words by Ryan Martin (@ryanmartin182)
Mom Jeans is a four-piece emo outfit hailing from southern California. After releasing their debut Best Buds in 2016, the world was introduced to their bouncy and addictive melodies that set the background for their aching post-breakup lyrics. The album really hit home for a lot of fans and garnered a mass cult following, all anxious to watch the band make their next move. Since then, Mom Jeans have been touring relentlessly, mostly with bands surrounding the independent label, Counter Intuitive Records. CI, (Counter Intuitive) has quickly become one of the most exciting up-and-coming labels in indie music for their roster of fresh and exciting new bands, most of whom exist within the indie/emo scene. Mom Jeans put out their first record on Counter Intuitive and planned to put out their second on SideOneDummy, home to acts such as PUP and Rozwell Kid. But when SideOneDummy began to slip and stopped signing new bands, Mom Jeans took it back to CI to release their second full-length, Puppy Love. I got the chance to chat with lead vocalist and songwriter Eric Butler to get a more in-depth look behind the album.
RM: Was there any pressure during the writing process for the album? Best Buds really clicked with so many people and really brought the band to another level of popularity. Did you feel Puppy Love had to have the same impact or were there any thoughts of trying to capitalize on what made the first record so special?
EB: I mean honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever gone into writing music with an intent of creating an impact, we’ve always just tried to write music that we think sounds cool and that’s fun for us to play. I think all four of us get a lot of gratification out of learning how to play new songs and sharing ideas and trying to make every song as fun as possible to play. For all of us, playing music has always been about having fun, having fun playing music together and getting to spend time together as friends has always been the number one priority. Playing big gigs is always cool and selling records is dope too but at the end of the day we just wanna make music together. In that respect, nothing really changed between best buds and puppy love. I can def say that putting a release together with the expectation that people would be listening to it/anticipating it was definitely new to us, but we really tried to set that aside and just make a record that we could be stoked on no matter what other people think about it.
RM: What was it like putting Puppy Love together? What songs were written first? Were there any that came together quicker than others?
EB: I’m definitely a super slow writer, and it was definitely tough to get the ball rolling as far as writing songs for an album rather than just writing songs. I think sponsor me tape and season 9 were the first songs that I was like “ok these are goin’ on LP 2”, but in general it’s pretty hard for me to keep writing/working on something unless I’m super into it or unless I feel like it’s really going in a direction that I like. From there like usual I brought all the song skeletons to Austin, Bart and Gabe and we hashed them out and everybody wrote parts that made sense and that they liked. Pretty much every song that we’ve put together since best buds (minus the split songs) ended up on puppy love except for maybe one or two.
RM: The CI family is having such an amazing year, it must be pretty surreal at the moment. Has surrounding yourself with like-minded musicians and friends helped push MJ as well as other bands forward creatively?
EB: Absolutely! For us I think it’s really important to be surrounded by like-minded and similarly-oriented people. Playing hundreds of shows a year can get pretty tiring and I think a lot of people get burnt out on playing and touring pretty fast, but for us I feel like every tour or project that we work on is super exciting and super motivating because every single band that’s around us is absolutely killing it. Most of the musical influences that got me inspired and excited to work on new music came from listening to other CI bands like Just Friends, Nervous Dater, Retirement Party, Prince Daddy, and all the extended fam like Chatterbot and Open Door Records bands.
RM: The lyrics on both albums are both very confessional in their own ways. Is it more therapeutic to write the lyrics and then put music to them or to perform the songs live?
EB: I think each is therapeutic in their own way, but like the physical act of playing songs is what compels me the most. Lyrics have always been kind of like a diary where I can express thoughts and feelings that are hard to discuss so plainly otherwise, and actually saying them out loud for real is extremely therapeutic and I feel like it allows me to feel like I’m addressing them by at least acknowledging them. Even just getting lost in a live setting (not even necessarily performing just like playing together) l has always been so addictive to me. There’s a magical moment that happens every once in a while, where things just come together perfectly, and I feel like I forget about everything that’s bothering me and I just zone out on the music. I fkn live for that moment where everything just sounds perfect and new and special.
While Best Buds was more centered around a break-up, Puppy Love deals with voluntarily distancing yourself from those you love. There is an established sense of confidence in Butler’s voice when he details isolating himself. It doesn’t sound like it’s what he wants to do but it also sounds necessary in order for both people to grow and become more individualized.
Butler also takes sharp aim at his own flaws all over the album; what he is putting into his body, his emotions and why he is feeling that way, and efficiently communicating with those around him. Perhaps it’s a way to say those flaws out loud with brute honesty in order to move one step closer to breaking those bad habits.
Musically, the band has never sounded tighter. Bart Starr from Graduating Life has been added as a second guitarist and it really helps fill out the band’s sound. There are more tasty riffs and more transitions that add more depth to each song. (SPOILER ALERT CLICK AWAY NOW) There’s also one really sick part during the outro of Glamorous where Weezer’s Sweater Song is interpolated. Brianda Goyos León, from the CI-signed band Just Friends, appears on the 7th and 10th track and adds a beautiful layer of harmony behind Butler’s voice. (Just Friends recently put out an incredible record called Nothing but Love on Counter Intuitive Records).
RM: I really enjoyed Brianda’s vocals paired with yours on the album. Will there be more vocal collaborations in MJ’s future? If so who would you be interested in collaborating with?
EB: I mean hopefully! I like doing vocal collabs because I feel like I’m honestly not a very good singer so getting objectively talented vocalists to perform is always super fun and I feel like it truly adds an aspect that we couldn’t pull off on our own. Brond is literally the best and having her voice on the record is a huge privilege and I’m so grateful that she was willing to sing on it. As far as the future I can’t really speculate because in general the lyrics are pretty tailor made for me, but you can always count on the day one homies being part of the picture.
RM: You guys have been touring so much! How’s it been? Do you feel you’ll be rested enough before you head out again this fall?
EB: It’s definitely exhausting but we had a really nice break this spring after getting home from tour with Tiny Moving Parts. We took about 3 months off shows and just focused on spending time with our partners and families and made the record and I think it was really worth it. We all literally just got back from a full US tour with Graduating Life (Bart’s project that Austin and I play in) but prior to that it was the longest break we’ve ever had since we started touring. I definitely feel like we’re ready to hit the road in the fall especially because we get to bring so many of our good friends with us.
For an album that deals mostly with self-loathing and distance, it’s hard to find a song on the record that isn’t fun as hell. If pop punk isn’t your cup of tea and it generally makes you cringe, it’s fair to say that this record isn’t going to change your mind very much. There isn’t much that Mom Jeans accomplish on their second album that Fantano would call “reinventing the wheel of emo”. Basically, meaning in some sense it’s just another pop punk record. What makes this album special is how much it allows you to become invested in it. Best Buds offered a comfort blanket for those reeling from a break-up. It was an album that made you feel better musically but also addressed how you might be feeling so you don’t feel so alone. Puppy Love functions the same way and with each listen, you may find yourself sinking deeper into your own feelings and how it relates to what Butler is saying. A perfect example of the therapeutic effects emo/pop-punk music has to its long-time listeners.
RM: I love the TV references scattered throughout the album (Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Workaholics, Rick & Morty). What are your top favorite shows of all time?
EB: I’ll cut it off at 5 to save us all some time aha. I gotta go with Grey’s Anatomy, Futurama, Freaks and Geeks, Bob’s Burgers, and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.
RM: Do you enjoy being a musician more or less since graduating from school?
EB: I don’t know if I enjoy music any more or less than I used to, I think the role of music in my life has just changed dramatically. I feel like playing in a band used to be a super small portion of my life that I loved a lot but didn’t get to prioritize because I had to focus on school and work and being a functioning human. Nowadays my whole life is the band, from my friends to my daily priorities to my long-term goals to the way I love my daily life are contextualized by this band and the experiences I’ve had playing music. I’m entirely grateful that I get to walk this path and though I think I definitely don’t think appreciate music as a whole ecosystem as much as I used to I still enjoy playing songs with my friends as much as I did when I started my first band when I was 12.
RM: Any long-term goals for the future you’d like to share?
EB: Just trying to enjoy this ride and have as much fun as we can. We have a big tour coming up in the fall and some plans to take the MJ train international at the end of 2018/beginning of 2019. At the end of the day we’re just here to have fun and keep playing shows as long as people are willing to come and see us and hang out!