Artist Interview: Jeff Rosenstock

Posted: by The Editor

We here at the Alt are huge Jeff Rosenstock fans. In fact, we believe all good people must be Jeff Rosenstock fans in order to truly live enlightened lives. To get excited for HELLMODE, his latest album out now on Polyvinyl Records, we interviewed him on the inspiration, process, and lessons learned surrounding HELLMODE.

You said once that you always think whatever record you’re putting out is the best record you’ve made. And I think at least you’ve been very consistent with self reflection along musical evolution over the past 20 odd years. So moving forward, what’s the biggest lesson that you think you’ll take from HELLMODE for your next best?

Oh, god, that’s a good question. Ha, I’m not sure. I think, on this one we were really deliberate about a lot of decisions that we made with not just like arrangement, which it always is that way, but like guitar tones that just like narrow drums and, we really kind of dived into the minutiae of things a lot on this one. Versus like, usually, when we do our live band tracking and stuff, we kind of we go pretty fast. I mean, we went fast anyway. But we just experimented with more where we usually we have all of our amps are the same rooms with the drums. This time, there’s a few songs that were like, well, what would it sound like, if we just had the drums be in the room, this is such like boring shit.

I’m not bored.

If it’s like a lesson or if it’s just kind of like vocabulary building. And I think on this one the extra stuff, maybe I was trying to dig into trying to figure out how I can write songs that anybody would want to listen to that I might consider pretty, or that I might consider spacious, you know, and that kind of give a little bit of time for the song to grow. I think we’ve always done that with our records. I’ve always tried to do that. And we do that. But I think this record, more than any other, was really trying to lean into that at times, and then at other times, to try and really just set everything on fire. Feel how loud and how heavy it could get. And I think like in both of those regards, maybe not a lesson but like having done that, my mind kind of immediately goes to like, you know, how do I make more cool, quiet shit? Like, how do we make it more? I don’t know, maybe it would be like working with like, some eight track shit next time and trying to get more minimal and see how minimal we could get it. And then also: Okay, so are we going to finally put our money where our mouth is. Do some like fucking serious like thrash metal on the next record. So I think it’s just kind of like the rubber band is always pulling and stretching. And I think this would just kind of like, hopefully, I mean, for us, it feels like a stretch did more. And I think for the next one would be like, I mean, the thought songs really dictate the whole thing. So it’s whatever. But in my heart I’m like, oh shit, it’d be sick to get fucking metal on the next one at times. And then also like, Oh, would it be sick to just make a quiet record into a tape recorder? So I don’t know, I think I always consider them the best one. I always do think that our best one I do think home was the best one. And I think that’s because alright, how, what more what more can we do? Even if even if more doesn’t mean like more sound. Even if it just means more experimentation? Like, what other like roads can we go down and stuff like that? Does that answer your question at all? That was a good question.

100% it does. So they’re saying like sonically he went like this is almost most easily digestible for people and you’re talking about the softer and at the same time maybe just full metal next time. It’s not bedroom pop, it’s not thrash. It’s bedroom metal?

Yeah, bedroom metal. Yeah, and it’s weird because there is stuff that we were sonically trying to make something could be on the radio in the ’90s or now, or like a legit rock song. But I think doing that it was in service of making it so that when the record sounds like it explodes, it’s like “Wait, what the fuck?” You know? That was the hope.

Nice. Ska punk has that sunny, bittersweet dose of reality to it as you’re well aware, and just looking up HELLMODE will tell you it encapsulates the chaos of our era paraphrasing you. So is this like a thrash against that chaos or is it embracing it? Do you want to share the albums thesis with the class?

I don’t think I necessarily mean like, a chaotic feeling more thats the totality of everything coming at you at the same time. I think with HELLMODE throughout this whole thing it’s been kind of hard to explain when people are like what’s this record mean to you. Well, it kind of means, like all of it, you know what I mean? Just trying to exist while so much is happening. And so much is changing. Terrible things happen but also good things happen, it’s everything and trying to process it all at the same time. And like, all the information we’re always getting about every little tiny thing that’s designed to trigger our shit that makes us freak out and want to like, look at more. And it’s just like trying to exist within that and like, hopefully come to some place that you feel some sort of inner peace but then like not really fighting it. I think that’s kind of what this is, its that search for calm and you get it. You get it in little fits and little bursts and stuff like that, but it never really feels like it’s as much as you deserve you know? I think that like that’s more the thesis statement of it. Trying to exist now and experience and be truthful to all these different experiences at fire in every single possible emotional range available, you know?

I think I know exactly what you mean. Love that. I got that from “HEALMODE,” and I got that from “LIKED U BETTER” so I’m excited for the rest of it

Hell yeah. 

Oh, let me compliment a joke you made once: Ska Dream was my favorite bit of yours. I, like everyone else, was not expecting that. I think humor is a part of the Jeff package


So even with the messages and the seriousness that you just mentioned. Alongside that or like beyond that, rather. Is there any bit or big joke for you this time around?

Oh, the big joke this time around. I was pretty happy that we got to tease the record in Wingdings: HELLMODE is coming.

At the end of the “LIKED U BETTER” video?

At the end of the video.Then we’re just putting out stickers that just had Wingdings on it and mailing it out with packages and Wingdings. I think I’ve always just used the stupidest fonts imaginable. And I put Comic Sans and stuff and it’s like what do you do when you when we’ve already used Comic Sans? And to get Wingdings out there into the public? That’s, that’s the biggest bit I think that’s record so far, to me, was the Wingdings. It was also funny that we got that we got that billboard in New York and said, “HELLMODE is coming” that was right above a “Jesus is alive” billboard, which was not planned in any way. But it kinda worked out like that was just like the universe gave us a bid for that one. It’s like, thanks universe appreciate it.

That’s cool. So I imagined doing the soundtrack for Craig of the Creek the past like five seasons and more, is a huge amount of time and effort. How do you think working on a kid show has impacted the anti-establishment do-it-yourself mentality and message that I think you’ve been very consistent with?

I’m lucky because the show Craig of the Creek is, I mean, for kids. I think it’s good for anybody but it’s a show for kids. But it definitely, as much as they could tuck in an anti establishment message for a kids show, they do it. Like it’s a pretty anarchic show. if anybody had asked me “Hey, you want to score a cartoon?” I would be like, hell yeah, sick. But I was really lucky that it was Craig of the Creek because it’s a lot of people who do share those values and who were trying to put those kinds of things into a kid’s show in a small way. It’s still a show for kids. And it’s not like the kids go in, throw a brick through the bank window or anything like that. But there’s an episode where the kids visit a punk house, that’s pretty sick. There’s an episode where Kelsey makes her own book, goes to the library and steals copies I think, puts her own book in the library, because she’s like “I don’t want to go to a publisher, I just want to make myself.” I’m really lucky that it was like that, and that I got to work with the people that I work with. And also just because they’ve really encouraged me to believe in the music that I am making and believe that I can make any kind of music that I would want to make. Like I’ve never approached it as kids show music. I had a big note on like my first ever episode that I scored for the show that just said NOT CARTOON MUSIC in giant letters from talking to Ben the creator. So they’ve always really encouraged me to just kind of like, go for it. And they’ve always been really supportive of whatever kind of music I’m making on the show. Whether it’s a quiet song about guests, or whether it’s like a Vocaloid pop song for them to play at their like anime convention. There’s all weird stuff that I’ve gotten to do in that show that they’ve always been really encouraging about. And it’s kind of like, and so weirdly of like working in this like corporate infrastructure. Like, you know, Cartoon Network was owned by Warner Brothers who’s now owned by Discovery who’s owned by that bad guy, David Zaslav. Like it’s weird because I really had so much freedom to just do whatever I wanted to do musically, and I think it’s just pushed me only to be more adventurous.

Now, that answer surprised me. I appreciate that so much, that they went, “Hey, you got this, variety.” I like that, cool. I was really waiting for the next rainstorm with a little bit of glee after I heard “HEALMODE,” felt pretty naturalistic especially after I listened to Worry all the way through again, there’s a more cool undertone to Worry. Is HELLMODE more naturalistic talking about appreciation of the softer sounds you mentioned?

I wouldn’t say it’s deliberately more naturalistic or anything like that. It’s always where I’m at at the time. HELLMODE is a weird one, because it really catches a lot of periods of time. Some of the songs I wrote when I lived in Brooklyn still. Some of them I was working on when we moved across the country. A lot of them were written in the middle of a pandemic with the thought in mind: How do I write during this without, like, making it about this thing? That’s obviously an impermanent moment, you know what I mean? And thats like, something I’m not supposed to talk about in interviews ever, because nobody wants to fucking talk about it. Which is funny. But yeah, I think where I’m at personally, versus Worry, when I was writing that I thought I was getting kicked out of my apartment. And I thought, I don’t know where we’re gonna fucking live, and it was a really, really stressful time when that was happening. And I think the stresses this time were just a little bit more, existential to an extent. Its the threat of everything that we’re all experiencing together. That’s kind of the stuff that was making me anxious and giving me the need to feel like I wanted to express myself or write about something. And then also, I’ve just like, as I’m doing that, and as I’m trying to grow into a good person who I would like to be, and somebody who’s not always so fucking negative and pessimistic about everything, I really was just trying to also counter it with just a little bit of what life is actually like. I feel like I’m in a pretty lucky spot. I’ve had a good job for the last five years working on that show. I’ve been able to live, my band is able to tour and we come back and we can pay our bills. All that’s good. And it’s kind of strange to parse that with, like, the sense of doom that existing in the 20s has, you know. Maybe it’s because I wrote a lot of this record in the desert. Like I drove out to the desert. We were supposed to do this tour with Catbite but we had to postpone it because COVID was like really spiking. And I had two weeks off. So I went out to the desert for three or four days, and I demoed a large part of this record. And I wonder if that’s it, I wonder if just being out that had me thinking more about like the rain. I think just being outside and running a lot during like a really bad wildfire season and 2020 has me thinking about the earth a lot. I think so often that we’re like, oh, we’re killing the planet, we’re killing the planet. And I’m like, bro, planet’s gonna be fine. We’re killing each other. We’re killing humanity. Like the planet will rebound. It has shown us that time and time again, we’re just gonna be fucking gone because we’re fucking it up. And the planet is gonna get rid of us, you know? So maybe that’s kind of like the naturalistic vibe of this record, which is that, you know, we better be we’d better be good or you know, we’re about to get got you know?

HELLMODE is out now.


Anne Hurban | @fyrbrdtransanne

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