Still Shaping What Punk Should Sound Nowadays, an Interview with The Menzingers…

The Menzingers - Press Picture 1 - Credits by Jessica Flynn
If you somehow managed to overlook the Philadelphia based punk rock band after their masterpiece On the Impossible Past, for sure you couldn’t do it after new record Rented World, and especially hilarous music video for “I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore”. The Menzingers have always been highly rated amongst punk rock fans with a little bit sofisticated taste, but now they finaly made their breakthrough to wider audiences. Maybe even in a way themselves didn’t expect. There were so many questions, so we couldn’t do anything else, but to catch up with singer/guitarist Tom May, and try to get a few answers.

Hey! We have to start somewhere, so… Have you been working on not being assholes anymore? How’s that going for you?
Short answer: I think so. Long answer: We’ve grown up in a time of incredible and unprecedented change. Things move so incredibly fast technologically, socially and culturally that it’s nauseating. Our personal lives and world views have also been a whirlwind of mind-changing and eye-opening events and moods. One of the few true consistencies that has remained from the 14-year-old “man fuck the cops school is stupid UGH” to the 23-year-old “know what would be cool right about now? a job” to the 29-year-old “is humanity and my existence merely some kind of flash in the pan joke bound by the lowest dimensions and doomed to repeat over and over across infinite parallel universes?” has been that kindness and empathy seem to be the only real path to a calm, happy and sustainable mental and physical existence. So yeah.

Rented World – I think it’s fair to say that this album has slightly different approach than your previous records. It feels a bit more positive and upbeat. Where did that change come from?
I would not call the record more positive and upbeat than our previous records. I feel it’s slower and takes up more space. That’s one of the beautiful parts of music though. We all get to interpret it differently. We strive for each album to have a different approach than previous albums. The record sounds bigger and is a bit more produced than our previous records. This came from working in a new studio and actually having some nice guitars and such.

Can you tell me more about the record? The process of making, and more importantly the inspiration for it?
A lot of the inspiration of the record came from the positions of our lives. On our last record (OTIP), we were standing at the edge of our adolescence completely unsure of our futures and pasts. For Rented World we had been touring non-stop since OTIP had come out and had experienced so much more of the world with all of its rewards and punishments. We were older and were inspired to explore our music and minds further. We stepped out of what we were used to.

On the Impossible Past was, by many critics and fans, labeled as a masterpiece, and pretty much everyone agrees about that album being an amazing piece of music. Have you felt any pressure of expectations after that kind of reaction?
We’ve been around long enough to see the ups and downs of older bands. We’ve seen bands go from bus to van to bus, bands go from van to bus in a few months, bands grow to hate each other, bands that stay together in an unbreakable bond for decades, and we’ve seen fans come and go. Only a fool wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that if people hate a record, you’re temporarily screwed. Just as in every avenue of life – worrying is like praying for something bad to happen. The big danger of fearing the reception of a record is that the fear can color and poison the song while it’s being written, leaving you with some lame contrived bullshit you merely think people will like. You just have to not give a fuck which is difficult when you’re in certain headspace, but pretty fucking easy most of the time.

Was Rented World some kind of purposeful escape from your previous record? Have you tried to loosen the pressure by doing something different, or did you just want to try something new?
No, that would be looking into it too hard. We wrote the record we wanted to for the reason we write records – it feels incredible and it’s the most rewarding experience around.

“I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore” has a video that raised a few eyebrows, and it gives us a few questions that just have to be asked. I guess it was really fun recording it. Who’s behind the idea? How far did the doll fly after being hit by a truck?
That video is one of the coolest things that has ever been put out by our band and we had nothing to do with it. It was thought up, written and directed by Whitey McConnaughy in Portland, Oregon while we were on a quick trip to Australia. We got back and saw the video and were so astounded by how cool and funny it is. My best friend’s old boss actually played Jason. Did you mean to finish this sentence? I really doubt they hit a doll with a truck for that scene. It was probably computer generated.

The Menzingers_Rented World Cover
“We’ve seen bands go from bus to van to bus, bands go from van to bus in a few months, bands grow to hate each other, bands that stay together in an unbreakable bond for decades, and we’ve seen fans come and go. Only a fool wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that if people hate a record, you’re temporarily screwed.”

So, who’s your favorite horror movie character?
My favorite horror movie character has fluctuated over the years. At first it was Michael Myers because he was so clean and untouchable and his personality is just a lack of one. He is pure evil incarnate. Now, out of the traditional characters I would have to pick Freddy because he invades your mind and preys upon your deepest fears. My favorite horror movie of all time is Kill List. It’s a British film from a few years ago. If you plan on watching it stop reading – but basically it’s about a man who is forced to become the evil killer with the use of various circumstances and it’s so dark and incredible. So scary.

By seeing your videos, artwork, and photos, it’s hard not to see that you guys are fans of vintage cars, vinyl and movies. Do you sometimes think you live in the wrong time, or you want to recall some other periods through your music?
While Greg does sing about a friend’s muscle car, we aren’t actually into vintage cars. We do love movies and listening to a record on vinyl can really be a wonderful experience. I don’t think I live in the wrong time, but it’s certainly fun to fantasize about living in a previous time romanticized by the books we read and movies we see. Imagine waking up day-to-day, putting on a suit and drinking coffee on the corner just emitting suave and class. We have written about the WWII era and being a soldier. For me it was a fantasy I had as a younger man. It was so heavily romanticized in books and movies as well as songs and TV series. It would be an outlet to prove to yourself and the world that you’re a man. As a young man often times you’re full of misplaced and newfound aggression and anger. Who wouldn’t want to blow up a bunch of Nazis!? The pure embodiment of evil! Of course, at the time, joining the army to fight in the Middle East was absurd. Lies brought us there, that’s hardly just. An unidentifiable enemy? Too weird. I’ve since come to realize that the thought of murdering some other guy my age whom I had never met because some old rich guy told us to do it to each other is ridiculous and absurd in any light you want to put it in.

How much of an influence do the movies and books have on The Menzingers as a band, and you as a person?
We are creating music, and the emotions we are trying to convey we also explore in movies and books and other music. We carry all of these things with us as we grow. Some we remember and some we forget and some find their way into our music.

You come from Philadelphia, a city that is not so famous for punk rock bands, but yet, in a last few years we got you, The Holy Mess, Modern Baseball. Noisey even made an article about Phily and its punk scene. How would you explain that?
Actually there have been a lot of punk rock bands from Philadelphia. There has been a huge punk and hardcore scene here for a very long time with a lot of incredible bands. I think the newer DIY scene, the one Noisey referred to in their article, comes from the unique socio-economic and geographic position Philadelphia has found itself in for the past couple of years. After 2008 (and before, but especially after) living in New York became the pursuit of only the most ambitious or wealthy of transplants. Philadelphia is an affordable place to live and it’s only 1-3 hours from New York City, Baltimore, Washington DC, Richmond, a few more to Boston and Pittsburgh and Toronto and you
can do Chicago in an ambitious weekend. You can play one-off shows everywhere. Philadelphia is also a city where the vast majority of the Punx (and the bands and DIY/Non-DIY venues) are all clustered completely on top of each other in a few neighborhoods of the city close to downtown. Everyone hanging out together and the fact that cops and neighbors allow house shows has created a boom. It’s fantastic.

The Menzingers fit into the category of “hard touring bands“. You have been touring a lot during the years, are there any places you especially love?
I love everywhere we tour. We have friends all over the place. Right now I am excited to make it back to Manchester to hang out with my friends.

One of the tours I am interested in is the one with Taking Back Sunday and letlive. How was it to be on tour with those guys? Was it weird to play with two bands with a completely different style to yours?
Nah, it wasn’t weird. I look at it like this: We are all a bunch of Americans in rock/punk bands playing loud music together on a tour in 2015. We have similar backgrounds and we all know the same people. We listen to each other’s music. It seems to me the pigeon-holing is left up to journalists, musicians and people that comment on Youtube videos!

What will you be up to in the future? Can we expect any new material soon? Maybe an acoustic record?
Always writing! You’ll be hearing from us before you know it.

Words by Miljan Milekić // Pictures by Jessica Flynn
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