DIY Punk with Jeff Rosenstock
Written by Zachary Avery. Photo: Jeff Rosenstock. Courtesy of Hiro Tanaka


In the increasingly ineffable and diverse genre of punk music, there has persisted a leading voice within the decade-spanning DIY movement: Jeff Rosenstock. 

With his roots laid in basement shows of the Long Island pop punk scene from the early 2000s, Rosenstock’s vociferous sound, replete with violent outcries full of angst and emotionality, erratically shifts between a variety of genres: ska punk, folk punk, power pop and many others. His latest album, HELLMODE, is no different, albeit perhaps with a bit more production value than his previous records.

“I’m pretty psyched that when this record came out that people could feel we dialed things in a different way,” Rosenstock said. “Especially since NO DREAM and POST- were so focused on this thick layer of washy, shoegaze-y fuzz. There’s not so much of that on HELLMODE, and so it caused us to peel back the layers.”


Considering how Rosenstock’s 2020 release, NO DREAM, was so critically well-received, even being included in Pitchfork Magazine’s top rock albums of that year, it’s encouraging to see him strike gold twice. Choosing to be more deliberate with pedal choice and tone for each track, HELLMODE’s result is an incredibly varied album that expands the genre in a way that feels reminiscent to Rosenstock’s earliest punk inspirations, including Fugazi.

“Something that always stuck with me about that band, musically, is how dynamic they are and how quiet they’re willing to get so that the big parts feel really big,” Rosenstock said. “That’s always a good idea, I think, to try and be dynamic with punk music.”

“Dynamic” could be used to describe Rosenstock’s career as a whole. Starting with “The Arrogant Sons of Bitches” (or ASOB) in the late 1990’s out of Long Island’s burgeoning hardcore scene, then transitioning toward a clearer ska punk style with his beloved and revolutionary band, Bomb the Music Industry!, Rosenstock has consistently innovated his sound while never making too massive a departure from the DIY genre.

“Punk is supposed to be this thing where everyone can belong there and find their place there,” Rosenstock said. “No matter what kind of person you are, no matter how weird you are, now matter how anxious you are, no matter anything.”


Within the punk genre, however, it wasn’t always fashionably cool to “do it yourself.” In an already competitive music industry, the end goal always seemed to be securing some sort of record deal and attaining mainstream success. Rosenstock’s first two projects, however, focused almost entirely on establishing legitimacy and a fanbase through sheer will alone. For instance, at Bomb The Music Industry!’s first show in 2005, a bandmate held up signs with written lyrics for a sing-along to their track, “Blow Your Brains Out On Live TV.” This immediately roped the audience into the performance, even without having heard a single note of Rosenstock’s music before.

This inventive approach to fame would eventually inspire the creation of Rosenstock’s own label, Quote Unquote Records, where he prides himself on making his entire repertoire completely free and available to download online. In those early days of, this might’ve rubbed some folks the wrong way, especially after the paranoia surrounding pirated music platforms. However, like-minded artists, including Grand Rapids’ own Rick Johnson (previously of ska band Mustard Plug), could see the genius in Rosenstock’s methods.

“Mustard Plug was one of the first bands to be nice to us and want to take us on tours and want to play shows with us,” Rosenstock said. “I think a lot of people were scared because we were very chaotic, but Mustard Plug was not scared.”

Other collaborations, including the band Antarctigo Vespucci with musician Chris Farren and covers for Neil Young songs with keyboardist and vocalist Laura Stevenson, continued to help ingrain Rosenstock’s style of songwriting and performance into the ever-growing DIY punk scene.

His energetic, enigmatic lyrics aim to pull at your most extreme of heartstrings, reaching between incredible rage and incredible joy, and his music videos range from the absurd and surreal to sometimes shocking: from a fistfight with an obnoxious puppet to a satirized public stabbing during a live performance (in which Jeff’s own fans begin to eat his beef taco comprised innards). Suffice it to say, while Rosenstock may be serious about making music, his own music is not always that serious.

“It’s the freedom to go wherever you want to go with it, as long as you’re being expressive and being real and being truthful,” Rosenstock said. “All those things have guided how I do anything in my life.”


Beyond his solo projects, Rosenstock has also made a name for himself as a television and film composer, having worked on both the Emmy-nominated animated children’s show Craig Of The Creek and its subsequent HBO Max movie. Creating music for function, either as a background to a film or a theme song to a TV show, has stretched Rosenstock’s style even further. These days, he is more willing to experiment with tones outside of the regular skate punk sound, including ambient music. Those new inspirations shine all throughout HELLMODE, but especially in its middle track “HEALMODE,” a gentle-sounding ballad that almost floats between your ears.

“Doing that first Neil Young EP with Laura, that and Craig Of The Creek, really encouraged me to feel comfortable singing quietly and to explore different facets of my voice,” Rosenstock said. “I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable singing something like ‘HEALMODE’ without that first Neil Young cover.”

Now, after five solo albums and 20 years of performances, Rosenstock will be bringing his chaotic troupe of musicians to The Pyramid Scheme, where its limited seating was sold-out within the first week of tickets being made available online. And with an opener like Sidney Gish, another proponent of the DIY genre, Rosenstock’s latest tour and new album is surely a testament to punk music’s past, present and future.

“I think it sounds good live, I’ve been told we’re doing okay,” Rosenstock said. “It’s played 20 percent faster and sung 20 percent less good.”

Jeff Rosenstock w/ Sidney Gish and Gladie
The Pyramid Scheme
68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
April 12, 7 p.m.