By Clayton Ambrose
“Bomb the Music Industry! (and Action Action) (and Refused) (and Born Against) Are F**king Dead” reads the title of the sixth track on Bomb The Music Industry!’s 2006 album, To Leave or Die In Long Island. What was once a cynical and ironic jab at the band’s expense is now a bitter reality: Bomb The Music Industry! are, truly, f**king dead. Saying that they left before their time would be stretching the truth a bit. I mean, 10 years and six albums is a hell of a run. Selfishly, I wish that they never called it quits and stayed in their prime to tour the world over, making special detours to play private shows in my backyard. Although it pains me to think how I missed the boat on the band, what pains me more are the lives that will be left untouched by their music and their unmatched creative passion. Bomb The Music Industry! may be dead, but it is our responsibility, nay, our duty to ensure that their memory lives on in the hearts and minds that love and appreciate all that they stood for and created in this world.
Bomb The Music Industry! was born in 2004 out of a laptop, an acoustic guitar, and a seething hatred for George W. Bush and an ex-girlfriend. These four components make up the first ever Bomb The Music Industry! song, “Sweet Home Cananada”, featured on their first ever record, Album Minus Band. The song was written and recorded in the midst of the break-up of frontman Jeff Rosenstock’s ska-punk band, The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, which was catalyzed by his unease towards the band selling merchandise and music: an ethical qualm that could not be put to bed in Rosenstock’s mind. Thus, “Sweet Home Cananada” was released free of charge on Myspace, generating enough interest to inspire Rosenstock to continue his self-recording experiment and keep releasing music under the Bomb The Music Industry! name.
Bomb The Music Industry! first operated under extremely strict moral guidelines: all the music was free, all the shows were all ages and cheap, and absolutely NO merchandise was to be sold at their shows (the band spray-painted designs on white t-shirts for those who needed their memorabilia fix). In the documentary Never Get Tired: The Story of Bomb The Music Industry!, Rosenstock expresses his disgust with the state of punk rock’s relationship with merchandise by stating, “A lot of the reason why I started going to punk shows was because I did not wanna go to the f**kin’ mall, and it was just like you are just going to a different mall”. The plan was to completely sidestep the “industry” part of the music industry and give the pure, unaltered product to the fans, no CD or t-shirt purchase required. This was in the era predating the internet music explosion and the pay-what-you-want album, so in order to achieve truly free music, Rosenstock created Quote Unquote Records, the world’s first donation based record label (which is still pumping out great music today, including Rosenstock’s solo music). The only real comparison to Rosenstock’s level of separation from the monetary aspect of music is the legendary post-hardcore band Fugazi, but even then, as Rosenstock puts it in the 2007 song “Side Projects Are Never Successful”, “Every Fugazi record has a catalogue number and price tag”. Of course, the band had to be able to afford things like survival, so t-shirts and vinyl records (managed and distributed by Rosenstock) made their way into the touring arsenal, but in this regard, Rosenstock only bent. He never broke.
Along with making the music available to everyone, Rosenstock set out to create a musical experience that was for anybody and everybody who wanted to be a part of it. This included embarking on “Bring Your Own Band” tours, which meant that Rosenstock was only toured with his guitar and an iPod filled with backing tracks for his songs, encouraging those who wanted to participate to bring instruments of their own and get in on the musical action. The band eventually semi-solidified a five-piece lineup consisting of bassist John DeDominici, drummer Mike Costa, keyboardist/vocalist Laura Stevenson, and guitarist Tom Malinowska, but whether his band mates were the full outfit, some guy who brought a saxophone to the concert, or simply an iPod, Rosenstock could not be hindered in his quest to create and share art with the world (or wherever would take them). Even after the band secured a lineup, fans were still welcome to join the party onstage with their own creative flourish, ensuring that their concerts were to be a shared experience amongst all attendees.
With all this talk about their innovation and rigid moral structure, it is important to remember that at the center of it all was the wonderful music that they produced in their decade of existence. Bomb The Music Industry!’s sounds never really stayed in one place, so it is difficult to place any lasting genre moniker onto their career. In a 2008 interview with Razorcake, Rosenstock refers to their sound as “ska music for smart people or indie rock for dumbasses”, which I believe does a pretty good job at encompassing it, albeit doing so with self-deprecation. The band’s first three albums (Album Minus Band, To Leave Or Die In Long Island, and Goodbye Cool World) all make plentiful use of Rosenstock’s ska-punk background, but they cannot really be called ska records by any means. These albums blend that ska-punk sound with the anthemic elements that you might find on a pop-punk record, resulting in something that operates on pure, raw power. Songs like “The King of Minneapolis Pts. III-IV” off of Goodbye Cool World and “Syke! Life Is Awesome!” off of To Leave Or Die In Long Island practically beg the listener to sing along at the top of their lungs, keeping the pedal to the metal and never slowing down until their grand, cathartic endings have come and gone.
The band’s first major sound change came with 2007’s Get Warmer, which saw Rosenstock opt to enlist the help of a full live band instead of performing all the instruments himself. The unprocessed passion is still present throughout the record, but unlike computer programs, human musicians have their limits, so the album loses some of the off-the-wall insanity of the previous albums, but gains more poise and precision than seen previously. Of course, the band retains its staple elements of ska and punk rock, but expands even further with songs like near-country ode to poverty “Unlimited Breadsticks, Soup and Salad Days” and the piano-rock anthem of the century, “I Don’t Love You Anymore”.
Bomb The Music Industry! would continue to implement this more polished, full-band sound for 2008’s Scrambles, which was recorded for a self-imposed budget of $50. This restriction did nothing to hinder the quality of the music and instead showcases some of Rosenstock’s most extraordinary songwriting. Tracks like “25!” and “Stuff That I Like” are a dose of the band’s trademark power-pop perfection while songs like “Wednesday Night Drinkball” and “$2,400,000” slow the tempo and employ a more melancholic tone. This album also features a rare math rock track from the band with the scathing and satirical “9/11 Fever”. Although Get Warmer was Bomb The Music Industry!’s first album not to be recorded on Rosenstock’s laptop, Scrambles feels more like the true bridge between the band’s sound before and after implementing a full band in the recording process.
In 2011 came Bomb The Music Industry’s final album, Vacation, which Rosenstock himself has said is his favorite out of the band’s discography. The album finally lays to rest the manic pacing found on the previous albums and completely ditches anything resembling ska, allowing Rosenstock to take a step back from any kind of imposed punk limitations and disregard what any punk rock purist may have to say about the toned down sound. This leads to some of the band’s most controlled and simple songs, like the mellow “Can’t Complain” and the straightforward rock tune “Vocal Coach”. This change doesn’t signal any loss of quality within the music, in fact some of the more uncomplicated songs allow Rosenstock’s songwriting to shine through in a way that may be missed by listeners in the band’s earlier, more hectic work.
The lyrics of Bomb The Music Industry! deserve their own discussion separate from the musical aspect of their albums, because I think the words that Rosenstock sings are just as much of an appeal to listeners as the music itself. A massive portion of Rosenstock’s lyrics are autobiographical, with him writing about his struggles and experiences at various points in his life as a musician and as a person. Most of these songs deal with the anxieties of adult life in our modern world, like having crappy jobs (“Can I Pay My Rent In Fun?”, “Dude, Get With the Program”), coping with loneliness (“All Alone In My Big Empty Apartment”), feeling left behind by friends and family who seem to be growing up way faster than you (“Stand There Until You’re Sober”, “Fresh Attitude, Young Body”), and possibly the ultimate uniter of young people in America: being broke (“No Rest for the Whiny”, “From Martyrdom to Startyrdom”).
Not all of his writing is reliant on pessimism and negativity, however, because as Rosenstock sings in “Syke! Life Is Awesome!”, “sometimes things are great”. A lot of his lyrics have to do with seeking comfort in these turbulent times, and finding comfort in small things as a light to burst through the darkness. While there may be a lot worth complaining about in the world, Rosenstock places importance on keeping your head above the water and staying positive in the face of certain doom. This idea is epitomized in songs like “Sort of Like Being Pumped”, which details Rosenstock’s encounter with a sunset that causes his worries to “burn like flies inside the fire and lights”, shedding some of the weight off of his burdened soul.
When not singing about his own internal struggles, Rosenstock turns outward and displays a quick wit and a silver tongue through biting commentary on the world around him. As one would imagine, a lot of these criticisms are levied at the music industry, and to an extent, the musicians and community themselves. “It Ceases to Be ‘Whining’ If You’re Still ‘Sh*tting Blood” pleads to countless unnamed musicians to “write a song without a hook/remember why you wrote songs in the first place” as a response to artists optimizing their songs for marketability rather than writing them for the pleasure of making the music itself. In the song “(Shut) Up the Punx!!!”, he turns towards the punk rock scene itself, criticizing overly obnoxious punk rockers for becoming the arrogant bullies they claim to be against. For “Even Winning Feels Bad”, Rosenstock condemns listeners, possibly left over fans of The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, who reject his new music and long for the Jeff Rosenstock of yore. He tears into these detractors with the lines “Would you like me if I stayed forever young?/Well it sucks, but no one does, get used to staying out of touch”.
Even though I am a huge fan of the band, writing all of this out felt a little uncomfortable. All of this romantic reminiscing about Bomb The Music Industry!’s amazing music and their importance to the medium makes it seem like I am putting Jeff Rosenstock on a pedestal, but I do not feel that is what he wanted out of this project. Bomb The Music Industry! manifested out of a desire to be closer to the fans, not to be above them or inaccessible to them. The free music, the all ages shows, all of it was because Rosenstock was so passionate about his art that we wanted the rest of us to enjoy it with him without feeling like there was some invisible wall created by status or greed. So, to bypass the idolatry, I will just give you the facts. Jeff Rosenstock was, and is, a pioneer. He was years ahead of the curve, doing things that are commonplace now, but were revolutionary at the time. On the trail that he blazed lie several scorched souls who continue to be inspired by his work to this day, making their own art born from reignited creative passion. If it turns out that these facts make Bomb The Music Industry! out to be one of the most influential and important acts of the new millennium, then so be it.