Matt Korvette of the punk band Pissed Jeans on pain, fashion fetishes, and redirecting the male gaze

When Matt Korvette howls, “You’re in the hallway screaming/ People try to get by, but you’re screaming!” on the lead single off the new LP by his band, Pissed Jeans, you get the sense you’re listening to a deeply frustrated man.

Korvette, 30, has fronted Philadelphia-based Pissed Jeans for a decade. In that time, he’s led his band of hardcore/speed-sludge practitioners from dingy Allentown basements to success on exalted indie label Sub Pop records. A lanky, unassuming guy with short-cropped brown hair, Korvette hardly seems like the kind who pens and spews some of the funniest, angriest lyrics in his generation of punks. In fact, Korvette spends his days working as an insurance claims adjuster.

In February 2013, Pissed Jeans releases their fourth LP, Honeys. The record is more demented, furious, and hilarious than their previous work. Korvette chatted with Guernica about the sexual frustration expressed in the new batch of songs, misogyny in the punk scene, and his fashion fetish.

Alex Scordelis for Guernica

Guernica: There’s a song on Honeys called “Male Gaze,” and the narrator of the song criticizes men for objectifying women. But then there’s a twist in the narrative when the speaker admits to being just as guilty of leering at women. Do you grapple with masculinity in relation to sexism?

Matt Korvette: Yeah, definitely. That song’s coming from a very honest place. It’s not overtly fictional. It’s kind of learning a lot about the ways I’ve behaved and the way society forces guys to behave. I want to go against that but also own up for it at the same time. It’s about realizing that change should begin with me. I don’t want to preach to others and say, “Sorry ladies, that sucks, but I’m gonna go look at these boobs now and comment on them.” I want to change my behavior for the better.

Guernica: That song’s interesting because you’re almost apologetic for being a man. Do you ever feel conflicted that your chosen form of expression—hardcore/punk rock—is so male-dominated?

Matt Korvette: It’s a misconception that women are at hardcore shows only because their boyfriends tell them to go. I feel like so many women do want to go to hardcore shows because they genuinely love it—more than your average dude, even. I see that from playing shows. Women come and have a great time, and there’s no better feeling than entertaining women. It’s way better than entertaining a room full of sweaty guys—that’s for sure.

I want to be clear that I’m taking women seriously as just human beings. I don’t want to put them on a pedestal or take men down a notch. It’d be nice to just not have this as a factor. Like, if there’s a band with a female drummer, she should not be looked at suspiciously.

Photo courtesy Diana Wong

Guernica: Speaking of live performances, I saw Pissed Jeans open for Mudhoney a while back, and you were dancing so hard that your pants literally ripped off your body.

Matt Korvette: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Guernica: I’d never seen that happen to pants before. Is there a certain performer who influences the way you move onstage?

Matt Korvette: There are a lot of influences at play. I think about it and watch other people perform and admire what they do. I guess if there’s one specific thing—and it didn’t really necessarily shape me, but it inspires me and it’s something I aspire to—it would be a YouTube video of The Birthday Party performing on some German television program.

It’s called “Götterdämmerung”—that’s the name of the German TV show. The performance is just so fucking good. Nick Cave’s got all the best moves. And they’re just the coolest looking band. Each guy in the band has such killer moves in his own way, and that’s been an inspiring thing that I think about pretty often. I think the song is “Junkyard.” That’s the number one thing. But I’ll see people perform and think, “That’s a cool way to hold a microphone.”

Guernica: When you’re performing, what do you feel like you’re projecting to the audience?

Matt Korvette: I would say a mental flush, maybe. I get it all out, you know? So often, I’m sitting still and quiet, and I can go hours without speaking. I’m just typing or driving or whatever. And I don’t often go to the gym, and I don’t really play sports right now, unfortunately. I wish I had more time. So I have to do something just to get stuff out, and music’s such a good way to do it because you can get away with anything.

Guernica: You mentioned typing. Do you mind talking about what your office job is?

Matt Korvette: It’s pretty much just a corporate insurance gig. It’s probably exactly what you imagine it to be.

Guernica: The first single of the new record’s called “Bathroom Laughter.” There’s a lyric that’s repeated, “Dance floor touching leads to hallway screaming.” And in the song “You’re Different (In Person),” you talk about meeting someone online, going on a date, not getting a call back, and experiencing the ensuing hurt. On your past records, you often deal with the pain caused by relationships and sexuality. Why focus on this instead of the joy?

Matt Korvette: It’s a way of getting it out there, and once it’s out there it’s no longer painful. Like, if I was afraid of jumping off the high dive at the pool, and I wrote a song about high dives, I’d probably feel less fearful of doing it.

It’s almost like having a therapist. Music’s a good way to get rid of stuff. If I have a great day at work, nobody’s gonna really care to hear that song about my great day. I’d rather just experience the great day, and flush it out when something bad happens.

If I’m thinking about beautiful women in my head, they’re wearing beautiful clothes. They’re not naked. I can totally understand if someone wants to see naked people, but that’s just not for me.

Guernica: When you’ve been writing, have you ever felt inspired to write something positive, like a love song?

Matt Korvette: It depends on how you look at “positive.” On the new record, “Loubs” is pretty positive.

Guernica: Yeah, let’s talk about that song. You have an interest in fashion: you’ve written about fashion for Spin, and you have this new song “Loubs” that fetishizes shoes. Do you have a fashion fetish?

Matt Korvette: Oh, yeah. I’m totally into clothes.

Guernica: What is it about clothes that you fetishize?

Matt Korvette: I don’t know. I think that’s a deep psychological question that I’m not equipped to answer. If I’m thinking about beautiful women in my head, they’re wearing beautiful clothes. They’re not naked. It’s a personal preference, really.

I can totally understand if someone wants to see naked people, and that’s what they love the most, but that’s just not for me. I prefer the mystery of being able to hide things and make you wonder what’s beneath. That’s just part of my nature. I’d rather listen to a band that I really don’t know anything about than some band who’s on Twitter telling you what they ate for breakfast. I like a little mystery in things.

Guernica: Do you save items of clothing from people you’ve dated?

Matt Korvette: I’ve never taken it to that level.

Guernica: How did you start writing about fashion for Spin?

Matt Korvette: A guy over at Spin just asked me, simple as that. I think he was aware of my interest in it. Sub Pop would ask its bands if they’d do top ten lists sometimes. Year-end, top ten bands you’ve played with, top ten records, or whatever. And I did top ten clothing purchases.

Guys are misogynist everywhere. There’s no safe place to go. There’s no subculture that’s free of it. From Wall Street to the people in Occupy, there are probably just as many creepy, misogynist sexual harassers.

Guernica: A lot of band dudes say they got into music to meet women. Would you say that stereotype holds true for you?

Matt Korvette: No, it was just to be creative and have fun with my friends, really. I’ve been in bands with some of the same guys in Pissed Jeans since I was fourteen or fifteen. I don’t think I even spoke to a girl until I was eighteen or nineteen. So…

Guernica: Wait, I gotta call you out on that. You didn’t speak to a girl till you were eighteen or nineteen?

Matt Korvette: Well, I’m exaggerating. But yeah, I was too mortified or whatever, and too busy having fun being into skating and pro wrestling and punk to try to establish a relationship with a woman.

Guernica: Would you say that being in a band and playing music bolstered your confidence in that department?

Matt Korvette: Probably a little bit. But it took a while for the band to make any difference with that. As my confidence rose, I feel like that was independent of whatever music I was producing.

Guernica: Is there a particular Pissed Jeans song that you think is more sexual than others—lyrically or even rhythmically?

Matt Korvette: There are a lot of sexual Pissed Jeans songs. You could make a mix tape at this point.

Guernica: What would be side A, track one?

Matt Korvette: Probably “Boring Girls.” A lot of people like that song, and it’s simple. That song’s about being conflicted with having an attraction to women who I know I have no mental or emotional connection with and trying to figure out how to make that work.

Guernica: A lot of lyrics on the current album deal with having arrested development, being an adult but still acting emotionally like a teenager. Is that something that you still deal with personally?

Matt Korvette: Probably. I think I’m aware of it, and I work on trying to improve myself in these ways, especially with socializing. I think I’ve gotten better. I mean, I feel like I’m way more advanced as far as knowing how to talk to other people than others my age. But I’m certainly a work in progress. I’m more mature now than I was when I was twenty.

Guernica: When Pissed Jeans is on tour, do you ever encounter bands who still embody that ancient stereotype of sexist cavemen cruising for groupies? Does that still exist?

Matt Korvette: A lot of people like to think, “Oh, those frat guys were hitting on those girls. It’s a good thing I’m in the punk scene.” But guys are misogynist everywhere. There’s no safe place to go. There’s no subculture that’s free of it. From Wall Street to the people in Occupy, there’s probably just as many creepy, misogynist sexual harassers. I don’t encounter it that often at the shows we play, but I might not be paying close enough attention.

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