If you’ve only heard one thing about Bomb The Music Industry!, it’s that the New York state act used to give away its music online and spray-painted fans’ T-shirts while on tour rather than selling merchandise. Between that and the punk act’s moniker, you’re likely to think the outfit’s the most raging anti-establishment act this side of Repeater. You’re half right.
The band’s evolved past its most avidly antimaterialistic moments. Its latest album, Vacation, is its third album to be released on CD, although the band doesn’t seem too impressed with keeping abreast of release schedules. (“I think it’s in stores. Go to a store and see if it’s in there and then let us know,” singer-guitarist Jeff Rosenstock says. He’s only half joking.) It’s also evolved past some of the financial constraints that kept it from selling junk to its fans in the first place. The A.V. Club spoke with Rosenstock about the differences between growing up and selling out before the act’s appearance at M-Y Crawlspace Sunday, Aug. 7.
A.V. Club: You’re still playing a lot of DIY venues and house shows on this tour. Is that important for the band to stick to that level of the music industry?
Jeff Rosenstock: That’s kind of our community. We generally play those places until it becomes not fun to see us in those places because it gets too crowded and too weird. Then we’ll play in venues in those cities. We don’t try to remain independent. We do everything ourselves. We do it, so why wouldn’t we do it. It’s not a matter of, “Oh, we only want to play house shows.” Sometimes it’s the best situation. Sometimes, the best situation will be a venue. I’ve dealt with awesome people at big clubs and I’ve dealt with shitty, shitty people at DIY venues, so it’s not that doing something DIY, everything is automatically awesome and everything is all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes you show up and it’s like, “Oh, there’s a show? Get the dog shit out of the living room, and I guess you can play.” Sometimes that happens.
AVC: Do you ever feel like there’s an idealized view of the DIY world, where in reality it can be just as screwy as the mainstream music business?
JR: I feel that a lot of people think that just because they have a house that people play at, then that’s it. They don’t think about genuinely being courteous and friendly to people when they roll up. It doesn’t happen all the time, but doing something DIY doesn’t necessary exempt you from assholes. Assholes are all over the fucking place.
AVC: Do you notice a different atmosphere when playing a DIY venue as opposed to playing a club? As in, DIY venues are friendlier audiences and more accepting?
JR: Actually, no. The difference between playing a house show and playing a club is that the club has a stage and I can run around more. I actually feel that most bands feel like that. When we play a club, we actually get to have energy and run all over the place. When we play a house show, usually we’re just cramped up in the corner. Even that intense vibe that everybody feels, that’s just from being crammed in and sweating all together.
AVC: You’ve said that you got the “bomb” portion of your band’s name from graffiti culture, where it means tagging all over the place, rather than as some sort of reference to violent overthrow of major labels.
JR: It’s a double entendre. When I came up with the name Bomb The Music Industry, I was watching a lot of Style Wars and getting into all that stuff. I just thought that the idea of bombing being creating something as well as being destructive, that was just kind of cool.
AVC: So it represents destroying something in order to build something, like scraping off a lot to build a new building?
JR: Definitely. Not that that’s important in the punk world. Everybody talks about smashing the system or overthrowing the government or whatever. All right, dude. What are you going to do? What are you going to make? What are you going to put in its place that’s better than the thing that’s bad? I think that’s a lot better than just saying, “Fuck all this shit.”
AVC: That seems more in tune with what the first wave of punk acts were shooting for, sort of rebooting the music industry.
JR: Those are the punk bands that I was inspired by, the Fugazis, the Minor Threats, the Hüsker Düs, and the Black Flags and stuff like that. We never really had the Sex Pistols’ “no future” thing inside of us as much as that other stuff.
AVC: Was Fugazi’s anti-corporate and anti-merchandise stance an influence on Bomb The Music Industry?
JR: I guess so. Everything we’ve done has been a guess at what we think would be a cool thing to do or the right thing to do. There hasn’t really been a plan, like, “Oh, Fugazi did this like this, and so we’re going to do this like this.” It’s more like, “Man, it sucks that we played this show, and it sucked that there were people who wanted to see us that couldn’t get into it because they weren’t old enough. Let us only play all-ages shows from now on.” I think it started out that I was pretty inspired that Fugazi pulled it off, but it’s not like we’re reading the Ian MacKaye rulebook in the van all day long.
AVC: At the same time, don’t you think that part of the popular mythos of Bomb The Music Industry! hinged on the fact that you didn’t sell records or T-shirts or anything else?
JR: That was just we wanted people to hear our band, and I didn’t want someone who didn’t have $10 not to be able to hear our music. I didn’t want to go to a show and be all, “Buy this! Buy this! Buy this!” We just wanted to be like, “Whatever. Thanks for being here. If you want to buy our songs, you can. If you don’t, you don’t have to.” Early on, it was like we didn’t have shit. We didn’t have anything to sell. If you want to support us by buying something, sorry! You can’t. You cannot give us money. Then we began to tour more, and were like, “If someone wants to buy a record, then we can give them a record and not say, ‘Fuck you, you can’t buy a record.’”
AVC: It seems like you’re acutely aware of the difference between bands bowing to the necessity of selling merchandise and turning yourself into a commercial for band merchandise.
JR: We’re doing our best to just avoid that commercialism in punk rock. As we sell records and we sell shirts, everything we’ve done has been pretty, I guess, calculated. We’re trying our hardest to make sure we’re doing it all right. We’re doing it in a way that we would feel comfortable with if they were doing it toward us.
AVC: If bands jump into that world too soon, they have $800 invested in T-shirts and another $700 sunk into 7-inches, and you’ve painted yourself into a corner where you have to really jockey to sell your stuff just to recoup your investment.
JR: You’re 150 percent correct, dude. We only started selling stuff when we knew we weren’t going to lose all this money on shirts. I’ve been in bands before where we didn’t record our record because we lost $1,000 in T-shirts on tour. That’s fucking stupid! We just didn’t want to do that. When we got our first record, it was, “Yeah, you can put it out and we don’t owe you anything. You can just take some free records.” When we pressed shirts, we knew we were going to sell that number of shirts. Even now, our bass player gets so pissed off at me because I order such small quantities, because I just don’t want to be in debt. The last thing any of us to need in this band is to be a stressful thing. It should be a fun thing where we play music together.
I honestly think more people know us because we gave away our records and spray-painted T-shirts than if we had done it in the conventional way. There’s no doubt in my mind that 10 times more people heard of it because of that.
AVC: Isn’t kind of ironic that your anti-marketing side turned out to be a major marketing asset?
JR: [Laughs.] I guess. It’s not ironic, because that’s what I was hoping for. I was hoping people would hear the music. In no way did any of us expect this was actually going to work. Nobody had really done that before, and all of our friends were yelling at us. If I was betting on it, I would have bet against it. It’s nice that it worked out like that. We’ve been a band sustaining ourselves for six years without making anybody buy anything, which I think is pretty neat.