When Jeff Rosenstock's band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches broke up in 2004, 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. 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," says Rosenstock.
Seven years later, Bomb the Music Industry, now a five-piece band, is one of the most important — and strangest — acts in the underground punk scene.
Through the course of their career, they've gained a reputation for being all over the musical map, playing cathartic music across a varied mix of genres: Pop punk, hardcore, ska, electronica, indie rock, and circus music find equal footing, sometimes within the confines of a single song.
If there's any rule Bomb the Music Industry adheres to, it's that the project is constantly changing. The early albums were just Rosenstock, but before long, he'd enlisted a recording cast of upwards of 30 members. Recent years have found Rosenstock touring and recording with a more consistent lineup, who appear on Vacation, Rosenstock's sixth album in seven years. Vacation finds Rosenstock exploring the idea of subtlety over the "anything goes" nature of his earlier records.
"Goodbye Cruel World [the band's third album] was so spastic and insane, people are like, 'That's a crazy person.' I wanted to keep this record subtly interesting," says Rosenstock.
Instead of bouncing around among different styles of music every few seconds, Rosenstock focused and ended up with songs unlike any he'd ever put to tape. 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 interlude filled with Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies, while "Sick, Later" has the rocking spirit of a Superchunk song. Then there's "The Shit That You Hate," a six-minute amphitheater-rock ballad. That band won't sit still genre-wise, but it's all done with restraint.
Rosenstock held back from including ska, hardcore, and synth elements on the album.
"I was trying not to add unnecessary parts, basically. 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.
It wasn't the only conscious effort Rosenstock made toward creating a different kind of Bomb the Music Industry record; he's cheered the lyrics up.
"It's not as pessimistic, like the world is ending 'cause I'm in a bad mood. This record is like, 'All right. Things are messed up, but I can deal with it,'" Rosenstock says.
Vacation was an attempt to push the band out of its comfort zone. That effort even extended to the business plan (a term no doubt anathema to a band like Bomb). Though the group has always given away its music (and will continue to), Rosenstock started Really Records to distribute the album physically, a task normally charged to the band's longtime label, 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 is quite uncomfortable running his own label but is working through the growing pains. "It feels weird," Rosenstock says. "We're doing this enormous press -mail thing for this record. It's like, 'Yup, send this to Rolling Stone. That's $4 in the trash."