Music

Jeff Rosenstock Has Created One of the Most Culturally Relevant Albums of the Year

Photo: Hiro Tanaka (Polyvinyl Records)

Jeff Rosenstock discusses his new vital album Post-, how he's coping as the anointed savior of rock music, and the power of the youth movements that give us all hope for the future.

Former Bomb the Music Industry! frontman and now revered punk, solo artist, Jeff Rosenstock may rightly lay claim to being one of the nicest guys in rock music. Speaking from his home in Brooklyn, he is warm, engaging, and as interested in the views of others as he is in talking about himself. What's more, he is often laugh out loud funny. For example, when the conversation turns to punk's long tradition of political protest, he returns with the line, "If they brought Joe Strummer back as a hologram, I think he would literally rise from the dead and turn off the power supply!"

Despite his jovial, laid-back manner, this is a musician who has written, arguably, one of the most political and culturally relevant albums of the year with the new album Post-. Here, he discusses the album, how he's coping as the anointed savior of rock music, and the power of the youth movements that give us all hope for the future. All while confessing that talking about himself and his music is still something he's getting used to. "People want to talk to me about shit which is still new."

On Rosenstock's 2016 album Worry Jeff Rosenstock perfectly articulated the anxiety of many leading up to the 2016 presidential election. On Post- he deals with the fallout, communicating his bewilderment and shock at the result. First song proper on Post- opens with the verse, "dumbfounded, downtrodden and dejected / Crestfallen, grief-stricken and exhausted / Trapped in my room while the house was burnin' / To the motherfuckin' ground."

The majority of Post- details his struggles to process his confusion and frustration but also deals with his feelings of impotence at trying to affect meaningful change, evident on the stomping "Yr Throat" where he sings, "I can't do anything / I can't do anything of impact." Eventually, those feelings boil over with the album calling for unified action on album closer "Let Them Win" ("They're not gonna win/Again.")

Since completing the album, that idea of bold, impassioned resistance has pervaded American society in the shape of the #metoo, #timesup, #blacklivesmatter and other campaigns. The strength and resilience of these movements have emboldened Rosenstock, making him feel less isolated.

"I think I'm more protest and rah rah rah than I have been in a long time. I feel like there's more of a place for it to go. Maybe as more people are protesting and rah rah rah, I seem less intense because there are so many people screaming now but fuck man I've been screaming for years."

For Rosenstock, these mass-participation, social media-driven, and inclusive movements give him hope that real change can happen. "Look at the marches and protests when you see what these kids are saying. They're smart; they're fucking defiant, and they're next. Those old assholes are going to fucking die! Like the "March for our Lives" protest. I mean it was like so insane to me to see the reaction to the protest when people were like Marco Rubio saying things like 'have a good time protesting, but if you want to see real change and want to be a part of the conversation that we're having, you let us know.' Like brushing off the teenagers that are going to be running the country one day."

It's that gulf between politically engaged, passionate youth activism and out of touch, ignorant politicians that will more than likely provide the fuel for new material. "I feel that something like that will stick with me when I'm writing a song that's like a 'fuck you' song. I can think about that."

Rosenstock is evidently, wholly dedicated and totally in love with what he does, possessing a restless energy that sees him constantly seeking out new challenges. To that end, he has spent much of the year writing the music for a cartoon series called Craig the Creek. It's obvious from Rosenstock's enthusiasm that this was a challenge he is reveling in. "I just love writing music. I never feel like I'm beholden to my band or anything like that, but I don't ever have to sing on this stuff, and I don't have to think about ever playing any of these songs live, and I can write any kind of music I want, with any kind of arrangement I want, so having that openness in writing has been really really fun."

It's definitely a process of working that Rosenstock is keen to continue. "I'd be stoked to do more stuff like this. It's really fun, and I think I'm getting better at it." Maybe, Rosenstock could be the next musician to cross over into film scoring successfully. Not that he's ever thought about of course, as he suggests, with more than a hint of sarcasm. "I've done like 15 fucking episodes. I'm ready for my movie!"

Rosenstock has been touring off and on since the release of Post- but this time he aimed to tour the record and give himself the freedom to work on new projects such as Craig the Creek. "So we set up this run of shows around this record. We were just like how can we just hit everywhere once, while could still work so we're going away for like two weeks at a time, and then I'm home for like seven days. I'm home for between four and 15 days in between so I'm just like working, working, working and it's crazy."

Much has been made about the album's surprise release with it dropping on New Years Day with zero fanfare. For Rosenstock, it just felt right to release it unannounced. "You put out your first single, and two months later your record comes out, and we could have done that, but I was like 'I dunno, let's just put out the whole thing'. It's not like sticking to the traditional system is making anyone a tonne of money or anything like that!"

"I knew I had a lot of stuff coming up this year so it felt like a good time to take a chance on something that might go badly. If this doesn't work, then we'll have this secret record that we are super proud of that we released in this weird way but the opposite happened. People were kinda stoked that it was going down like that."

For an independent punk-rock artist who has been happily doing his own thing for years, the critical reaction to the record has been overwhelmingly positive. It's won plaudits from every corner of the music press with some even hailing Rosenstock as the savior of rock music. While that may be going a little far, he is one of the few punk-rock artists to be featured on the bill at some major festivals including the forthcoming Sasquatch festival. It would seem that he is one of the few rock musicians around today who has found a crossover audience. Predictably, success is not something Rosenstock spends a great deal of time thinking about.

"I honestly try not to think about it. I feel about if I think about how it's received that'll affect how I'll do the next thing. It's hard to ignore it. I was really happy that that worked out cool and people seem stoked about it (the record) and that's good. I was just relieved that when I put this one out people didn't see me as a flash in the pan. People are really into it and the shows are going well. It's really fun to be playing and I'm stoked that people got into the record."

Still, Rosenstock isn't the type to let any of this new found adulation go to his head. "I mean it's weird because this is what I've been doing now forever and while the success is super cool and I'm super excited about it. It's never been a goal or an end game to me. I just want to make cool shit. I just wanna try and make good records."

As you would expect from a musician who has been in the game as long as he has, he is under no illusions what this all means for him. "I've been in a band for like 15 years. I've seen enough ups and downs of friends and bands that I like have been through that I don't think that any of this is here to stay necessarily. I'm just doing my best to be really appreciative of it and thankful for it and really stoked that I made good stuff, but you know I've already dug my grave in terms of the person that I am so it's not like it's changing anything."

As to why success is coming at this stage of his career, for Rosenstock, the answer is pretty obvious. "Here's a fucking crazy thing, maybe this is happening now because we're better at it now because we're older. We have a little more of a handle on things. I have more of a handle as a writer. I know that I'm better at playing live now than I was when a kid. Now I know that if I warm up my voice and drink a shitload of water and don't get drunk before shows, then I'll be like 600 times better at doing all this things. I think that's the reason that this is happening now."

As he signs off to get back to the work he loves, one other reason for his success seems blatantly obvious - he's a hardworking, nice guy who just wants people to be valued and respected. For those reasons, it's hard not to be delighted by his newfound (and hopefully enduring) success.

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