Illustration by Samuel Nigrosh
This article appears in AdHoc Issue 18.
Romance and masculinity have been enduring fascinations for Philadelphia-based punk band Pissed Jeans, from their 2007 Sub Pop debut Hope for Men to the upcoming Why Love Now, out February 24. In advance of the band’s record release show at Brooklyn Bazaar that same night, we asked frontman Matt Korvette what contemporary straight men are getting wrong about relationships and other social behavior.
AdHoc: Several of Pissed Jeans’ records explore the ins and outs of modern masculinity. What draws you to this topic?
Matt Korvette: I’ve always been fascinated by myself, my motivations, and being a man. It’s probably a bit narcissistic, even if I’m being self-critical, but my lyrics for the band have pretty much always been based on things in my life that I’m actively pondering, curious about, angry about, or sad about. And my identity and how I fit into the world has always been a part of that. I also enjoy taking shots at guys and the generic vision of masculinity, since it’s a ripe target for criticism and I don’t think it gets nearly enough grief—especially from people who fit within it.
You named Why Love Now’s first single “The Bar Is Low.” What did you mean by that?
The song is a direct reaction to how, over the past couple years, both guys I admire and guys I dislike have revealed themselves to be men who have abused, assaulted, defrauded, or otherwise hurt other people. For a while it seemed like every week you’d find out that Actor X, Musician Y, or Local Friend Z had hit a woman while drunk, stalked a stranger on Twitter, or done something even more heinous.
I identify with straight white dudes, of course, and was trying to share this feeling of disappointment that I have. I would love if guys who looked like me and shared a similar background were using their privilege for good—if they were all out there kicking ass, helping people, and improving the world. But increasingly, there are times when it seems entirely like the opposite is true.
I have gotten props for not being one of those dudes, but the props feel undeserved. I don’t think I do much to make the world safer and better for people who could use the type of help I’m talking about. A lot of my time is spent selfishly and wasted, I’m sad to admit. It truly feels like the bar for straight white cis-guys is so low that all I have to do is not outwardly commit hurtful acts against other people to be considered one of the “good ones.” I’d love to actually earn that title, rather than receive it by default. I’m really trying to examine my own behavior, my own privilege, and how I fit into the world. And I really hope other guys are doing the same. I hope they can stop being total assholes.
How would you describe typical asshole behavior?
I’ve got a long way to go as a guy trying to act righteously and avoid the trappings of conditioned male superiority. In the context of what I’m talking about in “The Bar Is Low,” I’m referring to guys who use their privilege and power to hurt other people—to abuse women, to cause pain—with the thought that they’ll get away with it because of who they are. I feel like so much of it is conditioned, and that “toxic masculinity” is very much a real thing.
How can the men of today stop being jerks?
The moment I start speaking on The Ways Men Should Behave, I know I’ll be hypocritical in some way or another. Still, I think the key is to be aware of your behavior, to think about why you’re acting how you are—and why you’re coming to the decisions and conclusions you’re coming to. One thing that attracted me to punk rock as a 13-year-old was the way it questioned authority—the basic idea that you shouldn’t just take society and its values as truth—and I think applying that same sort of suspicion and evaluation to your own behavior is a good idea too, even if it can be difficult and painful. It’s a lot easier to yell “Fuck George Bush!” than it is to realize you never let your girlfriend listen to her CDs on the drive to school.
It ultimately comes down to asking yourself the right questions. Will I pressure this woman whose music I’m producing to go to bed with me, or will I respect her like I would a male artist? Will I credit her with “female vocals” on my album, or will I simply call them “vocals”? When it comes to questions of race, it’s not up to people of color to figure out a way to fix racism; it’s up to white people to figure out how to stop being racist. Dudes need to figure out how to stop being assholes. It shouldn’t be up to non-men to figure out how to deal with it.
Any parting advice for guys trying to navigate love and romance in 2017?
Stop playing video games, don’t comment on anything online, read a book, work out (your core in particular), go vegan, take up as little personal space as possible, be quiet, and listen to people with less privilege than you. I also highly recommend getting a vasectomy: great way to immediately cut your carbon footprint and demonstrate your willingness to shoulder the burden of birth control. True love will find you.
Download a PDF of AdHoc Issue 18 at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. (Those of you outside New York City can order a copy here as well.)