Words & Photos by Scott Murry
In Day in the Life, we spend some time pre-show with a band to learn how they prep. Aside from the stage and travel—what inspires them and what do they get into during the down time?
Pissed Jeans are sorcerers of noise and sardonic humor. The band has been friends since junior high in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. They’ve honed in on a sound that is reminiscent of 80s hardcore, with a burdensome level of drone and lyrics keenly aware of man’s mediocrity. It stretches back to their first 2005 LP Shallow with lyrics, “Yeah – I’m ashamed of my cum. Never satisfied, even after I’m done.” They bring mundane and uncomfortable to the stage with purpose. It’s a Marcel Duchamp exposition of sound.
I join them in Boston, MA as they wrap up a tour kickoff weekend with American Nightmare, meeting just in time for sound check. One of the amps went awry in NYC the previous night, so guitarist Brad Fry is kneeling into them closely to get everything back in order. Randy Huth stands on the opposite side of the stage, precision-tuning into the grim, low notes that hum through Pissed Jeans like a busted television.
Stepping to the back haunts of the stage, Sean McGuinness is assembling his drum kit. The sound from his kick drum isn’t quite right, so he quickly offers a solution with the sound tech, “Wanna put a hole in it? Do we have a knife?” The tech seems baffled at the blunt idea being a first solution as he’s devoted to getting the right sound for everyone without incurring any damage. McGuinness admires his dedication, “Most sound guys are terrible.” He pushes his luck with setup goals, “Do you think we could setup brown lighting?” With a wince of disappointment, he notes that mixing red, blue, and green light will only yield a white light. Sadly, it’s not quite possible, but the show must go on.
Matt Korvette, vocalist and occasional stage contortionist joins the band after the instrumentation is in check. He chats into the mic for a moment and looks around, “Yeah, that sounds good.” His brief testing makes it seem as though whatever the mic yields is inconsequential to his performance. With all the levels ready for bludgeoning, the band scatters across the shared green room of Brighton Music Hall.
While McGuinness takes the green room literally, Korvette joins openers Spiritual Cramp of San Francisco on the comfy couches to talk shop. As a Philly resident, the music festival “This is Hardcore” comes up quickly. Korvette refers to it as a grim scene of “basement and backyard wresting in hardcore.” Chuckles fill the room and he elaborates, “Y’know, it’s dudes that come to bash, but to bash with other dudes that wanna get bashed by each other.” He equates the act to goats butting heads—Though he admits creeping in a few times with friends that love it beyond their prime years. “At Union Transfer, I was watching from the balcony and there was this woman next to me. My friends started moshing and I was like, ‘those are my friends down there!’ And she was like, ‘why is this guy talking to me right now?’ But I was like a proud dad, and [then] why am I telling you this? I was just proud for a moment.” He notes Youth of Today as a highlight for him at the fest. Michael Bingham, vocals of Spiritual Cramp, follows up with a story of touring Europe alongside them some years back in another band. “We were wasted, and bumming them out so hard,” he says with a wince of regret. A band widely known for its vegan, straightedge ideology, that could be a conflict of interest.
After conversation of The Beatles stirred debate and animosity over rhythm and record collecting, an appetite was developed. Strolling from the venue, the band become fascinated with the dive-glamour of Boston’s last grime-havens, Silhouette Lounge. It’s a dimly lit corner bar plastered in neon Narragansett beer lights and stale popcorn (which is free at the bar). As a bartender in his native city, the non-descript spot gets Huth’s mind churning good bar names. Missing Persons seems like a novel title, but riles Korvette into scoffing it might be a bit insensitive.
We reach the dinner spot, Lone Star Taco Bar, and gracefully acquire a row of barstools in the cramped space. Huth jokes that it always seems apparent they’re in a band when showing up to restaurants on the road. Four grown men, a little disheveled, a little unkempt, getting dinner without significant others or children? Must be a band. The bartender here was no exception, and stoked to be serving Pissed Jeans.
McGuinness and Huth dissect this restaurant’s layout over beers. They delve into the lighting and observe the unique seating. With names and spaces ribbing their brains, I learn there is progress to open a bar of their own in Philadelphia. Pissed Jeans is a side project for these guys as they all have regular jobs and kids. Engrained in middle class living, these brief stints on the road and scattered albums give them time to reflect upon it when time allows. This might be the recipe to their output being more scathing; they aren’t in a tour bubble.
Departing the taco hut, we visit Walgreen’s for cough drops. This is an important tour … life tip. Have a scratchy throat? Getting bronchitis slows down everything. Rest, drink a lot of water, and sooth that throat to settle the nerves. And go for the cooling ones. You don’t wanna get everyone in the van sick. The band is also leery of DayQuil/NyQuil. “That’s the Belushi Speedball,” McGuinness says with a long face scarred by the memories. His eyes appear haunted in the statement, “That’s what did me in last time.”
With a noise caliber that could be confused briefly with that of a powerfully amplified stomach grumble, I’m surprised to learn some of Fry’s musical influences stem from poppy, 90s skate punk. Digging into nostalgia for Cinema Beer Nuts and Punk Uprisings alongside the Punk-O-Rama series, we land on a combined, ongoing love of Teenage Bottlerocket. “They Came From The Shadows is just incredible.” Perhaps the machismo-bashing “Bigger Than Kiss” will soon be a Pissed Jeans cover. That I’d like to hear.
Back in the green room with less than 15 minutes before stage time, Huth and Fry converge to begin their set list. Feeling out the crowd and vibe they want to nail tonight, the two stare idly at one another, minds racing with the potential assortment for their 40-minute slot. “The Bar is Low” has been in heavy rotation from their newest album, 2017’s Why Love Now on Sub Pop Records. Huth looks forward to playing “False Jesii Pt. 2.” At this point, it’s the right time for me to exit. I don’t want to spoil the surprises of their setlist for myself. I give thanks and grab a spot up front.
As hoped, their set is loud and reminiscent of a fatigued Labrador howling from an old couch with no certain beginning or end. Korvette pokes his nipples and throws tantrums on stage to a crowd half-confused by the onslaught of grimy volume and flat, poetic groans. The raised eyebrows and unsettled mood go over just as planned. Pissed Jeans have done it again, whatever it is.