In the 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle by American writer and satirist Kurt Vonnegut, a fictional religion called ‘Bokononism’ is founded on tenets that function as ‘harmless untruths’, one of which being that: “Maturity,” Bokonon tells us, “is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.” And while laughter is often said to be the best medicine, it could also be argued that good ol’ fashioned punk rock comes a very close second to easing the sting of responsibility and cold, hard acceptance that’s synonymous with growing up.
Fortunately, for those of us rounding the bend of our late 20’s, US punk outfit The Menzingers are soon to release their anticipated fifth album, ‘After The Party’, which tackles this problem head on with catchy riffs, melodic refrains and hearty sing-a-longs. Speaking with guitarist and lead vocalist Greg Barnett late last year, prior to the album’s release, we discussed recording with studio-guru-of-the-moment Will Yip, concise songwriting, nostalgic tendencies, and the allure of New Jersey and its women.
Hello, Greg! How are you doing?
Yeah, doing great. Thanks for the interview!
No problem at all dude. I’m a big Menzingers fan and I’ve had a copy of ‘After The Party’ for a few weeks now, and I have to say, Greg, I love it. It’s a fantastic record!
Ah, that’s awesome. Thanks so much. I’m really glad to hear that.
You’re very welcome. Now, to start off, let’s get the big philosophical question out of the way. ‘After The Party’ is the band’s fifth album, due for release next year. Did you ever think that ten years on from releasing your demo tape in 2006, you’d be here, talking about album #5 for The Menzingers?
No, I definitely didn’t [laughs]. I more so had hoped that that could happen, but the reality of it was a lot harder to conceptualise. Especially being 18 years old. I grew up in a small town, even smaller than Scranton, Pennsylvania, so to be talking to an Australian interviewer, about my fifth record, is pretty mind-blowing. I’d always hoped we’d get here, but back then I didn’t see a viable path for it, and now I’m definitely excited that we did.
That’s awesome. Speaking off the fifth record, you guys recorded ‘After The Party’ with Will Yip, who’s had a hand at working with some big bands and some fantastic records over the last five to six years. Why did you guys decide to work with Will, and how did that experience shape these songs and the new record overall?
We’re in a very tight knit community here in Philadelphia, so a lot of our friends’ bands have worked with Will. His studio is in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, which is really just outside Philly, like ten or fifteen miles or something. So, he’s definitely made his presence known in our community, and we’d met him at shows and in passing – always a super nice guy – and eventually we got to talking and he showed a lot of interest in the record. We were talking to a lot of different producers, but Will was always ‘the one.’ We were like, ‘You know, we keep talking to everyone else, but it’s always just felt right with Will.’ He was the one who had the most ideas about it, who was the most interested, and you could tell that he was just so excited by the whole project. And that really meant a lot to us.
First and foremost, we were looking for someone who was interested in it, and we found that with Will. And when we started recording with him, it was an experience that we’d never had before; we’d never let someone in that close to us before. I think he mentioned to us that we were “the most prepared” before going into a record, but for us, we still weren’t prepared for how much he was going to put his input in and actually be a producer. It was really cool. With the songs, before they got to Will, there were probably like five or six different versions of them, with us going back and forth, and playing different verses and stuff. Then they’d get to Will, and that script would be completely flipped too. I think more than ever, there was a lot of cutting and editing, getting rid of the filler and the scrap, and when I listen back to the record, all I hear is the most concise songwriting that we’ve ever had. So, that’s what I love about the record and working with Will.
I definitely agree with that last point you mentioned. I’ve listened to ‘After The Party’ a few times through now, and as a fan, I feel like it’s the definitive Menzingers record. It really pulls from all your different strengths as musicians, from across your back catalogue, and I think it’s a very concise and conclusive statement for the band.
That’s awesome man, and that’s exactly how I look at it too. I mean, if the band ended tomorrow, and in twenty years I met a stranger and they said to me, ‘Hey, what was your band like?’, I’d show them this record. And we almost kind of wrote the record, with that in mind. We wanted to write a record to celebrate us being a band for ten years, to celebrate this whole decade of our twenties, of being involved with this band, and that’s the record to me. I think it’s really cool to be able to have that.
Absolutely dude. I’ve been following the band since I heard ‘Chamberlain Waits’ years ago, but distinctly recall hearing ‘Lookers’ for the first time, as a single for the new record, and being instantly hooked. That chorus is ridiculous, and one of the best I’ve ever heard.
[Laughs.] That’s so awesome. Thank you so much.
But I do have to ask, on that note, exactly why is it that “Jersey girls are always total heart-breakers,” Greg?
[Laughs.] I’m not sure. I don’t know if you’ve ever met a Jersey girl… That song I wrote obviously about a particular person, and the time that our band has spent in Asbury Park, New Jersey. You know, the band is from Philly, but Asbury is only like an hour, hour and a half away. It’s always been a second home to us, and we’ve had some of the best shows of our lives there. So I really just wanted to sum up those early moments, of travelling to Asbury and starting the band; how exciting it was to play The Stone Pony, but more specifically, to play Asbury Lanes. Going out drinking, heading out The Wonder Bar… I don’t know, it’s just a pretty magical place and that song is really an ode to that time in my life.
That kind of leads into my next question around the second single ‘Bad Catholics’. The lyrics, and especially the video, speak to an element of nostalgia and wistful reflection that’s been a constant, driving force in your music with The Menzingers, but I feel like it’s much more pronounced in ‘After The Party’. With growing older being such an irrevocable part of life, do you find now with your songwriting and lyrics, that you’re taking on a more serious, and perhaps, ‘mature’ tone?
Yeah… I think that’s definitely fair. I think I’m definitely maturing as an adult, as a lyricist and as a person. So when ‘Bad Catholics’ comes around, that song to me is all about growing up, going to Catholic school, my Mum dragging us to Catholic mass every Sunday, and questioning this upbringing and this life that I don’t know if I necessarily really believed in. We’re all constantly told these ‘truths’ – whether it by our parents, or our teachers – that people tell us. These things that we grow up with, believing that they’re true, and then one day you question them and find out that maybe everything you’ve been told isn’t as true, or as ‘black and white’ as they made it. So, that song is definitely a reckoning of that for me and having someone in my life while I was questioning all those things. Seeing the world in a different light from how I was told it works and exists.
Awesome. Speaking of the album overall, I find it to be a longer record, which I quite enjoy. Too often now, bands seem to just slap together the pre-requisite ten songs including an instrumental or whatever, and press that out as a record. But ‘After The Party’ has 13 full songs, and a variety of different moods, tones and textures going on. So, I wanted to ask you, Greg, what are some of your favourite tracks off the new record?
Yeah, well first off, with the length, I think it’s almost kind of a weird angle the way the music industry works now. Music is consumed so fast now, and I think we wanted to make a statement against that by writing something a little more lengthy. To write for fans of our band, who have always enjoyed our songwriting style and how we piece a record together with stories and concepts and things like that. Not just write some singles, some filler songs and then just throw it all together. So, we definitely took more time forming this than we have in the past and I’m really happy with it.
And for favourite songs… Man, it’s tough. I really do just enjoy the entire record. But you know, it is funny that you mention ‘Lookers’ because it’s probably one of my favourite choruses that I’ve ever written. Pretty pumped on that one [laughs]. ‘Midwestern States’ is up there too, along with the title track ‘After The Party’. Those three songs are probably some of my favourite lyrics and arrangements that the band has put together.
Man, ‘After The Party’ was definitely a standout for me on the record too. I also really enjoyed ‘Your Wild Years’ towards the end of the record.
Oh, awesome! I really enjoy that one too. That one was one of those that I went back and forth on a bit because it’s really personal and I was diving right into the story. I was a little concerned that I might have been telling ‘too much’ of the story; you know, sometimes it’s better to leave out the hard facts. But after going back and forth on it, and asking some people, they were like, ‘No! That’s why I love it. I love how much you’ve put into that storyline.’ So, I was like, ‘Ok, I’m not gonna back out of it. Go for it.’ So, that’s awesome to hear you say you liked that one because it really means a lot to me.
Well, you’re very welcome dude. Now, to wrap up, you guys have an Australian tour coming up next year and it’ll be your first ever headline tour here. How excited are you for that?
Unbelievably excited; it’s a very big deal for us. It’s one thing I just started thinking about, where our manager and sound engineer always kind of travel as a pack; like we’re a gang, just the six of us. And unfortunately, our sound engineer can’t come this time, but we are able to bring our tour manager Scott [Bell], who’s like part of the band to us. It’s really, really exciting to be able to share an incredible experience like going to Australia with your best friend.
So, that alone is exciting. And then being able to play sweaty, packed club shows right when the record comes out is going to be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. This album, without kind of tooting our own horn, I feel is one of the most important and definitive albums that we’ll ever release, and it’s going to be awesome to be able to celebrate its release with our very first headline tour in Australia.
‘After The Party’ is available now through Epitaph Records/Warner. Pick the record up here and enjoy your youth while you still can, kids. But while your youth passes you by, go read our review of the new album right here.
In support of their new album, The Menzingers are also touring Australia on select dates this month, and you can still find tickets for the Brisbane & Sydney shows here.
Feb 9th – The Reverence Hotel, Footscray [18+] SOLD OUT
Feb 10th – The Reverence Hotel, Footscray [18+] SOLD OUT
Feb 11th – Crowbar, Brisbane [18+]
Feb 12th – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney [18+]