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[Photo by Kelly Mason]
Features

Mom Jeans’ ‘Sweet Tooth’ harks back to pop punk’s golden age—interview

The new record is out now.

February 25, 2022
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Mom Jeans have released their new album, Sweet Tooth. The band’s follow-up to 2018’s Puppy Love draws its strength from pop punk’s golden age, the days when blink-182 were running naked across Los Angeles and Green Day were slinging mud at festivalgoers.

With their new record, vocalist Eric Butler says the band strived to write songs they could envision hearing on the radio or late-night talk shows. “I have super vivid memories of hearing Green Day or blink or Foo Fighters or Sum 41 on the radio when I was in elementary and middle school,” he tells Alternative Press. “Being exposed to alternative music really started with a lot of those radio hits that would get stuck in my head for weeks and motivate me to seek out similar artists and albums for the first time. That era of music served as my gateway drug to all of the artists that I know and love now, so getting to wear those influences on our sleeve felt like the right thing to do.”

Read more: Are the 2000s back? How Avril Lavigne, Chris Carrabba are uniting Gen Z and millennials

True to its title, the songs on Sweet Tooth evoke a sugar rush. They’re replete with rich choruses and sticky lyrics ripe for scream-singing at live shows, reminiscent of pop-punk eternals such as Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” or Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi.” But more than anything, Mom Jeans have created an album that grabs onto joy when it’s increasingly easier to succumb to dread and sadness.

Check out the band’s new music video for “White Trash Millionaire,” and read an exclusive interview with Butler below.

Congratulations on Sweet Tooth! It’s a great record. Can you tell me more about what drew you to the idea of crafting an album based around hooks that hark back to the glory days of late ’90s and early 2000s pop punk?

In the past, Mom Jeans has definitely been more focused on self-expression and self-actualization as far as the songs and content go. Personally, Mom Jeans has always been about pleasing ourselves first and using the band as a creative outlet to express [ourselves] and relate to the rest of the world. This record was definitely an attempt to write songs and put together an album that had more broad listening appeal. Rather than validate the more obscure or alternative or experimental sides of our musical interests, we wanted to write an album that we could imagine hearing on the radio or being played live on a late-night talk show.

That being said, we still wanted to be true to ourselves, and we were well aware that it can be risky when, as a punk– or emo-inspired band, you make the conscious decision to go in a more pop direction. Wanting to pay homage to our own experiences and make a poppier record that was still super inspired and felt like Mom Jeans, we decided to look back at the songs and albums that really shaped us in our youth.

What was the hardest part about writing or recording Sweet Tooth? Is there anything that stands out in your mind?

I think for me personally, the hardest part was learning how to write together as a true four-piece band. In the past, all of Mom Jeans’ material had been written by either myself or Austin [Carango, drums], and writing Sweet Tooth was our first time really getting Bart [Thompson, guitar] and Sam [Kless, bass] involved in the songwriting process. It definitely took a while, and navigating the demo process between four solid songwriters was even more difficult during a global pandemic where we literally couldn’t go to our practice space or rehearse together.

Learning how to prioritize and communicate in that sense ended up being super useful to us and helped us grow a lot as musicians and as a band, but it was definitely stressful at times. Other than navigating the songwriting process, though, I can genuinely say that I had an amazing time both writing and recording Sweet Tooth. I’m so proud of the work we did and the progress we’ve made as a group, and I legitimately feel like any challenges or growing pains we experienced in the process of making this record has shaped us into stronger and more capable people. If anything, the hardest part [was] waiting for it to come out.

The album cover features two people jumping into a body of water without any clothes on. To me, it brings to mind blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?” music video. Would you say it acts as a homage to that?

The album cover is definitely not not inspired by blink and the “What’s My Age Again?” video. [Laughs.] I think our mutual love for blink-182 definitely shines through musically and aesthetically on this album, but the decision to use this actual photo for the cover was just a group decision that was made before Sweet Tooth really even seriously started getting written. I love photos for album covers, as our previous two have been photos, and I think the whimsicality of being naked and jumping off shit with your boys definitely captures some of the vibe that we want to communicate with Sweet Tooth.

For those unaware, there’s also a bit of a common trope among Midwest emo/emo band album covers that feature people jumping off of things. I think the vibrancy of the photo, the funniness of Austin and I being naked and the small nod towards our experience in the world of DIY emo/punk sums up pretty well what we’re trying to communicate with Sweet Tooth: It’s cool to like the things you like, to be yourself and to be passionate about the things that make you feel good. Who cares what other people’s opinions are and whether they think you’re “cool” or not?

The coolest thing in the world is to be somebody who willfully and positively engages with the things and the people that they love. Not being able to take ourselves too seriously has been somewhat of a superpower for us as a bad, and we hope people can tell right off the bat that they’re allowed to engage with us and our music in whatever way that makes them the most happy.

What’s your strongest memory associated with this type of golden-age music?

I have two. One is being absolutely obsessed with the song “Stacy’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne. I was in either 2nd or 3rd grade and couldn’t even really comprehend what the song was about, but the hook of the chorus and the loud guitars, plus the awesome ad-libs and the key change? Oh man, I was so hooked on that song and probably listened to it 50 times a day on my Walkman that I brought to school. It was such a popular song among my schoolmates at the time, maybe because of the funny, slightly offensive nature, and I will always remember sitting on the bus on my way to [and] from school listening to that song.

The other vivid memory I have was going to see Avril Lavigne, which was my first concert ever, in the fourth grade. My first CD that I ever owned was her album Under My Skin. My parents took me to see her perform at the Milwaukee Admirals stadium, and I had the time of my life. I really, really wish that I still had the T-shirt from the concert because it was so awesome. It was [the words] “AVRIL LAVIGNE” written as knuckle tats on two fists, and I wore it until it disintegrated. The song “Sk8er Boi” is also legitimately the reason why I play guitar to this day, and I’m so stoked that she is making and putting out music again.

Now that the record’s out, what’s next for you? What are some of your other goals for the rest of the year?

I think we’re mostly just really excited to get out and play the new songs for everyone. It felt amazing to be back on the road this past fall, and conditions willing, we plan to play a lot of shows in a lot of places in 2022. We have a big support run with the Story So Far coming up this April, which we’re really excited for. Plus, we’ll be going back across the pond and playing the U.K. again for the first time since 2019. Y’all know there’s also gonna be a big nasty Sweet Tooth tour at some point, but for the time being, we’re just excited to have some shows lined up and to have new music out for the first time in four years.

Personally, my biggest goal is to be able to look back in six-eight months’ time and be really pleased and content with the work that we’ve done and what we are doing now to support the release of the album. There’s a lot of work that’s gone into making this record and its subsequent release the best it can possibly be, and I feel like for us to be satisfied, we just have to do our due diligence and make sure we take the same care and effort performing and sharing this record as we did writing and making it.

Hopefully all of the love and fun that went into this album translates when people sit down and listen to it. We’re so proud of the job we’ve done, and we hope it can bring listeners even a fraction of the joy that we experience when we listen to [and] play these tracks

I saw you’re playing the When We Were Young festival, crammed on there with many, many legendary names. What does it mean to you to play on the same stage as so many of your idols? Anything special planned for your set?

We’re super stoked to be included! To be honest, I’m not sure it really says much about us or really means a ton in the grand scheme of things, but it was definitely wild to see our logo on the same flyer as some of those names. I know a lot of folks have mixed feelings about playing festivals, but personally, I love it. I really relish the opportunity to watch bands that I look up to side stage and having small chances to meet people and network with folks that you know from online but have never met.

If anything, though, I think it’s just really exciting to be in a place where so many people are excited about these same artists that we’ve been excited about. There’s something really inspiring and invigorating about being in a space where everyone cares about live music as much as if not more than we do, so I feel like WWWY is going to be a really cool and exciting opportunity to meet some cool people and learn some new things. Nothing crazy planned for our set as we are tiny fish in a very large pond with that festival.

If absolutely nothing else, I’m gonna get to watch My Chem a bunch. Same with Paramore, Avril, Jimmy Eat World, etc. As a fan of music, it’s extremely validating to be included alongside so many titans of the music industry. Oh, also, I really hope I get to meet Avril Lavigne and/or Hayley Williams and get their autograph!

Written by Neville Hardman