Anyone who’s seen the band’s live show can attest that Pissed Jeans—formerly of Allentown, now mostly relocated to Philly—is a grumbling, grooving mess of a thing, full of fluid and volume, purveying over that wondrous stretch of sound between “irritating noise wank” and “streamlined pop-rock” that makes twentysomethings embrace a boozy, put-your-shirt-back-on abandon and makes nebbish fortysomethings invoke their obscure record collections. The band’s live appeal is due in no small part to singer Matt Korvette, who is one of those rare, precious weirdos who truly lives up to the frontman tag.
You can observe it for yourself at the band’s free unplugged set at Philadelphia’s Beautiful World Syndicate shop for Record Store Day on April 16. Although Korvette himself doesn’t go in for the holiday, he concedes its significance, saying, “Someone out there wants that Foo Fighters acoustic 7-inch fun-pak, and I refuse to stand in their way.” He deigned to speak with us about his band, the denim retail mythos of Passyunk Avenue, and the days when Pissed Jeans’ home label Sub Pop would still put out bands with embarrassingly goofy names.
The A.V. Club: How has most of Pissed Jeans’ members moving to Philadelphia changed the way the band works?
Matt Korvette: We’ve written songs in so many different practice spaces over the years—from basements and warehouses to hourly “pro gear” studios—and our style is fairly consistent. The rest of the guys ironically jam on some thrash-metal riff for an hour or two, I check my voicemail (no new messages), and in the last 20 minutes of practice we try to work on new ideas. This may explain our year-plus gap between new records.
Starting the band, there certainly were no expectations that we’d make it past a 7-inch or two, whereas if we all moved to Brooklyn together, our goals may have been higher.
AVC: If this were It’s a Wonderful Life, what would we see when that drunk ghost takes us to see the Pissed Jeans That Could’ve Been had you all moved to Brooklyn?
MK: Better haircuts? A reliance on our parents for financial support? No matter what the specifics, it would be a grim scenario indeed.
AVC: Do you feel connected to any sort of “scene” here now?
MK: I feel more connected to Philadelphia’s music scene than Allentown’s right now. I don’t know of any bands in Allentown that interest me at the moment; the ones I loved a few years ago either broke up or moved to Philadelphia, or still exist. The friends I see the most all live here in Philadelphia, and many are musicians. While they may not agree, I consider the folks in Watery Love, Purling Hiss, M Ax Noi Mach and Leather to be good company.
AVC: What Sub Pop labelmates—active or defunct—would you most like to square play a $1,000 game of basketball?
MK: Undoubtedly, Cat Butt. First, it would rankle the Sub Pop staff to get the Cat Butt name out there again. Secondly, I can’t imagine any of them have aged well. Plus, there’s something infinitely more satisfying in telling my friends, “I beat Cat Butt,” rather than, “I beat Fleet Foxes.”
AVC: Whom would you definitely not want to face with those odds?
MK: No Age. I am 99.99 percent positive we would whoop them on the court, but in the freak event that No Age were to beat us, the humiliation would be unbearable and lead to Pissed Jeans’ early demise. Some things aren’t worth living with.
AVC: It’s funny you mention Cat Butt. I’ve noticed that there’s sometimes a spike in visual, weird band names—Fudge Tunnel, Lubricated Goat, Titwrench—while at other times, band names all seem to tend toward ambiguous, esoteric blanks, like, “Want to go see … Hoover And Shellac?” How do you explain this cyclical phenomenon, and what would say are the pros and cons of having a weird band name?
MK: With any sort of art, there are those who start the trend, and those who follow it, either consciously or unconsciously. I’m sure Wolf Parade weren’t thinking about Wolf Eyes when they came up with that name, but there has to be some explanation for the thousands of Wolf-themed—not to mention animal-themed—band names currently in existence.
I am on a few “indie PR” e-mail lists—some sort of karmic punishment, I’m sure—and one e-mail I recently got had the header “Chickenhawk change name to Hawk Eyes with new album.” I seriously considered ending my relationship with all electronic media.
There really is no pro to having a fucked-up band name, in my opinion. Dorks think the outrageous naughtiness is appealing, intelligent women think less of you, and when you are crossing the border into Canada you have to not only say, “Our band is called Pissed Jeans,” but then clarify when they ask you to repeat it. “Pissed Jeans … like urinated pants. No, I didn’t come up with it; he did.” (Point to closest bandmate.)
Honestly, I wish we went with a more palatable name. If only we knew back in 2004 all the success and riches that awaited us. We’ve considered writing a concept album about a guy named Pissed Gene, in hopes of alleviating the body-function associations, but I think Pressed Jeans would be best, especially as it sounds essentially the same when said fast enough and with a lisp.
AVC: In the 1980s, punk bands tended to have definitive people out front—Henry Rollins of Black Flag, H.R. of Bad Brains, and Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat. Then, in the ’90s, bands leaned more toward more enigmatic, democratic ensembles, with exceptional standouts like David Yow from Jesus Lizard or Dan Higgs from Lungfish. Where are we now? What’s the State Of The Union for the frontperson?
MK: I enjoy frontpeople, but it’s harder for any artist to be remembered two albums into the game, let alone to develop a signature style over a number of years. Off the top of my head, I find Brendan [Suppression] of Eddy Current Suppression Ring to be pretty damn charming. Kurt Vile is hilarious and could work a room with his eyes closed. Zola Jesus is fantastic to watch, skipping around the stage and belting it out. And we’ve still got Anthony Kiedis for another 40 or 50 years, I’m sure.
AVC: Aside from the obvious endorsement deal, what made you name your last album after Passyunk Avenue’s King Of Jeans? Was there ever a thought of using the store’s legendary sign as the album art?
MK: We had that thought, but it seemed a little too obvious. Besides, Hope For Men [the group’s sophomore effort] comes from a van outside the brotherhood mission I used to live near on Girard Ave.; we didn’t use that in our art, either. We named the album King Of Jeans because, of all things to be king of, it seemed fairly silly and inconsequential. It’s a fitting description for some of the themes within the record—being the master of something meaningless, or proud of something slight to the rest of the world.
AVC: How sick are you of people comparing Pissed Jeans to Flipper? Could Sub Pop maybe send writers out a mix-tape of other bands who you may or may not derive influence from?
MK: I wouldn’t mind that! Although, we get way more Jesus Lizard comparisons, which bothers me more than Flipper. Specifically, I am a huge Flipper fan, whereas I truly had not listened to any Jesus Lizard prior to the band, and am offended that the David Yow comparisons I get essentially translate to, “Well, they both have guts and are ugly and degrade themselves and drip fluid.” I am a far better-looking guy than David Yow, not to mention much taller, and at this point would be more satisfied by a “He looks like Tom Green on acid” comment than another “These guys are like the modern heirs to Jesus Lizard!”
I will admit, though, a couple years ago, after first reading the Jesus Lizard comparisons, I Netflixed their live DVD and not only did I enjoy it, I couldn’t deny the similarities, either. But don’t tell anyone that; I still hate that band.