Interview: Eric Butler of Mom Jeans Discusses ‘Puppy Love’

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Photo by Joey Tobin

Sarah Knoll spoke with Eric Butler, guitarist vocalist and songwriter of California band Mom Jeans, about their new album Puppy Love, going from playing basements to large venues,  and life outside of music. Read their discussion while you listen to the record below.

Congrats on the release of Puppy Love, I really loved the record, you seem to take a bit more of an aggressive approach to the instrumentation on the record. Can you tell me a little bit about your intentions going into the recording studio compared to your previous record, Best Buds?

I would say that our approach to writing the record was pretty similar to Best Buds, because were just all trying to make a record that we’re happy with. At the end of the day that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we tried to do on Best Buds. It was no real special formula. We tried really hard not to think about what other people thought about it, we just wanted to make an album that we were all stoked on, regardless about what everyone else thought. We could listen to it ourselves and be proud of it.

Puppy Love was pretty much the same thing, it was very much the same sort of thing. Just trying to make an album that we were stoked on and that we were clinging to. My taste for sure, just things that I’ve been listening to, like you said, have been a little more aggressive. Definitely changed styles, like I’ve been listening to a lot of Prince Daddy they have a fuzzier sound, and I was inspired a lot by bands like that. I think having Bart [Starr] in the band too; his preference of music in general is a lot heavier than the stuff that I listen to. So I think having all of that come together, just the fact that it’s been 2 years, it all kind of cultivated into an aggressive tone all together.

Other than Prince Daddy, what records or bands were you most influenced by for this album?

Man, that’s hard. It’s really just like all of the music my friends have just come out with since Best Buds came out. Like the Prince Daddy record was amazing, and it was really influential to me. Oso Oso’s record yunahon mixtape, that album is perfect. Nervous Dater’s record was also amazing. All the music that Pictures of Vernon came out with in the last couple of years. Old Soul really got me hyped. I’ve been listening a lot of Mover Shaker.

Pretty much all the people that we’ve become friends with in the last 2 years that we’ve been hanging out with. Obviously there’s big bands, like I’ve been getting really into hardcore and metal. So I’ve been listening to a ton of Turnstile and bands like that. The stuff that gets me stoked that makes me want to play shows and write a record and get excited are definitely my friends and the people that we’ve toured with. Basically anybody who’s been on a show with us in the last 2 years, those are the people that are getting me stoked and are pushing me to write stuff.

Awesome, a lot of those bands are on Counter Intuitive Records, what has been your experience working with CI and Jake Sulzer since joining the label?

I mean it’s been amazing. It’s been a really crazy last couple of years seeing the rise of Counter Intuitive’s popularity. All the stuff that Jake has been able to do. I think that Jake has always been a really hardworking person. I’m not trying to say that Counter Intuitive wasn’t big before Mom Jeans but we definitely feel like we work well together with Jake, and a lot of our success wouldn’t be without Jake’s help.

It’s really cool to be a part of a label that feels like a family. I think a lot of other Counter Intuitive bands will talk about it and say that, it just feels really really nice to work with someone who cares about the music and the artistic approach first rather than what’s going to make money. I really truly feel that being part of this family and allowing us to do what we want to do is a major priority. There aren’t a lot of labels out there that are like that right now. I think that the list of labels who get to the point where they’re really big like Run for Cover and No Sleep where it’s hard to be about what they were originally about when they first started. Jake is trying hard to maintain that image by continuing to work with really great bands and always searching for new people to work with. It’s really inspiring and motivating to be on a team like that. It’s always excitement, it’s always getting hype about something you’re working on.

So kind of riffing off of that, I know that Ryan Ellery worked on Puppy Love and also put out the last Graduating Life and Just Friends records. What was the recording process like working with him?

So Ryan has recorded everything that we haven’t recorded ourselves. I think that honestly recording music can be a really weird obstacle for some bands to get over. I think it’s because it’s one of those things that you have to do, you have to record your music. You have to produce it in a way that makes it listenable and makes people excited. The way you record your record and how well you record your record has a lot to do with how people receive the material off or not.

Unfortunately, I think for a lot of bands recording is a very stressful experience. It’s just really hard and it takes a lot out of them. Recording is really hard, hard work and at least for us, working with Ryan has always been super fun and a great experience. Every time we hang out Ryan and are working with him, I always feel like I can be myself 100% and we can be 100% ourselves and really let our personalities shine through. Ryan doesn’t really put himself into the record. Which I think there’s very few engineers who right now who can say that they let the band’s true sound shine through.

I think that there’s a lot of people that have a way that they like to do things, and there’s no hate for that. Ryan is the perfect kind of person that if you have cool songs Ryan will be able to capture it in a way that I think shows the best version of that. That’s always been amazing, and it’s not stressful. I don’t get worried about recording, I get excited.

Can you describe your writing process? What gets you in the mindset? What gets you in the mood to write? Is there a certain place that you go to?

I usually write when I’m just bored out of my mind. I just have absolutely nothing else to do. It’s hard for me to describe, I’ve never actually thought about it that much. Usually the music always comes before the lyrics. The riff or the chord progression always comes first or the drum idea or whatever it is. Usually I will come up with a riff or Austin will come up with one and it will just be rattling in my head for a long time. I actually have one of those right now, I just play it on guitar all the time.

Eventually when I’m just super bored out of my mind, something clicks or I’m falling asleep, trying to go to bed, I’ll have an idea for something and I’ll try to figure that out. Eventually it’s a really long and slow process of nothing happening for months and months and months and then I’ll just put a song structure together and I’ll be like “okay I can actually work on this”. They don’t all always work out because I have a really hard time working on stuff that I don’t feel is working. If I don’t feel like it’s going somewhere or I show it to Austin and he’s like “meh, I don’t feel it” it’ll be hard for me to keep getting excited to work on it. It’ll just be months of me playing the same riff until I feel like something pisses me off enough to want to write a song about it.

While Puppy Love definitely carries a lot of similar themes to Best Buds, what is it that you’re trying to communicate through your music? What about Puppy Love do you hope listeners get out of it?

I mean, I’ve never really written songs with the intention that other people are going to identify with them. It might sound selfish but it’s really just been an outlet for myself personally. I feel like especially through going to college and becoming an adult. Probably the last 5 or so years of my life, I feel like a lot of my relationships in my life have deteriorated and a lot of my mental health deteriorated. Which I did not anticipate.

I’m supposed to be this person who is in the pinnacle of my life, like these are “the golden years” and it’s supposed to be the most exciting time of your life and I just hated myself all the time. I hated the people around me, I hated the things I thought, I just felt bad constantly. I always had a really hard time explaining that to people in a way that doesn’t sound super dark and super nihilistic, but even when I talked to my parents just about my mental health and why I get frustrated about certain things. It can be about anything; it can be about traffic or gentrification or your own relationship with your partner. I just constantly found myself going darker and darker, faster and faster about whatever conversation I was having and music allowed me to say what I was feeling but it didn’t make people uncomfortable.

I just felt like I was bottling things up and I needed to let everything out and music was an outlet for that. It’s a place for me to hash out my thoughts in way that in a conversation it may not make perfect sense, but putting it in a song does. For me, being able to perform those songs I’m able to meet people who come up to me and are like “hey this is really helping me”, that process is extremely therapeutic to me. It also makes me feel like I’m not the only one who deals with this. At least for Puppy Love, rather than my songs being about depression or not knowing who my friends are or losing really important people it’s been more about being anxious about everything that’s going on.

On the same note, what would you describe the new sound on Puppy Love to be? Many people are labeling it as “emo”.

To me, they’re pop songs. I know they don’t sound like pop songs as far as the execution and the guitar tone, but I think it’s pop music. Honestly, whatever sounds right to us. I’m at the point where emo doesn’t really represent what our band sounds like. It’s not that I have any problem with it at all. I’m not like “fuck emo” or anything like that. I just don’t know if we are an emo band or any type of band.

I just like to think that we’re a rock band. My parents ask me what kind of music we play and I just say rock music. At the end of the day I feel like that’s the only thing that encapsulates everything that we have done and want to do in the future. Pretty much everything is rock and roll and I like not feeling that we have to play a certain way or that we have to be a certain style to be taken seriously. I don’t think that’s us and we’re not alone in that, I think everybody is feeling that right now. Everybody’s really tired of that, especially non-male musicians or musicians of color are tired of being pigeon-holed into whatever genre people are telling them they are just because they sound a certain way or look a certain way.

I’m stoked on that and that makes me happy and I fully embrace the whole “genre doesn’t matter” argument. Obviously people need ways to compartmentalize and organize and categorize music. At the end of the day it’s just pop music and if it makes you happy and you like it, awesome. If you don’t like it, that’s cool too.

So from what I’ve seen you all play a ton of different venues varying in size from basements to huge concert halls, so what has been your experience with all of these varying venues? What are the pros and cons of both? Where do you feel most comfortable?

I would say that it’s changed over time. The reason we started a band, the reason we started playing shows is because we wanted to play house shows. To me, house shows always are and always will be the pinnacle of cool and special. There’s something really unique, just really personal about a house show. I always loved doing that and then we started playing house shows that didn’t have enough space in them to fit all of the people that wanted to come to the show. Especially house show culture it’s one of those things that some people are in it all the time and they know exactly how to behave. There are some people who come to a house show in their 20’s who have never been to a house show and have no idea how to act or behave. Once that started happening and all of these people coming into this environment, it was like “oh hey, there’s all these random people in my house that I don’t know and I thought I knew everybody” type of deal.

I lately have become more interested in trying to play actual venues just because there’s enough space for everybody, there’s a sound system that works, and essentially everybody that pays money to see us gets to watch us play. I had some kid that drove for 3 hours from North Carolina and paid $15 to get into a house show and they couldn’t even get down to the basement. That was starting to happen a lot and people were starting to get hurt at house shows just because it was getting pretty wild, the PA would get knocked over and unplugged. That was taking away from the experience for me. I was getting bummed out and frustrated that people were going super hard and stuff was happening when the reality is I should be excited and thankful that people are listening to my music. That people want to come see or band play and people are going hard for our band those are all positive things. I don’t want my own stress and anxiety about people getting hurt, or not having enough space for people or about someone spilling beer on my pedal board. I don’t want that to take away from the positive.

As we’ve gotten to play some bigger venues, personally, just for my preference there’s a lot of things about bigger venues that I think are really awesome. They’re helpful and make our lives easier. Things like bathrooms, making sure there’s enough bathrooms for everyone that’s at the show. That there’s water out, there’s air conditioning, there’s a designated area for people to smoke cigarettes and throw their butts so the neighbors don’t get mad. There’s security there to make sure there are no drunk assholes who are being creeps and acting super weird towards people. Those are things that may still be taken care of at house shows because there are really awesome people who are putting effort and time into making sure that house shows are safe. We’ve just gotten to the point where I can’t be that person at every show and I can’t have all the stress about thinking about all that stuff. It makes it a lot more enjoyable experience; I get to focus on the music a lot more.

What have been some of your favorite tracks to play?

 Just all the new songs. We have our album release show soon. I always spend a couple of days practicing. We just did some shows with Retirement Party and that was really fun. All the new songs I’ve really enjoyed playing. I like playing “jon bong jovi” a lot, it’s really fast and shready. That was kind of the idea of what this record was about, just kind of writing songs that we wanted to play live and would be fun for us to play. Honestly all of the songs have been having a great reaction.

So what do you like to do in between tour and writing and recording, what do you like to do in your free time?

Aw man, we like to go full piece-of-shit mode pretty often and just lay in bed and not do anything. We’re get pretty lazy, at least me, Gabe and Austin. Bart works for an audio-visual company and does event sound, so he goes up and down from the Bay Area and Fresno pretty constantly. He’s also working on finishing up a second Graduating Life album. So he’s constantly going back and forth on that. I’ve been getting into learning how to solder and repair guitars myself. It’s something that me and Austin have been getting into. Gabe really likes hiking. We all have partners that we all like to spend time with. Smoke a lot of weed, play a lot of video games, watch a lot of movies. I like cooking a lot, so I get groceries a lot. Teaching myself how to cook meatless.

Where do you see Mom Jeans going in the future?

Honestly, I don’t know. I just want to keep playing shows as long as I can and making music with my friends as long as I can. If that’s with Mom Jeans or in general, I just love playing music with my homies and it just doesn’t get old for me. Watching bands play really cool sets or having new music come out it never gets old.

You can purchase Puppy Love now from Counter Intuitive Records (US) and Big Scary Monsters (UK/EU).

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Interview by Sarah Knoll

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