Interview: Mom Jeans.
When I speak to Eric Butler, the frontman for the much buzzed-about power pop/emo outfit Mom Jeans., he’s literally just gotten home from being on the road with his buddies in the band Just Friends. Mom Jeans.’s album PUPPY LOVE, which came out in mid-July on Counter Intuitive Records, is warm, spastic, and filled with the kind of hooky singular guitar jams that the Berkeley-based group have quickly made a career out of playing in basements and house shows. We chatted about making the jump to more legit venues, responsibilities within the DIY scene, resigning with Counter Intuitive, and, of course, the group’s name.
CJ Simonson: So you must be exhausted.
Eric Butler: We like punishing ourselves.
CS: You have this tour coming up with Retirement Party, Shortly, Awakebutstillinbed, and you’re doing an insane amount of touring—20 dates in 23 days, 27 dates in 31 days. I looked at Awakebutstillinbed’s recent tour: its similarly insane, every night with no break for like two weeks. The NBA won’t even let teams do that. How’re you guys even awake to play those shows?
EB: You just frickin’ do it. For us, and in Awkakebutstillinbed’s situation, if you have a booking agent there’s a pretty reasonable expectation that you’ll make a certain amount of money and have money for gas and a hotel maybe, but when you’re doing those DIY tours and playing those house shows, you’re maybe playing to 30 or 40 people and you’re not getting a big check at the end of the night. Every day you’re on the road and you aren’t playing a show is a day you’re spending money and spending gas money, so there’s this mentality that, yeah, I’d like a break, but you also feel like you’re taking a risk every time you aren’t playing a show. We did that last summer, we did like 45 shows in 45 days and they were all house shows and there were no days off. And it was frickin’ terrible! It was awful.
CS: At the very least it looks like with this next tour you guys aren’t playing a lot of house shows. I’m in Orange County and the venue you’re playing here is pretty legit. Do you feel like you’ve graduated to that next tier, so maybe some of that weight is alleviated?
EB: Yeah definitely. I mean, I love playing house shows, don’t get me wrong. There’s something really special about playing in a basement or a living room, and when you’re in somebody’s house there’s an intimate energy that you don’t get from other shows. But at least for us, enough people are coming to the shows now that playing in a house or a DIY venue just isn’t safe or practical for everybody. Especially if people are driving hours to see you, to buy a shirt and buy a record, you don’t want them to not be able to get into the basement. It’s less of a hype thing and more of an accessibility thing. We want to feel like everyone that’s coming to see us is going to be able to see us and be safe the entire time without worrying about getting crushed or suffering from heat exhaustion in some kid’s basement.
CS: That’s a lot of dates. I have to imagine that’s a pretty big strain on your own mental health. Is driving from Iowa to Denver to San Francisco in a short amount of time not soul-crushing?
EB: Honestly, it’s not that bad. It depends on your outlook and what your goals are. To be in a van, in general, if you’re trying to play music in 2018 it’s kind of unrealistic to not be, unfortunately. If you’re trying to get people to listen to your band and sell records, you have to tour. And for us, tour was always something cool and fun and exciting to do. It was this mystical, magical thing that we got to do every now and again. I was always super excited to tour. And at least for my mental health, personally, I always felt like that’s when my mental health was at its best. I have an anxious, depressive personality and when I’m at home not doing anything, that’s when my health starts to get difficult for me to manage because I don’t have any outlets. So being on tour is almost like therapy for that because there’s so much to do and so many things going on that I have to be responsible for that there’s not any time to be depressed or anxious because it’s always go time. I’ve always been drawn to it for that reason and you’re doing it with your best friends. The drives suck but the shows are great.
CS: It feels like this current scene, in particular, all of you do genuinely seem to be friends, or at least very friendly. Maybe it’s because the internet has folded in on itself in its own weird way, or because of Twitter, but you all seem to be somewhat close, which must make touring much more different.
EB: Well, I’ve been friends with Just Friends since High School. Retirement Party, we played with them the first time we ever played Chicago and then at SXSW. Awakebutstillinbed, Shannon is one of the first people I met when I started playing shows in California and we’ve been friends for like, five years, hanging out and going to shows. And if it looks like we’re all homies its kinda because we are. I just think it’s so important to support other people in the scene, and in music in general . . . I mean I don’t think I have to explain how hostile shit is right now. It’s such a struggle when everyone has to fight so hard for the tiniest little piece of anything, and everyone is getting ripped off by labels, or booking agents, or managers, or promoters and what not. At the end of the day, other artists and other musicians are some of the few people who really understand where you’re coming from, and what your goals are. Not just financial goals but your aspirations and the music you want to make. Those are the people who understand you and are trying to do the same thing. Everyone benefits when you work together. It’s really important to lift each other up and if Mom Jeans. is having any kind of nominal success or hype, I love the idea of being able to turn that around and be like, “Well if y’all are here to see us that’s cool, but check out these other three bands that are great and deserve your time and your money.” If you don’t do that, the scene dies, ya know? New bands don’t form and new bands don’t go anywhere unless people support each other and give each other a reason to keep going.
CS: That makes perfect sense, there’s obviously an empathy that comes between bands in that scene that fans or record labels can’t necessarily understand.
EB: At least for me, it’s so important to be stoked on playing music, and to be stoked on playing shows and going on tour and that’s what makes that possible, is playing with bands you really like. At the end of the day, playing 100 or 200 shows a year gets pretty old pretty fast, and what keeps me interested and excited is who we’re going with, and spending time with people who live thousands of miles away who we only see every once in a while.
CS: Do you feel like there’s a lot expected of Mom Jeans.? Online, on Twitter, on Reddit, it feels like there’s a lot pressure on you guys as both people and as representatives in the scene? It feels like there’s an expectation that you, and other bands too, are good people, that you’re inclusive, that you care. And that’s what makes the scene special, obviously, but do you feel a pressure to uphold this large moral standard?
EB: Not in an interactional way, or the way I act daily or at shows. But I feel a pressure to make sure the large moves we make, like what label we decide to work with or what bands we decide to play with, its important to us that everyone we work with are ethical. I think every band probably feels that, and maybe it’s new to a lot of people, but I feel a sense of responsibility to make sure that the people that come to our shows feel safe and feel valued, and feel like their bodies and opinions and space are respected. Getting to play shows for a living is without a doubt a privilege. I don’t deserve this in any way, this was never our goal, we just wanted to play music together and maybe tour, and all the stuff that’s happened over the last two years since BEST BUDS came out has been a real whirlwind and taken a lot of adjustment. I think trying to go slowly and and trying do things in a way that makes sense to us and feels like the right thing to do has always been the top priority. And sometimes you find out the people you were working with are sketchy-ass people and you have to deal with that and address those situations. Sometimes you make the wrong decision. I think a lot of people feel like they have to walk on eggshells right now and be careful about what they say and how they act, but at the end of the day, if you’re a good person, you don’t have that much to worry about. I’d like to think that we’re all good people and I’d much much rather someone hate my band and not like our music and think I’m a nice person than be into our music and think I’m a jackass. I don’t know how long this is gonna last!
CS: I think it’s a good thing, right? Even if it seems like the margin for error right now is kind of small, like any fuck up could be a much bigger deal than it should be, at least there are conversations being had about it.
EB: I also think the age of the people who listen our band is a lot younger than maybe other bands want to admit. Bands don’t want to be real about the fact the people who are listening are between the ages of 14 and 19, and if that’s the case, what kind of example do you want to set? If you have 15-year-olds coming to your show, chances are that might be their first show. Do you want them to go and think that bands can be assholes and say[ing] things and act[ing] with no consequences is the right way to act? That’s not the example I want to set. Maybe the pressure is the wrong word for it I guess? I feel a lot of responsibility. It would feel so wrong to do anything other than try and set a good example for anyone that might be getting introduced to our music, or DIY, or the scene. That’s super sick if someone sees Mom Jeans. and wants to start a band or start going to more shows, that’s the only thing I could ever ask for because that was my experience.
CS: You have a new record called PUPPY LOVE, and it’s great. The past year leading up to this record must’ve been crazy, signing to SideOneDummy and then having to go back to your initial label, Counter Intuitive; what were the emotions surrounding that moment?
EB: I mean, we were disappointed. I was excited to work with SideOneDummy, not just because it’s a big label or they have a great resume and great bands, but just the team of people that were assembled at the time were awesome and it felt like a dream team who had a great plan and I was excited for that. Once we found out that team had been laid off, that excitement went away and it was weird because I honestly feel like we ended up getting a better deal in the long run. I feel like we have more of a home at Counter Intuitive. I feel like Jake (Sulzer) has always believed in us and he’s always taken care of us. It was bittersweet, but getting to do it with Jake and to compete with some bigger labels is really neat. There are so many people and labels in this industry who don’t do shit for your band but only take a cut of your streaming. I didn’t want to be in that situation and I know that any money Jake makes allows him to sign awesome acts like Retirement Party and Just Friends. Again, I feel a sense of responsibility to help in any way, and its good to know that any money we’re making that doesn’t go to us is going to other bands rather than lining some other dude’s pockets.
CS: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the name. Are you tired of explaining it? Are you tired of telling people it was a college joke?
EB: I mean, not really. At this point, anyone who sees it is probably at this point “Oh, okay, whatever” *laughs*
CS: The thing that should be asked about more is the period. The period is doing some heavy lifting, the name isn’t weird but the period at the end . . . like, why is that? It’s a very definitive statement.
EB: I think it’s because there was another band called Mom Jeans and they didn’t have a period and we didn’t care, we didn’t figure anyone would listen to our music so the period was to just differentiate ourselves?
CS: You should start adopting what Anderson .Paak does with his period, that it’s a way to make sure people are paying attention to him and his music and if they don’t include the period he knows they’re not really about it.
EB: I like that.
CS: You guys should steal that. We have a writer on our staff, Adam Cash, who has a theory that all these people who founded bands with mom and dad-based band names were teens around the time of the first mortgage crisis, and then there became this oversaturation and fascination with suburbia as a backbone of nostalgia and pop culture. You guys did it on a lark, but do you think there could be anything to that?
Eric: That’s some sociology 101 shit, for sure. I wouldn’t be able to say if that’s true, but that could totally be a reason why the parental and family aesthetic sticks out to so many people. I don’t know, we just thought it was funny. Honestly, if you’re getting caught up in band names, find something better to do. Everyone names their band in an arbitrary way, no one has any expectation that it will go anywhere, and then suddenly you put out a record and your band name is Mom Jeans. *Laughter*