Bomb the Music Industry! Interview


By John B. Moore


For a whole
generation of punks, the phrase “DIY” is little more than a t-shirt slogan hanging
on the wall at Hot Topic down the street at the mall.


It’s refreshing
then to see a music collective like Bomb the Music Industry! not only understand
the meaning of Do It Yourself, but have that concept as the band’s ethos. DIY
and fairness to fans have been part of BTMI! Since the group’s beginnings in 2004.
From spray-painting stenciled t-shirts to fans behind show venues (free of
charge, of course) to playing only all-ages shows that agree to cap ticket
prices at $10, this New York
collection of punk rockers, led by founder Jeff
Rosenstock, have a reputation even the guys in Fugazi would envy.


The band – using the term loosely as dozen of musicians come and go at
any given time – is also behind the label Quote Unquote Records, which has been
offering “name your own price” downloads long before Radiohead made headlines
with the same business model.



Bomb the Music Industry! is out with a new full length, Vacation, and about spend the remainder
of the summer taking the songs to (all age) venues across the country.
Rosenstock was kind enough to answer a few questions recently about the band,
the label and the true nature of DIY.


For those not familiar with the band, can
you talk a little bit about the band’s philosophy when it comes to DIY?

Bomb the Music Industry! basically started after my old
band broke up. I moved back in with my parents, and I tried writing and recording
songs on my own in my old bedroom. A lot of the idea was that if I figure out
how to do all that stuff on my own, then I don’t have to spend any money
recording records, and then won’t have to sell anyone anything, which after
being in a band that did a bunch of Warped Tour, support shows and stuff like
that, man was I sick of going to a punk show and it turning out to be just
another store. It always seemed to me that a punk show should be a safe haven
from commercialism. So as we grew into a real band, we approached things in the
same way. After dozens of permutations involving sponges, paints, screens,
stencils and paintbrushes, we settled on making stencils out of old cardboard,
buying spray paint, and people bringing their own shirts to shows to get
official Bomb the Music Industry! shirts. We used to have a stack of CD-R’s
with all of our songs on it at shows which were available to trade for another
blank CD-R that we could later turn into a Bomb CD-R. As it grew, we had a
handful of opportunities, for example putting out a vinyl record which I’ve
always wanted to do, and at this point we do sell shirts and records. But we
still have all of that stuff available for free, we still do everything pretty
much ourselves or at the very least with friends. I even started up a record
label with my friend Dave to put out the newest Bomb record. We still operate
as far outside of the weird system that’s set up for punk bands to sell
themselves as we can. 



What made you decide to start Quote
Unquote Records?

Basically, Bomb the Music Industry! had (and still has)
a revolving door policy, meaning that if you couldn’t tour full time, you could
still be in the band. I didn’t want this to be something anyone was counting on
to make money, so obviously we all had to work, and if you couldn’t get off of
work I didn’t want there to be any drama. Of course, when I went to book our
second tour with The Rick Johnson Rock and Roll Machine, all twelve members
were like “um, no, I’ve gotta work.” Instead of canceling the tour,
Rick said he’d play bass for me, I could play guitar for him, and we’d play to
our programmed sequences that were on the record. Immediately on that tour, I
was surprised how easy it was to just be one person doing his thing. A few days
into the tour, we played with The Matt Kurz One and our minds were so blown
that we just called up all the promoters and said “put this guy on the
show please.” The tour went really, really well, and a lot of it was due
to the notoriety Bomb had gotten from putting out free music. I told Matt I
wanted to do the same thing with his next record, but I felt kind of bad just
saying “hey, I want to give away your music
entirely for free!” so I set up a really non-intrusive option to donate
for the record. People responded really well to it, so I ended putting out a
couple of other friends records and it snowballed from there.



What surprised you the most about
running your own label?

Not a whole lot to be perfectly honest. The great thing
about Quote Unquote is that it is ridiculously cheap and easy to operate, so
there hasn’t been any big wrenches thrown in the works or anything. I’m not
terribly surprised at the good response bands on Quote Unquote have been
getting ‘cause I think those bands are great and should be
getting good responses or else I never would have worked with them in the first
place. It was surprising when years later “Pay What You Can” became a
business model buzz word, but it was also extremely rewarding when I saw a
handful of other labels get started with a donation-based digital model and
give props to us. 



Is it still a solely donation-based

Yes and no. Quote Unquote records will always be a
donation-based business model, but most of our artists press records and CD’s,
and we put links to that on our site if you want to buy it. Again, we try to
keep it non-intrusive. The new label, Really Records, is not donation-based at
all. That’s more of a stressful and terrifying trip down the road of
distribution, promotion, radio, sales and so on. The idea is to hopefully get
people who are not necessarily part of the punk rock scene to hear some of the
bands that we think are under-heard and also to create a place for all of us
nerdy, friendly weirdo punks to put out records that may not sound like punk



Let’s talk about the new record.
What can you tell me about it?

I can tell you that it’s a really long one for us. Our
first record over forty minutes! I like it. Lyrically, it’s still a lot about
the fears of getting older and not finding your place in life, but it’s more so
about realizing that, okay, EVERYBODY is going through that and that shouldn’t
make me a jaded asshole. There’s still a lot of great stuff and great people
out there, and so what if everyone dies someday or it’s hard to pay rent.
Worrying isn’t gonna fix that. 



Who joined you in recording this

Well the five of us who have been on tour together for
the past three or so years made the record together. We recorded it in our
guitar player Tom’s practice/recording space, as well as in my apartment. Some
buddies from Andrew Jackson Jihad, The Wild and Chotto Ghetto e-mailed over
some parts of theirs. I was super excited that Ginger Alford (Good Luck), Chris
Farren (Fake Problems) and Steve Ciolek and Matt Scheuermann (The Sidekicks)
were into contributing those crazy Beach Boys-ish harmonies on a bunch of the
songs. They all have such great voices and I was glad to waste their talents on
my record. I was also excited about getting to record Aidan Kohler on violin…
I’ve worked with her on a handful of Laura Stevenson and the Cans’ recordings
that I did and she is totally the ace up our collective sleeve. Anything she
plays on immediately sounds better. It was also pretty cool to have my old band
mate Dave Renz from ASOB sing harmonies on a few tracks. He walked into my
apartment, it was like old times and I think he literally finished all of his
parts in one take. We’re gonna hopefully get all these folks to be regulars on
Bomb records.



Is Sara Crow still working on a documentary about the band?

Yes she is! She told me she has her narrative arc now,
although I have no idea what that might be. It’s very strange when someone, who
has now become a friend, is observing your life from a different perspective
and can apparently kind of see what’s going to happen with it? Sometimes I wish
she’d just fuck up the documentary a little bit and let me know if all this
shit I’m trying is going to work out, ’cause I have no fucking idea if it is!




Countless bands have proven that
you don’t need the backing of a label to be heard. Do you think a traditional
record label still makes sense for most bands?

I don’t know what makes sense for us, let alone other
bands. I think the idea of having a ton of money up front to make a record and
go on tour is definitely enticing, and the idea of a label getting people
excited about records and making people aware that these records are coming out
is also super important. I don’t think it’s necessary to be “heard”
anymore though. I think you just have to put out good music. So many bands have
started out, and sometimes continued, doing stuff on their own that have become
me and my friends’ favorite bands. And people go to their shows just as much if
not more than whatever punk whatever thing that a major label is pushing. So,
no, I don’t think having the backing of a label has been necessary since
high-speed internet has become widely available, but I can’t imagine it hurts
to have a support team that you trust.



You talked earlier about stenciling
band t-shirts for fans. What made you decide to finally start selling t-shirts
on the last tour?

 Since we started stenciling t-shirts, there were
people coming to our shows that after finding out we HAD no shirts to sell were
like “Well, that’s cool… but I still wish I could buy a shirt and
support you.” After a while there were more and more people that felt that
way and eventually it seemed like we were bumming more people out by not having
that option than we wanted to. I think we waited until we were at the right
level to start selling stuff like that, because the first tour we did with
shirts we ran out of them and came home with rent money. Every other band I’ve
been in had lost a shit ton on merch and stuff like that. So that’s pretty cool
for us, although a large part of me still wonders where this project would be
had we never sold a single thing. 



What’s next for the band?

We go on tour for the rest of the summer and see if
anyone likes our new record. 



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