Mom Jeans. Reflect on the Past and Look to the Future on 'Sweet Tooth'

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The Noise is Ones to Watch’s home for all things punk, hardcore, metal, emo, you name it.

Indie up-and-comers Mom Jeans. have released their long-awaited third album, Sweet Tooth. Although the record is somewhat of a departure for the four-piece, drawing inspiration from bands of the '90s and early 2000s pop-punk era and the Midwest emo scene, their signature heart-on-its-sleeve lyricism thrives in this richer sonic space and allows the band to show off just how much they have grown since their debut in 2016.

The quasi-concept record is a structural exploration into new sounds for the emo punk quartet. Before any of the record's 13 songs had been written and recorded, the band knew what Sweet Tooth would sound like: late '90s and early 2000s pop-rock and pop-punk bliss. For frontman Eric Butler, that meant revisiting the guitar pop perfection of Weezer and Oasis alongside deep cuts from one-hit wonders like Third Eye Blind, Fountains of Wayne, and Superdrag.

Butler, along with guitarist Bart Thompson, bassist Samuel Kless, and drummer Austin Carango, all arrived at the same description for these sounds: ear candy.
The Noise had the opportunity to further discuss Sweet Tooth with Butler, Kless, and Thompson and talk about the early recording process and the album’s more meta and challenging aspects.

The Noise: Can you share with me the initial  stages of creating Sweet Tooth?

Sam: So, I think the cool thing was that it helped us a little bit. We started the first demoing process, and I believe, recorded our first demo on February 9, 2019.

Eric: Yeah, and I had done a couple of demo sessions by myself too back in 2018. I think there’s always an expectation that you’re going to write another record after you put one out, especially with the way Puppy Love was received. I was really happy with that record, and I think we were really happy with that record, but people didn’t like it as much as they liked our first record. It put in our minds, for the first time, like actually thinking about when we don’t think about or care how the record will be received by the people who like our band. We didn’t necessarily like how that felt and didn’t necessarily like the reception that record got outside or inside whoever already liked our band and stuff. So I think with trying to write a new record, we were conscious from the get-go that we didn’t want to do that. [So] we wanted to write an album - or if we were going to do another LP, and if we were going to keep being a band, and if we were going to go through the jumping of hoops of writing an album and recording it and putting it out again - we really wanted it to feel impactful in a way that you don’t have the opportunity to do when you’re a small band putting out your first record and you don’t necessarily have the resources to do the things that everybody dreams of doing when they start their band. It’s almost like Sweet Tooth, initially, was our last-ditch effort to try and put out something after Best Buds that people would think was as good and hopefully would outshine any of our previous musical accomplishments. It was just a matter of figuring out how to do that, what that looked like, and the process. I think the pandemic actually really lit a fire under us. It’s easy not to worry about writing music when you have shows booked and tours coming up, especially for us. We were really lucky in 2019 to have a cool series of stuff in 2019 and early 2020. Before the pandemic, we had an incredible series of tours and support runs, like when we got to open up for Sad Summer Fest and open for Hobo Johnson and Motion City Soundtrack.

Yeah, it seemed like the band was everywhere during that time.

Eric: Yeah, and we don’t write when we’re on tour. We don’t write when we have things on the calendar. When all of that stopped suddenly for the foreseeable future, I think for me and like for us collectively, it became a way to take our power back a little bit. We asked ourselves, “Well, the number one way of generating income that we had when we started this band doesn’t exist anymore. What’s the next best thing?” And for us, that’s streaming revenue. Whatever way you want to slice it - it is super unfair and it is super whack - but we need to pay rent. So putting out a record that people could listen to, could start streaming, could get excited about, and would want to see live whenever shows came back was important. That was almost like the impetus for Sweet Tooth. That was the idea and why we wanted to do everything now.

We have many friends in other bands, and they had different experiences with labels wanting them to chill and shelve their records until touring came back or wanting to put a hold on things until things were more predictable. For us, it was nice to be like, “No, we’re in control of this. This is the one thing that we can do.” And it made me feel good and less panicked and worried about the future. It kept us busy, and now I think everybody can be a little bit more hopeful about things coming up and about what the future holds. I feel like we’re in a perfect spot now and not being afraid or not being lazy or not wanting to play it safe and not take that risk paid off. And now we’re just in a cool position where whenever we have the opportunity to headline again, we’re going to have a new record [and] it’s going to be super fun. People seem excited about the songs.

What were some of the first songs the band worked on?

Sam: We chose to open the new album cycle with “What’s Up.” That’s one of the first songs that Bart sent me along with two or three others, he worked so hard on that song. Like, he really put it under the microscope.

Bart: Yeah, it just came together extremely quickly. I think there were three songs that we were working on, and then of the three, one of them we were having difficulty making it sound authentic and good. I don’t know. It sounded weird because, I’m sure Eric probably already mentioned it, we hadn’t written together that much at that point, but I think “What’s Up,” once Eric sang everything, it was this perfect song and we didn’t have to do anything.

Eric: It was really interesting for me at the time, too, because I thought that that was one of the more vanilla songs. I guess it was one of the tracks that I was less excited about and I felt we had to put a ton of work into it to make it fun. But then, right out the gate with the demoing, it became effortless to sort of tell. So I feel like that demo and that sort of process set the tone for reaching a conclusion point where everybody in the band was like, “Yeah, okay, this is great.”

Sam: We had a bunch of demos, like half of a record kind of written, and then when the pandemic hit, we were trying to force a lot of songwriting here and there just to exercise those creative muscles.

Eric: I was definitely falling back into my old ways as a songwriter too. I wasn’t really doing that much collaborative stuff. I just wanted to do my thing and then teach it to the band. With “What’s Up,” everybody really played their role and played their part in the song’s writing and it all just came together in a really natural way.

Sam: And then that song really stayed. We took a long break during the pandemic to do life stuff and figure it out. I bought some plants and watched The Sopranos. Bart bought a motorcycle. But “What’s Up” ended up staying. Like we trashed five or six songs but that song from the beginning has always remained. We put it out first, and it’s cool to see that it’s now one of our top songs on Spotify. It was really validating to us to see the fans we love so much also love the song.

Bart: Yeah, it’s so hard to get a new song in the top songs list on Spotify. You’ll look at bands, and you’ll love their new songs, and it just doesn’t matter because so many people will only listen to the old stuff.

Right? A band can be overshadowed by their first hit from their debut album…

Eric: I can only speak for myself, but I feel that this band is so different now than when Best Buds was being written and was coming out. You look at the personnel; we have two more people and one less person than we had when we did that record. We’re also at a very different point in our lives. I’m not a stoned 20-year-old in my feelings with no friends in college obsessed with Tigers Jaw, Joyce Manor, and stuff. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with the old songs, but after a while, you want to feel like you can take a departure and use it as a building block. It doesn’t sometimes feel good necessarily to think that one of the first songs you ever wrote and recorded and weren’t thinking about the impact or longevity of it is still the one thing, the main thing that people identify as your greatest accomplishment. I don’t know. I did not expect, and I did not think I was gonna be playing “Death Cup” for the rest of my life. And if I did, I probably would not have written that song because, god damn, am I tired of playing that song. I’ll be real with y'all.

Bart: If you go to Weezer’s Spotify, their top song is like “Island in the Sun.” But like, not many people are like, “Dude, if they don’t play ‘Island in the Sun,’ I’m fucking going home.”

Eric: I’m scared that there’s gonna be torches and pitchforks if we don’t play that song at the show and stuff. That’s the one song that we’ve never not played.

Sam: Yeah I have the same issue in my other band Just Friends. We have a song called “Welcome Mats” and people get mad when we don’t play it. It is a weird feeling when you’re on stage playing the songs you just wrote, you’re really excited to play them and someone yells, “Play the song!” And I’m like, “Brah, I was 17 when I wrote that. I’m 29 now.”

I can only imagine how frustrating that can be when you want to show people how you’ve grown and evolved as artists and people don’t really give the new stuff the time of day.

Eric: We want to feel like we’ve grown up a little bit and grown with them. What we’re doing now is maybe as cool or cooler than what we were doing when we were 18 and that’s - I don’t know, some people might not get that, some people might. I think it’s cool. I definitely don’t feel bad that we have a younger fan base and that teenagers really like this band. I think that that’s cool. The kids have always been right historically, but it is also nice to feel grown. Like we’re all going on 30 the next few years.

Bart: Yeah.

Eric: Except Bart. He’s gonna be 21 for the next 10 years! [laughs] Anyways, it’s like we’re getting older and I think self-awareness is very important to this band. We want to be honest with ourselves about where we’re at, especially with our real lives and how that interacts with the band and stuff and trying to do something more reflective musically and material-wise. So it felt really appropriate trying to do something that I guess has broader appeal and something a little bit less niche. Puppy Love was a step in that direction and explored the deep dark depths of Bandcamp listening and paid homage to that sort of stuff rather than things that are really nostalgic to people. It’s definitely a vibe switch to have a Weezer worship song and to have a Third Eye Blind worship song and to have a Counting Crows worship song and a Barenaked Ladies worship song and stuff when people are kind of used to the operating temperature that we work at. I don’t know, it feels natural.

Bart: I feel like the first half of the album is very much like, if you like the old stuff, you will definitely like that half. And that’s kind of been proven because “What’s Up” is the second track and people like that song. Then the last half of the album is for anyone that’s been like, “Where’s the slow song?” I don’t know but you know what I mean. The last half of the album is more of what Eric was saying, the broader stuff that we really fuck with, you know?

What songs are you most excited to play live or most excited for people to listen to once the entire album is out?

Eric: Honestly, all of them. It’s tough to pick what songs we all want to play. We have to build the set for 'The Story So Far' tour and I think it’s gonna be really hard.

Bart: “White Trash Millionaire” because I have a lot of fun playing it and I feel like the chorus is really good. So if they don’t like it I’m gonna be pissed.

Sam: I want people to listen to the first song, “Something Sweet,” because that riff is the most Mom Jeans. thing on the record.

Bart: Yeah, it’s like some Mom Jeans. meta shit.

Eric: The producer tried to get us to change it and asked us if we wanted to do something a little different on that riff and all of us just said no.

Sam: 95-99% of the suggestions he made, we did take them or tried them out, but that one we all - it was so funny. I was on the couch and Bart was in the hallway; all four of us at once were like, "No, no, this is good." So I want all the Mom Jeans. fans to listen to that. This is the first song you put it on, and then it’s like, “Oh yeah, this is what I’ve been waiting for.”

Eric: Hopefully, it makes the new sonic approach to what we did on this record feel more like home. With that riff especially, I think there are elements like that within all of the songs. It’s sonically different from song to song. We wanted to do the Fountains of Wayne thing that they did on Welcome Interstate Managers, where every song sounded completely different. They did what the song needed, not necessarily like what would make the album sound cohesive or what was in their comfort zone. What I think unifies it and still makes it sound like Mom Jeans. are these little elements and little tidbits that act like callbacks. All of the songs have callbacks that are either influences that we’ve always worn on our sleeve - whether that’d be callbacks to the DIY, Midwest emo community - or whether they be callbacks to stuff that we have done specifically in the past. Hopefully, that takes up some of the risks of alienating people away and there’s gonna be those little moments in each of the songs that people can find that feel different and familiar. I’m excited for people to find those little easter eggs throughout the record and I hope they get excited about searching for the new stuff that’s in there too.

Speaking of callbacks, I really enjoyed “Something Sweet” and “Teeth” as bookends for the record and felt really drawn to “Tie Dye Acid Trip.”

Sam: Honestly, “Tie Dye Acid Trip” was the most challenging song.

How so?

Bart: That riff that’s in the beginning, I was just writing it and then I sent it to Sam and was like, this shit is trippy we should try to do something with this, but it was hard to make a chorus because that riff is kind of the chorus, you know what I mean?

Eric: This record was hard because of stuff like that. “Tie Dye” is a very on-the-nose song. As far as it being more of a traditional pop-rock song and something that I think has broader appeal, you can’t phone it in on any aspect of those songs. As Bart said, it took a lot of work going over those choruses and going over those verses and stuff and there are so many bad vocal demos. For “Circus Clown” too. There are so many different renditions of that song and so many different variations and I’m really happy that they made it on the record because they have their special moments musically. I can see myself on stage playing that riff and getting excited every time.

Bart: Hopefully you can visualize it when you listen to the record. So I think it’s really cool. I’m pretty jaded and I’ve heard the songs a lot. I’ve heard a lot of music and I feel like if I can still get excited every time I listen to the songs, if it can still transport me to that place where I feel like I’m at the gig, then I hope people can kind of get that sense, that vibe, too. So hopefully, we’re able to transport people and put them in that spot where they can see themselves in the music video or they can see themselves in the show or in the thing that’s happening.

Do you want to share any last things about what’s to come for the band or your feelings about the future?

Eric: I’m just excited to play the songs. We’ve been talking about this album a lot and we’ve been making an effort to hype people up and make whatever impact we’re going to be able to with this record with the release. So I’m really excited to just be able to finally put our money where our mouth is and show people what we’ve been working on. It just feels like a new sort of era for this band. It feels like the four of us and our team, like, we’ve been living in it ourselves and enjoying this new dynamic and journey and this new Sweet Tooth era for a while. Since we started really hammering down the final details of recording and getting into the studio, I feel like we have been in a really good place emotionally and spiritually and being excited about music again and touring again.

So I think to finally let everybody in on that and have everybody get to see that at face value and see the results is incredible. This band is really about so much more than the four of us. I tend to have the blinders on and just focus on me getting to play music with my friends, which is what’s really important to me at the end of the day, but there is this huge community of people that have been so supportive of this band, and not only this band, but our little community of bands and friends and Honey TV and everything that’s been going on with us in our little circle in the last few years. So, yeah, to finally let everybody in on the joke and let everybody see and let them in and be a part of everything and feel like they’re able to experience it and live in it now, I’m really excited for that. Hopefully, people will be happy for us and proud of us, and hopefully, it’ll inspire them to try and do the same thing.

I think we’ve done a lot of work emotionally, mentally, and logistically and musically on this band the last couple of years. I hope that it inspires anybody who follows us or is invested in our journey to take that time and do the same thing for themselves because it’s been so worth it for us. It was so hard to see firsthand and tangibly how valuable really taking care of yourself is, and obviously, there’s a virtue to pushing yourself to the limit and working super hard and busting your ass all the time. Like, that’s cool and fun sometimes, but it’s also really awesome to have that time to think about who you are and what you want and the kind of person that you want to grow into and to come to terms with that and kind of help take the time to see all those pieces come into place. I hope that this album was representative of that for us and I hope that it can represent that to our fans and the people who support us and like our music.

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