of my favorites for sure after all these years.
Even though it hasn’t held up as well for me, I’d have to say Congatulations, John, On Joining Every Time I Die is a good distillation of the first three records, the ones with drum machines instead of real drums. It’s fast and poppy, has a lot of keyboards, bells, yelling, cursing, distortion, a little bit of ska, absurd lyrics that have a touch of hopelessness to them.
I think Hurricane Waves is the same thing for the last three records… it has the dynamic stuff we’re shooting for, some guitars that sound like they’re blowing up, triple drum tracks at certain points, lyrics that are a little less silly. It’s hard to describe your own songs in terms like this, but yeah, I like this one.
When you guys we’re on Tour in Europe in 2010, there were talks of a documentary being made, is that plan still alive?
Yup. We get asked this a lot, but as the subjects of the documentary we have nothing to do with the documentary actually getting made – we just hang out and get filmed sometimes. That said, I do like the people making the movie and I know Sara wanted to get footage from a long period of time. I think a lot has been edited and sifted through but they still wanna get some more stuff.
The response from people about the last show, was pretty cool, you guys sold out super fast, so what can people expect from these last shows?
We’re gonna practice before these shows.
What’s on the cards now for yourself and all the other BTMI guys?
Mike Costa has started working as a programmer for Bandsintown, so he’ll be doing that. I believe he plays drums in Jimmy Doyle and the Engineers. Tom Malinowski is also in Jimmy Doyle’s band, as well as The Fad and Barnaby Jones and probably two more bands at the time you’re reading this. John is ALSO in Jimmy Doyle’s band right now… so I guess if you like us and live in Long Island, you should check out that band because a lot of us are playing in it. Matt Keegan just recorded a record with his band Shinobu, so that’s pretty sweet. He’s also teaching private trombone lessons. I’ve been putting out some solo music over the last year or so, and I’ll probably keep on doing that whether or not I tour.
And last question, if someone offered to fly the band over for one last extra show, where would you like it to be?
The thing is, there’s lots of places I’d like to visit. I’d love to play Hawaii, I’d love to tour Australia with The Smith Street Band one last time. We’ve only been to Europe once and didn’t get to spend much time outside of Germany. So it’d be awesome to check out Eastern Europe, or Spain or Greece. It’d be great to go to Japan. There’s a lot of awesome places in the world I wish we were able to go to. But in all honesty, I couldn’t imagine playing our LAST show anywhere besides New York, specifically Brooklyn. The folks who have been coming out to our shows here since we were playing in basements and backyards are just the fucking best. Can’t beat it.