Mom Jeans. is taking over a particular place in the intersection of emo and alternative. Rather than grow superficial with their ever-increasing popularity, the band is highlighting more than ever its desire to participate in and give back to its community. Join WBRU as we discuss college, house shows, the future, and more with Eric Butler, the band’s vocalist and guitarist.
Mom Jeans. started up much like that local band you know. They began as college students who coincidentally ended up living on the same floor of their dormitory their freshman year. They looked up to older musicians, hoping to one day achieve their ultimate goal of producing an album and going on a big U.S. tour. To began this journey, they played local house show venues, entered into a community of bands, and persisted with their music throughout college. Now, after releasing their debut album, Best Buds, after their junior year, they have steadily grown their audience. Mom Jeans. has moved far beyond one U.S. tour and has international tours and a second album, Puppy Love, under their belt. To learn more about just how the band transitioned and developed with time, I called vocalist Eric Butler as the band sat in an interval between their European tour and their upcoming tour in the States.
Hey Eric. So, you and the band you’re in, Mom Jeans., just wrapped up a tour in Europe and are already jumping back into the U.S. with another tour. How do you stay motivated to keep performing?
I mean, it wasn’t even necessarily much of a conscious thing to be on tour all the time like it was when we just started being in the band. The only thing we really wanted to do was to tour in whatever capacity. Touring, at the end of the day, is a privilege and there are a lot of resources and organizational skills you need to pull it off and not everyone is able to tour. Every tour that we did was just so much fun and kept getting better. I think we just realized at that time in our lives finishing college, getting jobs, and starting our adult lives that we had an opportunity to go do this thing for a little while. I just wanted to go while we had the chance. We decided to book our first tour just to say that we did it, and then, after that, we just kept booking tours. We had a good time and we met really cool people. And then it’s like, ‘oh this is a really cool band; I want to go on tour with this band,’ or ‘this is a really cool town we should play.’ We really actually need to slow down as a band. It’s in our nature, and that’s all we really know how to do. I think that’s served us well. Our natural go-to instinct is to just play as many shows with as many different bands as we can.
What aspects of tour do you love the most?
I don’t know I think there’s like an objective level and a personal level for me. The objective level is that I think there is something really great and incredible about accomplishing something like a tour, especially like a DIY tour. It’s really scary to just get in a van and drive across the country to places you’ve never been before. It’s almost like an adrenaline rush like some people like sky diving or rock climbing. It’s kind of the same thing. Like, not to be dramatic, but I don’t know if I’m going to make it out in one piece or be the same person I was when I left. To do that and to finish that, I’ve never felt more empowered or in control of my own life and felt like I can go anywhere and do anything. For me, I just like the nostalgia of the kind of energy you have… like a feeling of being home that first year after college. Like, you’re driving around in a car with no place to be and nothing to do just like smoking weed and listening to music, going to 7/11 and just hanging out. That’s something that’s always been really prevalent in my life and my friend group. We still do that to this day like Sam from Just Friends will come pick me up and we’ll just listen to Foo Fighters and hang out. Being on tour is a big excuse just to hang out in a van with your friends and just drive around and have that energy. It makes me feel like that all the time on the road. Whether its four in the morning and you’re driving overnight or you’re just driving across town… that feeling never gets old.
So, on that note of nostalgia, I’ve noticed that you guys as a band have been playing increasingly larger venues, moving away from the house shows that started your careers as musicians. Do you have any nostalgia for the house show scene over more official venues?
It’s a two-way street. I would say that there’s something about a house show that was part of the reason I started to want to be in a band in high school. Anyone who has ever been to a show knows why people get involved with this. It’s just that feeling of a community, going to a show where you don’t know anybody and then leaving with twenty new friends and feeling like you’re part of something that’s bigger than you, bigger than your friends, bigger than your band, bigger than your town. It’s difficult to translate that into a venue atmosphere. I think that’s why people are so nostalgic for those underground shows. But that’s never going to die because there is always going to be a need for that and people are always going to need that in their lives. I think it’s just more of a challenge to do that in a venue setting and it takes a lot more attention from the band to make sure that everyone is having a good time. There are a lot of things we do that those venues may find annoying like saying ‘hey, can you turn the house music down a little to give people a break?,’…’can you make sure earplugs are available?,’ or like ‘can you make sure the show is epilepsy safe?’ I think that it just takes a lot more attention to provide that inclusive at-home atmosphere. It’s certainly not impossible, and I think you have to make it obvious that the bands are friends and know each other and make it obvious that it’s not just about the band onstage playing music and them getting paid. It’s about that night. It’s about that experience. Every night should feel a little bit different and unique. I think we try to do that in a venue setting, and I think that’s one of the reasons we liked moving to venues. We didn’t have to lose that energy because we try really hard, and, in the end, it’s just safer for everybody. Like, having 200 people at a house show is cool, but it is not cool for the people who run the spot or actually care about the band. It’s a give-and-take. I’m just grateful to be able to do this in whatever capacity we can… in the most comfortable atmosphere for the people who want to see our band. If you don’t like our band, that’s fine, but I would hate if someone wanted to see us and felt that they couldn’t.
Regardless of the venue, what energy do you hope people are receiving from your shows?
I mean it’s hard to pinpoint exactly. If I had to boil it down to one thing, it would be that I want people to feel that they can be themselves. At shows, I want them to do whatever their thing is. If their thing is standing in the corner with their arm’s cross and just watching, cool. If their thing is dancing and moshing and jumping off the stage then that’s cool too. I think that there’s a lot to be said for everybody in a room or at an event being devoted to making sure everybody has a good time. There are definitely shows where one person will ruin the show for a lot of people just because they wanted to have a fun night. That’s not the atmosphere I want to have, and I don’t want people to feel like their night or their fun is more important than anyone else in the room. I want people to feel like their identity, their wishes, and their needs, are as valued and respected as everybody else’s at the show. We could spend hours talking about all the ways that indie-rock shows are super uncomfortable for non-men or queer individuals, super uncomfortable for people of color. I just don’t want that because I’ve been to shows where I don’t feel welcomed, and I hate that feeling. I don’t want anyone to come to one of our shows and have that. Ultimately, making people feel unsafe or unwelcome is not worth being cool. At the end of the day, these people make it possible for us to continue, and there has to be mutual respect. If they feel valued, that is a space they’re going to want to be in. I firmly believe that.
On that aspect of shared respect, Mom Jeans. is pretty cemented in a larger music community. I was wondering if you could speak on how the music industry has supported you and whether that support network has stayed with you as you guys have grown as a band?
Oh, totally, I think at the core we’re just close friends and the people that have supported us like locally and specifically are the band Just Friends. That whole crew, a band called meet me in montauk from Fresno. I mean we all cut our teeth together to play shows. I think, at least being here in California, it’s, in my opinion, a weird music scene. It’s a really weird place to try and get any traction as a band. There are so many incredible bands that just never went anymore because, for whatever reason, the stars just didn’t align. We just grew up with really amazing music around us and so many role models to look up to and bands we wanted to be like and bands who would write an amazing record and then pop off and do a big tour. That’s what we wanted to do, and we were kind of cutting our teeth altogether, going through the same experiences. Every band goes through so many shows where the only people there are your close friends. With bands like Just Friends, we’ve been there for each other since the beginning. We met Bart through all of those processes, and it just feels like we all grew up together. Then, we met people across the country who, for whatever reason, it just clicked, and it feels like we’ve known each other forever… like Prince Daddy & the Hyena or bands like Save Face or Mover Shaker, we just feel like long lost old friends. I don’t know, like I said, the community aspect is super important and everyone knows they need each other to be able to get anywhere or do anything like booking a show or getting a van. It really does take a village to help get a band off the ground. There have just been so many people throughout the process of us. It’s not necessarily even providing resources as much as it is just being validating. We’ve just been surrounded by people who have the same ideas as us and having that community to bounce ideas off of has been super essential. It’s important to not feel like you’re by yourself and have to figure everything out alone. I don’t think Mom Jeans., as a band, could function if not for these other friendships.
That’s really cool to hear; It’s easy to forget how interconnected everyone’s favorite bands are. Moving on to more of your music itself, are there any songs that resonated with your fan base in a way you didn’t expect them to?
Every song [laughs]. I’m so amazed that anybody cares. Ultimately, we make music for ourselves because we like being in a band, and we like playing music together. The resonance with anybody else is totally appreciated and kind of floors me.
Yeah, that makes sense. A lot of times lyrics are written from a really personal place.
Yeah, I think that everybody is unique but a lot of the experiences are really similar. You know what they say like, ‘art is a mirror through which we view our own experiences.’ So yeah, at least for me writing has always been an outlet. I think that, if you’re trying to be honest about the experiences you have… it’s going to resonate with somebody.
Building off of that, is there any music you’re proudest of?
I don’t know; We were really amped on the new record when it came out. I’m still really stoked on how it sounds. We’re all really interested in the production side of things and we have a really great sound engineer, Ryan, who does all of our stuff. I think getting it from how it sounds in our heads to how it sounds on your speakers was a really big accomplishment for us. When we made the first record, we had no idea what the fuck we were doing. Knowing what we wanted to do was almost scary.
I can definitely relate to that fear of having a vision. Especially at WBRU, we’re mostly college students tackling our visions head on. I know that your band met in college just like many of us are making our connections here now. How did meeting in college shape your trajectory if it did at all?
I mean, we met in school and we wouldn’t have met at all if Austin and I weren’t on the same floor in the dorms. It was really a matter of luck. You know, you meet people in your life that you just click with. Some people you just become instant friends with, and they change your life. For me, Austin was one of those people. We just wanted to be in a band together and then in a band with our friends. Gabe was our friend, so then we were a three-piece band for a while. We met Bart, and Bart filled in a couple of times. We just loved him so much that we asked him to be our second guitar player. Meeting in college, forming that basis of friends first and bandmates second, has been the most important guiding factor in how we operate as a band. Our relationship with each other is always the primary thing; we might not always be in a band together, but we will always be friends. Keeping that at the forefront of decisions has been why we’ve been able to stick together and trust each other. I don’t think we could have been a band if we were just coworkers.
What year of college did you guys form as a band?
Freshman year, and then we put out Best Buds after our junior year. So, we started touring after Best Buds and haven’t stopped since.
This question comes from my own curiosity, but how did you guys decide to turn that local band into a record? Or did the record pick up in a way you didn’t expect?
Well, we had two goals which were to make an album and put it out. That’s what our role models were doing. If people like the album, you go on a big tour and that was just how we thought it happened. You’re never entitled to have anyone respond to your music, but you’re entitled to make your art and put it out if you want to. Once we put it out, it started gaining traction in a way we didn’t expect. People started hitting us up from across the country and Bart had been in a band before and helped us book a tour. It just kinda happened, at that point. We just wanted to see where it goes.
Well, it seems to have gone to a great place for you guys. Moving to a different topic, I’ve seen a lot of people ask you why the band is called Mom Jeans. However, I want to ask something slightly different. Why do you think people get so attached to unpacking the name?
Because it’s a stupid band name [laughs]. Every band name is a stupid band name, if I can be real. I don’t think there has ever been a good band name, just like there’s never been a good name for a TV show or a movie. It’s all so subjective. At the end of the day, people like your music or they don’t. Obviously, don’t have some offensive band name that makes people gag. I just think band names are stupid, and I wanted one that made people laugh. I feel like that’s more memorable than “we’re the-somethings” or a single word that automatically reveals what our band sounds like. I think having a silly band name is disarming and tells people to not take us too seriously.
Maybe Mom Jeans. says a lot more than you think.
Yeah, we got two syllables.
And it shows people something fun and casual.
Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just silly. It doesn’t matter. It’s just so we don’t have to write down all of our names.
I guess that is really all a band name is in the end. To wrap up, what’s coming up in the future for the band?
We’ve booked ourselves through 2019. We’re doing this tour now and some summer stuff I can’t talk about yet. Myself and Austin are really interested in trying to write another album. I think we all have a lot of inspiration and song ideas. We’re just trying to get the process started for a new record. Typically, we record really fast. We want to take our time and be more experimental with this next one. We want to think about where we make it and who mixes it and things like that. We want to explore all of our sonic opportunities which is a long process. We’re nerding out on this album and just trying to make something we’re really happy about.