(must read til end): the Mom Jeans. interview

From California to Columbus and beyond, Mom Jeans. frontman Eric Butler talks Puppy Love, his whirlwind last two years, and what he's learned along the way.

by Claire Brom


Claire: We’re gonna kick things off here in what I’m sure is a super surprising turn of events: let’s talk about your new album. Puppy Love came out just over two months ago. Various people have their views on it and how it’s different from Best Buds, but I’m interested to hear your perspective on it. In terms of new elements and musical influences, do you think your sound has changed?

Eric: I don’t think any band’s goal is to make the same record over and over again. The way that I think about it at its core is that at the end of the day, we’re all just normal people. We’re just all fucking kids from California, and we all have our own problems and shit to deal with. And everybody grows and changes a lot in the course of two years, even outside of the musical context, and I think one of the things we always try to do as a band is to just be ourselves. I think that’s the most important thing to us. We never want to be disingenuous, because there’s just no point in not being yourself, you know what I mean? And so, as a result, the sonic and lyrical content on the album was bound to be different. But we also did absolutely take an active role—or at least I did, just because I wrote the lyrics and stuff—I wanted to make an album that was different and do something that I thought was cool. At the end of the day, we’re the ones that have to play the songs and we’re the ones that have to live with the music, and I really wanted to make an album full of songs that were really, really fun to play live. Songs that were really musically interesting, that had a lot of guitar stuff going on ‘cause I really like playing guitar [laughs]. I don’t think I really took the time until after the album was written to realize how different it was from Best Buds, but I’m content on where things are and I like to think that anybody who likes our band understands that we’re just people and that we have a right to grow and change and do what we want in the same way that any other person does. We’re just trying to be ourselves, and Puppy Love was what happened as a result of that. If that means no big sing-along choruses, then that means no big sing-along choruses. I love the songs, I love playing them. I’m super proud of Austin, Bart and Gabe for all the work they did. I’m super proud of Ryan for the work that he did engineering the record. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. If people are listening to it, they’re listening to it, but I can go to bed any day of the week happy with that record and happy with what we made.

Claire: That’s definitely the dream. Sort of on the topic of musical influences, I know that Modern Baseball is one of your guys’ major sources of inspiration. I’m a huge fan, too, so I have to know: what is your favorite Modern Baseball song?

Eric: Oh man. Can I pick a record, not a song? I guess I’d have to say Tears Over Beers, ‘cause that was the song that got me. I listened to that song for the first time and was like, holy shit, I’ve never heard anything like this before. Or at least nothing that I've heard has connected with me the way that this song has. That band, in my opinion, was the essence of being genuine and was the essence of being yourself. I think when we first started the band, I definitely did want to be Modern Baseball. But over time, I’ve been doing my own thing and finding my own journey and I really am glad that people have been flexible and patient with us in allowing us to do that. But yeah dude, that song, when I first heard it, I thought it was so real and raw and it just felt like something totally different from anything I’d heard before.

Claire: Yeah, and it’s good to see that you guys are keeping that genuineness alive in music, because it’s really lacking a lot of the time. I think that’s a big reason why people are so drawn to your music. That, and the song names. Nobody tops your guys’ song naming game. How does that process go down?

Eric: At this point honestly, it’s just shit that makes me laugh. I’m a really kind of high strung, anxious, depressed person, like all the time--that’s just how my brain works. So for me, music is all about trying to enjoy myself, trying to have fun, and trying to make myself laugh, and I think the song titles are just one small way that I can do that. If you picked any of our song titles, there’s a funny story behind it I could tell you. I also think it’s almost disarming because when people see our song names, they really don’t know what to expect. Or if they think they know what to expect, they’re probably wrong. And if they think they know who we are without listening to us, that’s not who I want supporting our band anyways. And so, with the song titles, for me, it’s an easy way to show people right away from first glance that we don’t take ourselves too seriously at all. We’re just fucking around and trying to have a good time.

Claire: Which is yet another reason that people relate so much to what you guys do—that sense of just trying to be who you are and have a good time no matter what you're going through.

Eric: Yeah, totally. And I’m never gonna be bummed or disappointed with anybody who says our music is basic, or that it’s generic. We’re not trying to impress anybody. Any of the things we’ve gotten to do or any of the things we’ve done like touring or shows that we’ve played have just been a result of people supporting us. I’ve never had the stance of trying to force people to listen to my music, that’s just never been my M.O. So if people don’t like our band or don’t like our music, that’s totally fine. I don’t take it personally at all. For me and my mental health, and for my life, I want to surround myself with people that think about things the same way that I do. I want to surround myself with people who gas me up, I want to surround myself with people that make me feel good and make me feel accepted and valued for being myself. And I think there are so many ways that people feel like they can’t be themselves. They feel like their art won’t be taken seriously if they make themselves vulnerable or if they just lay themselves out on the table, and that’s been kind of the main thing I’ve always tried to fight against. I never want to struggle with being myself, and I never want anybody who comes to our shows to feel like they can’t be themselves in our atmosphere. And of course there are limitations to that—you still have to be respectful and thoughtful about other people and their experiences. You can’t just do whatever the fuck you want all the time and expect there not to be consequences, obviously. Like, don’t be a drunk asshole and don’t talk over the quiet band. But pretty much, I want people to have fun, and if coming to a Mom Jeans. show doesn’t sound fun to you, then don’t fucking come, I don’t want you there [laughs], you know what I mean? Like, if you’re not going to have a good time, then don’t feel obligated. If you don’t enjoy our music don’t listen to it. There are so many other bands and so many other good people, like we’re not the only band in the world that is worthy of support, or that is worthy of listenership. There are so many great artists, so many underappreciated musicians that deserve so much more than they get. I just want people to support something. I just want people to give a shit about something. Even if it’s not us, I just want people to care, and to be willing to try and do something positive for somebody, regardless of who it is.

Claire: And that thought process definitely shows--you guys are always supporting your labelmates and promoting other bands. You just played Riot Fest with a couple of your labelmates in Chicago this weekend, too, how was that?

Eric: I had, like, the best day ever. It was fucking unreal, Riot Fest was insane. We were a little bit bummed ‘cause they changed the schedule on us at the last minute. We were supposed to be playing on another stage with Just Friends and Save Face, but they moved us over to the main stage at the last minute, which we were kind of bummed about. But it ended up being an amazing experience. It’s no secret that on the professional, corporate end of Riot Fest, things were not done the way they normally are this year. But the people on the ground that we met, making the festival happen, the people that were doing the stage sound, the people that were running people around in golf carts, the actual staff was so accommodating, they were all so nice. Going into a festival like Riot Fest, I would really expect people to treat us like shit, honestly. We’re not Underoath, we’re not the Frights, we’re not Swimmers, we’re not these huge bands bringing out thousands and thousands of kids, so I don’t expect anybody to treat us that way, especially when there are so many other artists that you could go see that day. But we felt so heard, so listened to, and so appreciated. We got a bunch of free stuff that they sent us. It was really an incredible experience. Like, I play trombone in Just Friends—I'm not on their tracks or anything, I’m just a live member—and I’m just endlessly grateful that I got to see [Just Friends] fill the big shoes of that stage and use their platform to be something amazing. I owe Sam everything. He’s one of my best friends in the entire world. I’ve learned everything I know about being a musician and being a good person from him. And seeing other people that I don’t know personally giving them the recognition that I know they deserve—same thing with Save Face—there’s no better feeling in the world than seeing people you love succeed. I cried afterwards. I was just so proud to see my friends up there doing the big things none of us ever thought that we would do. And to not only get to experience that, but to experience it together, was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m really, really grateful to Riot Fest for making that possible for us.

Claire: That sounds like it was amazing, I’m glad Chicago treated you guys well. And I’m also really glad to hear this tour has been going so well. You guys are ten days , and already about three-quarters of the way across the country. How are you holding up?

Eric: It’s been a little bit rocky. No tour is perfect, and I’m certainly not a perfect person. I have a lot of issues with communication and expressing the things I need from my bandmates and tourmates in a healthy way. And every tour we do, my high stress definitely rubs off on everyone else, but that’s something that I’ve been working on and something I’ve hopefully been getting better at. It’s all a learning experience, I’m trying to be patient with myself and with my bandmates. I think all anyone wants is to feel valued and to feel heard, so as long as we can do that, things will go well.

Claire: And they seem to be so far—you guys are going international in a couple of months, first to Mexico, then to Europe. How exciting is that?

Eric: It doesn’t feel real. I think because we’re so focused on doing this tour right now and getting this tour out of the way, I don’t think I’ve had the time to fully come to terms with it. It’s probably not going to hit me til’ like a week before we leave. But everything this band is doing right now is beyond all of my wildest dreams. My best-case scenario when we started this band was to maybe play for a hundred people, put out a record, and maybe go on a tour—not even to have people come see us on tour, just to get to do it and have that experience. And the fact that people keep coming to see us, and that new people come to our shows—I meet a new friend or a new person that impacts me every day on this tour—I'm just really grateful to have these experiences. It’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think there are so many people that wish that they could do it, they just don’t have the chance. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to surround myself with people like Bart and Austin and Gabe and Just Frends and the whole crew. We work together as a team, and everyone just gets it. It’s really cool to feel like you’re part of something that’s bigger than you or even your band. It really feels like we’re fostering a community of bands and people and musicians that have the same ideals and goals. If anything, I hope that people will see what we and Just Friends are doing right now, and it'll give them hope that they can do the same thing. If you’re willing to put the work in, if you’re willing to punish yourself and go on 45-day tours just to get your music in front of people, if you’re willing to potentially put yourself in debt to record an album... if you’re willing to do that shit and kill yourself at anything 100%, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. Obviously, there’s a lot of luck involved, and a lot of timing involved, but I think, for us, the M.O. for this band is that we don’t know what we can accomplish until we try. I mean, if we try and we fail, that’s cool, and we learn from it. But we won’t go to Europe if we don’t try, and so we tried, and it worked out. It builds confidence. You start thinking, “well, this thing worked out, so maybe this thing will work out”. A lot of the time we try to stay grounded as a band and be realistic about the fact that not everybody likes equivocal emo music, but that’s ok. If we put ourselves out there, we’re going to find like-minded individuals and getting to have these experiences is so worth it. I wouldn’t trade that for any amount of financial or nominal success. It really feels like we’re a part of something special, and that’s a really, really cool feeling.

Claire: Building that community the past two years must have been a whirlwind experience. Looking back on it all, what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned? Any advice for your past self?

Eric: Be yourself. That’s the most important thing. Regardless if anybody cares about your band, you’re the one who has to go to bed at the end of the day and live with the decisions that you’ve made, with the art that you’ve produced. And there’s so much bullshit out there, so much negativity, and so many disingenuous people doing things for the wrong reasons—if you’re not doing what makes you happy, there’s no point. If you can’t enjoy playing music in a basement with your friends with nobody watching you, and still have fun, no amount of playing is going to make you feel happy or validated. You really have to find yourself. And if you respect yourself enough to be yourself and to be genuine then other people will recognize that, and I feel like that’s the atmosphere we’ve been trying to cultivate as a band. Over the course of the past few years we’ve been able to amass this crazy platform and I just want to be here to remind people that they can do this if they want to if they just be themselves. ‘Cause the bands that connect the most with me are filled with people who love what they do, and who wouldn’t trade playing music with their friends for anything in the world. Everybody deserves that experience. Anybody could do it, and anybody should do it. The feeling of getting to play your first show with your friends or putting out your first recording, it really doesn’t get better than that. People need to get more comfortable being proud of themselves. We like to get caught up in the numbers and that’s not what it’s about. It’s just about doing something. If you just do something, you don’t have to live with the fear of wondering what your life would have been like if you did. And I never want to be thinking back on all the things I wish I had done and the chances I wished I had taken. 99% of the time if you just put yourself out there, it pays off, I really think so.

Puppy Love is now streaming on Spotify, bandcamp, Apple Music, and SoundCloud.
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