Jeff Rosenstock: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Jeff Rosenstock: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Jeff Rosenstock is excited. Actually, he’s “very excited” — or so he says on Twitter of his forthcoming performance at Pitchfork Fest. “Our day has Tribe Called Quest, Mitski, Angel Olsen THAT’S SO WILD, MAAAAAAAAN,” he writes.

And he has every right to be excited. Taking the stage for a platform that, in reviewing his last albumWORRY., deemed him “one of the most important figures in modern punk” is one thing, but doing it alongside some of music’s biggest names today is another — and Rosenstock is not one to let this go overlooked. As important as he is to the modern punk scene, the former frontman of Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Industry! is just as devoted to his music fandom.

At Brooklyn’s annual Northside Festival, Rosenstock stopped by the TIDAL artist lounge to talk about five albums that changed his life. From Anthrax’s State of Euphoria to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Aeroplane over the Sea, he spoke at great length about his experiences with each album, his initial feelings of ennui (“It’s not punk, I don’t care,” he said of his first reaction to The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds) and how they evolved into an eventual adoration.

Anthrax, State of Euphoria

I had a babysitter who gave me metal tapes a lot when I was a kid. I was like six or seven or something. I had the tape of State of Euphoria, and it was just fast and loud; it was kind of funny. I think that is probably the reason I still really like fast music, and why, no matter what record or whatever I’m working on, I always end up doing some stupid fast bullshit. I was going to hardcore shows on Long Island when I was a kid, before I really knew too much other stuff, and then Green Day happened, which was huge for me.

Green Day, Dookie

[I remember] watching that video for “Longview” with him ripping up a couch, shredding stuff around, and then watching them at Woodstock and just being like, “This is so fucking sick.” It’s weird, because that took me a long time to get into, probably because I was listening to Biohazard and stuff like that, and I was like, “Why does this dude sing in, like, a British accent? What is happening here?” From there, I found Operation Ivy. I just sat with that Operation Ivy CD for months and read the lyrics and was like, “Oh.” It spoke to a lot of early depression and anxiety stuff that I didn’t really feel comfortable talking to my parents about or talking to my friends about because they weren’t going through that shit, but these bands were. And it helped me discover independent labels like Epitaph, Lookout, and then from there starting a zine.

The Clash, London Calling

That was a record I didn’t even like it at first. I was just like, “What? I don’t understand people like The Clash.” I was listening to Minor Threat and Seven Seconds and all of these super-fast thrash/hardcore bands and punk. And that record had like “Lost in the Supermarket,” which is this slow, vibey, jammy, song. I didn’t really understand it for a while, and then whenever it clicked, I was like, “Oh wait, punk means that you can do whatever you want.” And it doesn’t have to sound like a punk song. It doesn’t have to sound like NOFX to be a punk song.

I just think about that all the time. I still think about that. I think about the way Joe Strummer sings on that record and how it’s just really reckless and really not… And I’m sure he does [care] – he was on a major label, people paid for the record, they had a producer – but it sounds like he does not give a fuck about how his voice sounds. He’s just going super hard. It sounds like it’s 100 percent about the energy, and that the energy behind it is what makes it a punk record, not the fact that they’re playing some acoustic jangly song.

It’s all kind of mixed up and there’s so much happening in it, and I remember once that clicked with me, I was like, “Oh, you don’t have to do anything musically. As long as you put it all into it, that’s what matters.”

Beach Boys, Pet Sounds

Again I had friends who were telling me about, “Oh this record’s so great.” And I was just like, “It’s not punk, I don’t care.” It was either punk or, like, Korn and Limp Bizkit, which is whatever. It’s the truth. It’s the embarrassing truth, but it’s just like, “If it’s not fucking heavy, if it’s not rap or if it’s not punk, I don’t care. I don’t want to hear it.”

I just didn’t want to like what my parents liked, which is stupid. At some point, with Pet Sounds, my roommate at the time gave me just the Pet Sounds vocal tracks. And I was going through a lot of heavy shit, to say the least, and there was something really intangible about listening to just the vocal mix that was really emotionally resonant for me. It just fucked me up.

I was in college, and I had a CD player alarm clock that had Pet Sounds, just the vocals and then Pet Sounds after it on a CD-R. And I can’t tell you how many classes I missed because that would go off and I would just listen to that. And then at the end I’d hit snooze and go to bed for five minutes, and then wake up again and listen to all of it again.

Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane over the Sea

Again, first time I heard it, I was like, “What is happening? Like, this acoustic guitar sounds like it’s broken. Like it sounds like it was recorded on a tape recorder. And they’re just like singing this weird shit about like Jesus Christ and Anne Frank and, like, I don’t fucking understand why people think this is good.” And then later, I revisited it and was just like, “Oh, shit.” I can’t think of a record that the imagery and the lyrics stuck with me [like this].

A lot of it’s based around Anne Frank’s diaries, the Holocaust, and it’s such a heavy thing, but there’s so much joy in the music. And the music, again, is played with such reckless abandon. Half of it sounds like it’s on fucking fire but also it has beautiful melodies and horns. I heard they found instruments for 10 bucks at the toy store and played them on there.

It’s not that it sounds like shit. It’s that you’re conditioned to think that this clean sound is what everything’s supposed to sound like. But sometimes music is supposed to sound like it’s fucking on fire and that it’s burning, that things are bad, you know? And that’s the thing that still sticks with me, how to represent what you’re singing about musically in a way that’s interesting.

I think a lot of emo bands in the 2000s would just sing these really sad lyrics with like this really whiny voice on top of clean, sappy guitars and like whatever, whatever, whatever. When you’re feeling sad, you feel like the fucking world is melting around you and the music should kind of feel like the world is melting around you. Also sometimes when you’re thinking about that stuff you’re thinking, “But I’m okay. But I’m still here.” And you need it to feel triumphant, and I felt like that record really hit all the crazy emotional feelings that accompany heartbreak, or accompany feeling weird, or accompanying a good day and everything in between.


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