Interview: Billy Jeans of Mean Jeans Talks ‘Blasted’ and Why No Idea is Too Stupid

When the subject matter on an album includes hanging out in a Taco Bell parking lot, obscure characters from the Friday the 13th franchise, and alien conspiracy documentaries, odds are pretty good that you’re listening to a Mean Jeans record.

The Portland, Oregon Ramonescore band are back with Blasted, their latest collection of silly party anthems out Friday on Fat Wreck Chords. Guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Jeans sat down to answer a few questions about Blasted and the band’s history.

I’ve often heard of Mean Jeans described as being a “dumb” band, and I always take issue with that because I think you’re very clever and witty in a lot of things you do. Do you ever take issue with that label?

No, I would not take issue with that. I mean, it’s deliberately pretty dumb. I think we’ve long operated under the principle that no idea is too stupid. That doesn’t mean they’re all good. But we try to keep it dumbed down and simple. And that’s just what the project is. But I’m here to accept any criticism of the band. And that’s fine with me.

I’ve been listening to the new album, and I love it. I noticed that you take a few shots at some of punk rock’s biggest celebrities like Tom DeLonge and Tim Armstrong. I can’t think of anything more punk than going after big names in punk. But why did you focus on those two?

I guess I just have to get into specifics on those ones. They’re all in jest, in the name of good fun. But there’s a song called “Blasted to the Moon” that is about getting stuck in a rabbit hole of alien research. And I have a friend who sends me UFO/UAP conspiracy videos and he sent me one and he was like, “Your boy, Tom DeLonge endorses this one.” I was like, “Alright, I’ll watch it.” It’s not like, in reality, Tom DeLonge’s opinion is the one that’s really going to sway me, but I guess it did. And so I simply mentioned his name, (in “Blasted to the Moon”).

And there’s a song called “Pop-Punk Casualty.” One of the repeating themes in the album is getting a little bit older and thinking about all the things that you could pursue in this life, or all the styles of music that you could play, and realizing that you’ve chosen pop punk, which is a goofy, frequently annoying style of music, and here I am doing it. And I think of Tom DeLonge as someone who’s done the same thing, not that I think about Tom DeLonge too frequently in my personal life. But him being an alien-obsessed goofball who’s spent his life playing pop punk music is kind of frighteningly relatable to me.

And then Tim Armstrong, I mean, I love these guys. I like those bands. But Tim Armstrong, there’s a song on the record called “Look What Punk’s Done to You,” and the verses are about a few different people and taking a look at how dedicating their lives to punk has played out. And (that’s) including ourselves. That’s in the lyrics as well, laughing at ourselves for doing what we’re doing, which is always a theme in Mean Jeans. Have you ever seen the X-Files episode that Tim Armstrong is in?

I might have? I don’t know of it offhand.

Well, I mean, especially if you think Tim Armstrong is funny. Or, like, I think his singing style is funny. And I like Operation Ivy, and I like Rancid, and it’s just—His voice is funny. There’s just one episode of X-Files that you can find on YouTube, if you’re interested, (where) he plays a homeless man who maybe witnesses something, but he essentially talks the way he sings in Rancid with that affected voice, his character does. And all the YouTube comments are like, “I can’t understand a word he’s saying, but he’s doing a great job.” So, just kind of laughing at what people look like after a lifetime of punk. And I threw Tim Armstrong in the mix (in “Look What Punk’s Done to You”). I don’t think I mentioned him by name. But there is a little doodle in the lyric sheet that sort of depicts him.

The press release that I got mentioned him by name.

That’s true. That’s true now, and there’s a little drawing of him. So it’s not 100% overt, but it’s there.

I still think one of the funniest things to me is that Tim Armstrong wrote something like half of Pink’s third album.

I did not know that. Yeah. Well, I also don’t know which album is the third one. But that’s cool. That’s hilarious.

So you did touch on one of the other things I wanted to ask, which is that another theme of this album seems to be meditating on punk rock and how it affects people over time. What inspired you to get introspective about that?

I think it just goes with the territory when you play a lot of shows and exist in the “punk realm.” And just laughing at whatever punk could possibly mean in the year 2024. It’s been around for 50 years now, and no one’s really making drastic changes to it and making it still sound punk. So it’s kind of outdated. Again, I like it. And then, playing punk fests and doing support tours and whatnot, some of the biggest names in punk who 10s of 1000s of people come out to see and sometimes we get to open for, they’re dudes who are in their 60s.

And it’s just funny to me that they’re still playing punk and that people still love it. I mean, it seems kind of antithetical to what it originally was. So maybe I’m just an introspective guy. But there’s been a lot of laughing at the fact that we’re still doing the band Mean Jeans. I don’t think any of us would have thought we’d still be doing this band. And I would guess that the people in NOFX wouldn’t think they’d still be a band 40 years after they started. It’s a very, very long time to do something. But it’s fun.

You’ve said that your tour with The Chats reignited your passion for music after the pandemic. Did you feel like you lost some of that passion during the pandemic?

I’ve never lost a passion for music as a general thing, but I personally forgot how fun it is to play shows with Mean Jeans. And not in a way that I’m sitting around like, “That was no fun anyways.” It was more of just time elapsing without any action. And I was personally writing songs, as I do. I don’t live in the same city as the other people in Mean Jeans and it was the pandemic, and I was like, “Well, what am I going to do with these songs? There’s not even any point in sharing them with the other guys, because there’s no chances of us recording or touring in the near future.” So I actually made a solo record. It’s called Funky Punks in Space. That was very much a person alone in a room for many, many hours kind of project, which was fun for me. And that was all you could do.

But we were on a tour that ended February 20-something, 2020. And (we) got home and the pandemic began a week later, two weeks later, or something like that. And then we had a tour with The Chats, a U.S. tour, on the books for April, which was rescheduled, like, 17 times and ultimately took more than two years to actually occur. I think, during that time period, I didn’t consciously lose interest in the band, but after playing the first couple shows of that tour with The Chats, I was like, “Oh, wow, I totally forgot how fun this is,” and had taken for granted that the most consistent thing I’ve done in my life since I was 12 or 13 is play punk shows, more or less, and I love it.

The band produced and engineered this album by yourselves. Was that a challenge for you?

I wouldn’t say we’re particularly good at it. But we just did (it), essentially, to not have anyone else around. So yeah, it was probably a challenge. But I mean, we we’re doing it in the way 13-year-olds would do it, where we essentially figured out where to plug everything in, and then we’re like, “Alright, we’re hitting spacebar to begin recording.” Or maybe it was the key R. And I know how to record stuff, but this was just in the studio that I don’t know my way around. I think all of us probably record at home in our own time, but none of us are pro. And so the bass player would run out into the control room and hit the spacebar, so it was recording, and then run back into the room where we were playing.

And that is time consuming, and I could see why someone would be like, “Nah, we wait to where we’re in the zone, and then someone else has been recording and they figure it all out.” I get that. But the three of us, who have been friends for a very long time, we just love goofing off and fucking around. And not that we can’t do those things with another person present, but it’s easier and more fun when it’s just us. So it was fun. And we probably came up with a few ideas that perhaps we wouldn’t have if there were someone making suggestions or talking about technical stuff that we don’t care about.

So I’m mostly focusing on the new album, but I just I’ve always wanted to ask this: One thing I’ve always been fascinated by is that on your last album, you had a song where you put a real phone number in the lyrics that you actually answer. And I know because I text it often while drunk. Did a lot of people figure that out?

The party line. You’re referring to “The Party Line.” The party line is my phone number. It continues to be my phone number, which pretty much everyone in my life, including the other band members, advised against doing. But the real reason (is), the song is about my phone and no one calling, and referring to it as the party line. And I probably would have changed the phone number if it didn’t rhyme, but my number rhymes with wherever it sits in the song. I was like “Well, I guess it has to be.” And I figured that it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If so many people liked the song that I had to change my phone number because I was being constantly harassed, it would be a signifier of success. And then I’d just change my phone, which did not occur, and I didn’t expect it to.

And now, yeah, people continue to hit the party line. It happened more frequently right when we put that record out in 2019, but it (still) happens. It happens all the time, actually. And it’s true. I don’t always answer per se, but I try to. And I’ve had a couple of hilarious conversations, and some fun text threads. Yeah, it’s usually just people who are partying and, whether I am or not, it’s fun.

I always love the story of how you got signed to Fat Wreck by simply sending an email with your mp3s to them and Sub Pop? Was that the other one?

I believe so. Those were the only labels we could think of. Yeah, if I recall correctly, Fat Wreck Chords did not want us to tell people that that was how it worked because they don’t want to encourage that. But I think it probably boiled down to the drummer, Houndy; he’s a lifelong big Fat Wreck Chords fan and he was like, well, I’ll just send it to them, and we’ll see. And they said sure. So that was cool.

This is going to be your either your third or fourth record with them, depending on whether or not you count the Jingles Collection. How has your experience with them been so far?

Sweet. I like everybody there. They’re all sweethearts. And we got to tour with NOFX and a couple other bands. They’re supportive, even when they know that what we’re doing is more stupid than they wish it was, like the Jingles Collection album, for instance. But that was just what we were up to. But they still released it. I think Fat Wreck Chords has a sound that a lot of people associate with the label that we don’t necessarily have, which is 100% fine with me. But there are probably some people out there who wish the kick drum and snare drum were louder, and that we could actually sing well, but whatever.

Again, I mostly want to focus on the new album. But since we’ve just talked about it, I did want to bring this up; I’ve always been fascinated with the Jingles Collection, such a weird experiment and fascinating. Did you ever think there was any contradiction in celebrating corporations on a punk album?

No, I thought it was punk, personally. But everything on it was tongue-in-cheek. It just happened because we were writing a song and didn’t have any lyrics and we wrote placeholder lyrics that were just an endorsement of a corporate product that we all enjoyed. Honestly, I can’t even remember which one it was. But we’re like, “Hey, that was fun. Should we write 12 more songs about partying? Or should we write them about these excellent windshield wiper blades that we’re using right now?” And we went in that direction.

That was how it happened on a practical level. But I grew up getting into punk in the late 90s, and part of the punk ethos was all about not selling out. I can name five bands that were big in 1998 who have songs about not selling out. And it was just an observation of how much that had changed where a band would have been heavily criticized in 1999 for having their song be in a Taco Bell commercial or something like that. And then, fast forward 20 years and it seems like more or less, it would be hilarious to have your song be in a Taco Bell commercial. The music industry is so busted that I think in ’99 it would have been like, “Man, these traitors, these cowards, to license their song to a company.” And in 2019, it was like, “Oh, dude, that’s cool. I hope that you actually got paid for this.”

Mean Jeans songs have been licensed here and there. I don’t know if any of them were specifically for corporate products, but if they were, in my opinion, the joke is on them because they’re dumb enough to choose one of our songs, and we still wrote them for whatever purpose we wrote them. So there’s a little bit of social mockery in there. Just a reflection of what it was like to be in a punk band in 2019.

It’s funny that you bring up Taco Bell because they’re now doing all these partnerships with bands like Scowl and Militarie Gun.

Can you tell me about that? I know those two bands, but I don’t know about that.

Yeah, they had a they put out commercial over Christmas with Militarie Gun’s “Do it Faster.” And they did some sort of thing with Scowl. I forget exactly what it was. But they have this program where they promote bands.

There was a thing six years ago, eight years ago, I can’t remember, where Taco Bell was giving touring bands Taco Bell cards. So I think we had some of those at some point. It’s funny, there was also a time, probably, like, 13 years ago, this car company, Scion, someone there decided that garage punk would be a good investment for them and Scion released seven inches by notable bands, I think The Spits and Human Eye. And then there was a festival in Portland that was like every good garage-punk active band, and it was the Scion (Garage) Fest. I’m sure they did not sell a single Scion car to this group of drug-doing, 4 a.m., garage-punk psychos. But it was hilarious. I don’t know the people in Scowl, but more power to them if Taco Bell is, is trying to be cool by associating with them. I think it’s all hilarious.

You have a lot of songs that are about hard drugs and drinking and partying and things like that. Maybe not hard drugs, but drugs anyway. Is that reflecting your life? Or is that just for fun?

I’m trying to think back through our songs; I’m trying to think if there are any that are endorsing drug use because I think there’s not. We had a song called “Too Much Cocaine,” but it’s actually about trying to date a person who does too much cocaine. And don’t get me wrong; I get that that is a reputation that has been associated with us. But I don’t think I have any pro-drugs songs. But it’s a party band. And what a party is may have evolved over time, but I think we’ll always be a party band. Whether that involves drinking or not, we hope that going to see the Mean Jeans is a good excuse to party and that it’s fun.

You release the album on February 9. What’s next for the band?

Yeah, we’re touring Australia for three weeks, and it begins the day the record comes out. So we’re touring with a bunch of bands in Australia, The Chats and The Unknowns and The Ghoulies. So we’re excited about that. And then there are a handful of festivals that we’re playing, some of which haven’t been announced so I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that. But yeah, we’re playing shows. We’ve never been an all-year, around-the-clock type of band. But we’ll be playing around the U.S. after this big Australian tour and some of the known punk/pop-punk fests. We’ll be there. We’ll be touring.

Blasted comes out Friday and you can preorder it from Fat Wreck Chords. Follow Mean Jeans on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more updates.

Photo courtesy of Rob Wallace via Instagram

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