Interviews with my favorite songwriters, artists, and creative thinkers.
To begin, it must be said that you've had a long and storied involvement with the pop punk scene for much longer than I've known you. Can you tell us how you initially discovered pop punk, and how it became a central interest for you?
You've recently emerged from a 15-year slumber only to re-enter the pop punk scene with renewed interest and ambition to contribute. What happened to Mutant Pop the end it the last time around?
In 2008 people were telling me that vinyl had “come back” and that I should try to do Mutant Pop again and so I dove back in focused on trying again to achieve one of my original goals — putting out 100 seven-inch records. What I discovered, to my chagrin, was that my mailing list had “gotten old” — many people had moved, others were starting families and migrating away from the music scene. At the same time, record stores everywhere were in trouble and the network of wholesale distributors had contracted mightily. Interest in Japan was not strong, the one distributor that I was trying to push as an exclusive was lukewarm. So I couldn't do a proper mailorder and I couldn't get sufficient support from distributors and expenses very greatly exceeded income. A repress of the Dillinger Four record sold out but I still managed to lose something like $5,000 in six months in getting the MP-31 Catalogs record done properly and three new titles out the door and some “last pressings” made. It was a bloodbath — I gave away one project at the test pressing stage (!!!) and never did press another for which I had already released 50 test pressings. Other projects were canceled.
So that was it, there was no way in hell i was going to get to 100 titles. I was done with doing a label.
What have you been up to for the past decade and a half?
I have a shoe store to pay the bills but I’m a historian by avocation. I dove into research on a book project on the history of American radicalism from 1916 to 1924 and building a personal library to support that effort. At some point Paul LeBlanc, a historian from Pennsylvania, noticed my research website in a cul de sac of the internet and intuited that I was one of only about, shit, I don’t know, maybe half a dozen people that knew or cared about the 1930s political faction headed by Jay Lovestone, the defrocked head of the American Communist Party. So he drafted me into being the co-editor of his current book project, which was finally published in 2015 by Brill in the Netherlands as The “American Exceptionalism” of Jay Lovestone and his Comrades. I learned a great deal about book research and publishing doing this project.
In the course of my book research on American radicalism in the 1910s and 1920s I typed up dozens of articles and speeches by Eugene V. Debs, the Bernie Sanders of his era, an icon of American radicalism. The vast majority of these had never been published in book form. A friend in California had a contact on the editorial board of the Chicago publisher of the paperback edition of the Lovestone book and he — after years of pushing — convinced me to put aside the general history of radicalism and to focus on Debs. We pitched the publisher, Haymarket Books, for a six volume series The Selected Works of Eugene V Debs. They were enthusiastic. I’ve been working absolutely full out on that project, with the first three fat volumes now on the street and the fourth manuscript about ready to be submitted. I churn out about one 700-page volume a year.
So what re-ignited the flame for pop-punk?
I’m not sure there was any one event. Matthew from Something to Do Records in Seattle knew about my untouched wholesale inventory in the shoe store basement and conned me into digging through the rubble to pick a couple orders for him over the years. I guess that at least got me thinking about music again beyond the CD player in my car. I became intrigued by the whole Bandcamp model which had emerged, in which bands were at least theoretically able to bypass the old-fashioned label-based music industry entirely, making their own stuff and selling it to fans. And I bumped into a few of the Mega-Massive Digital Compilations put out by Ramone to the Bone Records — over 100 bands on a comp, easily downloadable, for "Name Your Price.” Think about that! It’s revolutionary.
But nobody wants to listen to a seven-hour compilation, so I started toying around with sequencing these things down to “normal” 30 to 45 minute compilation albums. Whoops! Holy shit! The best of the best of these bands were great! Pop-punk wasn’t weak and dying, it was actually strong and things were accelerating! My old labeldude juices started to flow again...
I still have book commitments for the next couple years. I can not go all-out with the label immediately like I did I April and May 2021. But — I'm on the hook again. We’ll see if I can temper my tendency to be monomaniacal with my hobbies!
A notable happening of late was the simultaneous release of two Mutant Pop tribute albums, consisting of tributes by many of the active contributors of the current scene as well as some notable MP alumni. What were your thoughts when you heard this was going to happen? And how did it feel to kick back and listen to both albums?
The planets are aligning weirdly this year is all I can say. What are the odds of two different projects happening simultaneously? I adored every single aspect of both of these projects. One of them was a last minute surprise. For the other, Grath Madden, one of the principals of the 44 Golden Greats! project, was in communication with me fairly early on. I ended up whipping up a little prize for him to include with physical copies of his comp — watch for that, ha ha! Both comps turned out fantastically! seriously, I had been listening to 100+ band comps in which about half was bilge. These two together, there were no more than about three tracks that were not solid efforts. It was really touching, really inspiring to kick back and listen to those. They are a great testament to the songwriting ability of the bands I was lucky enough to put out.
As you've been meticulously combing through the sand that makes up the last 15 years' worth of pop punk releases, what has stood out to you as being particularly relevant/good?
It is hard for me to identify releases from my Rip Van Winkle period that stand out. I have learned the bands and their work, but the big events, the watershed releases, are absolutely outside my consciousness. Let me just say that The Briefs are one of the best bands in the history of American punk rock and leave it at that, ha ha! See, I left everybody out that way!
But I will say this: the thing that intrigues me right now are the home recordists, people such as yourself. Some, wonderful, wonderful sounds are being created in home studios. There are a couple of these home recordists who are doing harmony-forward pop-punk and I’m all over that like a duck on a junebug. That’s the exciting part of today’s music scene.
And how do you take this new approach in which digital releases have become a priority, and physical copies are now often very limited or made-to-order?
Fuck streaming. Seriously, if you think $9.99 paid every month to the Very Big Corporation somehow absolves you of support the underground network of music creation, you have forgotten everything and learned nothing. Don’t think the $1.63 of your subscription — or whatever — that trickles down to 10,000 bands somehow absolves you of your duty to financially support the scene, whether that be bands selling their stuff directly or labels doing their thing.
We can get into a discussion of the made-to-order model, which is a rational thing — but the reason the world is devolving into LP pressings of 300 in three colors for $25 a throw is because labels have lost all hope in doing anything else. And it is because of the idiots who do nothing but stream from Spotify. That has got to change before labels can become vibrant and fun again.
Mutant Pop's legacy has, among other things, inspired many would-be songwriters to actually do it. Your role as a permission-giver and DIY example-setter have also inspired many would-be label owners to go for it. The result is now a very vibrant and connected International scene where communication and collaboration have never been easier. Do you feel proud to have contributed to pop punk's lasting vitality?
I appreciate the nice words. Our music is much bigger than any one of us, obviously, but I am happy and proud to have done my part. It’s wonderful seeing so many of the kids who cut their teeth on the dorky Mutant Pop catalogs doing their thing moving into middle age, either as musicians or label dudes. This is your prime time. The next wave of pop-punk starts now. Reach the next generation of kids.
As someone who's clearly a connoisseur of good songwriting, and as an author, what has your own experience been with songwriting specifically? Are there T. Chandler demos locked in the vault? How would you describe the differences and similarities between literary writing and songwriting?
Me, a songwriter? Oh, no no no no!!! Here is an old joke: “What do you call a person who goes to shows and hangs around with musicians? Answer: A drummer.” That’s me or it was when I actually played drums a little many years ago. Songwriting starts with a guitar. I wouldn’t know a barre chord from a barcalounger.
Here are my top skills: (1) identifying top-tier harmonies pop-punk bands; (2) sequencing CD programs; (3) coming up with goofy ideas to appeal to collectors; (4) getting people to notice what I am doing and convincing them to care (2008 catastrophe notwithstanding). Oh, and from back in the day: (5) doing daily mailorder properly. Here’s what I do badly: (1) Everything else.
One observation I couldn't help but make as you returned to conversing with old friends and new allies in the current scene is that you've emerged from cryogenesis without knowledge of the negative stuff that invariably happens in any scene - the feuds, the blacklisted bands, the rumors, the in-fighting, the "untouchables", etc. It's definitely a thing and perhaps it's human nature. What has your response to that been?
We are all on the same team. Factionalism has been the historic bane of American radicalism and that applies to our community equally. The music scene is already factionalized more than enough by genres. We all need to pull together against the real enemy — the corporatization of music.
Stop dissing the fucking Kobanes. If they were idiots fifteen years ago about something or other, forgive them. Move along. A couple of those dudes are the truest, bluest, purest pop-punkers on the planet. True fact. And stop dissing Ramone to the Bone Records. There’s not a single fucking label, none, zero was screwed over by unauthorized downloading harder by the old Ramone to the Bone than Mutant Pop. The new guy, Markus, is honorable. He is doing things right and he is working hard and building things for bands. Get over it.
Do your own thing but remember — you are not competing with anybody. We need to build together.
You've apparently embarked on the adventure of preparing the first MP release in a very long time. Can you tell us about it - how did the idea first come about, how did you end up choosing this particular band, and what are the official plans for this release?
Let me quote the incessant blabbermouth T. Chandler, writing the essay on the back of MP-1028, Nerd Gets the Girl: Soda Shop Romance SRCD... “Then, suddenly, completely without warning, on New Year’s Day of 2002 my interest in punk rock returned. No, more than that, my passion for poppy punk had roared back, totally unexpectedly, as fanatical as it ever was. Eighteen months’ worth of demos were excavated from my dung heap of a room. Two bands in particular were astonishingly brilliant: The Teen Sensation Glasses and Nerd Gets the Girl.”
I was able to put out one but not the other in 2002. In 2021 some songs done by Ryan of TSG landed in my lap at precisely the right moment. He hadn’t done anything pop-punk-wise since 2005. Like I say, the planets are aligning strangely this year...
MP-523, The Teen Sensation Glasses: Focused CD will release July 1. So will MP-2001, The Teen Sensation Glasses: Fuzzy CD. There’s your scoop!
How do you find the scene in general since you've now become more familiar with current goings-on and the significant happenings that led us to where we are in 2021? How does it compare to the 90s in terms of community, quality, and overall vibes?
I think the 1990s were better musically than the 2000s, that the 2010s was slightly better than the 2000s, and I can feel the earth moving in the 2020s, just like I felt it in the 1990s. The market is different and the new generation of kids haven‘t arrived yet, but I can feel it. Can’t you?
What is it about discovering new (and specifically homegrown pop punk) bands that gives you such a thrill? Do you feel that this kind of music is universal and timeless in its own right?
I believe all label dudes are drug addicts. We’re addicted to adrenaline. There’s absolutely no bigger thrill than discovering something great and bringing it to the world.
Thank you T. Chandler!
JOHN JUGHEAD PIERSON 2021
Tell us about this new project The Mitochondriacs. What inspired it, who
are the personnel, who is doing what, and what are the overarching goals
for the project?
John “Genome” Jughead - Guitar & Vocals
Eddie “Membrane” Pignataro IV - Drums & Percussion
Maria “Intercellular” Surfinbird - Backing Vocals & Bass
Marky Kobane produces and engineers from Bunker Studios
Eddie contacted me to just have some fun and record a song in Marky’s
studio. Eddie is a huge collector of music and we have had a music
exchanging relationship going for quite awhile. So I agreed. It was that
simple. We recorded a song in one evening. We had so much fun we did it
again a couple weeks later. We had not talked much about overarching
goals in the beginning, but I may speak more to that in the questions below.
But I will say here that I did mention to all the band members, and Marky,
that I felt I needed to donate any money made from these songs to some
kind of cause beyond us, I’ve been needing that in my life. They all agreed!
So that sparked me to think of this as a longer term project.
The songwriting on Love/Hate is compelling and fun - it is a great mix of
old school punk and 90s melodic punk with nods to the greats. What was
your songwriting process for this? I recall you saying that the songs were
written fast by design without lingering too long on particulars?
I have never called the work I have done unique, but when I write for Even
In Blackouts, I do not think of a type of song or style. I think in terms of
new chords I am learning, new strumming patterns, how I want to challenge
Liz, and I try to emulate whatever emotions and experiences I am having at
the time. With the Mitochondriacs I have decided to think of style first. I
always say that I don’t feel comfortable writing pop punk songs because I
have worked with people like Vapid, Kody Templeman, the Manges, and
Ben Weasel that do it much much better. I could never be that good. The
Mitochondriacs helped me to realize that I was chopping off a large section
of my more spontaneous creativity in its simplicity. I was cutting off my
ability to grow and get better at something that has been important in my
life. So now I try to put those feelings aside and just commit in both
emotion and structure to a more simple, melodic and aggressive form. I
still hate the songs once I am done with them, because I think they lack the
skill needed to pull it off and I don’t really enjoy hearing my voice, but they
are fun to write. And I can only hope I get better... because that’s the point.
Also the name came along while in the studio, it just popped into my head,
“Mitochondriacs!” I like it because mitochondria are the organelles in cells
which create energy. And I wanted to create bursts of energy with these
songs, so it made sense.
What was behind your idea to debut with a "digital 7-inch" release? What
does that concept mean to you? I was stoked to put out your digital 7" on
my mostly digital label!
I thought actual vinyl 7inches first. I looked into a couple small labels, who
all said yes, but that the time scale they had to deal within was too long for
what I wanted to achieve with this project. I wanted the release of the
songs to be almost as quick and spontaneous as I had written the songs.
When you have piles of cash that is a more likely scenario, but we don’t
have money, so the band camp digital idea came to me. But I never write
anything without it having to have levels in concept, which sometimes gets
tiresome because most people just don’t really care. But I do! I wanted the
two songs to speak to each other. And since records have two sides I
clung to the idea of them being opposite, so the record itself becomes the
“gray” area. So it is not a perfect fit to put it in digital form to hold this
concept up, but it is what we have so we are using it. The idea is once we
get a trilogy of these we WILL print them into a box set of actual 7inches
and their cover art and call it The Gray Box, which is a reference to my
favorite artist Marcel Duchamp.
You're donating the proceeds from downloads and purchases to charity.
What motivated you to do this?
For almost a decade now I have had this itch to donate income to help
causes throughout the world. For most of my life I have been a teacher, so
that helped to fill that gap, but I have not taught for about 10 years now,
and I feel that lack in my life to help others. Since I can barely get through
a day financially it didn’t seem realistic to donate my income like people like
philosophers Peter Singer and Sam Harris propose, so I figured my meager
way of helping out could be to donate money from special events and
projects I do. I created a non profit called The Punk Heart which sponsors
events and donates money to social awareness and treatment for mental
health. That has been going pretty good although very infrequently. So
with the Mitochondriacs I decided to go more global and donate to a Peter
Singer inspired foundation that collects some of the best and well used
causes internationally and they help to put your money where it can best be
served... so that is what we are doing.
What I should say, is that we DO somehow have to make some money
eventually. Marky is donating much of his time and studio to the project but
Me, Eddie, and Maria feel we eventually have to pay him something if we
continue on, so we are thinking of printing shirts where we can donate
HALF of the profits instead of the whole of funds brought in to international
foundations. Then we can feed the rest of the money to any bills we
This digi-7" showcases your playing and singing in ways that are unique
to your catalog. You've got the Weasel guitar crunch with some EIB-vibes
in the lyrics and vocal delivery, but there's an altogether new element as
well. How would you compare The Mitochondriacs to your past projects?
I hinted above that I am more open to stealing styles with this band. As a
matter of fact I have been conducting interviews with some pretty famous
punk musicians over this last year who have admitted to stealing from me
and Ben and Vapid, so I thought it was time I started stealing from my own
former band too. So when I am writing I try to think back to the early days
of writing for Screeching Weasel, like Boogada Boogada Boogada days.
But back then I only thought in rhythm guitar and melody, Ben was the
lyricist. I did not try to attach lyrics. That is the element I have learned
since those early days (Mostly due to The Mopes and EIB) so I have added
that to the old punk style mix too. The Even In Blackouts feel you may hear
is only accidental, probably because it is me, and me writing them on my
acoustic guitar, since I don’t own an electric these days.
What's your general feeling towards the digital era of music? Do you
think we are doing a good job in the pop punk community of keeping up
with it while still cherishing the value of physical artifacts and releases?
I am glad that vinyl has returned so strongly. I think the younger
generations started to feel the lack in just having music digitally. There is
something important about music to make a mark on your soul, and I
personally feel that it needs to be made tangible in order to make a bigger
affect, whether that means collecting actually hardcopies or seeing bands
in person and buying merchandise directly form them, even though the
benefits to having a whole collection in a small piece of metal in my pocket
that used to take up a whole room is astounding! I have been feeling very
old and useless lately, which is devastating for me, but also in ways since I
can look past myself I see that I am seeing actual progress in music and
creativity, and to feel old is just a product of realizing that things move on. I
still feel there are things to learn from the past in order to not repeat our
mistakes but I am warming up to accepting all the progress that is being
I was out with Eddie last night and he started bringing up all these new
forms of music and how people are recording together but apart over time
and space and releasing them in strange ways, and it boggles my mind.
There is now so much I can never know, I have to get myself to place
where I am comfortable enough just to bathe in it and dab my fingers and
just be content with making small ripples instead of far reaching impacts.
Luckily our pop punk scene has shrunk since the height of Green Day
many years ago, so a sense of smaller community has come back, it is just
that there are so MANY of them now.
What was the recording experience like for Love/Hate? Had you worked
with Mark, Eddie, and Maria on any projects before? Did you play Mark's
guitar on the recording? He has quite a collection from what I hear.
I did play one of Marky’s guitars. I have no idea which, I have never
thought too deeply about what guitar is in my hands. I happen to like a light
body and a thin neck so that is about all that is important to me. I know
what I don’t like. I despise Mosrites and also fake Mosrites.
The studio is just fun. Marky has it arranged so everything happens in one
room, it has its drawbacks but it also has its perks. It helps to quickly form
a bond between the band members and the engineer and what they are
creating. It may be hard for me to listen to my own new songs with this
band, (but I do obsessively anyway, that’s just what I have always done.)
yet when I do listen to these songs I can relive the fun we had through the
sound... and that is a nice thing to have.
Did the songwriting bug bite you again after recording these songs?
Where is your inspiration these days - you work in a variety of mediums so
it's interesting to know how songwriting fits into your overall role as an
Brendan Kelly and I touched on this a bit with his interview. All the
creativity, all the projects are connected, whether you want them to be or
not. You can give into it or fight it but it will always be there. I have always
given into being not a master of one form but a dabbler in a plethora of art
and performance. At times it gets frustrating that I am not a master in any
one over the other, but perhaps I am a master at making connections
between the many.
Will there be any visual accompaniment to The Mitochondriacs, such as
a performance video or music video? Or perhaps something weirder?
I am at the beginning stages of weaving all of our intentions with metaphors
about mitochondria, so I am still at work making sense of it all. I do know
that I don’t like bands that have too much of a “character” to their band
personae, like Masked Intruder or The Jasons or The Residents, even if I
like their music, which I do, the approach to that kind of form just doesn’t do
anything for me, so I am trying to figure out how to balance the interest in
creating a world that is through the eyes of Mitochondria speech with the
reality of who we are. I imagine, since it is me, when it does come out it will
be considered weird or incomprehensible or needlessly complex...
especially for such simple music! (If you have noticed another form I am
playing with in The Mitochondriacs that has been in punk rock for ages is
Self Deprecation... And I hate that I even said that. How stupid of me!)
Coming off of your very cool series "The Horror of the Polycephala
Aporia" which combined elements of horror and humor, are you feeling
similar whimsical vibes for The Mitochondriacs? Where will it take us next,
The idea like I said above is always to imitate or steal preexisting old
school punk forms, so I guess it could go in any of those directions. I don’t
think it will always be funny. I actually don’t think the HATE song is funny,
even though it has funny words like Testicles in Receptacles. I don’t like
the concept of HATE but it is perceived as the opposite of LOVE in most
cultures, I have some disagreements with this idea of opposing those two
concepts but it is what it is. I had to embody that feeling of hate to create
that song in the moment and it is a place I don’t like visiting. I had to
accumulate feelings not from any one specific person but from feelings I
had to dig up from events over my life just to accumulate enough rage to
put those words down. So to answer your question, I guess, it won’t
always be whimsical, but I can say it will be made quick and with as much
spontaneity as I can muster.
Any other "R4RE" details you'd like to reveal? Or appreciations! Good
luck with what's next and keep it coming, Mr. Jughead!
The next Horror Of The Polycephaly Aporia will be released very soon, with
guest Dr. Daryl Wilson from the Bollweevils. Jughead’s Basement Podcast
has really been taking off and I am dedicating most of my day to make it
better and better and to keep it frequent. That’s it!
Thanks Mr. Deeds!