Interview, video, transcription, and intro by Sarah Cline.
Audio by Erik Anderson.
Camera and photos by Makenzie Creden.
Riot Fest 2022 brought punk rock gods to Douglass Park. WLUW was lucky enough to meet up with one of them under the hottest, noisest tent Riot Fest had to offer. In addition to the title of punk rock god, Jeff Rosenstock acts as composer, record label founder, and kindest man in the punk scene. Following his Friday set, WLUW caught up with Rosenstock to talk dream journaling, the Long Island punk scene, and music recs for the independent mind.
Check out the full interview here!
So, my first question is, roughly how many times a week do you dream of ska?
Do I dream of ska… I don’t know. Maybe zero. How frequently do we even remember our dreams? You know, so. I don’t know. I’m gonna change zero to undefined. I don’t know how many times. When I wake up and remember a dream, it’s generally not ska. Life is all […]
You need a ska dream journal. They’ve got quilted ones over there.
There we go. Right there. Cool. Well, we’ll split the profits on the ska dream journal. We’ll text each other from our mansions ten years from now and be like “ha ha ha, remember?”
Yeah. A mansion is definitely my future.
I know you’ve been a big part of the punk rock/DIY music scene for a while. I was wondering who or what was your first introduction to that world?
I grew up in Long Island and there’s a hardcore band from Long Island called Biohazard, who I wanted to go see. My parents wouldn’t let me go see that, but they would let me go to this other show. They had bands that were playing that show. Then I found out later they were a bunch of local bands from Long Island. I was just like, Oh, I loved it. I kind of got into the Long Island hardcore scene then. Being a person who plays the saxophone, I quickly discovered ska. So I found both those local scenes at the same time. Then at some point, I was just like, Oh, all these ska shows, these punk shows, this is where it’s at. I was lucky when I was a kid in Long Island, there were just a lot of all-ages shows happening all the time. So to me, that’s just how music was.
This is meant to be. So what would you describe as your inspirations and how have those evolved over the years? So from the early Long Island days to now playing huge festivals like Riot Fest, how do those evolve?
Um, I don’t know. I still like a lot of the punk records that I liked when I was a kid. I still really like them a lot. I still really like Green Day and The Ramones and The Clash. All that shit. These are, like, classic good records that will be good fucking forever. I think you just kind of collect more music that you listen to over time and kind of branch out into different stuff that reflects how you are in the time that you’re existing in. I’m probably not as nihilistic as maybe I was when I was like 19 years old, but like it’s still in there. You know? You kind of just move with it and your influences, they don’t change, but I think you add to them. Does that make sense?
It does. It does. And then I know you’re doing all the soundtracking for Craig of the Creek. I was wondering what sort of new creative avenues and or limitations do you encounter when doing that stuff for the show?
Yeah, well, it’s a way different thing. And in my head, I was just like, I want to make music that if I heard it when I was a kid watching the show, I’d be like, This is awesome. So that’s always kind of guiding it. I guess the limitation would be just the fact that the episodes are so short. So like especially early on when I was writing and I was like, oh, wait, 15 seconds is done, this part has to be done. I’m used to writing a song, it could be as long as you want it, but, you know, you get used to that. I get to make all different kinds of music, it’s really cool. It’s fun to get to do orchestral stuff, to me that feels like it’s big and cinematic. I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s a whole thing that I wouldn’t have tried ever doing with my own music, I don’t think. At least not to that extent. Like, yeah. Where I’m just like, Oh yeah, it’s all orchestra or even like some of the rap shit that’s on there. I can’t rap so I’m not making beats for myself or anything like that. But like, it’s cool. I get to make all these other kinds of music that I like that isn’t necessarily what would make sense in a band context.
Kind of related to that, as far as the different contexts that you play for, how do you prepare for those different kinds of audiences? You played on Friday and then you have a show tonight at Bottom Lounge. How do those shows compare to one another?
I don’t ever try to assume what the audience is going to be like, because I don’t really know. I don’t play a lot of these things. So like, I don’t know, I think maybe it’s just that like at a festival, like, like at a riot fest, there’s a very, could be a lot more people in so I’m trying to just like hit everybody, get everybody, try to communicate. Then Bottom Lounge, it’s a smaller place. So I can kind of see everybody be like, okay. That feels a little bit more normal. Also, it’s going to be ska so that’s going to be a big difference. Like it’s going to just be a vibe, you know? It’s going to be fun. Ska Dream shows are always just a nice time.
I know you’re headed back out on the road soon. Is there anywhere you’re excited to go see?
As far as cities go, I’m excited to go back to Toronto. It’s been a while. I’m really excited to play in New York, I don’t live there anymore, so it’s always nice to go back. We’re playing a show at the South Street Seaport. This pier that we used to go to when we would go to the city for a trip when we were children with our parents. When I was older, I saw a bunch of free shows there. So it’s really exciting to play one of those shows. I’ve wanted to play one of them for forever. So there’s stuff like that. It’s just like, Whoa, this is going to be epic. It’s going to be really fun.
We’re fully student-run college radio, so we love local, independent music. I was wondering if you have any artists that you think deserve a little more love?
Yes. So something I’ve liked recently. I really like Nnamdi, I think his new record is gonna kick ass. This band 2nd Grade from Philadelphia, like a power pop band. They’re really, really good. My buddy Laura Stevenson is always just consistently putting out good, good, good records. JER, who plays in our Ska Dream band, their record is sick. They put out really good music. I just heard the Mo Troper record. I really liked it. Yeah, it’s more like weird power pop kind of stuff. Those are the five I could think of now off the top of my head.
You know a little bit about record labels. You founded Quote Unquote over 15 years ago. How has that sort of evolved and what does that project mean to you?
It’s weird because I kind of stopped doing Quote Unquote once Bandcamp really took off and stuff. When I did it originally that wasn’t a thing. There wasn’t really a place where you could just donate to a band and download the record, or not donate. So it’s kind of like, oh, okay, cool, everybody can do this now. I don’t need to put anybody’s record out. Over the past couple of years, every now and then, friends would be like, hey, look, can I put this out on Quote Unquote? That’s always kind of been the vibe that it’s always been friends who I think are making cool records. I’m like, Yeah, I’ll put that out. That’s kind of held the whole time, but there was definitely a dip there. I was like, Oh, I don’t need to do this now. Now it’s just very chill. It’s always been a pretty chill thing. Maybe there were a couple months there. I was like, All right, we’re really going to do this.
I know the weekend is almost over, but who has been your favorite act you’ve seen already, or who are you most excited to see?
Everybody I’ve seen has been really good. The Linda Lindas were super good. They kicked ass. I’m excited to see Nine Inch Nails. I’ve never seen Nine Inch Nails. What’s that going to be like? I don’t know, but it’s going to be awesome.
The crowds for each night have been so different.
Yeah, yeah. Were you here both nights?
I’ve been here all weekend.
Were you in the pit for My Chemical Romance?
No, I managed to escape that carnage. I was hearing about broken legs and “Step back now!”
I liked the little PSA you did at the beginning of your set. Save everyone.
Yeah, right. Cause that’s what it should be. People should be helping each other. The good people should get together and be like, okay, I can make this situation better.
We’re the good people of punk rock and please be nice to us and others.
Yeah. Taking Back Sunday were really good. We come from the same area, we went to the same high school. I haven’t seen them in a very, very, very, very, very long time.
No high school reunions?
No, haven’t been to any high school reunions. I don’t want to go to a high school reunion.
Scary energy in those places.
Yeah. I can’t even imagine.
I could not conquer that.
Yeah, but it was sick to see them, just slay in front of all these people. Last time I saw them it was probably a very small place. It was like, oh shit, go Taking Back Sunday. Alkaline Trio were really good. I think that’s the extent basically of what I’ve seen, not much. Oh, and The Misfits yesterday. They were good. They were so good. They just hit their guitars like this all the time. It’s like, it’s neat. They’re playing the fastest down strokes possible or they’re bludgeoning the guitars.
I love that. Bludgeoning the guitar. Well, I think that’s sort of all we have. What’s coming up next for you?
We have that tour and then we have some other shows and then we’re chilling out for a little bit. So nothing exciting.
Tour’s exciting, for the fans at least.
That’s true. But we already talked about it, so it’s no longer exciting. It’s not new anymore.
I only need the newest, juiciest gossip and, you know, that’s notoriously what college radio is all about. Well, thank you so much for talking with us, and have a great rest of Riot Fest. We wish you the best.
Thanks so much!