Jeff Rosenstock Wants His New Album 'NO DREAM' to Feel Like a Celebration

Few musicians give voice to social unrest quite like Jeff Rosenstock. The 37-year-old punk troubadour surprise-released his fourth solo album, NO DREAM, on May 20 via Polyvinyl, and it vividly captures a palpable sense of excitement—and just as palpable worries.

Regardless of whether he's singing politically charged lines ("Golden bullets blessed by lobbyist money") or screaming about romantic shortcomings ("You're the only person that I wanted to like me"), Rosenstock is an artist that demands—and deserves—your attention.

A D.I.Y. superstar of sorts, Rosenstock is a slinger of punk anthems, a veteran who's not hemmed in by any Puritan view of the genre. His songs incorporate elements of ska, new wave and ambient music, and Rosenstock can seamlessly hit those transitions while barking sincere lyrics about gentrification, corporate greed or just his own personal problems. Even though he wants listeners to have a good time, you can't help but tell that Rosenstock really cares about everything he sings about, even if he occasionally relays it in a tongue-in-cheek way.

Coming off the heels of NO DREAM's sudden release, Rosenstock spoke to Newsweek about surprise records (which is the artist's preferred method of sharing material), how he uses music to cope with political issues and more. This interview has been edited and condensed for the sake of clarity.

Jeff Rosenstock
Jeff Rosenstock surpise released his new album "NO DREAM" on May 20. Christine Mackie

This is the second—third, if you count the live album—time that you've surprise-released an album. Do you think you'll ever return to a traditional album cycle again? Was COVID-19 a factor in deciding to surprise-release this one?

I don't know what I'll ever end up doing in this future. At this point, it really just makes sense. I get excited putting out records that way, and it seems like fans get excited about it, too, and to me, that's a win all around. I like doing it that way.

When Bomb the Music Industry!—my old band—started and I had the digital donation label, Quote/Unquote Records, all of that was kind of done with the mindset of like, "Yo, you know what's cool about the internet? When you make a record, you can just f**king put it out right away, and you don't have to wait to make things. You don't have to spend a bunch of money to duplicate things." So, I think the last few records that I've done, I've just kinda [gone] back into that philosophy.

We were always planning on doing NO DREAM as a surprise release. It was gonna come out in July, and we had a whole bunch of touring and cool s**t planned around it, but once it seemed like we weren't going to be able to do any of that, me and PolyVinyl spoke like, "What's the earliest day we could put this out now?" They're like, "Eh, three weeks from now—May 20th." I was like, "Alright, let's go."

You included "The Beauty of Breathing" on your live album last year. Why did you opt to feature it on the live album, rather than waiting for the studio release?

I just think it's cool when a live record has a new song on it, and we were playing that on that tour. I also put the demo of that song up for a little bit. I think that there's something to be said about keeping a little bit of mystique or whatever around your songs and only letting the final version be the one that exists in the world, but I think it's fun to do the opposite sometimes.

I thought it would be fun to show how that song progressed from how I made it in my bedroom and the way that we were playing it on tour, and the way that we zeroed in and did the full arrangement. I'm stoked that there's three versions of it out there. "Beauty of Breathing," that was the first "song-song" that was completely done on this record. So, it felt like the anchor of it in a lot of ways. It would be weird if just the live version of it existed—it's got no harmonies.

Socio-political anxieties as well as personal ones are a staple of your albums. I think you write really well about humanizing issues—like, on this album, I hear a lot of anti-capitalism messages. Do you sit down to write that sort of thing intentionally, or is it more that you just start writing and it ends up permeating the song?

I think it's more the second thing. I'm just writing about things that I'm thinking about, and I'm trying to empty certain anxieties out of my head and come to term with certain things in a way that, to me, feels productive.

That's probably the thinking behind like, if you're in therapy and being asked to keep a journal, or the idea of keeping a journal in general—like, being able to not have the weight of that only exist within yourself and being able to maybe try and turn it into something positive, or at the very least turn into something that like, "It's a song now. It's not just this terrible feeling of dread that won't go away."

Do you hope that audiences take a message away from your music or just enjoy it?

I just hope that they enjoy it. I think it would be good if somebody heard this who was like, "Oh s**t. I haven't thought about the fact that the gun lobby owns America, and we're never going to end mass shootings, because we won't ever have gun control laws, because it's not in the best interest of profit."

It would be the ultimate dream that anybody hears this and it kinda changes their mind about how we treat each other, but I think that's a little lofty to think is possible. So, I just hope people hear it and like it, and if anybody feels the same, and it makes them feel okay about feeling these ways, that is also awesome to me, because that is how music has been for me throughout my life and how music has gotten me through really, really hard times in my life and has been there for me, when I have really not felt like I had anywhere else to turn.

How would you say that NO DREAM is different from your 2018 album, POST-?

In every way I feel like. It's a faster record. If I could speak about it in a possibly pretentious way, POST- to me was a record that was about space and allowing yourself space to process, and allowing yourself time to be okay with things—like, just allowing yourself time to reflect. From everything with the way the color scheme on that record was, to all the shirts and fliers we made for that record, it all kinda sits in this grayish- blue, "You're tired. It's done" kind of vibe.

Whereas this record, in my mind, I was more like, "This is a pop record." This is everything full-force, everything turned up to 10, everything played fast, everything loud, every melody—just try to make it as catchy as any melody can be, just make the album cover being super-rainbow on top of rainbow, on top of sparkles, on top of melty s**t, on top of gloss. I wanted this record to feel very loud and vibrant.

It's a record to drive around fast to or bike to or run to or just run around your house or some s**t. I feel like it just feels like the other side of the coin to POST- in a lot of ways. I think this one tried to have some moments of celebration in there, rather than just being in the nonstop-mourning phase of things.

Jeff Rosenstock
Jeff Rosenstock performs during day 2 of Mo Pop Festival at West Riverfront Park on July 29, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Getty/Scott Legato