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Pissed Jeans have been making a racket for 13 years, and on their fifth album, Why Love Now, the male-fronted quartet is taking aim at the mundane discomforts of modern life—from fetish webcams to office-supply deliveries.
"Rock bands can retreat to the safety of what rock bands usually sing about. So 60 years from now, when no one has a telephone, bands will be writing songs like, 'I'm waiting for her to call me on my telephone.' Kids are going to be like, 'Grandpa, tell me, what was that?' I'd rather not shy away from talking about the internet or interactions in 2016," says Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette.
Pissed Jeans' gutter-scraped amalgamation of sludge, punk, noise, and bracing wit make the band—Korvette, Brad Fry (guitar), Randy Huth (bass) and Sean McGuinness (drums)—a release valve for a world where absurdity seems in a constant battle trying to outdo itself. Why Love Now picks at the bursting seams that are barely holding 21st-century life together. Take the grinding rave-up "The Bar Is Low," which, according to Korvette, is "about how every guy seems to be revealing themselves as a shithead.
"It seems like every guy is getting outed," Korvette continues, "across every board of entertainment and politics and music. There's no guy that isn't a total creep. You're like, 'No, he's just a dude that hits on drunk girls and has sex with them when they're asleep.' Cool, he's just an average shithead."
The lyrics on Why Love Now are particularly pointed about gender relations and the minefield they present in 2016. "'It's Your Knees' is about the endless, unrequested, commenting on if you'd fuck a girl. You know what I mean? 'My great aunt won a cooking contest.' 'Oh, that's pretty hot. I'd hit that,'" says Korvette. "It's bizarre how guys will willingly share this stuff as if it's always in their brains, and now it gets to come out because you're on the internet. There's a boldness to it now that was not maybe there before. So the premise is like, 'Yeah, she's hot, but her knees are weird looking. Not for me, man.'"
On "Love Without Emotion" Korvette channels Nick Cave's more guttural side while bemoaning his detachment over cavernous guitars. The crushing "Ignorecam" twists the idea of fetish cam shows—"where the woman just ignores you and watches TV or eats macaroni and cheese or talks on the phone"—into a showcase for Korvette's rancid yelp and his bandmates' pummeling rock. "I love that idea of guys paying to be ignored," says Korvette. "It seems so weird."
As they did on their last album, 2013's Honeys, Pissed Jeans offer a couple of "fuck that shit type songs" about the working world, with the blistering "Worldwide Marine Asset Financial Analyst" turning unwieldy job titles into sneering punk choruses and "Have You Ever Been Furniture" waving a flag for those whose job descriptions might as well be summed up by "professionally underappreciated." And the startling "I'm A Man," which comes at the album's midpoint, finds author Lindsay Hunter (Ugly Girls) taking center stage, delivering a self-penned monologue of W.B. Mason-inspired erotica—office small talk about pens and coffee given just enough of a twist to expose its filthy underside, with Hunter adopting a grimacing menace that makes its depiction of curdled masculinity even more harrowing.
"Lindsay Hunter is what I would aspire for Pissed Jeans to be—just a real, ugly realness that's shocking," says Korvette. "Not in a, 'I had sex with a corpse on top of a pile...' nonsense way—actually real, shocking stuff. And she has young kids, like Pissed Jeans do. I feel a bond with her in that regard. We're in the same camp."
No Wave legend Lydia Lunch shacked up in Philadelphia to produce "Why Love Now" alongside local metal legend Arthur Rizk (Eternal Champion, Goat Semen). "I knew she wasn't a traditional producer," Korvette says of Lunch. "We wanted to mix it up a little bit. I like how she's so cool and really intimidating. I didn't know how it was going to work out. She ended up being so fucking awesome and crazy. She was super into it, constantly threatening to bend us over the bathtub. I'm not really sure what that entails, but I know she probably wasn't joking.
"Arthur Rizk was the technical guru. It was a perfect combination of a technical wizard and a psychic mentor who guided the ship."
The combination of Lunch's spiritual guidance and Rizk's technical prowess supercharged Pissed Jeans, and the bracing Why Love Now documents them at their grimy, grinning best. While its references may be very early-21st-century, its willingness to state its case cements it as an album in line with punk's tradition of turning norms on their heads and shaking them loose.
"A crucial thing, I think, for being a Pissed Jeans fan is just stemming from what I would take away from punk, which is, 'Question things and think about things,'" says Korvette. "Don't just go to the office and get the same coffee. Don't just wear a leather jacket and get a 40 oz. Just question yourself a little bit if you can."
U Street Music Hall
1115A U St NW
Washington, DC, 20009