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Pissed Jeans: Ferocious and Funny.

March 17, 2015

PIssedJeansFullPageOnlineText and images by Michael Bucher. Show photos by G.W. Miller III.

Monday nights are the only time members of Pissed Jeans can get together to practice and write new music.

With everyone in their early 30s and with wives or long-term girlfriends and at least one child, their lives naturally pull them in different directions. Tonight, it happens to be the icy rain keeping guitarist Brad Fry home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, leaving the three South Philly residents, Matt Korvette, Sean McGinnis and Randy Huth, to forge ahead without him.

RBSSposterPissedJeansAfter a beer or two and a plate of nachos at Wishing Well, Korvette, whose last name is really Kosloff (he uses a stage name because he says rock music is supposed to be fun), kicks everyone into gear and suggests getting to the practice space.

They walk across the street in the cold, wet night to a nondescript door, buzz in and walk down a flight of stairs. The guy at the desk points them to an open room equipped with a drum kit and amps, muffled with a patchwork of sound proofing foam stapled to the walls and ceiling. The band next door can be heard practicing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” until McGinnis starts banging on the drums. This is followed up by a blaring riff on guitar from Huth – opting for guitar instead of his designated bass to help the band feel the music better.

“Let’s try the fast one again,” suggests Korvette, refocusing the group after finishing a song.

At this stage, they don’t have song titles yet so they must refer to the works in progress as “the fast one,” “the one we play live” or “the Low Rider one.”

Huth plays a note and begins to fiddle with dials on his effects pedal until he gets a muted vibrating sound. McGinnis begins counting time with his sticks.

“Could you give me a (motions with his hand for a cue),” says Huth, looking at Korvette. “For some reason it’s hard for me to follow this. I know the parts but…”

“Wait, you want me to direct?” asks Korvette, who is usually singing/snarling for the band but tonight is leaning against the wall, nodding along to the music.

“Like what you did before,” Huth says.

“Yeah, yeah, totally,” agrees Korvette.

As the guitar and drums run through the song, Korvette signals to Huth when the different shifts are nearing. Over the deafening music, Korvette mouths “other part” but Huth misses it and knows so judging by the grimacing look on his face. His guitar slowly comes to a rest.

“It goes six and then the one,” Korvette says.  “Six and then the one. Six and then the four and then the one and then eight and then two.”

“Gotchu,” Huth replies.

It’s been more than a month since they last practiced and they sound like it. But at the helm is Korvette, a natural leader for the group. His penchant for questioning conventional wisdom and following his own sense of taste has helped steer Pissed Jeans into a uniquely successful position without seeking it out. Their music is both fun and insightful. Their live performances can be humorous, fierce and sometimes both.

Backed by discipline, which McGinnis cites as another core Pissed Jeans principle, the band has come to represent Philadelphia’s self-sufficient attitude.

Korvette, Huth and Fry have known each other since they were in junior high, growing up together in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. They played together in the band Ultimate Warrior. Korvette and Fry originally started Pissed Jeans in 2004 with two other members but their departure made room for McGinnis to join in 2005, followed by Huth in 2007, just after the band released their first LP, Hope for Men, on the legendary, Seattle-based label Sub Pop. They continued making music at a leisurely pace with King of Jeans in 2009 and Honeys in 2013, with both receiving positive reviews.

PissedJeansCoverSpring2015onlineLast year, Sub Pop reissued their first single, “Throbbing Organ,” and full length, Shallow.

Since none of the members rely on music to sustain them financially, the music remains purely for their own satisfaction. They play about 20 shows a year across the country, touring for only about a 10-day stretch in the summer when their schedules allow. They pick shows and lineups that are interesting to them. They say they’re proud of their recordings and proud that it’s still fun to practice and play shows together.

“We never threw in all our cards to be rich and famous,” says Korvette.

“Maybe we should have,” says McGinnis, remorsefully.

“Yeah, maybe I regret a little bit, not wanting it more,” replies Korvette. “But I also think it’s a good way to have the band burn out. It’s still a release for us. It’s not like, ‘Oh shit! How are we gonna make rent this week?’”

Without that kind of stress hanging over the band, they’re free to make music when it works for them. It’s not forced.

“I’m not looking to do a million different things at once,” says Korvette, whose day job is an insurance claims adjuster. “I would love to just stay focused and make it really good because that’s a lot harder to do and more rewarding.”

The emphasis on keeping quality high puts a responsibility on the band to remain in control of everything they do.

“Those guys do their thing. They don’t need any help for really anything,” says Dean Whitmore, a sales guy at Sub Pop for small record stores and the band’s contact at the label. “They have their own vision regarding art, the music, producers, booking. We just get to enjoy them for the most part.”

Whitmore notes that the band has a universal appeal among the wide range of tastes at the label, despite being classified hardcore punk. Their unique sense of humor, he adds, is what resonates with him and the label.

“They’re a ferocious live band but they’re equal part comedy act,” he says. “I spend equal parts of my time at their shows head banging, laughing and shaking my ass.”

Whether it was comedy act or act of provocation, the sold-out Pissed Jeans show this past November in Seattle – attended by Whitmore – was as unforgettable as any.

“Toward the end of their set, Matt went on this rant about how bands from Philadelphia had big dicks,” he recounts.

Whitmore recalls Korvette then pointing to Huth and telling the audience that he’s so well hung, you can tell just by the look on his face. All while the band is still playing some repetitive part of a song.

“He proceeded to belittle everyone in Seattle for their little dicks and managed to lose no one,” says Whitmore. “He went on for so long, it was probably minutes worth of monologue. I kinda got bored and went and grabbed a beer and came back and took another few minutes of lashing from him.”

Inside Boot & Saddle’s dimly lit dining area, Korvette and McGinnis sit around a high-top table on a Friday night. Korvette orders a seitan sandwich and pierogies, which he shares with his bandmates. They take turns getting up from the table and catching up with a friend working the entrance to the venue in the back.

Between bites of the house-made kettle chips, McGinnis mentions the city’s affordability as a reason why bands can thrive here, sparking a conversation between the two.

“That attracts a lot of people,” McGinnis says, citing the numerous colleges and music venues, and the possibility of owning a home within the city.

“Young people from Philadelphia are always broke but they’re always out doing stuff,” adds Korvette.

“You can still work your 20-hour-a-week coffee job and still play in a three-quarter time rock band and have a delicious meal at Boot & Saddle,” says McGinnis. “New York and LA are like epicenters for that artistic shit but…”

“It’s also a lot of poseurs who just wanna make it and have no interest in being creative,” says Korvette.

McGinnis adds to the list of benefits of Philadelphia – popular sports teams, a vast beer selection and a lot of great restaurants. But Korvette doesn’t let the picturesque image of Philly go unchallenged.

“I feel like no one is setting their sights to be the best in the world” says Korvette. “If you are setting your sights to be the best in the world, people would be like, ‘Who does that person think he is? Doesn’t he know he’s from Philadelphia?’ You can be good but not too good.”

He says having that attitude in New York would leave you homeless. It’s an underdog’s mentality, a self-perpetuating inferiority. He doesn’t see the rich, liberal, artistic-minded people here investing in arts projects like Seattle’s Experience Museum or a DIY art space.

“If someone’s doing that kinda stuff, it’s probably in some unheated loft instead of a super-billionaire renovating a Chinatown warehouse,” says Korvette.

“Maybe that’s the appeal, ya know?” responds McGinnis. “That it’s not oversaturated. There is room to improve.”

Like the city, Pissed Jeans began with some room to improve, says Paint It Black’s Andy Nelson. Both bands were part of an early Philly peer group of musicians including Kurt Vile, Purling Hiss and Birds of Maya. Nelson says he’s seen Pissed Jeans grow from just a cool band into the commanding, bizarre and confident performers they are now.

“Their personality as a band, lyrically and on stage, and in terms of their artwork, have definitely become their own thing,” says Nelson, “which I think is really unique and treads in territory that I don’t think many other bands do.”

The constant appraisal and reappraisal of adulthood and masculinity are what Nelson finds most appealing about their lyrics. Subjects Korvette has confronted lyrically are his fear of balding, disgust with the objectification of women – aware of his own guilt – and the immature, selfish behavior men can show toward their partner. Sometimes the lyrics are autobiographical, other times they are derived from Korvette’s observations, but always delivered as a first-person narrative. The word “we” hardly ever appears, instead using “I” or “you,” as the narrator trudges through a lonely world, battling adversaries – everything from doctors and co-workers to romantic partners and cats – and his own personal flaws.

“It’s a great way to give myself a pep talk to get past things,” says Korvette, relishing in how uncomfortable that kind of material can make an audience. “For me at least, once it’s out there, it’s not a horrible deep dark secret that causes you pain.”

This honest approach to writing and the band’s interest in and appeal to different musical tastes puts them in their own world. They often play with bands they really respect but might not play the same kind of music. Nelson points to bands like electronic noise duo Blues Control or a Rage Against the Machine cover band as just a couple examples. This kind of crossover can make people uncomfortable, he says, making Pissed Jeans hard to classify.

“One of the things that I think is hard to nail down about Pissed Jeans and really infuriates ‘super punk people’ or whatever is that they never really were part of one particular scene,” says Nelson. “In that way, they’re very Philadelphian.”

Still at Boot & Saddle, Korvette and McGinnis are discussing not Pissed Jeans, but their other shared musical interests. McGinnis has been DJing occasionally at Kung Fu Necktie and a couple other places around town. Not DJing exactly, he says, but playing records he likes in succession.

Korvette has also taken an interest to spinning records when he isn’t running his vinyl label, White Denim, or publishing his music blog, “Yellow Green Red.” On his site, he synthesizes his reviews in a concise and laugh-out-loud way that might be even more rewarding for readers than his encyclopedic knowledge of music.

“You should come up and play some techno with me at 700 Club sometime,” suggests McGinnis, almost like old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while saying they should really hang out more.

“I’d love to,” says Korvette, surprised and nodding enthusiastically. “That’d be fun.”

“That’d be cool,” replies McGinnis.

“DJ BCBG,” says Korvette.

“What’s that?” says McGinnis.

“Women’s clothing line,” Korvette says.

“Oh, good,” McGinnis says, appearing not to get the reference.

“You go to the mall, those BCBG stores,” says Korvette. “You ever see those black short-sleeve shirts with, like, the rhinestones? They sell prom dresses. That’s just my DJ name. It’s kind of annoying to say.”

“I like it,” affirms McGinnis.


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