Why Love Now : In Conversation With Pissed Jeans’ Matt Korvette
The first time I saw Pissed Jeans live, I was one of the only women in the audience. That fact wasn’t lost on sweaty, shirtless lead singer Matt Korvette, who went out of his way to spit water at me with affection.
I followed the band around: New York, Philadelphia, Boston. The shows re-ushered in something raw, punk, alive: Korvette always snarling or bellowing, the band roiling behind him, the searing sludge of the guitar, the guttural slam of the drums, the anger in the screech of his vocals. Shows were sometimes violent enough to send Korvette into the bathroom to sing. One night, a member of the crowd had his front teeth knocked out before the band even started playing.
Their songs soundtracked my life: “I Don’t Need Smoke To Make Myself Disappear” explored the emotional terrain of a waiter forced to serve food to rich people who ignore him. “Secret Admirer” offered a tight, sly narrative about a man who watches a woman coming home from work everyday and knows he will end up in her driveway singing one day.
The first night I met Korvette, the band had just blistered through a set at the Middle East in Boston. He sat alone in a corner, sweaty again.
“I’d rather be at home eating appetizers and watching a movie,” he said.
There was a tinge of sarcasm to that scene, both a want for and a rejection of “normal life.” That image of Korvette has always stuck with me – a rockstar with a day job, a man who, at times, would rather be eating mozzarella sticks than screeching lyrics like “Doesn’t matter what my age, I’ve always run a pleasure race” to a rabid, ravenous crowd.
The band has released four albums (including Hope for Men, King of Jeans, and Honeys) on Sub Pop since those early days. Today marks the release of their latest, Why Love Now, which sees Pissed Jeans exploring a new kind of vicious, partnering up with producer Lydia Lunch to fine-tune the sound and writer Lindsay Hunter to enter the realm of the psychosexual spoken-word piece.
I had lunch with Matt Korvette to talk about not eating meat, Millionaire Matchmaker, and writing Why Love Now.
SARAH ROSE ETTER: What are you going to order?
MATT KORVETTE: The cheeseburger without the meat.
Do you not eat meat?
Really? I always pictured you as somebody that would constantly be eating meat.
Haha, what? No, I’ve been vegetarian for a while. Probably seventeen years or so.
You’ve saved a lot of animals in that time.
By ordering this meatless cheeseburger today, a cow will walk free.
I think they release the cow out of the back of the restaurant to roam the streets of Philadelphia.
Be free, Bessie!
Maybe I’ll get the hummus.
Go with the most comfortable food.
I guess hummus is comfortable.
It’s like sitting on a soft couch.
Waiter: Are you guys ready?
Yeah, I’ll have the hummus.
Yeah, and I’ll have the Cheese Hold the Beef burger.
Waiter: Would you like to add bacon?
No, thank you.
[Waiter walks away]
Was he fucking with us?
Hahah! Maybe? I can’t tell?
Where have you been by the way?
Working a lot. I wrote a book. Not getting drunk at your shows anymore. I’m boring now, I guess.
Yeah, I thought you were always going to like die or something like that, smoking cigarettes on a Tuesday at 5PM.
I don’t even do that anymore! Jesus, don’t bring the old shit up! Ok, ok, let’s get into the questions. What’re your top five favorite records?
I could probably figure it out. I tried to figure out my hundred favorite records once. It was really lame to truly judge things. Is this better, better, better, better? Not better. You’re album #67. Very algorithmically. I tried that a few years ago, just for the fun of it.
That’s so damn many. Five feels more reasonable. Are there any albums that you always go back to?
You know, there’s Appetite for Destruction, and other records that I really love that would probably be a top five record. There’s a band called X from Australia that has a self-titled first record that’s really, really good.
You still go back and listen to that?
Yes. But in a different way. It’s not like I’m being moved by the album the way I was years ago, but I love it. So it’s probably in the top five because of that.
I guess your top five records can depend on what time of your life the record shows up. Aren’t there some records you can’t listen to now because it makes you think of people or older times?
I love thinking about any time besides the present, but…
What? Why? Really?
Yeah, totally. I get so wistful for things.
What are you wistful for?
Just any previous time in my life. I was washing the dishes listening to MxPx last night, and I had these vivid memories of a launch ramp with a closed convenience store parking lot where we would go skating. And oh, it just hits me. I recently listened to a super nostalgic album that I couldn’t believe how it physically, mentally, emotionally affected me.
What was it? James Taylor?
No, it was the Pat Metheny Group. My dad played it all the time. It was one of those albums where you ask your dad: “What was that record you played all the time while making breakfast on the weekends?
See, that was James Taylor for my parents. I’ve never listened to the Metheny Group, but I know the feeling you mean – you hear a song, and suddenly you are bawling.
I just remember hearing it as a kid. It was like a sad, melancholy wintery little record. You know like very smooth, modern jazz. I found a copy of it for three dollars. And I put it on in my room and it was like walking through like a star gate, you know? It was just like, you know, 1987. It was pretty great.
So speaking of albums, you have a new one coming out…
We should probably talk about that.
Haha yes. So I’m going to ask the process question…
I love process.
What does writing a song look like for you? I’ve always admired your lyrics – when I think about “Secret Admirer” for instance, there such a rich narrative there and an escalation. How do you get to that point?
I usually focus on theme and title first, that’s key. I’ll have a pile of themes and titles, and I’ll just keep a running notepad document. Usually, it’s in the middle of the night that I’m jotting down ideas. I’m like, “Oh yeah!” then the next day I’m like, “Thank god I’m the only one whose eyes have seen that.”
So I’ll narrow down the themes and titles, then we’ll write music. I’m not really coming to the band with riffs. You know I’ll hear a song, then try to figure out which lyrics fit with the music.
So it becomes like a puzzle?
Yeah, sort of! Here are these ideas, and they need to find a partner. Once I have an idea of which song goes with which title or theme, then I’ll write the lyrics.
Although, it was different for this record. I wrote the lyrics a few weeks in advance of recording.
What made you change that part of the process this time around?
Well, we were working with Lydia Lunch and I didn’t want to look like an unprepared loser. This gave me time to show the work to her, and gave me time to revise. I just had to step it up, you know?
What was it like to work with Lydia on this album? Why did you choose her to work with?
We really wanted to do something different and I loved the idea of working with a female producer.
But it’s hard to find many choices, which is upsetting. It’s incredibly fucked up. There are just very few women producing out there. There’s the woman from Four Non-Blondes, but she produces major label albums. There are a few women who are pop hit makers, but there are very few who are full-time producers. And Lydia by trade isn’t really a producer, but we thought it would be so cool to work with her.
What kind of direction did she bring to the table?
She really was just a crazy force in the studio. She was really very inspiring, and very intimidating at first. But honestly, quite nurturing. It was a weird mix of: “This woman is certified insane, and I’m scared,” and “Wow, she’s so helpful right now.”
She always said exactly the right thing. It gave you a feeling of “I didn’t know I needed to hear this until she said it, and now I’m so confident.”
So how did you start working with her? I know you’d played a show together sometime last year.
We just asked. Then we played a show with her after she agreed to do it. She really wanted to see the lyrics first, before she agreed to work with us.
Whoa, that’s nuts.
Yeah, she was super nutty. She was very literary.
Did she send you comments or feedback on the lyrics?
No, but she wanted to make sure I was cool. She wasn’t just gonna do it for anyone. If the lyrics were just “1, 2, 3, 4! Fuck the cops!” I think she would’ve been like who cares? You know what I mean?
I was waiting to hear back about whether she would produce the album. And then I get a call from an unknown number. I pick up. And she’s like, “IT’S LYDIA,” in this smokey, badass voice. I was instantly shocked and scared, you know. Then we played a show together and it worked out. You should go see her. She tells seedy sex tales of NYC. She has a residency at the Roxy.
I’d definitely be up for that. Did you have fun working with her?
I had fun hanging out with her. I’d buy her bottles of white wine every morning. She’s into some crazy shit. She loves stealing police helmets, policemen clothing, uniforms. She made a series of weird stalker videos where she’d stalk Louis CK and be like, “Louiiiis. I saw you walking down 12th Ave…” Very strange, but amazing.
There’s another woman you worked with on this album. My friend Lindsay Hunter has a spoken word piece on this album. How did that come about? It’s amazing.
Well, I’ve just been a fan of hers and I reached out and we became friends. I just love her writing. I wanted her to write something for the insert initially, but then I wondered does anyone even read inserts? I didn’t want a great thing to go to waste.
And then Sean, our drummer, had this cool track he was working on and I said, “I’ve got nothing for this. Let’s see if Lindsay can do something.” She killed it, as you know.
That piece is so powerful. It makes me feel like I’m about to be physically assaulted. I love it, and it’s also a nightmare. How did you guys record that?
She recorded it at home with her son trying to enter the room. It was like, “Mommy’s busy!”
Have you seen her read before yet? She’s a powerhouse.
Not yet, I’m dying to.
She’s killer. What else do you read?
I like music bios and fiction. My favorite music oral history is of this venue City Gardens in Trenton, New Jersey. It was a show space – it was a little bit before my time. I’d never actually been there. But it sounded incredible – the book really goes into the dirt. There are so many incriminating stories.
Every good band came through City Gardens between 1983 and 1994. And it’s like REM, Joy Division, Dead Kennedys, The Replacements – and all in one month’s time. All legendary, all different genres.
And there was the entrance to the venue, right, but you had to walk straight through the crowd to get to the stage and the backstage area.
The Ramones played there and one security guard recalled helping Joey Ramone walk through the crowd. And he put his hand on Joey’s stomach and he said he was so thin he could feel Joey’s spine. No organs, just a light bit of jelly and the spine. He had nothing on him – no fat, no muscle. Just this skinny jelly.
Jesus christ. That sounds incredible. I’ll dig it up. So talk to me about Why Love Now.
Do you like that title?
I do. But where did it come from?
Well, I thought it was a good title.
It is, but why did you title it this?
I thought it would work for Oasis or Swans. So I liked that. It had a wide variety of like things that it could work for. It comes from…well, are you familiar with the show Millionaire Matchmaker?
She always asks the millionaires, “Why love now?” And I just loved that question. It has this hopeless tone to it.
It does. How much Millionaire Matchmaker do you watch?
Um, a few seasons. I’m not a huge fan of trash TV at all. But I just started watching it many years ago. I stopped.
What do you watch if it’s not trash TV?
Random, shitty shows. I don’t know, I watch Westworld.
Did you like it?
It was alright.
It wasn’t that great. Do you get intimidated when you’re writing an album? Do you ever feel pressure?
Yeah. But I think mostly it is pressure to be better. I just want…the worst thing for me, personally, would be to feel like I regressed. Or if I’d given less effort. It’s hard because we’re five albums deep now. That’s a lot of albums for a rock band.
It’s a pretty substantial output.
And we’re not really departing from our sound. It’s like squeezing a lemon. The juice is still good, you just have to squeeze a little harder.
And you guys space your albums out too…
I think it usually takes us two or three years. Most people never say “That band’s fifth album is my favorite!” you know? But I want to be that band. I want that to work for us.
What’s it like juggling your day-to-day self with your screaming-in-a-band self?
I think I compartmentalize myself. I have different things I show different people. I’ll talk to you about certain things I wouldn’t talk to someone else about. I’ve learned that a bit. I let certain parts of myself loose in certain places.
I get a lot of people saying, “You’re so calm!” And it’s like what do you want me to do? Knock your plate off the table right now? They’ll think I get drunk all the time or ask if I vomit everywhere or if I piss my jeans. I’m always a little disappointed and surprised with people’s assumptions. They seem so off to me.
The first time I met you, you said you would rather have been home eating appetizers than playing a show. Do you still feel that way?
I am a bit of a homebody. I think because I also have to do crazy shit all the time. I travel a lot. Then I get myself into wild rock and roll situations. I get my fill of that. Then I just want to hit the couch.
What’s a wild rock and roll situation for you these days?
There are so many of them. Usually, it helps being in a weird place. In Switzerland last summer, we’re drinking a bottle of wine with a band who is literally dozing off from drugs into their food and popping back up. I guess I get enough of that.
We played shows in China last year. I went into a strange bar in Shanghai by myself and it was so amazing. Just walking around pointing at pictures of things – a picture of vodka, “Do you have this?” A picture of broccoli, “Do you have this?” That kind of thing, just these weird strange scenes from foreign lands.
Who is your favorite band to play with?
Recently, this band called Vexx. They’re incredible. I think they broke up – they are from Olympia. But they were just a force. They opened for us and it made me not want to get on stage afterwards. I felt like “I hope this audience forgets everything they just saw.” They’re just that good.