In the spoken-word track, “I’m a Man” (written and performed by Hunter), a male boss aggressively propositions his female employee with a series of grotesque double entendres. “You know what a man does?” he purrs over a frantic drum beat. “Lays his finger to the side of his nose to catch the grease, then dips that finger into his beer head, and that head goes down. Yeah, I mentioned going down. Ever heard of it?”
It’s a track that would be hard for anyone to pull off, but “I’m a Man” manages to hit a sweet spot between funny and nauseating. It’s also disturbingly on point and, for many women, that character — slimy, entitled, full of unearned sexual confidence — will feel all too familiar.
Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette enjoys making listeners squirm: He is, after all, the author of songs like “Ashamed of My Cum” and “Male Gaze.” And to an extent, he says, creating discomfort has always been the impetus for the band. But when he first listened to “I’m a Man,” it got to him.
“It’s made me really uncomfortable,” he admits. “I felt like it was aimed at me … this horrible character [that Hunter] is painting isn’t insanely far removed from the way that I’ve been conditioned as a hetero, middle-class white guy.”
Highlighting the absurdity of hetero, middle-class white-guy-ness has been a vital part of the Pissed Jeans ethos since its formation in Allentown, Pa., in 2004. (The band, which also includes drummer Sean McGuinness, guitarist Brad Fry and bassist Randy Huth, is currently based in Philadelphia.) But on Why Love Now, which was produced by legendary no-wave punk artist Lydia Lunch, gender comes to the surface in clearer ways.
The heavy, huge-sounding “It’s Your Knees,” for example, explores the brazenness with which men critique women’s bodies; “Ignorecam” channels the band’s early primal punkness and imagines a world where men pay to be ignored; the new-wavy, melancholic “Love Without Emotion” resigns to detachment in close relationships. And on the AC/DC-esque single “The Bar Is Low,” Korvette incredulously examines how little it takes to be considered a “good guy”: “Held down a job / even snagged a raise / right there you’re due / for effusive praise.”
Of course, when cisgendered white men take to calling out the shittiness of their fellow cis-gendered white men, it often comes off as performative wokeness. That’s something that Korvette is well aware of, and Why Love Now manages to avoid that feeling of icky nice-guy-ness. These songs aren’t moralizing PSAs from male allies (though some listeners may still read them as such). They’re reflections of the mundane anxieties and miseries of life in the United States in 2017.
Regardless, it’s easy to imagine that the involvement of Hunter, Lunch and several other women in the making and promotion of the record helped keep the band honest. Lunch, a central figure of the New York punk scene in the 1970s, and the singer for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, has always been a transgressive and aggressively feminist figure. She’s the sort of person who takes on whatever projects she likes; for example, several years ago she began hosting healing workshops for women. In a 2013 New York Times profile, she described herself as “the No Wave Anthony Robbins,” while a participant in her “Post-Catastrophe Collaborative workshop” more dramatically compared her as the Hindu destroyer-mother goddess Kali.
Korvette admits that his initial reasons for bringing on Lunch (who is not a producer by trade) were self-serving. “I was just kind of wanting to find someone who would be fun to meet,” he says. And, after four records, “we wanted to try something [where] we didn’t know exactly what the outcome would be.” Lunch gave the band a chance to shake things up. “It could have been horrible. We didn’t know her, we don’t have any testimonials from friends who have worked with her,” Korvette recalls.
Arthur Rizk, best known for his work with metal bands like Inquisition, handled the technical aspects of recording; Lunch’s attention lay more in lyrics and overall subject matter. “I think she definitely gave me more confidence than I expected,” Korvette says. “She’s really tough and definitely, like, a criminal in her behavior. But she’s also really nurturing and knew how to provide motivation in a really good way.”
Why Love Now is arguably Pissed Jeans’ most cohesive, risky and generally fun-to-listen-to record, but not everyone gets what the band was going for, especially when it comes to “I’m a Man. “[Some people] are like, ‘Oh my God, this kicks so much ass, it’s so horrible and brutal,’” says Korvette. His general hope is for men to feel implicated by the track, but “there are guys who are like, ‘Ew, weird track.’ Just casually brushing it off like it was a track of monkey noises or something like that,” he says. “Just the mindset of, ‘This is too real, so my brain shuts off and ignores it.’”
“Lydia was moshing on the other hand,” he adds. “Like, throwing chairs around.”