In the following conversation, musician, songwriter and educator Chris Lee-Rodriguez talks with acclaimed poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva on the Bomb the Music Industry song “Future 86.” Listen to the song before, while and after reading:
M: Obviously it’s a love song. So you first heard it live at a show?
C: Yeah, that was the last song they closed their set with. That whole show was crazy ….It was a ska show but not normal ska that I was used to. I think a music journalist coined it “Internet Ska” where there’s a lot of MIDI keyboards, and it’s very spastic and uses a lot of humor. That was the last song they ended with. I’ve never really thought about what that song was actually about until preparing for this [interview]. I always thought this was his typical ballad. Like every album he has this slow jam that starts with him singing on guitar, and it turns into this epic thing.
M: Yeah, this triumphant thing. He’s really good at catharsis in his songs.
C: That’s his huge skill…. this catharsis through mundane things. He’s a really good storyteller.
M: Yeah! His lyrics have lists that world build. He’s so specific. Like that line, “Chinese food’s reminding me of you.” I think when I was listening to that as a 16-year-old, it grounded me and inspired me because it was so mundane and it makes you think, “What was the moment? Did they eat a lot of chinese food together? Was there a date with just Chinese food? Who’s the person who likes Chinese food?”
C: [Laughs] wasn’t it fast food?
M: Oh fuck! No, it is fast food. Why’d I say Chinese food? Is it cause I’m looking at you?
C: [Laughs] That’s so funny but that’s so true too. That song is a good bridge of his artistic work or musical career because that was one of the first songs he wrote for BTMI before it was a thing. It was for his old band ASOB and that transitioned to BTMI. That was the first thing I was introduced to about DIY ethic and giving your music away for free. He was one of the first people to do that that I found out about. I was like what do you mean you can download on the website. I feel like with this song, it’s a story but it’s a mood or color too.
M: So how old were you when you heard this song?
C: I was 14. There’s that IKG [I Kill Giants, Chris’s former band] song, Part 2, the “Let me feel alive” song.
M: Oh yeah! Let me feel aliiiiiive.
C: [Laughs] Yeah, so that part is all about the first time I saw him play.
M: Oh my god I love it.
C: Cause there’s a line about him hitting me in the face with his guitar and my glasses fall off. And then he grabbed my head and sang into the mic “I’m sorry i hit you in the head in the face with your glasses. Woah oh!” so he said that! He did a rewrite and started singing.
M: [Laughs] that’s so amazing. There are so many idols that I have that I wish hit me in the face and knocked my glasses off.
C: How old were you when you first heard it?
M: I was 15. I was dating this boy and he gave me a mix CD. The last song was “Future 86” i’m pretty sure. Every other song was good, but it took me time to listen to love. I don’t know, I wasn’t musically smart enough to get it i guess, but “Future 86” I loved immediately. I was like, “Oh shit this song fucking rules.” I always associated BTMI with boys i’ve loved. I’ve been listening to this song for over a decade, and the older I’ve gotten and life experiences I’ve had, it’s been this slow unraveling bafflement of how the world is or what the song is really about. I’m like “Oh as an adult I understand this song now.”
C: It took me 10 years to figure out what that song was about but then also how there’s so much to it. Like the world building but also how he records stuff too. Cause he recorded that in a room with a fuzzy bass amp thats fuzzy and he banged on a laundry bin, and he had his friends sing on it. Like the part now tell me something awesome.
C: Yeah how serious the lyric is juxtaposed to how little seriousness he takes it. He really cares a lot about writing songs in music and doing the best but he doesn’t care or think of himself as a professional?
M: The song is really self-deprecating too. Every time the boat is mentioned, SS bullshit dreams to nowhere, SS ambition to nowhere, like I’m on this boat of my own stupid egotistical wanting to be somebody. That self awareness was really formative for me. And the [imagination] of the self awareness, like going on a journey? ….. like the idea of putting it on a boat.
C: Yeah! It’s super clever. There’s an interview with him in the BTMI! documentary “Never Stop” where he says things like “I don’t really know what I’m doing with my life” or “I feel like the music industry won’t accept me so I’m doing this for myself.” or “I’m just doing this thing because there isn’t a space for me so I’m making a space for myself.”
M: Man that’s so punk and also something kids of color experience all the time. Who were you when you were first listening to this song?
C: Well I was going to shows a lot in NJ and I think that year was a lot of different music for me. I was a freshman in high school, and I didn’t know who I was going to be. I was playing in a band that wasn’t that good. I was a very impressionable punk kid who liked going to shows and Jeff rosenstock was the first big influence on me where I thought “Oh, I don’t need success to be a musician …. I shouldn’t make a career out of this if I don’t love it first.” I never thought it was a feasible thing to make a career because the type of music I liked wasn’t commercially viable. I feel like it was the same kind of thing where kids of color who grow up don’t know if there’s a place for them. I definitely felt wandered and lost. What about you?
M: I thought I was also impressionable weird “LATEENager.” A lot of music listened to was by myself. And I didn’t really have an mp3 player or if I did I didn’t have headphones or the battery was dead so my experience of listening to music was solitary and by myself, when I was writing. My mom didn’t let me out of the house so I spent a lot of time writing. I guess what i mean to say was I was a person alone in my room staring at the ceiling unsure who I wanted to be or what kind of person i was. I was in love when I first started listening to it but then when that was over I was heartbroken and listening to it and years have gone on and I’ve been in love and heart broken and still listening to it. But to me, sometimes it’s not about romance.
C: That narrative is so common in songs, but like how he approached it, because it’s usually don’t tell me not to go or I’ll stay. It’s usually romantic, but his is very clever in how he words it. Can I stop my life so I can just be with you.
M: Yeah I really love that. Also listening to that as a woman is interesting because a lot of woman stop their lives or creative lives to be wives and mothers and stuff and feel like they can’t have it all. …. yeah I don’t know. I feel like I’ve worn it out with romance with that song….it’s also so nostalgic, it reminds me of always looking forward.
C: That’s a really good point. Did you ever have that feeling of when you broke up with someone you couldn’t listen to certain songs or there are some songs you love so much it stuck with you after the relationship?
M: Yeah there are songs i don’t like to listen to anymore because I’m like ugh or whenever I hear it I feel it cause it reminds me of that person. But this song always deeply belonged to me even after that 1st person showed it to me. I don’t know why.
C: That’s such a simple thing. Also musically, like the chords he plays isn’t a typical punk progression. The chords move, like it’s usually a cycle of four chords, but they move back and forth and it’s not one thing and you can’t hear it. It’s v layered but harmonically it’s very rich and and it moves. There’s a direction. There’s a story with the music as well. He’s also of the same generation, like Donald Glover, where he’s putting out content and kinda like ….not staying in the lab and being really secretive about shit. He’s very open, especially with his songs because he has that record label quote unquote records and he would write an explanation of all the songs. I’m not sure if he did with this one though.
M: Maybe that’s intentional. Having transparency with people who are consuming your stuff, like who are listening or reading it, is really special, and I think there’s a certain allure to thing, where I think if you are aloof and secretive you become more appealing, but I really respect people who are heart on your sleeve giving your everything, showing you all the work.
C: It creates an urgency too. That was the one thing I felt like with him that all his work, he’s released 6 to 7 BTMI albums and 3 solo, and they all have such urgency to them, where it’s like “I have to write this down.”
M: I also think we’re thinking about this as young artists of color and how we feel the urgency all the time, but sometimes that urgency comes from needing to make our parents proud in some way. There’s so much we’re trying to prove.
C: Did you ever show your mom this song?
M: I think I played it when we were in the car and she was like “This is depressing.” [laughs] Put on something happy.
C: I feel like my mom said something too like Okay….
M: What’s lonely about being first generation is that there’s a lot you don’t share with your parents, or at least that’s how i feel. Like there’s a lot of things you enjoy that you won’t share with them because they just don’t get it.
C: And it’s not important to them either. Yeah I was thinking about that too because our upbringing is so different ….because they went through so much. They didn’t have access to music as easily as we did.
M: BTMI and Future 86 is really anti-capitalist and anti-american dream and that’s what our parents wanted for us. They’re like do you have insurance?
C: Or even in the route of the artist of trying to monetize it and think of it in terms of business …. that’s why I always liked this band because they did away with that. At least my mom respects my music, but she always thinks of it from a business perspective.
M: My mom too! She’s like “I have an idea! You can make shirts! I could come to your shows and sell the shirts!”
C: [laughs] …This type of music, it created a community and we always think about it from a communal aspect. It’s weird cause it’s not so much the community of making friends with other people but community in the sense that it’s a communal experience between me and the song. Whenever we interact with art or song or book, we have a strong relationship with it.
M: Another thing I’m really fixated on the bullshit dream to nowhere. Like I know Jeff Rosenstock is being a self deprecating punk white dude who’s like whatever this doesn’t even matter, but maybe you and me have a special relationship with having bullshit dreams.
C: Yeah I was thinking about that too ….. He is speaking from a place of privilege obviously but he’s always ….conscientious, just the idea of existing in that and trying to succeed. Still trying to function in this capitalist dream where he’s not sure if he’s doing well. Throughout his time in that band he’s driving a truck and works these little things to survive. And that’s what a lot of these albums are about. It’s about survival and trying to surivive and not drown in debt or in this feaux american dream that was put onto us…..It was a thing a lot of people could relate to, especially kids of color. And it’s funny we’re focusing on this one song that is a romantic song which a lot of his songs aren’t even that.
M: But …listening to it you hear money and debt in this song, you hear what kind of person wrote this.
C: Yeah you’re just thinking about this song and everything he talks about that it’s not gonna go anywhere but he still wants to do it cause it’s his creative ambition but he’s trying to fight it with the person he loves too. It’s still prevalent there.
M: Yeah, it’s the love song of late capitalism. I’ll get a temp job, you’ll start your career. I’m not being fickle, just realistic.
C: Also I just love, that’s a common theme in songs, making puns on losing your mind, and that’s one of my favorite losing mind word play things. There’s so many ways to flip that with the double entendre.
M: I think it kind of falls under the category of world building, where you take an inexplicable intangible object like a mind and make that [noun] do something else.
C: He’s a good writer! Just the word play and how he brings things up.
M: The way it was so confessional and playful and self aware and self deprecating and bitter really spoke to me as a teen. You could hear someone wanting truth and beauty so badly, and I really love that. I think it’s in the roots of my writing, it’s so formative.
C: I think the musical aspects of it too, like the trope of gang vocals and how he uses that in the song, how people are singing along together and recording that and singing these sad songs [were formative]. I love how it’s not even a chorus but a verse and they’re all singing it together. That gives me that communal feeling because it feels like you’re in that gang or crowd and you’re singing along even though you’re in your room.
M: You do! And then it happens when you go to the shows. Also you feel like you’re saying goodbye to someone, it’s a bunch of people on the shore singing it to you.
C: A bon voyage type of song! It’s so weird too just listening to that song and connecting to punk music when you’re just a brown kid …. The song is something you connect to, even though it’s by some random white dude. You still feel it so much.
M: You do! I think now with representation getting better, white people are relating to struggles of marginalize people and being like “But wait it’s not my story.” And it’s about relating to the humanity of that, and we’ve been able to do that forever.
C: And it doesn’t depreciate the value of the song itself either. That’s so interesting. Anything else? Yeah, I guess you touched upon it how it’s not as romantic but it’s yours.
M: Yeah or there’s still, idk, it’s like an old love. It never fades but it’s not the same. Actually, I don’t know what I’m talking about. That song still devastates me on the regular. I think it always will.
C: There’s something about his work about how much these songs affected my teenage adolescence that had such an effect on me as a songwriter and me as a person. t’s such a typical thing where your parents work hard to get out of poverty and try to do the most for you and work hard, and they see their children lamenting late capitalism and loneliness listening to free music that no one’s making money off.
M: Hahah listening to music! And they’re like what have I done?
C: Yeah, they’re like I fucking failed.
M: I think just definitely if you were to make an ancestral chart of influences of what kind of writer I am, future 86 is in there. It just makes sense because children of immigrants and immigrants understand heartbreak in such a specific way and understand what it means to leave people a long time and never come back. As an artist ….when I go on tour and go places i’m constantly in motion or transit and I’ve become in love with being in transit sometimes. It makes me feel depressed when I’m in one place.
C: Your whole life sentence is in a van.
M: Yeah hahaha. But also at the same time the older I get the more I feel like having a person to come back to. I think about what moving means for children of immigrants.
C: I think about it too. Just see what’s out there but you’re also not sure if it’s not going anywhere either. I feel like urgency too creates this motion. I don’t know if it’s reflective or metaphorical but how Jeff produces work and puts out content and all his songs are about uncertainty and survival and moving forward …. there’s some type of cohesive thread that reflects your work ethic as an artist and what your art is about as well.
M: Yeah, I totally feel you about the urgency thing. Sorry, I’m just thinking about that.
C: There’s something comforting about it too. You know? It’s something comforting about having a song you can always go back to. I feel like there are certain songs, especially now, like i think i heard lin manuel miranda say this once where music you listen to when you’re 12 to 19 will be the most important music you’ll listen to in your life. Nothing will ever compete with that.
M: It’s true. I keep trying to find songs are like the ones i listened to when I was 12 to 19.
C: And it won’t be the same because you know more now! You’re not as impressionable.
M: Yeah, you’re not as stupid.
C: You’re not as stupid. You have more of an adult ear. At least with me, I’m like I know what this song sounds like cause it sounds like this. And i know how the music and melody works.
M: Right and before you were like “how did this happen?”
C: Right, I don’t have that same heartfelt thing as i did. Even with Jeff’s newer albums. I love them, I think they’re great, but his newer work will never have the same effect on me as it did when i was a kid, because one, I know how music is made and the process, so it’s hard not to look through things with an “academic lens.” But when you hear that when you’re a kid, being impressionable, i mean people see it as a bad thing but…
M: but you’re like yeah! Kids are so impressionable!
C: they can fall for anything and sometimes you get lucky and fall for the right things.
M: I know! That’s so true. And it’s like a domino effect. Also, I think if I had the same brain as I do now when I was 16, I wouldn’t try to be an artist. I think I was stupid enough to pursue something. It’s really hard to do this. I think you and i are consistently nerds about everything. I see that stop in people as they get older. They feel embarrassed or stupid or not well versed enough when they love something.
C: Yeah but that’s being a nerd is.
M: Yeah, to love it.
C: Being a music obsessed person or being obsessed with someone’s work is okay when it’s healthy. I think it’s being a healthy type of nerd where you obsess over everything they are. I’m the type of person if I’m in love with your work, I don’t talk to you.
M: Yeah, that’s so real.
C: And I feel kids have had the same effect over things we’ve done? Is that obnoxious?
M: No it’s true. Isn’t it freaky?
C: Yeah this kid at the IKG [I Kill Giants] show was in tears talking about the album.
M: Yeah people have come up to me shaking and being like “I’ve never seen myself before and you’ve made me see myself.” Whenever I talk about it i feel like the most egotistical person but it’s insane that it happens.
C: Exactly! I’m sure jeff is super weirded out about that too. Someone who talks about anxiety all the time.
M: I’m glad this is only the second time i’ve brought it up but everything you’ve been telling me, he’s the most virgo virgo i’ve ever heard of it. I’m sure we have the same chart. We have the same birthday!
C: You should tweet at him and tell him you have the same birthdays.
M: He probably hates astrology.
C: I’m so proud of him seeing his success from a glance, like how i am with donald glover. Because we’ve been consuming his content for so long.
M: Yeah! I want there to be a name for the historical moment where it’s the age of ealy donald glover and jeff rosenstock…is it obama era?
C: No it’s pre obama! It was during the bush years. It was near the end of the bush years.
M: I think this is right. The urgency might’ve come from coming out of bush era where things were really fucked post 9/11, all this shit is being revealed about the country and how fucked up it is.
C: Yeah one of the first btmi songs was a song he wrote right after Bush’s re-election. Now we’re in a weird new age, like who are the equivalent of us now and what do they have? Because everything is so accessible.
M: Are we them now? I’m not sure.
C: I remember finding content and free shit was hard. There wasn’t an avenue just yet. There wa a youtube but no one understood youtube. Jeff gave shit away for free before bandcamp. I mean hip hop artists have been doing that forever but how he created his own website to do it. I feel like the internet was a mystery, it wasn’t integrated into everyday life as it is now.
M: We definitely had to do more work to get stuff. You had to do more work to put content out, but now you can record a song in your bedroom no problem.
C: Yeah it’s super accessible. Are we old for saying this?
M: idk it’s kind of sick! I think it’s cool! I wanna think it’s cool or else I’ll be really jealous.
C: You think it’s really cool that it’s so accessible?
M: yeah, or it’s so accessible for people to rise to fame.
C: I just feel like these guys were myths because it was counter culture. I feel like there’s no mainstream now …I feel like the mainstream isn’t as, like whatever’s on the radio is fine, but if you blow up on youtube…because it’s so easy to become big, the mainstream has become democratized almost and counterculture is very specific….. Idk if that makes sense. Like what are the equivalents of BTMI? Because he’s still doing the thing too. He’s still playing shows and doing the same thing…. one of the most positive effects that his work and this song in a way has is the idea of doing things, doing it anyway but not ignoring reality.
M: It’s a very uncertain song which feels very truthful to me.
C: Yeah in the end he chooses being in a band over being with his girl, i think.
M: yeah but he’s still regretful. Like there is no right decision. I’m just trying to be alive.
C: That’s what it’s all about. Moving forward.