“I’m sick! I have a headache, I’ve got a fever, a runny nose!’ bellows Pissed Jeans singer Matt Korvette into your naked lugholes during ‘I’m Sick’. It sounds like he’s about pass his own kidneys just to prove how sick he is. Guitars jab at his mucus-swollen sinuses, pounding drums and bass thump at the poor little sod’s brittle head.
As the opening track on their newly reissued debut album Shallow, ‘I’m Sick’ sets out Pissed Jeans’ stall early doors before vomiting all over it and trying to stuff it down the nearest possible bog in shame. It’s a noisy, bratty little shit and it’s fucking classic Pissed Jeans. Korvette reels off a desperate list of hilarious Ferris Bueller style symptoms before finishing the song, “I’ve got to call in sick today!” It’s a feeling that any sadsack office worker will identify with, and perfectly distils musically what Pissed Jeans would go on to hone throughout their four albums: savagely humorous vocals mixed into a delicious blend of barbed-wire guitar rock brilliance.
Originally released in 2005 on small US hardcore label Parts Unknown, Shallow has now been remastered and reissued by the legendary Sub Pop, the band’s home since their second album, 2007’s devastatingly awesome Hope for Men. Shallow is an absolute beast of an album from a band that deal solely in the creation and collection of mortally violent beasts.
In honour of this particular beast’s re-release into the wild, I chatted to Matt Korvette to discuss Shallow and all things Pissed Jeans.
How’s your day?
Quite nice, I just finished eating some lunch.
So let’s start with the decision to re-release Shallow, how did that come about?
Well basically it was the one record we had out that you couldn’t get, and a lot of people didn’t know that it existed. We’re still proud of it. It’s definitely older at this point, but we play those songs and we like it and feel it’s a definite part of the Pissed Jeans puzzle.
It’s not a record we’re trying to hide by any means. We’d love for people to know it exists, and since people didn’t, and there was no way to buy it, we just talked to Sub Pop about reissuing it and they were cool to do it. Seemed pretty easy enough y’know.
I saw you play live at the Electric Ballroom here in London about a year ago, you played a few songs from the album then and I remember thinking: “How can I get these songs?” So it’s good to be able to easily get them now…
Yeah, it was more of like a practical measure reissuing it. I mean nothing’s really changed, we got it remastered but essentially it’s the same thing. It’s just making available a thing that people couldn’t really get.
As a band when you look back on it, do you feel you’ve changed?
I feel like we’ve definitely grown and expanded since then, but it’s all still very much a part of us. I kind of feel like with all of our records, you can just swap out any one song from any other album and it’d still make sense y’know? Like there’s random progressions we’ve made musically that we’ve followed up on, or that we haven’t followed up on, and they’re all kind of spread out there. It’s not like one record is clearly all dirges or one record’s specifically straight-forward punk stuff. So I feel like it’s mixed around enough that this all fits in, and it’s still relevant to us as a band. It’s not like a trip down memory lane, y’know?
I guess with your music you don’t really have one style. You can do different things, like a hardcore punk song and then a sort of noise rock/doom song.
Pretty much. If it’s loud guitars and some level of screaming we can probably work it in there y’know.
Do you feel that a large part of what you do comes from that freedom to say, ‘Fuck it, I’ll do what I want’?
Yeah, I do feel there’s freedom; I feel whatever we try to do will sound like us because it’s us playing it. Y’know, like, I was actually talking to Mark Arm of Mudhoney a little bit ago and I was asking him – because they’ve got like 12 albums or something ridiculous – “How do you guys keep going with this stuff, to write new songs? You’ve written a shit load of songs and you’re like a basic garage-rock grunge band or whatever,” and his answer was kind of how I felt. I felt the same way.
He said that they just take whatever influences they want, and if it’s them playing it then it’ll sound like a Mudhoney song. Y’know, if they had a song with, like, piano lead and blues guitar, it’ll probably still sound like Mudhoney. I hope that we can be a band that’s similar, like whatever we’ve messed around with will still sound like Pissed Jeans. It won’t sound like an entirely different group.
I guess a lot of that is probably to do with your lyrics – they’re quite idiosyncratic and specific to what you do.
That’s cool. Yeah, that’s awesome when people are into it. I try to be interesting, to sing about things that actually weigh on my mind.
The songs feel very real. You sing about office cafeterias and hating co-workers, things people can relate to. I’ve probably felt that quite a lot today! Is it correct that until recently you were still working as an insurance adjuster, up until recording Honeys?
Yeah no, I still am.
So do you think that working – mixing ‘the real life’ with the ‘fantasy’ band life – influences what you do? That you still have that ‘mundane’ daily grind?
Yeah, I think it makes the band a lot more of a release and a little more fun because of it, y’know? It’s like having a good hobby. One you can really enjoy and get something out of. If I was doing the band all the time I might go a little bit nuts, because with working you’re really dependant on the money from it so you do things that you might be ashamed of, or you act in a way that’ll help you just to pay your bills. Y’know, it’s so nice not to have to worry about that.
Speaking of more ethical ideas, on Honeys you have the song ‘Male Gaze’, which is actually quite a political song about sexism in rock music. Do you think in a way you are a political band? It’s not necessarily about politics, more social commentary, satire…
I definitely wouldn’t shy away from that distinction. Y’know I feel it’s really easy to be a band and say, ‘Hey we’ve got nothing to say. Let’s all have a really good time!’ Y’know?
We love to have a good time, but it’s also more meaningful if a band say things that actually mean something to them. No matter how big or small it is. That’s when I get the most from listening to other bands, when I can tell they really mean what they’re saying. They’re not really going through like ‘meh, we need some lyrics, let’s just write some basic thing about ‘I’m depressed’, or vaguely, ‘I’m sick of this shit’ or ‘lets go get fucked up’. It’s boring really. Well, unless that’s truly what they’re passionate about! But you might as well make it count, try to say what’s on your mind. You don’t have to be a genius, y’know what I mean?
Definitely. I feel that ‘Male Gaze’, specifically, is an absolutely cracking song because of that.
Ah yeah, that’s cool. That one’s more thoughtful than the other songs, definitely. Just trying to be aware of the privilege of being a white dude, on Earth.
Do you feel that your audiences have taken the message of the song on board or are more respectful because of it? Has there been any change?
I don’t know. It’s not trying to be self-righteous or anything. It’s just putting myself in check, and I hope everyone else is. I’m lucky enough to be a white dude, because it’s really easy to live through life for me. I’ve never gotten beaten up or harassed, all these things I don’t have to worry about.
I don’t feel bad. I’m not ashamed to be a white dude by any means, but I’m just going to be more aware of that inherent privilege and hook up people who have it tougher; be aware of them; just be aware of their presence and how I deal with them. Like, don’t talk down to other people just because I might assume I’m right. Just little things like that, it doesn’t have to be anything major.
I feel like the more women there are active in heavy underground rock music the absolute better it will be. Y’know, who wouldn’t want that? Even if you are a dumbass dude, why would you not want that?
Hard rock does have a tendency for bullshit machismo and posing, so when a band comes along and says that’s nonsense it’s great.
We do that, and also acknowledge that it’s nonsense and have fun with it. Just to not have it be like this serious test of manhood, you need to pass that insecurity level.
And still make a song that’s fucking wicked, that you can rock to, and that’s also respectful of people.
Yeah. I mean, you can also be respectful in a rude way.
When I saw you live, you were quite antagonistic to the crowd, but in a fun inclusive way. You mocked the London crowd by saying that Leeds was way better. I watch a lot of bands and I feel that a lot lack that interaction and antagonism, and I think that’s an important part of a rock show.
Yeah, it’s always kind of different for me. I thought I was being silly but I suppose some people are used to bands being serious.
It was more ‘goofy’ as opposed to threatening, but it was good to see.
I don’t ever want to be like, ‘I’m the man and you’re all losers’ unless it’s obvious that I’m not the man. There has to be some funniness to it. I love being able to break down the standard rules of how a band are supposed to present themselves to a crowd on stage. It just seems boring. I love to see bands where I just don’t know what’s going to happen. With some bands you just want to hear the hits and you want to hear them played exact and that’s cool too, but I don’t think we’re that type of band.
It’s like you say, humour is such a big part of what you do.
Yeah, we write our set lists like 10 minutes before we go onstage. Sometimes we don’t write them at all. It’s not calculated, like if we went on tour and played the exact same 10 songs every night in a row in the same order. There has to be that level of change for it to be exciting for us.
You were over here recently to do the Jabberwocky festival, which fell through at the last minute. How did that affect you?
Well, that was definitely a bummer. A real disappointment. It’s a shame we didn’t get to hang out and play more shows, but the one we were able to play in London [in the relatively small Birthdays in Dalston] was probably better for us than playing some big festival. It was definitely more of a personal thing and probably way more fun because of that. We’ll happily do whatever. I love playing – big or small shows – it all can be fun.
Any more plans to come over in the future?
Nothing right now, but things always pop up randomly. We’d love to come back again for sure. Honestly, we had such a good time in England when we were there last, everyone was really hospitable. I got a good feel for the different vibes in the different towns, like Brighton seemed very young with lots of strange people, and there were lots of women at that gig; then Birmingham was like a bunch of old dudes who were clearly into loud music from the last 30 years. It was cool to feel the different types of people and the different characters to these cities.
Going back to Shallow, do you have any favourite songs from the album? Like ‘Boring Girls’, which must be a belter to play live!
Yeah, that one’s pretty fun because we go pretty loose as far as how it’s all structured live, and we kind of let it rip, y’know? It’s just so easy, and it’s fun to have songs that are really easy and there’s nothing to it, because then you can really just fill it with your personality, with how you’re feeling at that very moment.
I’d hate for us to have to write really complex songs, because then you have to focus on successfully playing them the whole time. If it’s tricky or there’s a sick complex riff, that’s probably awesome for some people to hear, but I’d be so annoyed that I’d have to sit there and make sure everything’s perfect.
The last song on the album Wachovia is pretty mental – full on noise…
Yeah, that was pretty fun. It’s funny ‘cos I distinctly remember where I was living when I wrote this record. I was pretty fresh into working and Wachovia was this massive chain of banks, and there was a moment in about 2005 where it seemed like they were about to take over all other banks in America, and then they got bought out like six months later and completely ceased to exist. The way banks come and go.
So it’s funny because it’s so antiquated now, it’s like nine years old. That’s the risk you run when you use names or specific things in songs. If you wrote a song eight years ago that’s like: ‘I met her on MySpace’, it’d seem totally stupid now because no one uses that shit. But at the same time it’s also fun to look back at that and remember ‘oh yeah, that’s what we used to do’.
I feel like people are hesitant to write songs talking about the internet or using their iPods, but back in ’77 all these punk bands were writing songs about telephones, that’s what people had back then. It wasn’t like some sort of nostalgic antiquated thing that told them about a telephone, that’s just what they were using in ’78 or whatever. I don’t want to shy away from talking about what we’ve got. During a show everyone’s on their phones and it’s kind of a big deal that’s really shaping our lives, so let’s have someone comment on it rather than ‘we’re all sitting on our iPhones but I wrote a song that’s like ‘I can’t stop watching TV”, that was more appropriate in ’85 or something, y’know?
That’s one of the best things about your lyrics, the small details. Very specific observations that are very funny.
It’s just things that stick out to me, I think that’s half of it.
It must be hard to keep that balance of humour in your lyrics, without them becoming seen as wacky?
Yeah, but they’re always pretty negative, which I think kind of balances it out. Or they’re based in reality, so it’s never a song about a dog riding a skate board, y’know?
Which you could now watch on your internet telephone.
Yeah, that’d be hilarious, but not much to comment on besides that.
That would be a pretty dull set of lyrics, or maybe not?
Maybe not, but not for me. I don’t think I would write that song. I’m sure someone else could really nail that song. We’re working on a new record, it’s taking us a while but we’re definitely moving forward with new songs. So whenever that’s ready we’ll try to get that going.
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s awesome to be cared about, thanks for the time. One of the things is that Shallow never really got reviewed ever and I kind of love reading reviews half the time. So it’ll be cool to see what people think or what people have to say about it. I’ll be curious to see if people are like ‘this is really juvenile’ or like ‘that’s the best album they ever did and they’ve only gotten worse’. Whatever people say it’s always interesting.
Words: Luke O’Dwyer
Photo: Sasha Morgan
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