Rozwell Kid Don’t Wanna Be American Idiots (Just Kidding, They'd Love That)
On 'Precious Art,' the power pop four-piece has perfected the art of burying serious emotion beneath several layers of irony.
Photos by Emily Dubin
The last time I saw Rozwell Kid frontman Jordan Hudkins, he and I were roommates of sorts. I was staying in Los Angeles and, lacking funds for a hotel or general living standards, was sleeping on the floor in the West Hollywood offices of SideOneDummy, the record label that was set to put out the band's next album. Hudkins had already been there a week, making a bedroom out of a five-by-seven recording booth. It was a mental vacation for him, an attempt to escape the writer's block that had crept up on him back home in West Virginia as he tried to finish the record that he'd been working on for the better part of two years.
In the mornings, I would saunter over to the office kitchen to make my morning coffee and avail myself of leftovers in the fridge (I'm sorry but anything left after Friday at 5 PM is fair game). Whenever I peeked into Hudkins' room as I passed by, he'd be staring blankly at his phone or up at the ceiling as he struggled to crack some sort of musical code. While he sat among the framed records that adorned the office walls and thought about delivering a meaningful album to his new label that eagerly awaited it, he had a look on his face that seemed to say: Maybe I've gotten myself in over my head.
So it was a bit surprising then, when he sent me the finished product of his serious, exhaustive labor a few months later—his hard fought precious art—and the first song was about stripping down to his underwear and dumping all his clothes into a Wendy's trash can. Later, there's a song centered entirely around a booger on his phone's screen, another about watching the Weird Al movie UHF on DVD, and one about being turned into a dog, half of which is just him barking. The song is only 56 seconds long.
"Everything I write, there is sincerity and real emotion injected into it, and the themes I'm writing about, they're all universal themes and ideas," Hudkins says. "Whether or not you've got to look beyond a literal booger in a song to see that… I mean, that's a love song. It's a love song from someone who doesn't realize that they're the problem."
This is where Hudkins is a level-10 master of modern millennial irony, burying vulnerability beneath several layers of self-awareness. It makes sense—Hudkins, a product of 80s and 90s pop culture, swears he discovered Green Day and Nirvana only after hearing their songs parodied by Weird Al, and then sought out the real things.
"The middle school DJ had Green Day's Dookie, and I would request 'Basket Case' at every school dance," he remembers. "Eventually he told me, 'Look, just bring me a tape and I'll make you a copy of this.'"
From there, the teenage Hudkins found Blink-182, The Offspring, and all the bands on Punk-O-Rama comps before hearing The Blue Album by Weezer, a band Rozwell Kid is most often likened to. That musical pedigree, combined with a love of The Simpsons, Jim Carrey movies, and Airplane!, shaped his sensibilities into a frontman who is equal parts Rivers Cuomo and Tim & Eric.
Hudkins, who is always wearing a plaid shirt and has a mop of brown hair that shags in front of his glasses, deadpans constantly, and is seemingly incapable of passing up a chance to throw sarcasm, anti-humor, a dad joke, or, if possible, all three, into conversation. As Rozwell Kid's leader, his personality trickles down to every aspect of the band, right down to their album's title, on which he went full self-deprecation, and called Precious Art. The first single they released to launch the album, for example, was an unceremonious, 50-second throwaway interlude about finding a parking spot at South by Southwest. They later grossly overcompensated for this on their first proper music video—it clocks in at ten hours long.
And then there's the band's live show, which is a thoroughly impressive display of unrepentant, guitar-in-the-air shredding. But even the four-piece's axe-slinging prowess is undercut by their love of inanity. When touring with Toronto's PUP, the band made a nightly habit of freezing on the penultimate note of their set and silently holding the position in tableau for as long as they could, once famously hitting two minutes and 15 seconds. "I don't mean to be rude and correct you," Hudkins says when I bring this up, "but it was actually three minutes and 15 seconds."
On another tour supporting The Menzingers, which saw Rozwell Kid performing directly before Jeff Rosenstock, Rozwell Kid hung a giant, neon background banner on stage. It didn't display their own band name or logo, though, but instead read: JEFF'S UP NEXT above a QR code that, if scanned, brought you to Rosenstock's page on UltimateGuitar.com.
Still, under all these sophomoric attempts at masking their talents, Rozwell Kid makes perfectly constructed rock jams that are catchy as all hell, and Precious Art is now their most cohesive body of work to showcase them. The album creates a mood that makes you want to open up emotionally, but you know better than to do so since someone might run up from behind and pants you while pointing and giving you the Nelson Muntz "Haw haw!"
The most personal song on the album, Hudkins says, is "Mad TV," whose chorus details the experience of watching the 90s sketch comedy show with the sound off. But, like most Rozwell Kid songs, there's more to it than the frivolity on its surface. "It's about growing up in a small town where you have to self-entertain, dreaming about going somewhere else, wondering what's possible," he says. "It's also about becoming hyper-aware of mortality for the first time."
These are the beautiful feelings Rozwell Kid captures on Precious Art—love, hope, the weight of mortality—and they're all there to be discovered. You've just got to look past the boogers.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter.