“We were these four young, New York dudes. People were like, Oh yeah, the lead singer looks like Robert Plant.” Roccoforte laughs. “Some of our early reviews were literally talking about jawlines. And you had that whole ‘The Strokes thing’ happening—people saw us as like the ‘disco Strokes.’ It was ridiculous!” In pictures from this era, Jenner’s Adonis curls and doleful blue eyes unmistakably cast him in the role of heartthrob, though Roccoforte also bears the vestiges of rock band cliché, his chin gnarled in a crosshatch of stitches, a scar for which you can still see a trace beneath his “new dad” stubble. The injury, he explains, was from the bad old days of the early 2000s, when he’d woken up in a puddle of his own blood, having been too drunk at a show the night before to know he’d sliced open his chin breaking bottles against a wall (a gash he’d later reopen and compound with a fracture by flipping off the back of a medi-cart at Coachella). Sitting across from Roccoforte, it’s hard to match the picture he paints of his past self with the hyper-mellow dad cradling his infant son just hours earlier. People grow up, have babies, but they still carry the battle wounds of their younger selves.
The band member for whom this is most true, however, is Jenner, the band’s lead singer and Roccoforte’s oldest childhood friend. The two grew up outside of San Diego, and started playing in bands together during high school and throughout Roccoforte’s college years in San Francisco. Jenner lives not far from Roccoforte in an even kid-friendlier neighborhood in Brooklyn. The garden apartment he shares with his wife, Stephanie, and their five-year-old son, Vincent, is warm and peppered with family ephemera. There’s a large, serenely landscaped fish tank that runs parallel the length of the rectangular kitchen table. On top of the table a child’s action figurine sits submerged in a glass of water. Jenner explains that the toy swells to the size of its container, much like a carp to its pond, and our eyes simultaneously dart from the bloated figurine to the voluminous fish tank percolating just beyond, waiting.
There’s a patio that leads back to a shared garden. It’s warm and sunny out, but Jenner opts to stay inside and makes a pot of hot herbal tea. Taking a seat at the kitchen table, he swaddles himself in a protective self-embrace, nearly circling his torso with his long arms. Jenner is not a bombastic and self-assured Robert Plant, but rather his foil: an introverted, moppy-haired man, whose boyish good looks and fine, confident jawline belie a vulnerable melancholy. The few times I’m able to make him laugh—or even look directly into my eyes—feel triumphant. Which isn’t to say he’s closed off. In fact, Jenner’s candid, almost brutal honesty is, at first, a bit disarming. Within the first five minutes of our conversation, he sketches the details of his childhood, much of which were spent battling his mother, who suffered from Bipolar I disorder. “Growing up was like living with this large jungle cat who liked you sometimes and also would maul you every once in a while. At some point, I just had to stop talking to her…it wasn’t safe to continue our relationship.” Unfortunately, it was during one of these bouts of non-communication—and shortly after the birth of Jenner’s son in 2006—that his mother took her own life.
This tragic bit of history is something Jenner grapples with every day. “You know, she’s my mom, so I loved her. She was my best friend when I was a little kid, but she got really sick when I was about five or six, and it definitely got worse [as she got older]. Nobody talked about it in my family, so I just kind of thought my mom was sort of a fuck-up. I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that she actually suffered a lot.” Jenner’s mom was a painter, and Jenner credits her tendency to “disappear into the garage for two weeks and come out covered in oil paints” as influencing his own artistic immersion. For Jenner, music has always been a means of processing his emotions, and, in the early days, this focus predominated around negative catharsis.
“We were surrounded by so many hardcore bands, and it was like, Oh ‘The Rapture,’ that sounds pretty tough,” Jenner explains. “I wanted to project invincibility. ‘House of Jealous Lovers’ came out of that.” You can glean this heady defiance in old footage of the band on YouTube. In one performance of “Notes…” a song from their first LP, Mirror, Jenner barks at the mic, his face pale, puffy and stricken, while Roccoforte attacks his drums and Andruzzi and former bassist Mattie Safer plod and pluck their instruments humorlessly. The song, a pathos-laden pun on Dostoyevsky’s existential classic and the underground music scene, is adolescent and angsty, and, appropriately, performed from a basement. “I think I was depressed for a really long time and I didn’t want to talk about it. Not on the level of my mom, where I wasn’t getting out of bed for days, but this low-level depression.”