Jeff Rosenstock's Battle Against Self-Hatred and One-Percenters

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

"A lot of people put on this pose that they're a nonprofit or they're punk or they believe in something, but really they just want to rip you off"

Photo: Matt Price

BY Adam FeibelPublished Feb 2, 2024

Over the past few years, Jeff Rosenstock has evolved from a punk's punk into one of the scene's most critically acclaimed, widely respected musicians. More than that, he's emerged as a voice of the people in an increasingly fucked-up world. He's among the very best at capturing what he calls "the chaos of being alive right now," as he does on his latest album, last summer's HELLMODE.

Rosenstock also has a bit of a reputation for being one of the busiest guys in the punk rock scene. Recently, he finished working on the final season of the animated TV series Craig of the Creek, recorded and released his fifth album in eight years, went on tour in support of said album (although he fell ill with you'll never guess what and rescheduled for the spring), and even started a far-reaching, eye-opening conversation on the Website Formerly Known as Twitter about venues taking merch cuts from artists.

He seems to govern himself by a personal code that's based on upstanding morals, yet doesn't come off as unapproachable or holier-than-thou. He insists upon treating people with kindness and empathy, but not everyone deserves such grace; when it comes to those who abuse their power and authority in order to divide and exploit others, he'll be quick to call them out.

At his core, though, Rosenstock is a human being of simple pleasures, albeit with somewhat idiosyncratic tastes. He spoke with Exclaim! about some of those — including a Zen Buddhist author, Miles Morales, potato chips, new jack swing, Japanese curry, a shoot-‘em-up video game, and all sorts of music ranging from the Beach Boys to Biohazard.

What are your current fixations?

I've been playing the game Vampire Survivors a lot over the last year. It's gone from "Oh shit, I can play it on my computer" to "Oh shit, I can play it on my phone" to "Oh shit, I can play it on Switch." I saw King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard play a three-hour set at the Hollywood Bowl this summer, and I've been pretty obsessed since seeing that show. They're the greatest band of our era. Mostly, my fixation has been Craig of the Creek, because I've been working on the movie score for that since March, basically nonstop.

Why do you live where you do?

I don't know! Change of pace. I have family out here, friends out here [in Los Angeles]. Cartoon Network is out here, and it always felt a little strange that everyone who worked on the show all lived out here and I was over in New York. Also, having some space is nice. I was working in a room that could fit a queen-size mattress and nothing else for 12 hours a day when I first started the composing job. Having more space to do that is definitely good for my mental health.

What's the last book or movie that blew your mind?

Spider-Verse 2, probably. It's fucking crazy. It's so good. I've also been reading a lot of this author Ruth Ozeki, who I believe is possibly Canadian? [Editor's note: Ozeki is a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. who divides her time between western Massachusetts, New York City and British Columbia.] Her books A Tale for the Time Being and The Book of Form and Emptiness.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational concert and why?

There have been a lot, but two come to mind, both when I was in my early 20s. One was seeing Q and Not U in New York. I couldn't get into the show because it was sold out, but I just stood at the door and waited for people to leave, and then they let us in for the encore. The encore was 10 minutes of chaos where they handed all the drums out to the audience, the singer walked off the stage counting people in the audience, and that's how it ended. I was like, "Wow, you can do anything." And then a few years later, I saw the Blood Brothers. The first two minutes of that set were the most intense musical performance I've ever seen. They came out of the gate so hot. And this is coming from someone who goes to punk and hardcore shows a lot.

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

Honestly, probably this tour before I got COVID and ruined it all.

What's been the worst moment of your career so far?

One that comes to mind is when I did a solo tour as Bomb the Music Industry! and I played this anarchist collective's record store in Gainesville, FL. It was the weirdest thing. They had listed next to the door price how they were splitting up the money amongst the collective and the bands. I had never seen anything like that before. The show ended up being super packed, a ton of people came, and I thought, "Shit, I'm going to have rent money, this is awesome." By the time the show ended, the promoter left me with $200 and said, "No one person deserves more than $200 for doing this." I reached out to them and apparently they read my email at one of their meetings and argued over it. It was really discouraging, because it was a place I had fundraised for and a cause I thought I believed in. It was the moment that I realized that a lot of people put on this pose that they're a nonprofit or they're punk or they believe in something, but really they just want to rip you off.

Who's a Canadian musician that should be more famous?

All the Canadian bands that I know have crossed over to here, so that gives them a certain amount of fame. Let's make PUP more famous. Maybe I'll be able to get on the guest list for some shows at a stadium.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?

I don't know. I don't really sit around and think of advice that I did not take. I'm generally just swimming in the terrible decisions that I've made. 

What was the first song you ever wrote?

The first song I ever wrote was called "Sugar Rush," I think. I might have written a song before that called "Chainsaw," about a guy with a chainsaw. My brother played drums and I had an acoustic guitar, so we probably played that. I don't remember that one, but I remember the riff from "Sugar Rush," which was about eating a lot of candy. This was probably fifth or sixth grade.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?

Okay, I have an answer for your question before: Kim Mitchell. I think Kim Mitchell should be canon, not just in Canada but worldwide. But what I think of when I think of Canada, aside from friends and stuff, is all-dressed chips.

What's the meanest thing anyone has ever said about your music?

People, for years and continually, refer to my voice as a "tone-deaf squawk," which doesn't make me feel good. One time at a show — in Quebec City or Montreal — I got off stage and this girl pointed at me and said, "What's the name? What's the name?" And I was like, "What?" And she pointed at my stomach and she said, "The baby. What's the name of the baby?" That was pretty mean.

What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

I want to say it was the self-titled Biohazard record, but it might have been Dookie by Green Day. They were both around the same time.

What was your most memorable day job?

The one I liked the most was when I was working at this place called the Brooklyn Brew Shop that would make homemade beer kits. It wasn't a particularly exciting job. I would sit around and bag hops for weeks and weeks at a time, and then at some point they were like, "Hey, you're probably bored of bagging hops. Put together this stuff." It was cool because it was just this couple from Brooklyn who were mutual friends who started this thing in their apartment that blew up into this major thing where they were on morning talk shows and their home-brew kits were in airports and stuff. I was there for a little bit of that growth, and, once I left, I saw them keep getting more and more popular, and it was cool to see. Shoutout to Brooklyn Brew Shop.

If you weren't playing music, what would you be doing instead?

I'd be a graphic designer. That's what I thought I was going to be.

How do you spoil yourself?

I'll buy some records or books. That kind of stuff. I'm a pretty simple human and I like to work a lot, but every now and then I'll go to the record shop or the bookstore.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?

I like that at the very least I try to be a kind person. I hopefully pull it off more often than not. I think it's a good trait to have. It's good to be open to being kind, empathetic and understanding. That's what I'm working toward. My worst trait is probably how much I fuckin' hate myself. Every day is a battle with the ol' self-esteem.

What's the best way to listen to music?

Probably headphones. Headphones in a car, or on a train, or walking around.

What do you fear most?

I fear fucking it all up. I'm working on a lot of stuff with friends and people I respect, and I fear making the wrong decisions and fucking it all up for everybody. 

If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?

How much money are we talking? I would try to figure out how to do some mutual aid. I'd try to figure out how to get it to people who actually need the money. Don't get me wrong, I'd get myself a nice house; I'd have a pool. But there'd probably be a shit-ton of money left over, and mostly I'd be trying to figure out how to even out this class-war shit that these top-one-percent billionaire CEOs have forced upon us.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?

I met Terry Crews, who's a voice on Craig of the Creek. I met him while I was out there directing the musical episode. He was so nice, it was shocking. There's a song that he improvises in one of the episodes that I made this Bell Biv DeVoe, Bobby Brown-esque music behind. He was talking to me about this club that plays all this kind of music, and I've gotta go to it! I'm like, "Okay! Okay!" I was like, "I don't live in L.A. and I don't go to clubs. but you're so nice and I know who you are," so I'm like, "Okay, okay Terry Crews."

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?

I think his name is David Chang, the Momofuku guy. I'd be like, "Come over here, make me some veggie shit. Let's go." That guy makes good food. If I was cooking, maybe Jenny Lewis. It seems like she would be fun to hang out with. She seems like she smokes a lot of weed, and I'd probably make Japanese curry because it's easy and it's always a hit. 

What is the greatest song of all-time?

It's something on [the Beach Boys'] Pet Sounds, for sure. Maybe it's "God Only Knows." Maybe it's "You Still Believe in Me." I'd say it's one of those two. If I had to pick one, I think I'd choose "You Still Believe in Me," even though it's kind of a weird song. That's a song that every time I hear it, it just stops me.


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