“Everyone has someone they really despise,” surmises Matt Korvette between bites of a vegan sloppy-joe sandwich at the Royal Tavern. “I’ll never stab anyone in the face, but I’ll be happy when someone I hate dies from cancer. I just quietly, patiently hope for the worst.”
These thoughts are inspired by “Cafeteria Food,” a song from Korvette’s band Pissed Jeans’ new album, Honeys. An office worker sits quietly at his cubicle anticipating the death of his “project manager” and a “big-time broker.” But this acrimonious man is no lunatic. He would never consider murdering those he loathes.
His plan is far more challenging, exhausting — more human. He’s waiting for his asshole colleagues to die from natural causes, a process that could take many, many years.
He’s counting down the days. And when the day finally comes, and they’re dead, he feels like he won the Super Bowl. He feels like Jesus Christ. He wishes he had his tap shoes on so he could sneak into the bathroom and do a little happy dance while his co-workers squeeze out phony tears in the lunchroom. Tonight, he’ll sleep better than he’s slept in forever.
At the Royal, I ask Korvette to describe himself in three words.
A mischievous grin forms on his face, and he answers within seconds, enunciating each word perfectly with brief pauses in between.
“Back in elementary school,” he continues, “people had to write down three nice things about everyone else in the class and read them out loud. I’d always get ‘funny.’ But I got sick of it. If someone got ‘attractive’ every time, they’d probably wish others would care more about their personality. No matter what you get, you always want something else.”
Envy and hate have pumped through the heart of Pissed Jeans since the Philadelphia punk band’s beginning. And these feelings, combined with Korvette’s bleak sense of humor, have grown stronger with each of its four albums, culminating in the wondrously elephantine clusterfuck of animus that is Honeys. Their third release on Sub Pop is all about distorted, chiseled power riffs and skull-hammering beats. From the post-My War sludge of “Chain Worker” to the stampeding hardcore of “Health Plan” to the grunge-nodding howls of “Male Gaze,” it’s the band’s most diverse offering yet.
Upon diving into Pissed Jeans’ unrelentingly vindictive discography, and especially after witnessing the band’s notoriously rumbustious, oftentimes dangerous live performances, it’s understandable how someone could think the four members are insane nihilists devoted solely to the destruction of all things civilized and sacred.
Understandable, sure. But false.
Korvette (vocals), Brad Fry (guitar), Randy Huth (bass) and Sean McGuinness (drums) are four of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. When Korvette arrives late to dinner, he apologizes profusely while holding the pub door open for me. A gentleman! The next morning, he makes an additional apology via email. Such civility!
They’re all in their early 30s, with full-time jobs. McGuinness has worked at Resurrection Ale House since it opened in 2009. Huth has been bartending at the Khyber since 2005. Fry, the only one who doesn’t reside in Philadelphia, lives and works in Bethlehem. “I work for a company that contracts out accounts-receivable stuff,” he says. “I supervise 15 people older than me, and all the typical office stereotypes you can think of apply.”
Korvette’s situation’s a bit more complicated. Unlike the others, he’s not sure any of his co-workers know he’s in Pissed Jeans. On the record, all he’s willing to say is: “I work in insurance,” the job’s “pretty mundane” and he was hired within two weeks of graduating from college. He’s had the same job for 10 years; he doesn’t talk about Pissed Jeans at work.
They’re all homeowners now, and either married or in deeply committed relationships. When McGuinness refers to his girlfriend as his “girlfriend,” he comments on how insufficient the title feels. “It’s stupid to call her that,” he says. “She’s so much more than my girlfriend.” Huth says something similar. Fry and Korvette are both married.
Finally, the big one. With the first arrival in 2011, they all became fathers within one year of each other. Korvette, Huth and McGuinness have sons; Fry, the first to have a child, has a daughter. And just a few weeks ago, Fry learned that his wife’s pregnant again. When we spoke, it was before he’d told his bandmates the news. He said he was nervous, but not as much as the first time, since now it’s something they’ve all been through together once already.
“Still, it’s gonna be crazy,” admits Fry. “We have this album coming out and tours coming up. ... But, like everything else with Pissed Jeans, we’ll make it work somehow. It won’t hinder the band, but it will be harder for me and my wife. If we ever want to go do anything, now we have to find a sitter to watch two kids instead of one.”
“My only real fear,” he confesses, “is that one day I’ll have to tell my kids what the name of my band is.”
Korvette, Fry and Huth grew up in Nazareth, Pa. Fry and Huth attended the same daycare center and have known each other since they were 2 years old. They met Korvette when the three attended Nazareth High School, quickly bonding over hardcore and punk music.
“They were very creative even back then,” recalls Korvette. “I remember their individualism and their fashion — band T-shirts, homemade punk clothes — because they stood out visually. I was trying to do the same thing, so I looked up to them. They were going to fire halls to see hardcore shows a few years ahead of me and were involved in a subculture that I didn’t grasp at the time.”
Fry and Huth had already been playing in bands, but the first one they started with Korvette was the Ultimate Warriors, a project that combined powerviolence and wrestling-inspired theatricality. The Warriors released seven 7-inches and one LP titled Our Gimmick Is Wrestling. On YouTube, there’s a 22-second clip from a gig where Fry and Korvette thrash around while wearing wrestling masks.
Next came the Gatecrashers, with Korvette, Fry, Huth and drummer Tim Wynarczuk, who also played in the Warriors. (The Warriors’ first drummer was Daughn Gibson, the recent Sub Pop-signed artist whose debut album was released last year on Korvette’s label, White Denim.) The Crashers played only about 25 shows but released a few singles, splits and EPs, plus one full-length called The Gatecrashers Are a Bunch of Motherfuckers.