[DUMB PUNK] When I arrive at Zach’s Shack to interview Portland’s pop-punk savants Mean Jeans, guitarist-singer Christian (aka Billy Jeans) is hunched over a sketch pad, his attention split between a casual conversation with drummer-singer Andrew (aka Jeans Wilder) and the work-in-progress coming to life on his pad: a rather convincing likeness of Macho Man Randy Savage sporting a penis that defies all anatomical reason.
I’d planned to somehow trick the Jeans dudes—who decline to provide their last names for press or promotional materials—into illuminating the gulf between the intentional idiocy of their new album, Mean Jeans on Mars, and the real-life guys responsible for twisting a pro-partying, anti-seriousness ethos until it attains affecting pop perfection. But my nagging doubts about carefully constructed personas are put to rest by Savage’s ridiculous wang. Mean Jeans are totally serious about being totally dumb.
“I don’t think it’s a persona we’ve tried to create for the band,” Christian explains. “I think it’s just us talking and acting the way we do. Which involves partying a lot and being a retard and fucking stuff up.”
“Yeah, we party a lot,” Andrew says.
Bonded by a mutual love for pop-punk bands like the Queers and Riverdales, Andrew and Christian started Mean Jeans in 2006 and moved to Portland from Washington, D.C., soon after. By the end of 2009, they’d recruited a bass player (Howie Doodat, who has since been replaced by Jr. Jeans), established themselves as this city’s premier party band and released, via Dirtnap Records, an album (Are You Serious?) of fast and silly Ramones-style pop punk that heralded the arrival of a Screeching Weasel for our time, our place.
Mean Jeans on Mars, out this week, slows down and refines the Mean Jeans’ sound. It is still haunted by the ghosts of Joey and Johnny, but it owes more to the spacious Pleasant Dreams than the Ramones’ buzz-sawing early work. It is, in its way, a more mature version of Mean Jeans.
And it turns out the Jeans aren’t entirely allergic to strategy and premeditation. Referring to the Queers and Screeching Weasel, Christian avers that “they both went south by doing the same shit over and over again.” Pair that awareness of souring singularity with an expanded range of influences—Andrew cops to deep appreciation for Rick Springfield and ELO—and the Mean Jeans’ evolution into slightly more elegant party animals resembles something like a conscious effort, although the Jeans’ pop pursuit is still a humbly dumb one, which Christian makes clear: “We’ve been mutually operating under the credo, since the beginning of the band, that no idea is too retarded.”
“The most important thing to me,” Andrew says, “is having a good time and hoping you can get away with it.” Dismiss that as cheap philosophy if you must, but for now, it seems to be keeping Mean Jeans on the right side of a certain kind of imbecilic brilliance.
SEE IT: Mean Jeans play the East Portland Eagles Lodge, 4904 SE Hawthorne Blvd., on Friday, April 20, with Therapists, Bi-Marks and the Bugs. 9 pm. $5. 21+.