LAST NOVEMBER a used copy of the Mean Jeans' debut 7-inch, "Stoned 2 the Bone," went up for auction on eBay. The winning bid was a whopping $122.50.
To which the Jeans responded: "R U Mental?"
"I thought it was retarded," says singer/guitarist Christian (AKA Billy Jeans). "It's funny to me 'cause I think when we started the band, five or six years ago, we weren't trying to do anything."
The song was written and recorded in a single night. "It was just drunk, during the summer, screaming into a laptop," Christian remembers. "It's a really dumb way of recording. That's why it feels absurd for anyone to covet that record."
But it makes sense to me.
"Stoned 2 the Bone" formally established the Jeans' unassailable aesthetic. It is everything they do so well: anthemic comedy that's stupid, catchy, and subtly brilliant. Major chords and hook after hook—a logical continuation of the Ramones. But while I can bop along to those preeminent punks of pop, I can't see 'em. Joey has been dead for 11 years. And though the iconic model for rock loserdom may never change, the world around it has.
"Stoned 2 the Bone" was followed by another terrific 7-inch, "License 2 Chill," and Are You Serious?, an LP of equally indelible songs, every one a legitimate single. "Born on a Saturday Night," "Let's Pogo B4 U Gogo," "Party Animal," "No Brainer," "Case Race," and on down the line. Hits to last a lifetime.
Live, everyone sings, shouts, bounces, and bombs along. Mean Jeans shows are collective, cathartic, booze-fueled parties. For the longest time I thought they were a result of the community as much as the Jeans' prowess.
When I first met the band, on the eve of releasing Are You Serious? in November 2009, the trio had never really played outside of Portland. Touring sounded mythical and weird. Or at least like a lot of work. I wondered if they'd ever do it. Partying at the Jeans' house was never ending, equally radical and crushing—seemingly no friend of aspiration.
But the Jeans got out. In the years since they've toured the US and Europe. I've seen them in both California and Texas and each time I found the same scene, just like at home: Everyone singing along, partying, spitting beer, and letting go. It's the most reliable good time I can find anywhere. However small, the community has grown worldwide.
"All we want to do is have enough fun so that other people also have fun," says Christian. But going as hard as they do, it's not easy. I'm not quite sure how they don't die.
"While on the surface it seems like something everyone could sign up for, I think what we end up doing is something that most people completely cannot do," says Christian of the daily party. "And I know that if my mom knew what I did when I was on tour she would have to go to the hospital." Despite their low, skewed, and brutal standards, however, the Jeans find solace in the chaos.
"When we're on tour, we sort of—not neglect, but kind of forget about shit that's supposed to matter," says Christian. "You know, who you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to be doing—it really simplifies your life."
After Are You Serious? the Jeans released a slew of singles, including "R U Mental?" and "Tears in My Beers." They replaced bass player Howie with Richard (AKA Junior Jeans), a childhood friend of Christian's. Soon they'll hit the road again, touring behind their second LP, Mean Jeans on Mars, a relatively sprawling collection that expands the Jeans' universe. As Christian first described it to me, "It's real dumb."
Pizza and cocaine have given way to their latest muses: Jägermeister, Applebee's, and macaroni (because they're the "cheesiest"). By the Jeans' standards, On Mars is indeed out there. Songs average around three minutes apiece, almost twice as long as tracks from Are You Serious?. Despite key changes, added instrumentation, and a hint of melancholy, On Mars remains unshakably catchy, anthemic, and banging.
"Anything that we write will be melodic and catchy," say Christian. "Whether it sounds like the Traveling Wilburys or it sounds like the Ramones, it will always be in the same spirit that all of our songs are, which is about being a total retard and partying a lot and trying to deal with reality in lieu of being a party animal loser."
I can't wait to sing along. 'Cause if life's going to suck, it might as well be fun.