Photo Credit: Holly Morrison
Bomb The Music Industry! is a band that definitely lives up to their name. They take DIY to a whole new level by writing, recording, producing, and distributing their own music. To top it all off, they offer downloads of their albums for free on their website here. Aside from bombing the music industry with their own approach, it’s also hard to categorize the band. With elements of punk, ska, hardcore, and even indie, BTMI! creates their own unique style that other bands can’t compare to. I had a chance to talk to the mastermind behind BTMI!, singer/guitarist Jeff Rosenstock, as he discussed the band’s new album Vacation, what it’s like to be vulnerable through music, and what BTMI! is all about.
You got to experience the Long Island ska scene. In what ways did that scene influence the music you make today?
Jeff: There was a show every weekend and a really great community around it. I wasn’t Mr. Cool Guy or anything in high school, but I had a great group of friends that I could play music with or I could go watch my friends play music. I had something fun to do every weekend with a bunch of people who were really nice and all had the same ideals, which was just treat each other good. We play shows now and people get really pushy and stuff like that sometimes, and it’s strange because in Long Island that didn’t happen at shows I went to as a kid. And I went to probably 200 shows. That influenced us in the way that we would like our shows to be a place where people who were not cool people could just go and everything is okay. You can not be the nerd or the weirdo for a second and be with a bunch of people who are also like you.
BTMI! has put out a lot of records, and people are bound to have their opinion about your music. Did the opinions of others affect the way you approached writing Vacation?
J: Yeah, a little. I think the fact that everybody doesn’t like us or that a lot of people just hate us makes me want to make a better record. It makes me want to try and do something that I think, “Alright, maybe we can make something that these people will like.” A lot of my singing on this record, I don’t know if it’s any better, but I tried really hard to sing a lot better. I tried different stuff this time around and I’m gonna keep doing that. I’m gonna try to make something interesting and make something better than the last thing we’ve done. So I think it affects it like that. We’ve never been the band that everybody likes. We’ve always been the band that the handful of people that like us really like us and the people that hate us really hate us. I guess it’s always about trying to write something that maybe the people that hate us that aren’t racist, homophobic assholes can get into.
BTMI! is a highly influential band. How does it feel to know you impact so many people through your music?
J: It’s weird. I usually just get freaked out by it because I don’t know what to ever say. As dorky as this is gonna sound, I express a lot of stuff through writing music, so when people come up to me and they’re like, “Hey man, I feel this way about this, too,” I don’t know what to say. Cool! That was really hard for me to say even once, I don’t know how to have this conversation. There was a kid in Oklahoma City who asked me point blank if I’ve ever tried to kill myself. It’s just like, dude, I don’t know you. I don’t talk to my fiancé, my parents, or my friends about that shit. I guess when you have really personal songs that will happen. So the next record we write is just gonna be all about animals. It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be an animal record. Then people will be like, “Oh yeah man, I really like sea otters!” And I’ll be like “I really like sea otters too, we can talk about this. I’m plenty comfortable talking about sea otters with you.”
Do you think Vacation is completely different from other BTMI! records?
J: I think it’s more hopeful than the last few records. I think that the dark stuff on Vacation is really, really dark. The stuff that’s negative is stuff that I’ve been trying to think of a way to exorcise from my head for the past 10 years. A lot of that stuff hasn’t been in songs and are things that I needed to get out. At the same time, I think it’s being looked at from a different lens then, say, Goodbye Cool World or Scrambles. Both of those records are kind of like, “Ahhh, fuuuck, ahhh,” and this one is kind of like, “Okay, that happened. That shit’s crazy, it sucks, but okay let’s deal with it.” I think it’s more positive because of that. It’s very upbeat for a BTMI! record, but I don’t think any of our records are gonna be upbeat lyrically compared to anybody else’s records.
What’s your writing process like?
J: A lot of it is just kind of humming stuff. I used to just write shit down on my hand, then run home, try and play it on guitar, then record a quick demo. Like staff music on my hands and write out notes, and I still do that while I’m driving, which is insane. Now that I have a phone I can sing into when I come up with something—I just do that. And usually it’s at inopportune times, like “Hurricane Waves” for example, I wrote that while I was at the beach. I was actually really sick at the beach and hanging out with people doubled over on a blanket, and was just like, “I gotta go walk over there for a second guys,” (starts humming melody for “Hurricane Waves”). And they’re just like, “What are you doing?” That’s how a lot of stuff has been written, things just pop into my head. Sometimes I’ll write something down in my phone, or in a book, or on my hand, or something that’s sitting around in the van, and I’ll try to remember it. Like the song “Everybody That Loves You” (starts humming the song), I was on the beach again. A lot of these records were written on different beaches into a small phone. I was in California and that just came to me—I ran over to the side, sang it into my phone, and wrote down the words. Then it’s arranging it until it’s a wall of noise.
Is it weird that BTMI! seems to be a band that’s all about having a good time and making good music, yet people think your lyrics are rather dark and depressing?
J: I think all the bands I always liked have kind of dark lyrics, but they’re kind of upbeat. I think it’s good. I like playing those songs, because when we play and get that out it feels good. I think that people who come to shows who are feeling those things, when they’re singing along, they’re getting something out. And that’s cool, that’s really awesome. Like Against Me!, their record Searching For A Former Clarity, that record is dark and it’s awesome! Ted Leo is kind of like that, too, and bands like Future of the Left and They Might Be Giants. There’s a lot of bands that sing dark shit, but it just makes you feel good to sing along.
What’s your favorite song to play live?
J: My favorite songs to play live, we’re not very good at. I really like playing “Everybody That Loves You.” I think that ended up being my favorite song on the record, which is weird because it’s buried towards the end. I really like playing that one, but I can’t play the guitar part very well, so that’s that. I really like playing “Felt Just Like Vacation,” because there’s a lot more dynamic to it when we play it live, and we have a really fun build that we play at the end now. I like that, we’ve never really done anything like that before. I like that we kind of jam, which I can’t imagine anyone else likes because who wants to see a band jamming? Nobody but the band! So those are my two favorite songs to play live, the two songs that can’t be enjoyable for anybody.