"You basically have to be an idiot or a psycho to continue playing in a band in your 30s while trying to survive in the real world — but that’s a good thing," posits Mean Jeans vocalist/guitarist Billy Jeans, as he stretches out on a beach in Lake Tahoe. (No, seriously.) He's not only catching some rays but reflecting on the inspiration behind his band's new album, Gigantic Sike, out August 30th on Fat Wreck Chords.
"A gigantic sike is an escape plan,” he says. “It's the idea of being able to just drop a big 'ol whoopsie-daisies on everything we've done up to this point — the songs, albums, the band's existence, my own personal existence — and play the whole thing off as a goof. It's a joke on the fantasy of sneaking out the backdoor on a crummy identity you didn't necessarily mean to create.”
Gigantic Sike is Mean Jeans' fourth full-length — or fifth, if you include last year's Jingles Collection, a 23-song assemblage of unsolicited product jingles written for brands like Totino's, Skoal and Mountain Dew. ("I think the jingles are our best work, but I guess you can't mosh to windshield-wiper endorsement ballads," Jeans explains.) The trio recorded Gigantic Sike's 11 songs over three days in Los Angeles in December 2018 (the first day was spent learning the tracks; the next two spent hammering them out). Like all prior Mean Jeans albums, Gigantic Sike falls into the category of three-chord, heavily Ramones-influenced party punk, though there's a bit of a twist this time.
"These songs are fun and fast, but at their core, they're about the bleak existence of a party boy," Jeans says. "All of my favorite Mean Jeans songs have an element of sadness, cynicism, or darkness to them. They're dumb, but there's honesty in the lyrics."
The record opens with "Party Line," and within the first 15 seconds, Billy Jeans sings about Coors Light, cocaine and mentions his actual phone number. This is still very much the Mean Jeans you know and love. But, as the frontman elucidates, there's more to it.
"On the surface, it's about a hotline you call when you're ready to party," he says. "But the party line is just my cellphone, and the song is about how no one's blowing up the party line anymore and everyone's moving on with their lives. Plus I get blown up with robocalls every day, so who cares who has my number?"
Gigantic Sike finds the power trio trying a few new things — the double-time drum beat in "Basement Animal" and the key change in "Just A Trim (Don't Buzz Me Alright)," for example (and yes, the latter song is a Wayne's World reference, thanks for noticing) — but the band's speedy, buzzsaw pop-punk sound is still intact. While Jeans is proud of 2016's Tight New Dimension, he feels that the band "tried too hard" on the album.
"For a band like Mean Jeans, there is no direct correlation between trying harder and the music getting better, in my opinion," Jeans says. "For Gigantic Sike, the approach was 'write songs, bang ’em out and not over-analyze it. Keep it simplistic, true to form. When in doubt, punk it out."
Just like cultishly loved but critically misunderstood world-builders such as Andrew W.K. and "Weird Al" Yankovic, Mean Jeans too have created a universe in which the band and their fans reside, one which values comedy equally as tragedy, highs as important as lows.
"There is a Mean Jeans universe I can't totally define, but it's cartoonish, idiotic and existential — and definitely in outer space," Billy says. "I hope that some people identify with it, and that it leaves some people scratching their heads. I hope somebody wonders, 'Is this whole record a joke on me?'"
While the album takes a number of cues from real life — for example, "I Fell Into A Bog" is inspired by the time drummer Jeans Wilder actually, literally fell into a Florida bog during the Fest and wasn't located by the band until the next morning — Gigantic Sike's mission statement concludes with its closing track, "Time Warp," a fizzy, melodic number that is gonna sound great through your local dive bar's PA as a few hundred drunk punks sing along. "If the Gigantic Sike concept is the idea of being able to run away from all of the stupid decisions you've made so far in life, 'Time Warp' is the exit strategy," Billy Jeans says. "Siking a misled party life and taking the time warp to start over again is a theme in the record — laughing at what you've become and wondering if you can just warp your way out of it."
Nowadays, Mean Jeans' members are scattered across three different states, and they're probably feeling the effects of being in a party-punk band for more than a decade. But Billy Jeans says despite the loose theme of Gigantic Sike, Mean Jeans isn't going anywhere. "How do you function as a band when you live in three different cities?" he asks. "You gotta wing it. Make up the rules as you go. We never had band practice when we were all in Portland, so what our new strategy presupposes is, maybe that's punk?"