Interview: Mom Jeans.

Words by Maddy Howell

Since the release of their debut album, 'Best Buds', in mid-2016, the hype surrounding California's Mom Jeans. has been vastly and constantly expanding. With their confessional based lyricism and often acoustic guitar-based punk, blended with boundless energy and passion, it was instantly obvious that Mom Jeans. were starting something pivotal on their debut record.

Now fresh from supporting Minnesota emos Tiny Moving Parts on a mammoth US run, the weed-loving power-pop outfit are setting to work on their highly-anticipated second full-length release. We caught up with vocalist/lead guitarist Eric Butler to talk LP2, unpredictable label changes and queer representation.

Burn After Writing: It’s been almost two years since the release of 'Best Buds', is there anything on the record that you’ve grown to regret in that time?

Eric Butler: I think that it's pretty easy to look back and find faults in some of our earlier decisions with that album, either with songs being too long or too short or with certain pieces of a song that maybe feel like they shouldn't be where they are. But I think that can also come from just touring a lot and playing the same songs over and over, which is a big part of why we're excited to record the new album.

The only other thing I guess would be the production end of things. Ryan Ellery, who engineered the record and all of our splits, did a fantastic job engineering our record using the tools he was given. At the time we were a young band who didn't know a whole lot about gear or recording and hadn't necessarily found the best way to project the sound we were going for. We knew what we wanted to sound like when we recorded 'Best Buds' but did we know the exact best way to do that? Probably not, but I think we still did the absolute best that we could with the knowledge, the time and the gear that we had and I'm still super proud of it as a whole.

BAW: You wrote 'Best Buds' whilst still trying to polish off a college degree. Why was balancing these two parts of your life so important to you and how did you make it work?

EB: My family (as well as the rest of the members' families) have valued our educations a great deal for our entire lives. Going to the same school is how we met and getting our degrees before pursuing music as a full-time thing or as our main priority for the time being didn't feel right until we all finished school and got our degrees.

We made it work the best we could. We did a US tour during a school break and would use breaks or weeks that we could plan ahead with our professors to go on short tours or go to SXSW or something. It's really nice now that we're all graduated because we can focus on touring a lot more and hopefully get our timing better, rather than being forced into touring at one specific time or another because it's the only time we can.

BAW: You recently finished up a massive US tour with Tiny Moving Parts and Oso Oso, how was that run?

EB: The entire tour as a whole was an amazing experience for everyone I think. It was our first time doing support for like, a big tour with green rooms and professional sound at every venue and it was a blast to play with such great bands every night. We look up to Tiny Moving Parts a lot, so getting to tour with them was pretty surreal, not to mention they are the sweetest people in the world and I would hang with them any day.

Oso Oso also happen to be good friends of ours too, so getting to chill with that whole crew for a month was amazing and a lot of fun. All the regional openers totally killed it too. Playing with Jetty Bones, Fever Blush, and Covet was such a treat and we really hope to come back to some of those same venues again soon with other great bands.

BAW: You recently signed with SideOneDummy Records, then unsigned, then re-signed with Counter Intuitive. What’s been going on there?

EB: The plan was to sign to SideOneDummy. Everything was going great until the news about them letting go of Jamie (Coletta), Christina (Johns), and Kevin (Modry). I think many other artists from SideOneDummy share the same sentiment as us, that Jamie, Christina, and Kevin were a big part of why they wanted to sign to that label. Those people, that was the team which we thought was going to be working on our record and when we found out that it wasn't, it was pretty clear that moving forward with SideOneDummy just wasn't the right decision for us.

On the other hand, Counter Intuitive records just seems like the only other right thing to do at this point, considering the fact that Jake (Sulzer) and the rest of the roster of the label is like one big family. Jake has continued to bust his ass for us, and so many others, time and time again. I think that working with a label that fosters a strong sense of community, a community of bands that we all happen to be particularly fond of (cc-Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Kississippi, Who Loves You, Oldsoul, Casual Friday, Graduating Life, Retirement Party, Nervous Dater, etc...) is really important and we have that with Counter Intuitive, so Counter Intuitive feels like home.

BAW: California always seems to be buzzing with life, especially within its music scene. Do you think that the places you’ve grown up in have played a part in the growth and success of Mom Jeans.?

EB: I think for us, being part of the public school system in California really nurtured all of our musical interests. We were all band/orchestra nerds in high school before starting to play rock music and that aspect of our musical education is still super important. It provided us with a strong foundation that I think has helped us learn and adapt to make music that sounds more interesting and be able to physically play the ideas we hear in our heads.

As far as a local scene goes, other than a couple of small local venues in the bay area (Honey Hive, 924 Gilman) there really wasn't much of a music scene where any of us grew up. I grew up in the East Bay area and local bands had to do a lot if they wanted to play a show. There weren't any close DIY or all-ages venues so kids would throw shows in their parents' garages or in empty baseball fields or skateboard parks using a generator for power. That kind of mentality of "gig at all costs" or "DIY or die" has always really stuck with me, and I think that's why DIY shows are something we still really like doing. It's played a huge part in us being able to tour and meet the amazing people that we've met in the last 2 years

BAW: So, by now LP2 must be well-underway, how was the creative process behind writing the songs for that record and did it differ to that of 'Best Buds'?

EB: I think that the writing process is pretty similar to the last record, although we've had a lot more time leading up to the recording to practice and think out ideas which is great. We are also recording the whole album in one straight shot, like 10-11 days of tracking and mixing. When we recorded 'Best Buds' it was done in a series of sessions that took about 3-4 months to complete.

BAW: You worked with Just Friends’ member Ryan Ellery on 'Best Buds' and have decided to keep this the same on LP2. Why did you keep the same format this time around?

EB: Ryan is still just our favorite person to work with. They have a very high attention to detail without getting in the way of a bands sound or vibe. I think Ryan's approach of, "get a great sound coming out of the amps/drums, and there won't be much to fix later", works for us and helps the sound of the record stay natural and not over-produced. Not to mention Ryan is just an old friend that we love hanging out and spending time with. Making a record can be stressful, but recording with Ryan is always a blast, so it's hard to imagine us recording something and them not being around

BAW: A lot of the inspiration for 'Best Buds' seemed to spawn from heartbreak, friendship, and mental health problems. Were things mostly the same on LP2 or have your inspirations shifted?

EB: I guess you could say that they have shifted, yeah. I think rather than focusing on feelings of hopelessness or helplessness that are generated by the pain and trauma of bad experiences, this record comes more from a place of anxiety or restlessness. It deals with the fact that just because things in your life are going well or just because you have something good going, it doesn't mean that you can't just lose it all in a second.

Maybe it's just me, but I sometimes feel that I have a tendency to dwell on the fears that I have about things not going right in relationships in my life or certain endeavors not working out the way I want to. I often find myself feeling anxious, upset or angry over small situations and as a result, I end up not being able to enjoy the nice experiences in my life which does nothing but make me and the people around me miserable.

I think conquering those feelings and those anxieties can be just as debilitating or frustrating as getting over the loss of someone you care about or overcoming a negative experience, because the fear of having to do that emotional labor again is really powerful and can have a lot of influence over the decisions that people make and that I make. So yeah, less "I'm super sad and lonely" more "holy smokes I better not screw this all up".

BAW: You tweeted out that you’d recorded some demos of the new album, how are they sounding?

EB: They're sounding as good as they can for being scratch guitar and scratch vocals, I guess! They're gonna sound a lot better with drums and bass and everything else. I'm hopeful though, as long as we can make a record that we're all happy with and excited about then it'll be a success no matter what happens.

BAW: The Counter Intuitive Records roster, from an outsider, seems to operate on an incredibly supportive and community-driven platform. How does being in this atmosphere affect your work as a band?

EB: Being surrounded by so many talented, hardworking, creative bands is definitely motivating, and I think that when you get to the point that you're maybe playing 100-200 shows a year as a band, having other bands to be excited about listening to and excited about playing with is essential to staying motivated and excited about touring and writing music. So many of my favorite bands are on Counter Intuitive and the fact that any success that we do have as a band will more than likely contribute to the success of the community that Counter Intuitive is building as a whole just makes it feel like we're working toward something bigger and better than just trying to sell a bunch of records.

If people like Mom Jeans. and happen to find Nervous Dater, or Prince Daddy & the Hyena, or Retirement Party, or Pictures of Vernon, or Oldsoul because of us then that's the best result that we could hope for out of releasing a record with a label.

BAW: You’re going to be playing Bled Fest in Michigan this May, and the line-up is stacked. Who are you most excited to play alongside?

EB: Not to fan out too much, but I'm personally really excited to see Basement, Mothers, Joyce Manor and Foxing play because I've never seen them live before. And then, oh man get ready for a list, I'm going to be excited about seeing/trying to see: Rozwell Kid, Kississippi, Slingshot Dakota, Retirement Party, Mover Shaker, Shortly, Greet Death, Jetty Bones, Looming, and a bunch more

BAW: As a queer musician, do you think that any of the scenes you are operating within have any reasonable representation of queer or trans artists, and do you think this is changing?

EB: To be fair, as a white male-presenting person I have a ton of privilege in this field and it's really not my place to say whether or not the scene has or ever will have enough representation of queer, trans, and non-male musicians in it. I don't think it's unfair to say that there is a lot of work to be done as far as making the music industry as a whole friendlier to non-white and non-male musicians.

On all levels of the ecosystem that is the music business, every level whether it be performers, managers, sound crews, engineers, label heads, PR experts, and music journalists, white men continue to dominate pretty much every niche of the industry. While there are an overwhelming amount of great labels, bands, individuals, booking agents, tour managers, etc that continue to work hard and well, against that tradition, I think it's safe to say that more work needs to be done on the part of "industry professionals" as well as bands that consist predominantly of white men to establish a new criteria of what makes a scene, a venue, a label or a tour "inclusive".

It starts simple, with hiring more non-male, queer, or artists of color to play tours or run sound or engineer a record or do a PR pitch/write an article. Until that happens, queer, POC and non-male performers and creators will not be given a fair shot or be truly fairly compensated in their tour offers, their label contracts or the hard work that they contribute to the scene.

I do think that over time, more attention is being paid to make spaces and lineups more inclusive, which I really appreciate. I hope that bands made up of predominantly white men will continue to realise that they have a responsibility to use the privilege they have to build tour lineups, crews, and record labels/booking firms that include and appreciate non-male artists, artists of color, and queer artists without tokenising or profiting off of them, but instead valuing their art and their hard work for what it is and compensating them fairly and often for it.

BAW: You seem to be touring pretty relentlessly at the moment, is there any chance that the UK/Europe will find their way into your schedule at some point soon?

EB: We're working on it! It's a long flight and it's pretty pricey, but we have a few hopeful ideas and if everything goes according to plan we should be coming across the pond early next year.