When Jeff Rosenstock's band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches broke up in 2004, instead of starting a new band, he decided to record a bunch of weird songs alone on his computer and just give them away for free on the internet. He called this project "Bomb the Music Industry."
"When I realized I could record in my room, I went wild," he says. "I recorded everything I was thinking. Instead of waiting for people to practice or CDs to be pressed, if I thought of a song, I just recorded it and put it out."
Seven years later, Bomb the Music Industry, now a five-piece band, is one of the most important names in the underground punk rock scene—if not the strangest. Through the course of the group's career, they've gained a reputation for being all over the map genre-wise and playing insane, cathartic music with a no-holds-barred attitude. They play pop-punk, hardcore, ska, electronica, indie rock, circus music and anything else they can think of, often times all within the confines of one song.
The one rule about Bomb the Music Industry is that it is constantly evolving. The early albums were just Rosenstock. Then he went the other direction and recorded with a rotating cast of 30-plus musicians. But over the past couple years he's formed a more consistent band with which he tours and records. The release of their sixth album, Vacation, marks what might be Rosenstock's most unique and interesting album to date because of its subtlety and restraint.
"Goodbye Cruel World was so spastic and insane, people are like, 'That's a crazy person,'" Rosenstock says of the band's third album. "I wanted to keep [Vacation] subtly interesting."
Instead of bouncing around between different styles of music every few seconds, Rosenstock has really focused on his songwriting and written songs unlike anything he's done before. For instance, the opening track, "Campaign for a Better Next Weekend," begins with a two-minute keyboard/vocal drone. "Sponge Board/Baby Waves" is a 40-second Beach Boys-esque, vocal-harmony-laden interlude. "Sick, Later" sounds almost like a Superchunk song. "The Shit that You Hate" is a six-minute amphitheater-rock ballad. And it just keeps going from there.
What's missing are some of the identifying traits from his past albums. There is, for instance, almost a complete lack of ska, hardcore and synth sections on Vacation. "I was trying not to add unnecessary parts, basically," he says. "I was trying to not put a ska part in or a hardcore part just because we're a band that puts ska parts and hardcore parts in."
Rosenstock says the biggest change he's made on this album is the method he used to write the lyrics. Previously, writing had always been an outlet for Rosenstock when he was feeling negative. This time around, he consciously chose to write songs when he was feeling good. Vacation showcases that shift in tone.
"It's not as pessimistic, like the world is ending cause I'm in a bad mood," he says. "This record is like, 'Alright. Things are messed up, but I can deal with it,'"
As Rosenstock wrote more and more songs for Vacation, he began to notice a theme. He was reminded of a time recently when he found himself barely leaving the house, just watching a lot of TV, eating pasta and drinking root beer, being complacent and not wanting to take risks. He eventually got fed up with living that way.
"A lot of the record stems from the feeling that if I take chances, bad shit will happen," he says. "But that's way better than sitting inside being paralyzed by fear."
Another big change was when Rosenstock decided to start his own record label, Really Records, to put the album out. Even though Bomb the Music Industry has always given away their albums online—and continue to do so—the physical CDs and vinyl have been released by Asian Man Records.
"We were really comfortable with Asian Man Records. With this record, we were like, 'Let's make ourselves a little bit uncomfortable,'" Rosenstock says.
So far, he's quite uncomfortable running his own label, but is working through it anyway. "It feels weird," he says. "We're doing this enormous press mail thing for this record. It's like, 'Yup, send this to Rolling Stone. That's four dollars in the trash.'"
Maybe the mainstream music industry will continue to ignore Bomb the Music Industry. For Rosenstock, it doesn't really matter. They have their own way of doing things, and that's what counts. But Vacation is the kind of album that could very well appeal to a wider audience without losing the fans they already have.
Bomb the Music Industry plays the Zootown Arts Community Center Wednesday, August 10, at 8 PM with The Sidekicks, Haircuts, and The Have To's. $8.