When I arrive at the bar to interview Wet Leather, it’s raining, which means I’ve already violated the second half of the band’s (un?)official motto: “Never wear leather, never get wet.” Fortunately, they’re nice guys and let me slide. (I was only breaking half the rules, after all.)
Tonight, they’re holding an advance screening of the “Party” music video at Golden Years, where Matt Bernstein works and the other members of the band —plus a bunch of other bands — often hang out. But little known to attendees, he has already held an advance advance showing of the video when test-driving equipment the night before.
“Last night, I ended up screening the video for the bartender and the four German tourists who were here,” Matt says. “The tourists said, ‘Oh yah, it’s good. Yah, it’s nice.’ I feel like they wouldn’t lie to me.”
After setup is complete and Matt has put the finishing touches on his DJ set, he and Jason Katzenstein (together comprising half of Wet Leather — Dema Paxton-Fofang and Barry Marino couldn’t make it) meet me at a corner table where I’ve been occupying myself with rose cider and mezcal cocktails. (A combination that, spoiler alert, I will regret.)
As people begin to arrive for the main event, we do a quick interview on all things Wet and Leather — plus the band’s favorite spots in Brooklyn and, most importantly, how it’s about damn time Matt screens The Mask at the bar.
On the interesting results you get when searching “wet leather”…
MATT: That’s a phenomenon I wasn’t aware of before we started this band — and now I’m aware of it. Over time, some people followed us because they’re just… leather enthusiasts. This guy Wet Ralph still follows us and likes our posts. Over time, he must have realized… he’s not sticking around for the leather content.
On their self-dubbed genre, “anxiety pop”…
MATT: That was definitely a cheeky thing we thought was funny. These kind of start off as dumb inside jokes, and we put them on the internet, and now they follow us around. But I still do think anxiety pop is pretty applicable. Even though the stuff we’re making now is very different from the stuff we’ve released, it still feels very rooted in trying to find a catharsis.
JASON: I hate to dance. I don’t like it. It makes me feel exposed, self-conscious — it doesn’t feel natural. But I love facilitating the dance party. I think that’s why I’ve always loved being in bands, because then I don’t have to be in the audience. My shield is the instrument and facilitating other people’s’ good time comes naturally and feels more fun.
On the Brooklyn/NYC influence…
MATT: We definitely love a lot of New York bands like Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem and are definitely influenced by those bands. At this point, what we’ve recorded and released hasn’t really felt like New York to me, but I think it’s possible I’ve been living here for so long, it’s finally starting to rub off on us.
I feel like our new stuff actually sounds like a New York band… or maybe a London band, I’m not sure. But there’s something about the music we’re doing now that feels more urgent, less laid-back, and I think that’s a quality that all the great New York bands have.
On favorite Brooklyn venues present…
JASON: The Our Wicked Lady roof.
MATT: Our Wicked Lady is great. We love that place. We’ve played there on the roof and downstairs.
JASON: And that’s a bar rec!
MATT: Yeah, it’s right by our practice space, so we can just roll everything down the hill after.
JASON: Shea Stadium, RIP.
MATT: Shea Stadium was the GOAT… loved Silent Barn. It’s very sad to see all these places closing down. It’s one of the things about the city that it is so unforgiving. It’s worth trying to patronize them — I think we all make a point of trying to go to as many shows as possible.
JASON: And all our friends are in bands too, so we end up at all these venues all the time, supporting each other.
MATT: It’s definitely about the deranged claustrophobic feelings that come with being at a party in a cramped New York apartment.
JASON: What I love about “Party” is that all of the ingredients are things you’re not supposed to associate with dancing and fun and feeling free. But we mixed them all together and turn it into a celebration of anxiety and feeling like a stranger in your own body and being nervous, etcetera, etcetera. That’s often the mission statement of a lot of the songs: taking back control of these feelings that are supposed to be alienating and being like, no — feel this, and then dance to it.
On what’s coming up…
MATT: This song feels like a turning point for us. We all, when we recorded it, turned some kind of corner and started making something that felt like a new chapter. We have an album’s worth of stuff we’ve recorded that we’re finishing now… and we got so excited about the new stuff we’ve recorded, we’ve already started writing more.
This is the fun part —well, it’s all the fun part. There’s no part of being in a band that shouldn’t be fun. That’s why we started doing this. I think all of us are committed to doing that to the hilt and making sure playing live is still a good time.
On the Pitchfork dream…
MATT: [Jeremy D. Larson] did the Arcade Fire negative review. He called that one song ‘warm milk poured over the idea of reggae.’ He’s amazing. I hope one day to get a terrible Pitchfork review from Jeremy Larson — that would be an honor, to be roasted by him.
Feature image: Ben Curry
+ WET LEATHER DOES BROOKLYN
MATT: My favorite thing about this place is that it’s become a go-to for our friends when I’m working here — a lot of friends from college, friends from other bands from New York… our friends from Caravela, UV Rays. It’s kind of a running joke that the first 10 seats at the bar will be our people. It makes working weekends a lot more appealing if I know that all my friends are going to show up anyway. I don’t have to worry about missing out.
JASON: We go ‘Matt, play this song! Matt! Matt! Play this song!’
MATT: If our musician friends come in, I’ll play their music to torture them. That’s a fun privilege that I abuse when I’m working here.
We tend to gravitate towards [more divey] bars in general. That’s a lot of where we’ve played and spent time, and where I tend to feel more comfortable. This is a great place because you have that casual, unpretentious atmosphere, but you can get a really excellent cocktail.
JASON: I actually have one complaint about Golden Years, which is that Matt has never screened The Mask.
MATT: It’s been requested multiple times, and now I have no excuse.
JASON: I think the people would be very excited if that played at Golden Years.
221 N 4th St, (718) 302-5100, facebook.com/goldenyearsbk
The Cobra Club
MATT: I used to work there. That place has been in the family for a very long time. I met Barry there. We all selected that moment — when Barry came in and played with us for the first time, it really felt like we had a band. It all happened at Cobra Club. Our first show was at Cobra Club. And that’s where the band meetings happen — when Barry’s working. During the slow hours, we drop in on him and drink coffee and talk.
6 Wyckoff Ave, (917) 719-1138, cobraclubbk.com
JASON: Vinyl Fantasy is a comic shop and record shop. Ilana and Joe co-own the place, and Ilana also is a dog walker, so there are constantly cute dogs in there.
They have an event where cartoonists come in, and there’s a big projector and they read work they’re working on, which is really cool. And there’s beer.
MATT: Jason’s done it.
JASON: I’ve done that reading. [It’s] called Panels to the People. The cartoonist community in Brooklyn, we’re all working from home all the time. It’s nice to get everybody together, and a lot of people recognize each other based on their work but have never met, but we follow each other on Instagram. Suddenly everybody’s doing readings and hanging out.
When Vinyl moved in, it was that place and Molasses Books. Those places made me fall in love with the neighborhood — a book store, comic book store, record shop within walking distance.
194 Knickerbocker Ave, facebook.com/vinylfantasybk
JASON: The best burger I’ve had in my entire life.
MATT: I’ll second that. We both had our birthdays there multiple years running there. The owner, Sibte, had one of Jason’s drawings behind the counter.
[BRIEF DEBATE ABOUT BURGER TOPPINGS ENSUES]
MATT: All you need to know is it’s the best burger you’ll ever have… and the fries.
276 Knickerbocker Ave, (347) 460-5110, facebook.com/bkjaninyc
]This interview has been edited and condensed.]