Sweet Tooth, the third album by Berkeley favorites Mom Jeans, out now on Counter Intuitive Records, rocks hard from start to finish. Chiming guitars, jolting rhythms, shimmering vocal harmonies, and memorable hooks make every song sound like a hit.
Guitarist Eric Butler says the album marks a shift in their approach.
“We consciously worked with (producer) Brett (Romnes—The Front Bottoms, Oso Oso, Dogleg) to make it big and loud. It was the most collaborative songwriting and recording experience that we’ve ever had as a band. In the past, [drummer] Austin [Carango] and I did the majority of the songwriting, and I did almost all the lyrical writing. Having two more excellent performers and songwriters at our disposal in (bass player) Sam (Kless) and (guitarist/synth player) Bart (Thompson) made it so everyone in the band had a voice in almost every decision related to the songs. I think it means that there’s more dimensions and depth to the band and the songs.”
The album took almost three years to write and record, partially due to the COVID lockdown.
“We spent a good year and a half touring behind Puppy Love (2018), our second record, so we were ready for a break, even before COVID,” Butler says. “Being stuck at home, bored and unable to work on our other projects—Bart, Sam, and Austin all play in several bands—forced us to put some creative energy into Mom Jeans. Being in a setting where we were able to take the songs at our own pace allowed us to do our best work.
“We wrote the majority of the record via email, demoing out all our own parts, which was a lengthy process. It wasn’t until 2021 that we were able to safely get to New Jersey and into the studio with Brett. To be honest, the intense experience of recording an album is not that dissimilar from the experience of being in lockdown, so I don’t think we felt particularly caged in. We were masked and kept it sanitized. We didn’t go out drinking or eating anywhere. Brett had a newborn baby at home too, so we had to be mindful and remember there was something going on that was bigger than us.”
“Something Sweet” opens the album with a compelling beat, and Butler’s pleading vocal climbing up into his falsetto range as he begs for love and freedom. They bring a hard rocking edge to the doo-wop arrangement of “Crybaby (On the Phone),” a song lamenting the end of a relationship, with bewildered cries of anguish. They amp up the tempo on “White Trash Millionaire,” picking through the rubble of a disintegrating affair with a jaunty indifference, supported by unspecified controlled substances.
The songs all deal with love, heartbreak, and the difficulties of maintaining an ongoing relationship, but the lyrics are a lot more introspective than those of your average pop hit.
“It would be pretty distasteful, if not irresponsible, to write songs about heartbreak, relationship failure, and depression, if I didn’t try to recognize my own privilege,” Butler says. “Understanding how my background shapes my experiences and expectations is a big part of what inspires me to write lyrics. When feelings get hurt in real life, in a hetero-normative romantic couple, it’s rarely as simple as, ‘I love you, but you don’t love me back, and therefore I am sad.’ It’s probably closer to, ‘I love you, and you don’t love me back, and I’ve not been taught how to deal with not getting what I want, so I have to reexamine a lot of what I know to be true to work through this situation, therefore I am sad’.
“A big part of the lyrical and emotional content for this band comes from a place where I’m realizing that I was raised to believe that the world was going to be my oyster. I’m having a hard time navigating a world that feels like it’s not set up in a way to benefit me. I can choose to take that personally, but I’d be ignoring the fact that there’s a whole world of people struggling with the same, or worse problems.
“In fact, I’ve been given more tools and resources to navigate the system than many others. Rather than sit around and feel bad for myself, I want to take responsibility for my actions and my life. Regardless of how we feel about it, we—as white men—have to make an effort to try and recognize how our privilege affects our experiences and to check ourselves when we come into conflict with others, or the ones we love. These songs are a big part of me giving myself the space to take a step back and live in that disappointment in myself, identify the things I want to change, and hopefully manifest them into happening.”
Watch the video for “Graduating Life” here:
Photo courtesy of Mom Jeans and Cody Furin