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MAN_AGE speaks with Matt Korvette, the lead singer of Pennsylvanian hardcore band Pissed Jeans about his lyrics, male identity and whether you’re likely to like certain music…


 

MAN_AGE: Even as far back as 2005 with your debut album Shallow, you tackled issues that seem integral to young manhood such as masturbation, with “Ashamed of My Cum,” and self-affliction, with “I Broke My Own Heart.” Were these conscious choices to rally against the toxic elements of masculinity, or were they more innocently-unaware expressions of your troubles at the time?

Matt: Early on with Pissed Jeans, there were two things I wanted to accomplish lyrically as the band was taking shape: I wanted to sing about real experiences and ideas that truly affected or weighed on me emotionally and/or mentally, and I wanted to shock people without being traditionally offensive or 'shocking'. The way I saw it, if you're the singer in a hardcore band and you dive into the crowd and thrash around, it's going to get a reaction - people are going to catch you or dive out of the way, bodies will bump into each other, people will be forced to take notice of you. That's way too easy! It's a given. I wanted to be able to provoke without physically screaming in anyone's face, or grabbing their drink and throwing it. Just letting my words and on-stage performance unsettle you. It was a fun challenge, and I still enjoy it. 

To answer your question, I definitely wasn't aware of toxic masculinity at the time... I was only really just becoming acquainted with my masculinity. "Ashamed Of My Cum" was specifically about the feeling of wasted time, shame and self-pity after masturbating, one that I had experienced, probably at least partially due to some form of Catholic guilt. It was real, and what could be more uncomfortable of a topic to approach than that? "I Broke My Own Heart" was about failure and missed opportunities due to shyness and fear, and putting it out there sort of rallied me mentally to keep from "breaking my own heart" in the future. A lot of my songs are me working out my own issues in real time. It's honestly amazing how well it's worked for me. Very therapeutic, and I say this as someone who has also seen traditional therapists (they're very useful too).  

M_A: Jumping forward, Hope for Men's (2007) unbridled instrumental aggression is offset with lyrics about Whole Foods, scrapbooking, geeky fantasy worlds, metropolitan-male caricatures, and eating ice-cream when bummed out – you cover a large range of male identities, many of them either mundane, novel or worthy of loathing. Why are they so often a go-to subject? What fascinates you about them?

M: They're a go-to subject because they're all me, more or less! Write about what you know, right? I often love picking apart specific male stereotypes, and chances are it's because I fit the bill in one way or another. I shop at Whole Foods, I have created numerous fantasy worlds for myself, and I eat a hell of a lot of ice cream. I fascinate myself, I guess, and I think it's become pretty clear that I'm not some wholly unique being, that a lot of other guys out there can relate to what I sing about, or at least find it somewhat interesting themselves. The main person I hope to interrogate in my lyrics is me. 


“Hey day job, you're cool and all, but the moment you start stressing me out to the point where I'm having stressful dreams about you at night, instead of just enjoying a snooze with completely unrelated dreams, we need to talk or figure something out because it's not working.”


M_A: In the song “People Person,” for instance, you effectively illustrate the successful metropolitan male who is seemingly excellent in every way, but do so with a hint of disdain, irony. Does this caricature represent an 'idealised' man that many cannot be? What inspired you to write this song?

M: "People Person" was based on a real person that would come into the office I was working at when it was written. There's definitely some disdain, but there's also plenty of jealousy, and then some self-disdain because why am I jealous of this person I disdain? I think it's the veneer of the aspirational office professional personality type that just really sticks in my craw. It seems so phony, and I have definitely been phony as a means to survive conservative work environments, and I think it just dulls my spirit a little. So I've got to lash out in one way or another.

M_A: Throughout your career, you've blended a grotesque, sludgy hardcore punk reminiscent of The Melvins and Black Flag alongside vocals influenced by The Jesus Lizard and The Birthday Party that explore the average Joe's existence. Why does the subject matter of male identities fit so well with this acerbic musical style?

M: I can only really speak for myself here, but I've always been drawn to loud, obnoxious, distorted, heavy rock music. It could be that I would enjoy it no matter what body I was born into, or being socialized as a white cis-male could have helped push me toward this path versus other musical avenues, but whatever the case, I find myself enjoying it, and creating it. Maybe it's because society has come to accept white guys as loud, brash assholes, and we almost tend to glorify them for it? Also it might just fit well because Pissed Jeans are really good at it! There are definitely other bands who share similarities with us who aren't nearly as good. Just saying.

M_A: “I will help you make ends meet if you will let me get some sleep” is sung on the track Dream Smotherer, and it's known you all hold down full time jobs beside the band's work... Do you feel the day jobs help you to create aggressive, abrasive music? 

M: It certainly gives plenty of inspiration for creating art! I can't imagine what I'd have to say if Pissed Jeans sold millions of records and I was a full-time musician living in a million-dollar Hollywood home. Hopefully I'd never let myself get to such a selfish point, but it's much easier to say I'd never do something when I don't have the chance, right? I always work best when writing about things that I'm struggling with, or angry at, versus things that keep me content and nurtured. That particular lyric is basically saying: hey day job, you're cool and all, but the moment you start stressing me out to the point where I'm having stressful dreams about you at night, instead of just enjoying a snooze with completely unrelated dreams, we need to talk or figure something out because it's not working. 

M_A: Regarding the album Honeys (2013), Allmusic noted that “Fortunately, when the world has you feeling trapped, Pissed Jeans are there to help you rage out for a bit while you find some perspective.” How does it feel to know that many people find your music an escape, and how important is it for people to open up a dialogue on on their mental health, emotions and the difficulties of “feeling trapped?”

M: I think that's great! It's incredibly flattering, that's for sure. Unlike other musicians, I'll be frank and say that I'm not making records just for me, I'm making them for other people. If it was just for me, why would I have a record label press multiple copies and distribute them to stores to sell? I want people to get something out of Pissed Jeans, to feel something or think something new, so it's wonderful when that happens. If our music could ever end up in a position that helps the mental health of a listener, that's fabulous. What could be more satisfying than that?

M_A: On the [admittedly belligerent, I'm aware] subject of male identities, what are your thoughts on male mental health – specifically the high suicide rates, the increasing number of men seeking counselling, and the potential difficulties to admitting having a mental illness or a period of depression? How would you suggest tackling these issues or promoting their discussion?

M: It's very distressing, and it's very real - toxic masculinity sucks far worse for the women who have to deal with our shit, but it's also a horrible mental prison for men, too. Having to look or act a certain way, having to have the right masculine interests, being unable to share emotions, all of that. For as far as we've come, I think there's an inherent homophobia built into our culture, a sort of unspoken agreement that homosexuality is lesser than heterosexuality, and I think it fucks up guys constantly. Not that guys are "closeted," but just that guys are so scared of seeming anything besides 100% Macho Straight Man that they are constantly stressed out in order to maintain this unhealthy facade. I definitely have friends, close ones, who would NEVER go to therapy, or do a variety of things to help themselves, just because they've fully bought into how men are "supposed to act," as per our mainstream culture. It sucks, and I hope they can find a way out of that. There was even that one tweet going around (could be fake, who knows) about a guy who refused to wipe his ass after pooping because touching his butthole is gay. It's mind-boggling, the mental depths of this shit.

I think it's mostly up to guys who aren't afraid to talk to guys who are, to demonstrate that there are other options besides Built Ford Tough Budweiser Football Man. And while I'm far less afraid than most, I am by no means a fully realized, unfazed person either - I struggle with lots of these similar issues all the time too. The boldest thing a guy can do right now is not posting a feminist meme in hopes that his non-male Facebook friends can be impressed by his wokeness, it's to actually talk to other guys and open a dialogue, to go deeper into emotional territory with your other guy friends. That's where actual healing and change can take place.

M_A: Honeys has a track titled “Male Gaze,” of which you once said, “I know I've been guilty of [misogyny] in the past. And that song is just the apology for being misogynistic throughout my life.” When or what made you realise your misogyny, and how do you ensure you don't fall into those behaviours again? Also, where do you think you learned those behaviours from?

M: I don't think I had any particular epiphany, I just kept getting smarter as I got older and some of these social systems became clearer to me. Reading books definitely helped me. For the record, I honestly can't imagine a non-misogynistic guy - society is tipped in our favor, and it's going to affect our behavior, either consciously or subconsciously. So the issue isn't wiping yourself clean of misogyny and patting yourself on the back for not calling anyone a bitch or a slut, but constantly being aware of the factors that are influencing your behavior, and developing the proper self-awareness so you're treating everyone with kindness and respect. It's a constant ongoing process, not something that can be turned on or off. I've got so much work to do!


“It's when a smile becomes a stare and it starts to burn
It's when you ask him to knock it off and he doesn't learn.”

Male Gaze - Pissed Jeans


M_A: The same album also has a track titled “Teenage Adult,” which perhaps sums up perfectly the amazing lack of incentive and/or drive for young men to grow up. Do you think there is a lack of direction for this growth to take place – whether it be parental, cultural or the breakdown and redundancy of traditional male identities and structures in modern society?

M: I think many guys in my generation were coddled throughout their lives, given a variety of advantages, and never really forced to learn how to take care of themselves or the people in their lives. It can really foster an attitude of "Who's going to take care of this for me?" and it's something I personally really want to avoid in myself. The type of guy who doesn't know how to cook, because other people always cooked for him, a guy who doesn't know how to do laundry or clean the floor because his parents always did that. I had to learn how to cook as an adult, and I'm still not the best... it's something that I feel foolish about and hope to continue to correct. 

M_A: Moving forward, 2017's Why Love Now is a timely record covering a range of issues related to misogyny, gender relations and privilege, with writer Dan Piepenbring categorising the album as a “pre-emptive self-critique, an attempt to defang male aggression by letting it feed on itself.” 

The record indeed critiques many aspects and iterations of male identity, including the systems that prop up negative or destructive behaviours, but do you think there is still hope for manhood? Can it evolve to fit in with the environmental changes that currently pressure it to do so? If so, how might it?

M: I mean, men are going to continue to exist, as far as I can tell, so we might as well work on improving them! I feel like the culture is certainly moving into a more pro-woman, pro-genderqueer space, and I think that's a great thing, but men need to pick up their slack and move forward in a positive direction with everyone else. I'm a dumbass, so if I can come to some of these fairly self-evident realizations, I would definitely hope many other guys can too!

M_A: Why Love Now also features production by “No Wave” artist Lydia Lunch, who helped shaped the album's direction, and even features a performance by Lindsay Hunter who appears on the track “I'm A Man.” These people being women no doubt offered invaluable perspectives on male issues. However, are those men who recognise a problem finally able to continue the conversation without women? How might we do so effectively, now that some disaffected men are developing troublesome counter-cultures?

M: I think it's not only possible for men to continue the conversation without women, but it's key! Men talking to men, and unlearning all the awful shit that's programmed into our brains, and holding each other accountable is key. Why should women be in charge of trying to make sure men aren't treating them like shit? It's not their fault.

Those "troublesome counter-cultures" are scary as hell, and I really am not sure what to do about it, except give it very little attention, and talk to your male peers, try to develop connections and real relationships? But of course that's all much easier said than done. I certainly struggle with it myself sometimes, being as outspoken and strong as I should be. But it's a never-ending process, not some achievable end-goal where perfection can be attained.

M_A: While it's undoubtedly important to recognise and discuss the dangers of toxic masculinity, there must also be many positive aspects to masculinity and male identity. In an effort to end on a optimistic note, what positive characteristics do you recognise that should be kept?

M: That's a tough one. I dunno, guys with big muscles are good? Someone's gotta lift the stove up to clean under it, right? Splitting firewood is probably a job best for someone with big broad shoulders, so physiologically a man might be better suited. So yeah, I guess if we can just enlist all able-bodied men into providing the strenuous manual labor that society requires while all the non-men out there are governing us and telling us what to do, things might be on the right path.



 

Pissed Jeans’ most recent album is 2017s Why Love Now.
Website: http://www.whitedenim.com/pissedjeans/
You can find their music via: https://pissedjeans.bandcamp.com/