Taking the Piss
The Loud, Messy Catharsis of Snark Rockers Pissed Jeans
It's probably been noted before, but Philadelphia-by-way-of-Allentown four-piece Pissed Jeans could not have a more perfect name for what they do (even if it means that the fussy old New York Times will refer to them as "****** Jeans"). Onstage and on record, frontman Matt Korvette happily humiliates himself, exposing and wallowing in his own shortcomings, anxieties, and miseries for your benefit—a lyrical equivalent of that scene in Billy Madison where Adam Sandler purposely pisses himself so that his legitimately loose-bladdered young buddy doesn't look like a total loser. We're all bed wetters; Korvette is just trying to make us feel better.
Over three albums, including the recently released King of Jeans on Sub Pop, Korvette has honed a self-deprecating stance that's as vicious as it is blackly comic: He has diarrhea. He's "ashamed of [his] cum." He loathes "people persons." He's an emotional eater (ice cream). He shrinks into his bed and "laughs at [his] own jokes in [his] fantasy world." He brags about his insignificance and how easily he can make himself disappear. He, in general, doesn't bother. He works a drab desk job (claims adjusting, in fact). He's tired and spent. He's losing his hair.
"I try to be entertaining, but everything I write about is pretty real to me, one way or another," says Korvette via e-mail. "I'm not a storyteller, but really the point of writing lyrics and singing them in front of other people is to entertain, and I don't forget that. I think the more depressing, dopey, and sad aspects of my personality can be kind of fascinating, so that's what I like to write about. Besides, no one wants to hear a song that's like 'I Found $5 on the Street' or 'Alright, There's a New Episode of The Office Tonight.' [Actually, I would love to hear those as Pissed Jeans songs. —ed.] As far as my hair is concerned, it looks all right now, but I was born with a widow's peak and my days are numbered. I'll give you my barber's number if you really need the truth."
The threat of baldness is a telling worry, as Pissed Jeans' problems tend to be of a specifically male bent, sometimes bordering on wounded macho misanthropy. On "Request for Masseuse," one of two songs on King of Jeans in which women are even alluded to, Korvette rattles off orders; on the other, "Lip Ring," he sings, "I've got a thing for your lip ring/And I've been entranced by your bondage pants/Don't try to tell me anything/You're not like me, so you don't understand." "What a freak, men are so complex," he concludes on "Human Upskirt." (The album's inner sleeve is a picture of a punk girl slamming a sweaty, shirtless Korvette to the ground during a live show; the shot is double exposed so that a giant ghost-image of the girl's face looms over the whole stage.)
Other songs are more generally dissatisfied, such as the day-job lament "Dream Smotherer": "I don't mind stacking papers up in a pile/And I don't care if it takes half an hour to get there/Yeah it's all right, I lose my days and keep my nights."
"I am just talking to my job," Korvette says of the song. "Agreeing to the deal where I work 9-to-5 or whatever, and they leave me alone otherwise. If I start dreaming about my job, I'd be pretty annoyed."
In song (but not in e-mail), Korvette delivers his self-loathing bons mots in guttural growls, injured moans, and sharp barks, while the band—Bradley Fry on guitar, Randy Huth on bass, Sean McGuinness on drums—dish out sonics every bit as self-flagellating as his lyrics: droning, clangorous guitar; harsh feedback and reverb; subfrequency, gut-rumbling bass sludge; heavily abused drums. Live, Korvette stalks around the stage, alternately sneering, leering, cringing, shuddering, hunching, thrusting, and writhing, while the band tear through their alternately thrashy and slurring songs; his moves are as much a mockery of the rock-star motions as they are a convincing performance of them—part Iggy Pop, part David Yow, part Will Ferrell.
"Performing and writing songs is definitely some sort of therapy," says Korvette. "Just by putting things out there, they are almost neutralized."
And what's bumming him out lately, on occasion of the band's no-more-sunny-than-usual new record?
"Oh, not too much really," says Korvette. "Monotony, gaining weight, feeling like I either have way too much free time on my hands or not enough free time. Nothing major. I am actually quite content and pleased with my station in life."