For the better part of his life, Sean Neumann has been playing in punk bands throughout the midwestern United States, most recently as a member of bubbling Chicago post-country act Ratboys. Now, Neumann is taking all the knowledge he’s amassed on the road and applying it to his own work under the name Jupiter Styles.
Ultra St. Opera is the project’s sophomore album, rooted heavily in themes of loss and compartmentalization to deal with grief. In celebration of the new album, Neumann sat down to talk Modest Mouse, Japanese baseball playoffs, and how much he loves Illinois in the latest Indie Mixtape 20 Q&A.
What are four words you would use to describe your music?
Sounds exciting but sad ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It’s 2050 and the world hasn’t ended and people are still listening to your music. How would you like it to be remembered?
I do seriously hope some kid finds this band (or any of the other thousands of self-sufficient bands like it) and can learn from our actions just like I’ve learned from other artists before me. True DIY is the backbone of real and comprehensible art, but the only way to learn that is by experiencing it yourself. In some strange world, maybe one of my songs introduces a kid to the world of music and they decide to go out to a house show and they fall in love, just like how bands like Algernon Cadwallader or Easter or Nnamdi Ogbonnaya hooked me on music when I saw them playing in houses as a kid.
What’s your favorite city in the world to perform?
Either Champaign, Springfield, or Galesburg, Illinois. I grew up in Illinois and have played here more than anywhere so I’m biased, but damn those places are passionate and know how to keep their punk scenes healthy, excited, and up and running.
Who’s the person who has most inspired your work, and why?
Everyone I met playing music between the ages of 13-18 in Illinois, really. I’ve always found inspiration in people I know and people I can relate to rather than people you read about in magazines who aren’t tangible. Artists I grew up with or met in my teens, like Kyle Lang, Kamila Glowacki, Aaron Shults, John Menchaca, Julia Steiner, Dave Sagan, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Jake Mott, Derrin Coad, Seth Engel, Brian Galecki, just to quickly name a handful. Whether they make punk music or not, they all taught me in some way or another what that word actually means, how to stay honest and keep creating.
Where did you eat the best meal of your life?
Bolton’s in Nashville, TN. It’s more of religious experience than meeting the pope.
What album do you know every word to?
I’m pretty bad with remembering lyrics, but Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West is probably the closest I’d get.
What was the best concert you’ve ever attended?
Algernon Cadwallader at Strangelight in Chicago, which a really great journalist Leor Galil shot a video of here. Strangelight was this dingy ass little basement in the city and I took the Metra train up to Chicago to see the show. It was 2010, so I think that makes me a sophomore in high school at the time. Just watch the video and you’ll know.
My friend Mikey Giannoni used to rent out a tiny little concrete building at this rundown park and host an annual “The Big Show” every summer with bands from all around Chicagoland and that’s the most formative music event I was ever part of. Then Nnamdi would host shows at his house a few towns over during the winter (he called it “Nnamdi’s Pancake House” and would cook like hundreds of pancakes and just throw them out to people at the show). He’d do those shows during the fall/winter and it filled the gap between The Big Show (one annual one in December each year was aptly called “Winter Show”). Those shows were unparalleled, especially when first discovering music like I was. You can watch a video like this, freeze it at any point, and start circling people who have played in bands all across Illinois stretching back more than a decade or so. If someone ever asks me what the southside Chicago punk scene was like when we were growing up, I show them that.
What is the best outfit for performing and why?
I’d imagine a straight-up basketball uniform would give you max maneuverability, but I’ve never worn anything other than jeans and a t-shirt in my entire life so I don’t really know if I have any real authority here.
Who’s your favorite person to follow on Twitter and/or Instagram?
Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) — he’s a sports and culture writer that I really like. He’s smart and entertaining, but more importantly he uses his public profile to help people out all the time. He’ll crowdsource money for people who are struggling or in some sort of bind and looking for a miracle. He uses his platform to encourage people to take care of one another, even if they’re strangers on the internet. That’s important and it has a real, immediate, and long-lasting impact.
What’s your most frequently played song in the van on tour?
What’s the last thing you Googled?
“How do the Japanese baseball playoffs work?” That sh*t’s wild.
What album makes for the perfect gift?
Dave Ross’ The Only Man Who Has Ever Had Sex — it’s the best comedy album I’ve heard this year and it has really cool packaging that comes with a 152-page book! Stefan from PUP helped put it out and turned me onto him and his podcast Suicide Buddies. Or maybe something from Youth Attack, this hardcore label in Denver. They always go all out and the artwork on all those albums are incredible. The cover for ARTS’ new record Graveside Summoning is so insane. That artwork is definitely “put it in a frame and hang it on the wall” worthy, if we’re talking gifts.
Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever crashed while on tour?
A few years ago, I was on tour with two bands I used to play in called Single Player and Nectar and we played at an abandoned office building in a strip mall outside Indianapolis. They had art installations where all the cubicles used to be. They were like little caves you could crawl into that all had different themes. It was really cool, but they also had a huge slice of the astroturf from Super Bowl XLVI (2012). I grew up in a huge sports family, so that kind of stole my attention right away. They let us crash there that night and I opted not to sleep on any of the couches they had and instead sleep on the Super Bowl turf. Can’t really pass up a weird opportunity like that, right? How many people get to sleep on turf from the f*cking Super Bowl?
What’s the story behind your first or favorite tattoo?
I don’t have any tattoos, but when we were teenagers my friend Casey got a tattoo of an American flag on his right ass cheek because it was ridiculous and just so we’d all laugh in shock when he mooned us. It’s been almost a decade and the idea of going that far for a joke still makes me laugh, so, word up to Casey.
What artists keep you from flipping the channel on the radio?
When I drive alone for more than one hour, I have a game where I scan the channels until I hear both “Jesse’s Girl” and/or “My Sharona.” I’ve never lost. I’d never dare turn off Katy Perry or Ke$ha either.
What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you?
My mom convinced me not to quit playing the guitar when I was a kid. I get super lazy after learning the basics with things. I think she knew what was up, so she talked to me about giving it one more week. Now it’s most of my life. Other than that, sometimes Julia from Ratboys comes home with duck art or figurines she finds at the store and leaves them in my bedroom because I’m a big fan of mallards. Always a nice surprise when I come home and there’s a weird new duck sitting on my bed!
What’s one piece of advice you’d go back in time to give to your 18-year-old self?
What’s the last show you went to?
I think the last show I actually went to — not counting shows we’ve played — was Todd Snider at The Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, MI back in April because I was writing a feature story about him for work. We’ve started to tour so much over the past few years between Jupiter Styles and Ratboys that I just sort of shut off the music part of my brain whenever we’re home for a bit and don’t go out to a lot of shows.
What movie can you not resist watching when it’s on TV?
I don’t watch a lot of movies, weirdly enough. Without thinking much about it… I guess maybe Zoolander or Meet The Parents or something? I don’t know why, but Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller instantly shoot into my head. They’re pretty charming and just make me laugh. Or Heathers? I don’t know, I’m out of my league here.
What would you cook if Kanye were coming to your house for dinner?
Nothing. Selfish rich people who abandon their city and their communities don’t deserve a seat at the table. Let’s talk about people like Che Smith or Shea Serrano instead. Or someone like Veronica Mullen in Champaign who selflessly opens their home in order for communities have a safe place to gather and share their art together. Those people look out for their communities and deserve our attention and admiration the most.
Ultra St. Opera is out now. Pick it up here.