Revolver has teamed with Jeromes Dream for an exclusive "denim paradise" vinyl variant of their 2001 album, Presents, on "milky white with pink splatter" wax. It's limited to 200 — get yours before they're gone!
By the late Nineties, basements and small clubs across the United States were teeming with the varied strands of DIY punk. Emo bands like the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids were playing catchy tunes about youthful crushes and low-stakes breakups. Hardcore bands like Converge and Hatebreed were injecting metallic sounds into the genre, dealing in crushing breakdowns and riffs.
But below the surface of this already below-the-surface subculture, an army of weirdos was brewing. These were kids barely out of high school, already feeling too fucked up to fit in, writing music that sounded completely unhinged. Guitars and drums were a confused frenzy, and the vocals desperate shrieks — conveying a lifetime's worth of angst in tracks that usually didn't crack two minutes. Heavier than emo, stranger than hardcore; this was screamo.
Jeromes Dream began as one of the archetypal bands of that era. They were a trio of teens from Connecticut who formed in 1997 and swiftly made a name at New Haven house shows. Vocalist/bassist Jeff Smith, who would perform live without a microphone, possessed a distinctive squawk which he showcased on a series of now sought-after split releases and, eventually, the band's 2000 debut album Seeing Means More Than Safety, which they recorded at GodCity Studio with Kurt Ballou of Converge.
So it came as a surprise to the scene when, a year later, its experimental follow-up Presents arrived. Now, they were toying with mathcore and post-hardcore, and Smith's scream was replaced with an authoritative stabbing yelp. To this day the record remains polarizing, but in this writer's opinion it was a burst of brilliance. They broke up only a month after its release.
In 2018, 17 years after they split, the trio — completed by guitarist Nick Antonopolous and drummer Erik Ratensperger — announced a reformation to a hero's welcome. The following year they put out an untitled third LP and toured with the likes of Touché Amoré and Loma Prieta. In January 2020, Jeromes Dream dropped a new song called "Commonly, the Other Head With Both Hands," and since then they've been writing new material with their sights on a full-length in 2022.
The band has also just announced that a new vinyl reissue of Presents will be arriving on Iodine Recordings (itself in a second wind after shuttering in 2004). Jeff Smith is now living in San Francisco, and father to a five-year-old son. Just home from the school drop-off, he sat down over Zoom with Revolver, where he reflected on Presents and Jeromes Dream's early days.
TELL US ABOUT HOW JEROMES DREAM BEGAN.
JEFF SMITH I was about 19. I was going down to New Haven, Connecticut, and that was where most of the local punk and hardcore shows would happen. So I started making friends down there, and I made friends with Nick, our guitar player. I was doing this other band, [which] he joined with me. Then I started writing some songs, some lyrics, and I didn't feel like they fit with the band.
I met Erik at a record store where we would have all our shows, this place called the Tune Inn. I was like, You wanna get together and play? So he showed up to Nick's house — we played at Nick's mom's house — and he's like, Oh my god, Nick, what's up? So they already knew each other. I was new to that whole world. We started playing that day. Erik did this really cool drum fill, and I was like, oh my god, this is so good! And we knew right then that we had something. It quickly took over our lives.
WAS THERE A REACTION IMMEDIATELY FROM THE SCENE AROUND YOU?
Well, back then, there wasn't really anything that sounded like us near where we were. A lot of the hardcore bands coming out of that area were more in the vein of Hatebreed or Sick of It All. That wasn't what we were going for. We weren't trying to emulate something.
When we first started, we really wanted the local scene to embrace what we were doing. But I feel like once we started leaving Connecticut and playing in like, Massachusetts and New York and Pennsylvania, there was this pushback against what we were doing. People were like, Oh, they're leaving us. There was this very insular local feeling. At least that's how we felt. We felt like we were outsiders looking in suddenly, and that kind of shaped how we approached things. We always felt like we were outsiders.
But when we traveled outside of New Haven, we would play for, I don't know, 10 to 40 kids in basements or living rooms or whatever, and that really felt great. And other bands started popping up and they were doing similar stuff, and we quickly made a lot of friends outside of our local area.
WHO WERE SOME OF THOSE BANDS?
The first one that comes to mind is Reversal of Man. They were from Tampa, Florida. We played one of our earlier shows with them in New Hampshire, and they just blew our minds. The singer Matt [Coplon] would duct tape the mic to his hand and just run around like a crazy person. There was a mutual respect immediately when we played.
And then we met Orchid pretty early on, in Rhode Island, so we got to be really close with them. We played together all the time, went on tour a couple times, did a record together. Those were the two main bands that we connected with. But there was Pg 99 and Usurp Synapse and Saetia. It was a great time. Everybody was young and trying to figure out their place in the world, and there was a lot of angst of course. It was a lot of fun.
WHEN PEOPLE LOOK BACK NOW ON THAT SCREAMO SCENE, THERE'S SORT OF A "BIG FOUR" OF JEROMES DREAM, ORCHID, PG 99 AND SAETIA. AT THE TIME, DID YOU FEEL LIKE THERE WAS ANY WAY THOSE BANDS WOULD BECOME SO INFLUENTIAL DOWN THE LINE?
It is surprising and it's not. I mean, everybody was doing something really special and unique in their own way.
I used to have this crappy little stereo, and I would go to the local store and buy bricks of tapes and just record whatever demo we had, and we'd be like, "Who wants a demo? We'll send it to you for free." I must have sent out hundreds of them. That was our way of spreading what we were doing. And now you can send out MP3s or put it on Spotify or whatever, but there was something kinda beautiful to that. And there were these message boards, and people would be like, "Come play our town," and we'd be like, "Yeah, sure."
So over time, we would wind up in these towns, and the bigger bands would come through and we would meet, and we would know there was something special about those bands. I remember seeing Pg 99 for the first time, being like, "What the fuck is this?" 'Cause I think there was like eight of them, and they'd pull up in this van and they had this giant trailer. They pull out a couple A10s for their two bass players, and full stacks for the guitar players. They set up this wall, and we're just like, "God!" And then there are two singers running around like crazy.
So I knew there was something special. Everything just felt really special [in] the moment. But we were all young, we were still kids, so we all had to go and try to become adults.
When JD ended in 2001, I just walked away from it, almost completely. I completely fell off that world, I didn't keep my finger on the pulse at all. In 2019, I learned about who Touché Amoré were for the first time. I found out that these things had kept going. So I had a lot of homework to do. And I guess I had a small inkling of it when we did the pre-order for the LP, and it sold out really quickly. It's like, "What the fuck? Where are all these people coming from?" So it surprised me that there was still this strong support for what we did, even stronger than it was back then. But at the same time, all these bands that you mentioned are very special, so it doesn't surprise me in that way.
THERE ARE A LOT OF MYTHS AND RUMORS AROUND THE EARLY DAYS OF JEROMES DREAM. ONE BEING THAT YOU WOULD COUGH UP BLOOD AFTER YOU WOULD PERFORM LIVE. IS THAT TRUE?
I don't remember coughing up blood. [Laughs] When we got back together, we'd Google Jeromes Dream and read some stuff on the internet, and some of it is kinda ridiculous. People are like, "Oh my god, he can't talk anymore!" or whatever.
But there were times [during performances] where I was really affected. I was young and I was very angry, and [had] a lot of traumas in my childhood. I would go to a very dark place in my head when we would play, I think we all did. And so I would just let it go. There were times where I would just lose it. I don't recall coughing up blood, but I did throw up a couple times after playing. I remember we played in a house at Yale and I threw up behind my amp after we played, and then I felt really bad. [Laughs] 'Cause it's somebody's house, right? It's their living room.
The other memory I have is when we did Seeing Means More Than Safety, we recorded it at the same time as the Orchid split. I did all the vocals in one day. And by the third song on the Orchid split I lost my voice. I really had to rally to get the last song in there. But yeah, I was definitely affected at times, but I don't think I coughed up blood.
WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF MAKING PRESENTS?
We wrote it in Erik's bedroom in Amherst, Massachusetts, over the course of a few months. We were like, "The fuck is this?" Our motto was always if it makes us laugh, then we'll keep it. And we would just laugh at whatever weird stuff we were doing. We'd come out of Erik's bedroom and people are like, "What the fuck are they doing in there?" It just felt really cool.
I believe we did a weekend [of recording]. We had limited budget — punk kids, paying for it out of our own pocket. I didn't even have all the lyrics written when we were on our way to the studio. I made Nick drive my car while I listened to the demos of the songs we didn't have lyrics for on the way, and I would just keep rewinding them on the tape deck, and I had my little notebook I'm writing in. So we show up, and I'm like, "I'm not sure what this is gonna sound like, but we'll figure it out." And we showed up to the studio and started playing, and Kurt [Ballou, of Converge] engineered it. And he didn't bat an eye. He was like, "This is cool, I like what you guys are doing."
We were a lot more loose about it than we had been with Seeing Means More Than Safety and everything previous, because we weren't in that serious headspace anymore. We were just like, "This is fun, let's have fun with it," while still having that cynical and disillusioned feeling that we carried with us.
We got it done in two days, we mixed it the last day. But that's usually how we rolled. Two or three days, we would get everything done.
PRESENTS WAS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT RECORD FROM SEEING MEANS MORE THAN SAFETY, ONE THAT POLARIZED A LOT OF PEOPLE. WHY WAS IT SO DIFFERENT? DID YOU APPROACH IT WITH A NEW MINDSET?
Definitely. There was a lot of negativity in the scene at times, a lot of gossip. We kinda became disillusioned with some of it. We were just punk kids, trying to figure out life and wrestle with our own demons. Sometimes people would be trying to be as cool as they could be or whatever, and I just didn't like it. Looking back, other people are going through their own things too, and they're trying to deal with their own stuff, and we all deal with it in different ways. But at the time, I was really turned off by some of it. Obviously there were a lot of really great things, a lot of incredible people, and it was a very small minority of people that were doing anything that made me feel that way. But all of us had this kinda cynical taste in our mouths when we were doing it.
And at the same time, creatively we were just evolving. So the two things hit, and I was like, "I don't really wanna scream anymore." I just wanted to show people that it didn't have to be that way. It was like, we're all punks, we're all hardcore kids, we're all coming from some kinda shitty childhood or whatever, and we can still make this music, this art, this community, in a way where you don't have to toe the line. You can do your own thing, you can be as creative as you wanna be, and that's what we're gonna do. 'Cause that's the beauty of punk, that's the beauty of art, is just doing something different, and not really caring what other people are gonna think about it. So that was the approach we took.
It came out right when we were about to break up. We only did one very short tour. And I remember people's reactions were like, "Huh? Where's the screaming?" We're just like, "We're not doing that anymore."
WERE YOU PULLING ON ANY NEW INFLUENCES AT THAT POINT?
There was one band that we all fell in love with, these guys from Baltimore, Maryland called OXES. There's something in the water in Baltimore that just makes everybody kind of a creative weirdo, and they were definitely not spared from that water. They were really strange.
The first time we saw them play, I believe they played at Jay Green from Orchid's loft in New York. And they come out, they set up their equipment, and they put these two boxes down in front of the drums, and they start playing. They're standing up on the boxes, they have wireless guitars, they're just walking around this giant loft. And getting in the face of the crowd, and walking through the crowd, just doing all these random things. It's just like, "What the fuck is this?"
That's the only band that I can think of off the top of my head, where I was like, there's somebody doing something completely different, and we can step out of this very narrow world that we're in and do some different things. We were always looking for stuff that wasn't the norm.
THE LYRICS ON PRESENTS ARE A LITTLE LESS DARK AND INTENSE THAN ON SEEING MEANS MORE THAN SAFETY. WAS THAT AN EFFECT OF THAT LESS SERIOUS HEADSPACE YOU MENTIONED?
Yeah. I wanted to get more playful with things. I was just exploring; I was having fun.
Some of the stuff that I was unhappy with in the world definitely came out. It was 2001, it was a pretty dark year. All the stuff that we were feeling kinda crummy about in the scene was happening, and the world was changing, and I could feel things kinda winding down with the band. I remember actually feeling, when we were doing … maybe it was "35." I remember playing and just looking at Erik and feeling like this is probably the last thing we're gonna do, and feeling sad about it.
But yeah, there's some stuff that I wrestled with from my past, there's some stuff I felt weird about from the scene, there's some stuff just politically in the world that I'm writing about. But overall, I'm pretty proud of the lyrics. I felt like I had really evolved with my writing. I wrote a lot even when I wasn't writing lyrics, I was just writing poetry, and it was a good outlet for me. So I started writing more wordplay and just being more creative, instead of just writing about what I was feeling.
NOW YOU'RE REISSUING PRESENTS, DO YOU HOPE THAT PEOPLE WHO WROTE IT OFF AT THE TIME WILL GET TO REVISIT IT AND RE-EVALUATE IT?
I hope so. I mean, that's life, right? You do things in the moment and people might not understand. But the beauty of time is you get to sit with it, think about it, absorb it, whether it's good or bad, and appreciate it for what it is. I mean, that was a snapshot. It was a moment in our lives, in our band's life, where we were doing what we were doing.
And yeah, I think from what I've read around on the internet or whatever, it's still a pretty polarizing record, which makes me happy. It creates conversation, right? People are like, "Oh, I don't like it, I like this other thing better," or, "Actually no, this is way better, musically they seem like they knew what they were doing a lot more" — which we kinda did, I guess.
But I hope that people like it. If they don't, that's okay too. Maybe they'll like something else we did. Maybe they don't like our band at all. It's okay. But I'm proud of it. It's my favorite record out of all the early records that we did. When we broke up, I was like, Damn — I wanted to see what was gonna come next. It felt like we were just tapping into something that was pretty unique and was gonna be something, but unfortunately it didn't happen. And that's okay, 'cause we went our separate ways and built our lives the way that they've become, and it allowed us to come back and do what we did in 2019, and what we're currently doing.
WHAT LED TO JEROMES DREAM'S BREAKUP, AND WHAT WAS THE AFTERMATH LIKE?
Again, we were all young. Erik was starting to get more serious about college. His dad kept being in Erik's ear about it, and Erik's like, "Yeah, I gotta go to college, okay." And at the same time, again that disillusionment that we were feeling was simmering.
So we played a show in New Jersey, maybe. We were playing Boston the next day, and Erik just announced, "Tomorrow's gonna be our last show." [Laughs] And Nick and I were just like, "What the fuck?" We weren't ready for it, but I had the feeling that it was coming. It was August, right before 9/11 happened actually. So Presents was only a couple months old. But Erik felt the need. He had to do what he had to do.
I was mad at him for a couple years, actually. 'Cause it just pulled the rug out from under me. The band was really all I had. I hadn't gone to college yet, I didn't go to college until I was 26. It was the thing that kept me grounded, kept me safe. I was really hurt by it, and I think Nick was too.
We played our last show at The Middle East in Boston, and we played with this really great band called The World/Inferno Friendship Society. I tried to enjoy the show. I remember Nick got kinda drunk and played the songs really sloppy, and I was just like, ugh. I wanted to go out playing the best show we'd ever played, and it was a pretty mediocre show. I was sad. I was hurt for years. I felt really, really bummed about it. I mean, it's part of why I just turned that world off and didn't follow it, didn't pay attention.
Erik went to school and did his thing, moved to New York. And maybe five or six years later, he reached out and we reignited our friendship, and we talked about it. He apologized, and I was like, "It's okay, man." And we stayed close, we would talk all the time. Then maybe a few years later, I started putting it in his ear, like, "Why don't you write a song? See how it feels?" It took a lot of me chipping away at him, but I always wanted to get back together and just pick up where we left off. 'Cause the three of us together, there's a magic that we have. We just connect on such a deep level. We're brothers, the three of us, and we're that before anything else. We have each other's backs, and we feel safer when we're together. I guess that's why I felt hurt also.
HOW DID IT FEEL TO GET BACK INTO JEROMES DREAM MODE WHEN YOU GOT BACK TOGETHER?
So we were in three different places when we got back. Erik was in L.A. at the time, and Nick is still in Connecticut. So it was really hard and stressful to get together. We always felt rushed. I mean, we wrote that LP in a very short time. There was no in the room, hashing things out. Erik would write stuff in L.A., and then he would just record it on his phone and send us these little demos, and we would just learn what he had written. I think we got together maybe three times before we recorded. So it was really hard, we weren't able to really let things happen organically the way that we had previously. Responsibilities of life, jobs and parenthood for me made it really hard.
But when we would get in the room together, it was like somebody flips a switch. It was like … [Sighs], you know? 'This is what we've been missing for almost twenty years.' The first time we played, actually, we were in L.A., and it was just glorious. Glorious.
It feels right. This is my family just as much as my wife and my son are. It just feels incredible. Even now, it feels incredible when we get in the room. I have no plans to stop any time soon. It makes me feel whole again. There's a big piece of me that was missing, I just felt empty for a long time, and now I feel whole again. And my wife even said it, she's like, 'I can see the change in you. You just seem like a more complete person'.
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW STUFF IN THE WORKS? WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
We've got one and a half new songs. I just wrote lyrics for the complete song yesterday. The song is so heartbreaking to me. Last month, there was a little kid, his name is Aiden Leos. His mom was taking him to school. The kid's in kindergarten. And somebody cut her off while she was driving, and she made a hand gesture at the driver, and the car got behind her and shot into the car, and they hit the kid. And the kid died. And I've just been carrying that with me. It just crushed me.
So that's where my head has been for the last couple weeks, I just keep thinking about that. So I wrote about it yesterday. Musically, the song just has the most beautiful ending. It's really pretty, clean guitars. But the middle of it is really heavy. It's gonna be really challenging for me to do it live, just because of the feeling of this poor little kid. There's gonna be a lot of that, I think. 'Cause I just think about how people just hurt each other so much all the time, whether they mean to or not. I try to find the positive out of all that hurt. I'm trying to find a silver lining.
So that's where I am with my head. We're gonna write over the next few months. We're looking to do about 18 to 20 minutes of material, so maybe another 10 inch. We hope to return to playing live soon. I think I'm more excited about it than the other guys are. They're still a little bit nervous about getting into a room with a bunch of sweaty kids.
But I miss that energy of playing live, just feeling people up against me, and the conversations after with the kids. It's so interesting, the conversations that we had when we were on tour — people were coming up to us, like, "Thank you for getting back together," and "I got into you after you broke up." It really meant a lot to have those conversations. So yeah, I'm looking forward to that again. But we're taking our time writing right now, and it feels good 'cause we're able to hash things out. But it's exciting, it feels great to be back after missing it for this whole year.