Written by Sarah Williams. Photos by Jessica Newell.
Back in March, I spoke to a personal hero, Jeff Rosenstock, in an interview for the Manchester Punk Festival programme. There’s only so much you can fit on an A6 page, so the version in the programme is short and sweet, but the interview below is the whole package.
As one of the festival’s 2022 headliners, a few of us folks have been calling the event MPJeff. To have one of the heroes of do-it-yourself punk rock at an event that’s so DIY-centric felt like a cosmic alignment. Even after some of their touring party caught Covid-19, Jeff and co. still trooped on with the tour, playing as a three-piece at the event. Celebrating the release of No Dream, their MPF performance is just one night of a much larger tour, which takes in Dublin, Glasgow, London and Bristol among others.
Jeff Rosenstock talks to us about creativity, day jobs, composing for a musical cartoon and what the do-it-yourself ethos has taught him.
You’re one of the most active musicians in punk rock. What’s the secret to your prolific creativity?
Jeff: I don’t really have a method. Some songs come quick and some require years of patience until they find their final form. I try not to think about it too much and just keep writing – even if “writing” only consists of just thinking about it when I should probably be paying attention to something else. That way, when I sit down to demo, I’m not giving myself the pressure of “come up with 12 amazing songs” on the spot or something. I’ll give myself a little kick in the ass every now and then if I feel like I have a backlog of stuff building in my head that I’ve convinced myself is terrible and not worth recording, but I mostly just try to keep it chill and have fun with it ’cause that’s what I’ve been doing all along and I like fun.
DIY music has clearly been a big part of your life. What’s the biggest life lesson that the do-it-yourself ethos has taught you?
Jeff: I would say more than any lessons, it’s literally taught me how to do a million things. I know how to record and mix records now, I know how to book a tour, I know how to make album art, websites (RIP) and merch designs. I am currently scoring and mixing the music for a popular internationally-televised cartoon (Craig of the Creek) and I was able to jump into that real adult shit ’cause I was already fast on ProTools so I didn’t have to navigate that challenge while also learning how to write music to a moving picture. I learned that from recording myself and friends in practice spaces and apartments, then eventually by watching the super good engineers I’ve worked with – specifically Jack Shirley and Sam Johnson – and asking them what they’re doing. That’s another thing:
I’ve been so inspired by my friends in the DIY underground punk world or whatever, who make art, zines, music, book shows, feed bands, fix cars, build shit – coming from that world, I don’t really accept that there’s any task that I can’t do either on my own or with the help of some friends.
What advice would you give to a DIY band just starting out?
Jeff: It’s hard to say ’cause I don’t really know what it’s like to start a band in 2022, but there’s some stuff that’s hopefully timeless. Treat people well and they’ll treat you well and if they don’t treat you well, don’t fuckin’ deal with ’em anymore. Have fun playing and making music. If it isn’t doing something good for your soul there’s no reason to do it. Don’t get too ahead of yourself trying to make it your job or career; just about any other source of income is more reliable.
You can do pretty much everything by yourself or with friends early on, it’s not necessary to hire outside help until there’s too much work to do. Success is luck of the draw, so don’t grind so hard that you burn out your passion. The longer you can stick around without losing your joy, the greater chance you have to find the folks your music resonates with.
What’s keeping you busy this year? Do you have any new projects?
Jeff: I work pretty hard year-round making the music for Craig of the Creek, I just finished the 145th episode and I will have finished #150 by the time of Manchester Punk Festival. The band is going to be doing some touring and should be recording a new album later this year. Very slowly working on some Antarctigo Vespucci stuff as my brain and heart attempt to trudge out of the pandemic fog. I played guitar on the new Mikey Erg record which comes out later this year. Played sax on a few friends’ things. Trying to run more consistently and read more instead of doomscrolling on my phone. Trying to beat the last boss in Metroid Dread so I can go back and get all the items. Smoking weed and improving my cooking skills. Cleaning nothing.
Have you made any music outside of the punk rock sphere, or would you like to in future? I know you work hard on Craig of the Creek.
Jeff: Yeah, so Craig of the Creek has been cool ’cause I was initially brought on for my punk/ska music-making abilities but the show stretches so far beyond itself with every episode that I’ve been making some pretty out there music. Sometimes it’s Studio Ghibli style string arrangements, superhero action shit, rap shit, rhythm game music where I’m singing vocaloid-style, it’s really all over the map. I did literally write a musical for the show (Episode 73 In The Key of the Creek). There’s gonna be a Craig movie next year and I’m hopefully going to be working with an orchestra on that so that’s really exciting.
Once a year or so I’m fuckin’ around with some synths and an ambient piece comes out of it and that’s nice. I keep thinking I’m going to write some slower, quieter songs that would suit my ageing body and voice better, but my heart and hands still wanna go fast fast fast.
What’s the strangest day job you’ve ever had?
Jeff: I don’t know that I’ve had a whole lot of strange jobs to be honest with you. I mean, it’s probably strange to some to drive a truck around New York City picking up and delivering bolts of fabric and fake trees and shit, but that job always seemed like a standard production gig to me.
There was a day where me and a few other people had to unlock every car in Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition on a couple dozen Xboxes ’cause Rockstar needed them for demos and there wasn’t just a quick code to unlock ’em all. That was fun. I pushed a soda cart around an investment firm restocking the fridges in each conference room. That wasn’t fun.
What most excites you about visiting Manchester and MPF?
Jeff: I’m glad we were finally able to do it! We’ve been talking about it for so long with Kieran and being from the States, schedules have to line up just right in order for it to happen and it never has until this year. We all really love Manchester, we love our friends here and the shows we’ve played have been great. As long as everyone doesn’t hate our music now, our friends haven’t become utter pieces of shit and the city of Manchester is still standin’ we should be in for a good time!
Every year, MPF fans tell us there’s either too much ska or too little ska. What would you say to the ska non-believers?
Jeff: Man, it’s 2022, hating on ska is a pretty antiquated stance at this point. Don’t be a fuckin’ dinosaur.
What bands would you recommend people see at MPF?
Jeff: Definitely the bands we’re on tour with, Fresh and All Away Lou. Gah, that All Away Lou record is so fucking good and her band is so good, I’m really excited to see them every day. I love Martha. I just looked at the lineup and saw LAURA STEVENSON is playing, you definitely do not want to miss Laura playing devastating beautiful songs while being effortlessly hilarious. I’m really excited that Shit Present are back at it and playing shows, I really like Iona’s songs and that whole crew, their records are really good. And wowza, if you haven’t seen Melt-Banana before get off your ass and GO SEE MELT BANANANANA. Unless they’re playing the same time as us.
Check out our full write-up of MPF2022: shout-louder.com/mpf2022
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