Even the title of Jeff Rosenstock’s newest solo album, “POST,” carries a familiar reminder – that it is already too late for anything to be done. Something is irreversibly fucked and the veteran punk rocker will be the first to tell you that along with a lighthearted laugh.
The new album is an exhilarating follow-up to Rosenstock’s widely acclaimed “WORRY” in 2016. His songs – from his days with now-defunct Bomb the Music Industry! to his solo albums – have long told the stories of the financially screwed and the socially sidelined, about struggling to grow up in a stacked-odds world, about finding your place. It’s only a mild surprise that his musical career has wound its way into composing for the Cartoon Network show, “Craig and the Creek,” about a motley group of kids exploring an adult-free Netherland.
We caught up with Rosenstock ahead of his Union Transfer show on Sunday, April 22, to talk about, well, whatever the hell we felt like talking about.
I don’t know of any other punk rockers who’ve made the transition into scoring cartoons. You’ve mentioned that the creators were fans of your music with Bomb the Music Industry!, but what’s writing for a kid’s show been like?
I kinda think about movies a lot when I’m writing records. A lot of the time that could be the seed for how an album is sequenced. So it’s cool to work on something where it’s inverted like that, to make something that feels big and beautiful and emotionally affecting, but that punk energy is still the engine for it. At the same time, it’s music on a cartoon, and [laughs] I probably obsess over more than I should when kids screaming over it. But it’s really fun. Sometimes we’ll get ideas by listening to soundtracks from Princess Mononoke or the Birds or the Last Dragon or weird 80s movies. The fact that it’s not supposed to be something people aren’t paying attention to gives me the freedom to do a lot of weird shit.
Your new album does have this Titus Andronicus, cine-punk opera vibe to it. “USA,” the opening track, has a half dozen different hooks, but you leave space for each one to find itself and get its feeling out. What did you have in mind when you were structuring the songs?
Hearing the [Titus Andronicus’ 2010 album] “The Monitor” for the first time was a revelation for me. It was exciting to hear a record that felt like a real punk record but also had these really long songs that didn’t follow traditional structures. But I don’t know. I listen to a lot of music and I’m inspired by a lot of music but I think that hearing people take chances and have it turn out really successfully – like Titus did with “the Monitor” – that kind of inspires me to take chances on my own and not feel so afraid about it.
When we were done making my last record, “WORRY,” I joked to our publicist, “Great, I think we just made music for nobody.” Because it’s like, there are ten songs going into to each other that don’t have a start or an ending! But the response was good and it kinda made me feel to open to fucking try whatever, so “USA,” to me, every time I thought about that song I was just thinking about space, how important it is to have space and reflection and how hard it is. I was happy that that song ended up having some room to breathe.
Tour kickoff in DC was fuccccckin tiiiiiight. also our dear friend & neighbor of the north @amandafotes is haulin her lil rucksack o lenses along with us, snappin graphs n cappin vids. she took this pic THANX MANRDS!!!! Ok so also we're playing Warsaw in Brooklyn tomorrow and Friday and fridays sold out but thursday isn't and that's tomorrow sooooooo see ya tomorrow yooooooo
You’ve been billed as a musical pioneer and a modern Ian MacKaye and among the top important figures in modern punk, and so on and so forth. How do you all these labels sit with you?
When anybody talks about any aspect of my personality it’s fucking weird. But I don’t know. The people who know me are the people who know me. I try to be honest. But I think I come from the punk heart of...I don’t know...no heroes. I don’t want to be a hero. What it comes down to is I guess that I’m just a music nerd. That’s what gets me through the day.
At the very least, according to my one friend, you single-handedly saved the cowbell on your new record. Will Ferrell and SNL ruined the cowbell for everyone, but you saved it and made available to use again for musicians everywhere.
[Laughs] The Smith Street Band fucking saved the vibraslap on their last record [2017’s “More Scared of You Than You Are of Me”] at the end of the first chorus of the song “25.” It’s fucking sick. After that, I was just like alright, nothing’s off limits any more!
Do you look at analytics for your music to see where your fans are?
Yeah, it’s crazy. People look so much at analytics. But it’s like, hey, you know what? What about all the people who don’t listen to Spotify? What about the person who is walking down the street and hears your record at a store and goes in?
Journalism is doing the same thing, obsessing over metrics and how many people we reach and how long we reach them for. There are people that get lost in the crunch, for sure.
It’s obsessed with immediacy. It’s this fear to make something that won’t be as immediate that’s happening in culture right now, because you want the tweets because you want the clicks. Whatever, whatever. Who gives a shit? [Laughs]
That’s the “here’s music for nobody” attitude again.
I’m making it for me, because something weird is happening in my head and I’m like, get out of here, weird shit.
So you’ve said you love Philly. How do we look from a lifelong New York punk rocker's eyes?
Well, all my friends move there, so there’s that. [Laughs.] I remember playing the Fire when the Fire was the only small place you could play. Then my buddies Tony and Nick started finding me find house shows in smaller areas, and Philly started turning into this awesome place to play.
We’re lucky. We get to play the [First Unitarian] Church and it sells out. And now we’re playing fucking Union Transfer! We’ve played there opening for more popular bands, and now we’re headlining.
Everything happening in Philly right now is great. It reminds me a bit of Long Island – not musically, but when I was growing up, when it was so vibrant and so many good bands are getting the recognition they deserve. I think everybody in Philly know what’s up.
I think the “oh, shit” moment is happening for a lot of good bands. But I don’t know how it is in New York. Do you still have DIY venues?
I don’t know, man. I haven’t left my apartment too much in the last couple months, maybe the last year [laughs]. I left to go on on tour and came home. I can tell you that the place I like to get bagels still has good bagels and the place I like to get coffee still has good coffee and the place I like to get pizza still makes pizza. And the trains work about as well as they ever had.
It’s sad that a lot of DIY places have been closing. And it’s a bummer. Because I don’t know where there is for me to go anymore, to feel a part of something, but you know, as things close, another wave will undoubtedly step in. That’s New York City.
SEE YOU SOON Y’ALLLLLL!!! TOUR STARTS TOMORROW!!!!! WE’RE TOURING WITH MARTHA AND BAD MOVES AND THEY’RE THE FUCKING BEST!!!! ALSO, THIS IS THE LAST TIME WE’RE GONNA BE IN THESE CITIES FOR A WHILE SO IF YOU WANNA SEE US COME OUT AND SEE US!!!!!!! tickets are still available for Brooklyn (4/19)! Philadelphia! Cleveland! Uhhh… umm… Pittsburgh!!! St. Louis!!! Portland, but that’s later anyway…. ummm… Ferndale MICHIGAN!!!!!! CAN’T WAIT TO SEE Y’ALL!!!! PHOTO BY HIRO TANAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! @hiro.tanaka.7545
That’s good. There needs to be some balance to the fact that the city is overrun by globalist technocrats and Russian arms dealers.
Wait until it happens to Philly. Just wait until tech comes to Philly.
Well, we’re on the finalist list for that Amazon headquarters…
Oh my god. They’re going to fuck everything over.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.