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15th October 2014

Interview: The Menzingers

Dan Whiteley talks to Greg Barnett about influences, musical departures and casual Fridays

Since the release of their breakthrough third album On the Impossible Past, Philadelphia four-piece The Menzingers have risen to become one of the biggest names in the East Coast independent music scene. The follow up, Rented World, was released earlier this year, and continued to gain the band critical acclaim for their mix of Americana imagery and angst-ridden pop punk. Ahead of their sold out performance at Gorilla, I sat down with co-frontman Greg Barnett to discuss the new record, as well as their current European tour. First and foremost; are the band happy with the album’s reception?

“Yeah, absolutely!” he says, excitedly, “I mean, as pleased as you could be, it’s pretty unbelievable. We put the record out and immediately went straight to Europe for Groezrock festival, so we didn’t really know how the reception was gonna be until we were on this massive stage. And all of a sudden we opened up with the first song on the record, ‘I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore’, and the place went off, so it was kind of a good feeling that people like it, and yeah man, it’s been great.”

With the band’s previous record being so well loved—having being named album of the year by both the AbsolutePunk and communities—did they feel extra pressure to deliver on the follow up? “There was only really personal pressure,” Barnett shrugs. “We always just tried to make ourselves happy and our immediate close friend group, and our friend’s bands. You play off of them and get their opinions on it. But yeah, I don’t really give a shit about what reviewers and shit like that have to say. I don’t hang out with them, I don’t talk to them, they’re not the people we’re writing the songs for. It’s personal; we do it for ourselves.”

Listeners have noted a growth in the song-writing on Rented World; though their punk ferocity is intact, the band shows their grungier side this time round on tracks like the riff-heavy ‘In Remission’, whilst ‘Where Your Heartache Exists’ bears resemblance to the Pixies. Barnett suggests this is partly down to their listening habits at the time: “There was a lot of nineties rock; the Smashing Pumpkins were a big one that we were always listening to in the van, that we referenced for mixing and everything. And yeah, the Pixies of course, they’re a huge influence. And our friend’s bands, we’re inspired by the people we hang out with, we live in a pretty amazing music city of Philadelphia. There’s a lot of cool bands and we’re influenced by that.”

One of the most talked about tracks on the new record is the stately ‘Transient Love’. Featuring some of Barnett’s most poignant lyrics to date and based around a hypnotic looping rhythm section and chiming, arena-ready guitars, it’s an obvious highlight, and one that marks significant musical departure for the band. “It’s a very serious song, but it kinda came together very comically.” He elaborates, “We used to practice five days a week, and every Friday we would have something called ‘casual Fridays’. We’d just get a couple of cases of beer and we’d pretty much just stop writing songs, and it wasn’t serious. We’d just jam and play covers. And out of that came that song, that groove. Last summer we did a six week European tour, and I wrote the lyrics but didn’t have a song for it, and then that came together and it just fit really well. It was a song that we went to a completely different place with, it’s completely different from anything we’ve ever done, or even attempted. I really love that song.”

Part of The Menzingers’ appeal is their ability to craft songs around familiar, often uncomfortable themes; their lyrics are filled with references to self-loathing, broken relationships and unfulfilled expectations. Their music, though, is driving and anthemic, with soaring choruses and major-key melodies, giving these otherwise depressing words an uplifting, almost forgiving quality. Do fans find solidarity in these songs? “I think that’s a great way to put it, there are just human flaws you notice in everyday life, and song-writing is a great relief where you can get those things out. A lot of the songs usually come from darker places, but at the end of them there’s some kind of resolve I guess.”

Is it bizarre, I ask, to hear hundreds of fans having the time of their lives whilst screaming line after line in the vein of “I will fuck this up/I fucking know it” every night? “Yeah, totally, of course. It’s really funny. There’s a lot of songs like that, that’s the kind of band we are, in that we write these really personal songs. To have that many people sing along like that to a very specific moment in your life, it’s totally surreal. In particular there’s a part in the song ‘Gates’ where we were buying a case of beer from my friend’s older sister and these undercover cops busted us in the CBS parking lot. And that’s the song, and it’s cool for people to hear that, and I can vividly go back to being in that parking lot, the cops coming up and being like ‘we got you!’ and we were like ‘aww no, we’re not doing anything!’, you know? It’s cool.”

Having gained a reputation for being one of the hardest working bands on the circuit, what does the future hold for The Menzingers? “Well, we’re always touring. That’s what we do. People sometimes say ‘how do you go on for that long?’, but it’s what we’ve always known and it’s fun, and if you enjoy it, why stop? So we do this tour, then we go home and we’re doing a quick weekend with our friends Spraynard, then on to Gainesville to do this big festival down there. Just staying busy, and writing songs in between.” He sums up—“we just keep going.”

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