Punk, much like most heavy music today, operates against a prevailing contradiction. While not to diminish the state of things or suggest the genre is disingenuous, for a style of music established by its minority status, the genre is enjoying its most popular point.
Pennsylvanian contemporaries The Menzingers are a fitting representation. On the immediate surface their music is accessible, sincere and engaging. Digging deeper and the result remains the same. The four-piece are students of the craft – influenced by their predecessors, but still offering individual and impassioned music.
It’s not a marketed product nor is it test tube punk rock. It’s music that is more authentic, which makes the band’s current success justified.
Preparing to release fourth studio album, ‘Rented World’ this Friday, the group is buoyed by the overwhelming success of 2012’s ‘On the Impossible Past’. This past achievement provides a neat backdrop for what full-length four appears to soon outdo.
When in Australia last month, we chatted with members Greg Barnett and Tom May to get an insight into where everything is currently aligned.
“I think what’s interesting is I never really thought about too much pressure until we started doing interviews and then I was like, “Oh shit! Maybe there is some pressure,” Barnett laughs.
Pressure is always an interesting factor. Backtrack to pre-2012 and The Menzingers, while solid and promising, were merely in the punk rock pack. Enter the aforementioned ‘On the Impossible Past’ and the reputation, interest and regard grew significantly.
On the eve of ‘Rented World’, the band is easily managing any pressures.
“It’s something you have to think about, but it’s not an actual worry. It’s new to us too, so you just run with it,” May offers.
It’s a stretch to say it’s the elephant in the room, but writing a follow-up to a well-received record is always tricky. However, acknowledging this is the understand albums are essentially apples and oranges. Subsequently, it becomes fundamental in approach. The question of which album is better does not exist. Instead, it’s about taking each on individual and untarnished merit.
“The only thing I would be bummed about is if people look at the record and judge it compared to the other one, and they don’t let the music speak for itself,” Barnett adds.
“…It would be a bummer if nobody liked it [though],” May laughs. “We’re not worried about it because [fans] liked the last record and this one is better than the last one.”
Another key factor in the development of ‘Rented World’ was the change of studio location. Out went Chicago’s Atlas Studios replaced by a home state place of recording residence – Philadelphia’s Miner Street Studio.
“We went into to the whole process saying we wanted to try something new. We recorded the last two records in Chicago and those two records I had the best times of my life and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
“[This time] we just wanted to try something different – try a new recording process, try working with different people just to keep ourselves on our toes. It’s a good thing to have,” Barnett explains of the decision.
Punk is predicated and characterised by its message. While eight years together as a band can be viewed as a short or long timeframe depending on whom you ask, there’s no ignoring that times, people…and often music can change. May is reflective, noting how age gives you a new perspective, one that is perhaps more well rounded.
“When you’re younger you are just seeing this world for the first time. You think you have it figured out and everything is black and white. As you get older, you realise how grey everything is and how much depth things can have,” the guitarist says.
The Menzingers are the in-between. The group can be viewed as middlemen between traditional “band” mentalities and new, youthful approaches. Where a nod to past DIY aesthetics still exists, social media has made music more accessible and immediate.
“It [social media] is so engrained in music now. We toured for years and nobody came to our shows, it feels like it’s a really quick rise for bands nowadays. They can do it a lot different now, which is awesome. There is no reason bands should have to go to the middle of nowhere to play to no one,” Barnett observes.
“It’s crazy for us to talk to some of the older bands we play shows with to contemplate what it must’ve been like for those bands not to have the quick, easy access. We were laughing about how we used to print out MapQuest directions on the computer and that was the only way we could get there [to venues] because we didn’t have a smart phone or GPS,” May adds.
It’s a double edged sword for punk. Fans might bemoan its lack of overall recognition, but commercial success is almost frowned upon. The Menzingers are enjoying sustained interest. The band is pragmatic when discussing popularity versus old-school punk ethos of keeping things solely underground.
“I think the people who do turn their back just seem to make more noise than the people that don’t,” May suggests.
It’s an ironic, almost back-to-front notion where people who make the most noise are the ones in the minority.
“If you go find your music news on the Internet and you read a comments section, it’s easy to assume that’s the majority of what people think and it’s usually not accurate,” Barnett says.
Being a band is a composite – it’s a hobby, passion, lifestyle and profession all rolled into one. However, among most things, a band is also a business. Barnett is a supporter of the philosophy.
“In a sense, you are running your own small business. You’re constantly doing things, which is fun and awesome,” he says.
May is in agreement. There’s no off switch; music is a daily concern.
“There’s never a time when it’s over. It’s not like, “Tour’s over!” so I’m not going to pick up a guitar or answer an email. You’re always constantly involved in the whole thing,” the musician adds.
Music offers up many exciting and memorable experiences, but life on the road can create equally horrible situations. It’s a concept The Menzingers have not been immune from facing. In May 2012, while on tour in the UK, the band was robbed of over $10,000 in Manchester.
However, the generosity shown by fans and acquaintances alike revealed a silver lining to an otherwise bad situation.
“People donated $10,000 to us, it was crazy. People from all over the world [donated]. Looking at the donations list you could see people’s names on there that we hadn’t spoken to in years. It was eye opening and a positive result to a bad situation,” May reflects.
Touring though is still an outlet for notable experiences that aren’t confined just to the stage.
“A long time ago we camped out at Yellowstone National Park and we just had a couple of days off, and we made food over the campfire and hung out, and went hiking,” Barnett says.
Having been fortunate to experience plenty of situations that would rank highly on many bands bucket lists, The Menzingers discuss the recent back-to-back sold-out shows at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel, which saw locals The Smith Street Band headline.
“It’s a really big deal. I don’t think they [The Smith Street Band] realised what a big deal it was. I had to stop them and be like, “Guys look what you just did. This is impressive!” Barnett says.
It’s a refreshingly forward thinking and humble approach from the group. A good head on your shoulders and consistent music to support will get you most of the way. For that reason ‘Rented World’ already seems like anther tick in the win column.
“I think you need to fail so many times before you can get some type of success,” Barnett concludes.
‘Rented World’ is out this Friday via Epitaph.