Philadelphia's Pissed Jeans' Sub Pop debut, Hope for Men, caught me by surprise. The quickest way to cure burnout by a thing is to find something that reminds you of why you initially loved it. Such was the case with Pissed Jeans; theirs is a sound that is intense and hard, but it also possesses a devil-may-care attitude. You may recall a few other Sub Pop bands that possessed that kind of attitude. Yeah, you might say that Pissed Jeans kind of has a "Sub Pop sound." But so what? Theirs is good music; Sub Pop happens to be one of the reasons I love music. How could you not love something that positively reminds you of why you fell in love with music almost, um, two decades ago? Talking to drummer Sean McGuinness was a real treat, as you'll soon read. His powerful drumming is a highlight of Hope for Men, but he's a very down-to-earth dude who loves music. Our conversation could have gone on longer, and we did ramble on a bit more than the following interview. Seriously, these guys are great--what more needs to be said than that?
Listen To: "I've Still Got You (Ice Cream)"
It's nice that I'm speaking to you, because Hope for Men has some really powerful drumming.
Oh, thanks a lot, man!
Something I've noticed is that when the drums are in the forefront, it invariably seems that the creative process for that song or album was a very spontaneous one. Was that the case for Hope for Men?
Yeah, I'd say about half and half. Brad and I wrote about half the record over six months, and the other half we came up with pretty spontaneously in the studio. We wrote about three or four songs in there and I think they came out really well. That's not to say we didn't do lots of planning; we just do it. I don't think you can really have a band without a level of spontaneity. What's the point of collaborating with people if you can't play off of each other's ideas? To me, it wouldn't be worth it.
Some bands have one or two primary songwriters who introduce the songs to the rest of the group, and then others are more open in the creative process and they write the songs together as a band. How does it work for Pissed Jeans?
We do a lot of jamming. I'm not an original member of the band; when I joined, about a week later, we had a deal for a Sub Pop seven inch. So we went in, banged it out, and then we thought, "Um, we better get working on an album." We had a definite goal in mind for an album; we wanted to have ten songs. The first song we came up with was "The Jogger." There was a definite spontaneity at the time. "Fantasy Time" was also written really fast. The guy who was recording us said he had to take a break to go to the post office. Right as he went out, Brad came downstairs and said he had an idea. So he played it, and we said, "Let's slow it down" and he was into that. We started playing it and had it completed in two takes. So yeah, there's definitely an amount of spontaneity--especially when we play live. I don't think we've ever played a show that's gone smoothly. (Laughs)
That sounds like fun, though!
Oh, it's completely fun! But it's stressful as well. Because even though you're wanting to have a wild and crazy time, you still want things to go well, and you want to put on a great show.
To me, some bands' records are completely secondary to their live show. And when I heard Hope for Men for the first time, I thought, "I bet these guys are freakin' amazing live," because of the structure of the songs.
(Laughs) Thanks, man! I think it's cool you think that. We, when we play live, we try for our best, and shit always goes wrong.
But in retrospect, aren't some of those shows where nothing goes right and things seem like a disaster, aren't those some of the best?
Well...I wouldn't necessarily say "best." But they are memorable. We played a show in DC where our bass player wore nothing but his bass, and after two songs, the power went off on the stage and was out for fifteen minutes. So he just stood there naked, awkwardly, wondering what to do. (Laughs)
(Laughs) I have a feeling people in bands don't really remember shows where everything goes according to plan, where everything goes right. It's like a normal, uneventful day of work. (Agrees) Now, I'm an old bastard, and when I heard your music for the first time, I instantly thought of twenty years ago, because what you do reminds me a lot of the Sub Pop-era of two decades ago. Forgive me if this is a subject you're sick of...but did that sound cause Sub Pop to be attracted to you, or you to them, or was that not even a consideration for any of the parties involved?
We do get that a lot, yeah, but it wasn't a conscious thing. But I honestly have no idea what attracted them to us, because I was new to the group and that kind of happened before my time. The story I've heard is that our guy Andy, who works there, listens to a particular WFMU show every Thursday night. He missed it one week and looked up the playlist for that show, to see what he'd missed. He saw our name on it, and he said to himself, "Man, I really gotta check them out; with a name like that, I HAVE to hear what they're about." He looked us up, listened to us, and lo and behold , three months later, we're on Sub Pop. I hadn't even recorded anything with the band when we'd signed. When we went out to Seattle, they were all into us and really super-supportive, and at first I kinda thought they were blowing smoke up our asses. After three days, though, I started to believe them; I really liked them, and it was really cool to realize, "Hey, this amazing label, they're really into us and want to help us out!"
I find it kind of ironic; Pissed Jeans is tapping into a style that Sub Pop made famous twenty years ago, yet the label now is more known for releasing and producing softer, gentler music, so you guys might seem like a throwback.
I don't see ourselves as a throwback. (Pauses) It's very hard for me to be objective about my band. I view it in a way where I...(pauses) I just really like playing music. I'm really, really fortunate to be included with people who think about music the same way I do. I've played in a bunch of bands, and not all of them have been amazing, but most of them have been, by my standards. I really love to play the drums. When I joined, I didn't have any notions in mind, other than to play music.
You must get that Sub Pop/grunge question a lot.
Yeah, we do. Some guy actually asked me, "What's it like to be the second coming of Mudhoney?" That's flattering, but really, I don't see the comparison. I dunno. When I was in high school, I had this theory that punk and hardcore would be circular. I just think that art--ideas come around, and new ideas today are simply derivations and reinterpretations of ideas from the last time that sound was being made. It's about taking influence, building upon your influences, and making something new and fresh.
That question must get tiresome. But hey--at least I didn't ask you about your name! (Laughs)
No comment, eh?
Yeah, yeah, I know, that "what does your name mean" question is one of those things a good journalist must not ask. But hey, I'm not a journalist. I'm just a guy who simply likes music and likes to write about what he likes. And, honestly, I've been burned out and have been on a self-imposed hiatus for about six months now, due in large part to taking a job that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with music. But when I started to come out of my funk, I found myself gravitating towards music that I loved when I was younger. What made Hope for Men so great was it reminded me of a period of time when I really loved music, when I first started getting into music. So when I hear "A Bad Wind" or "Scrapbooking," I hear Mudhoney, but screw it, man--Mudhoney's a great band!
Wow, that's really nice to hear. You know, we were in Seattle, meeting with Sub Pop, and we saw Mark Arm, but what do you say to the guy? We were in Seattle for a few days, and we were hanging out with everyone at the label, but man, I was trying to come up with something to say to him. What do you say? "What was Kurt like?" Can you say to the dude, "Hey, could Mudhoney play a show with us?" And then Brad just blurted out, "Hey, when can we play together?" And Mark just smiled his big smile and enthusiastically said, "Whenever you want!" I was sooooooo freaked out when he said that! Fuck yeah, I'll play with Mudhoney! Bring Soundgarden back from the dead, and we'll totally play with them--shit, that's great music, it fuckin' rules! You know, dude, if there's any musical club to be in, it's this one.
You're not just in a club, son; you're on a label with history.
I totally agree, man. I'm lucky. It doesn't matter how well the record does or how much money it makes or how many units shift or any of that non-music business related bullshit. I'm having a fantastic time. This is a fun band to be in. I am playing with people I love, and the people behind us are the best we could have for our band. I'm lucky, man. Completely lucky. I'm fortunate, and I tell myself that every day.
Hope for Men is available now on Sub Pop
Labels: Interview Time, Pissed Jeans, Sub Pop