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INTERVIEW: Getting Off Topic With Jeff Rosenstock

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 26, 2015 6:30PM

Photo: Andy Johnson

Jeff Rosenstock is awesome. That's what his fans will tell you. That's what other musicians will tell you. That's what his publicist told us shortly before our conversation with the Long Island-born songwriter.

His joviality isn't the only thing that makes him so loved though. Rosenstock is something of a DIY legend on the East Coast. He folded his ska band The Arrogant Sons Of Bitches when the group began to garner too much attention for his liking. He bucked the idea of traditional album releases long before it was trendy to do so with his next project Bomb The Music Industry! Now he's continuing to release painfully self-aware, yet still lighthearted music and perform as a solo artist.

He'll be in town tomorrow night at the Metro opening for Andrew Jackson Jihad and since he's been coming through Chicago with his various projects for so many years we decided to get his take on the best places to play a show in the city. We also didn't put up a fight when the conversation led us elsewhere.

CHICAGOIST: Okay, Jeff. I loved the "Rank Your Records" piece you did recently with Noisey so now I'm going to ask you to rate your favorite local venues. Give me your three favorite places that you've played here in Chicago.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Well, Beat Kitchen is the place that we've played so much and they've always just been super nice to us. There was this place that we played…I'm looking through old things on the Internet right now trying to find it...It was in a basement. We played there in 2007...Oh my God, Ronny's! I forgot about Ronny's! That's definitely up there too. Humility Gallery is the place that we played in '07. [Editor's note: The show was actually in December, 2006.]

C: What about DIY spaces around town? There have been a bunch that have come and gone over the years.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: No, but we did the Humility Gallery which was, like, have you ever been to a show space that's so crowded and there's absolutely no rules whatsoever to how anything is gonna go down? You think, how is this place even open?

I think since then we played Ronny's a lot and then Beat Kitchen. The first place we ever played at [in Chicago] was in Sanawan's basement...a local Chicago band that we befriended ... two days before we played their house. [laughs]

C: So this month will be your first time playing the Metro then?

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Yes. You hear about the Metro a lot if you're not from Chicago, especially if you're in a band. It's like how you hear about places like the Troubadour. I'm super, super excited to play it. Everyone that I know in Chicago that's played it says it's the best. And it's been there forever, right? Like 20 years?

C: Thirty, actually.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Oh my God, that's crazy. Bomb got to play First Avenue in Minneapolis and playing places like that is so cool. I find the history of cities in general pretty interesting but when it's a music venue that has managed to sustain itself for decades...those are the coolest fucking places ever to be in. It's really inspiring and I feel lucky that we get to play in places like that ... sometimes.

C: I haven't seen one of your live shows since you've been just "Jeff Rosenstock" and not "Bomb The Music Industry!" You're still touring with a band though, right?

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Yeah, still with a band. It's weird [having a release] come out on SideOneDummy Records. All this touring and band stuff is kind of accidental. I was just making records in my bedroom under my name. When Bomb stopped I was just kind of like, "Okay, well, I'll go find a job," but I'm still always writing songs and making music. I thought it would be fun to put those songs out into the world.

I feel like a lot of people have been asking me what the difference [between Bomb and Jeff Rosenstock] is or what the plan was. There wasn't a plan.

C: I get you. It's cool that you have SideOne's support on this though. They have a lot of solid releases under their belt. So it's not a totally random Soundcloud release or something.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Yeah, totally. They're a bigger label than I've ever worked with before. It's a totally new experience.

C: But a good one I hope.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Yes. I don't know if you saw but it was on the fucking Billboard charts yesterday. That's completely crazy, out of control to me. It's so rad but it's also so funny. It's completely free on the Internet but it still charted.

C: I admit I didn't see that but congratulations! I also feel like it might have to do with how Bomb The Music Industry! ended. I've been listening to your stuff since the beginning and I had never heard more hype about the band than when you announced those breakup shows. I feel like people were hungry for more Jeff Rosenstock. Is that weird to say?

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Ha! Hungry for Jeff Rosenstock...what a great meal. It was weird though. But I think that's just, to me, a little bit expected when it's a band's last show and we made a big deal about it. It was so funny to talk to talk to The New York Observer and Gothamist. I talked to Interview Magazine. Esquire asked to be on the guest list for the show. It was like, where did you people come from? What the fuck is going on here?

And over the next year when I was just kind of putting out songs online most people just didn't care. I bet if I play a last show and say I'm never making music again as Jeff Rosenstock, Esquire will ask to get on the guest list again but until then they'll continue to be like, "Whatever."

2015_03_we_cool_rosenstock.jpg C: Did you know that Chicagoist is an extension of Gothamist? We still care!

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: I love Gothamist and I'm stoked to be on Chicagoist. Like, I'm so stoked about that. And I'm serious. This is probably the most excited I am to be featured on something because that's the type of shit that I read when I'm looking at the Internet.

C: Well, I really do appreciate it. That's the same reason I love writing for them! Alright, let's switch it up. What's your favorite place to eat when you come to town?

JR: Definitely Chicago Diner. I've been a vegetarian for 16 years or something crazy like that and we have a vegan in the band, too. It's nice having a place like that where I can get stuff and the picky meat eaters in the band can still get something awesome, too.

I miss Hot Doug's a lot. I'm sad that it's gone but you've gotta respect that dude a lot for just deciding to not do it anymore.

C: Going out on top is the best way. He's going to go down the same route you did with Bomb The Music Industry. He took his food away from people so now the next thing he does people are going to go even crazier for it.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: If he opened up another place, I would be there waiting in line just like I did at Hot Doug's.

By the way, did we talk enough about the thing that we were going to originally talk about?

C: You know, I was just kind of enjoying the conversation so I let it drift. I prefer a good conversation to something stilted, honestly.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: That means that you're a good journalist.

C: Haha, well, thanks. I don't really get to sit in on a lot of other journalist's interviews but I've heard horror stories from bands. Do you ever have to do really crappy interviews?

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: People will ask questions and, I guess because I'm an emotional wreck all the time and I write sad songs, they tend to be pretty personal. But, whatever, I answer them. And then they'll ask me another like that! It's like they're just going down a list. It's hard to force a conversation like that.

C: It goes the other way too. I've had artists tell me they were too stoned to answer questions before. Those interviews are always fun.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Haha! I'm going to try that next time! "I can't even deal with this right now!"

C: Do it. Okay, well, it's been really nice talking to you, Jeff. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

JEFF ROSENSTOCK: Thank you! I'll see you in Chicago!

Buy or download Jeff Rosenstock's new album We Cool? (for free) and catch him at the Metro tomorrow night. Tickets are $20 in advance.