Ask Blink-182, Green Day, and Hot Water Music – there’s a certain pressure that follows a band when their songs become more memorable than the smell of coffee at 5 a.m. Their profile rises and the sole burden they face is not making the transition from underdog to contender but rather adapting to the latter while piecing together a new record that features the same influence. THE MENZINGERS are currently holding a staring contest with that weight because of the cultural and emotional impact On The Impossible Past had on a fickle community. It became a record everyone kept on repeat for days, months, and years and it’s why news of another album has been received with some unexpected skepticism. Will it be just as good? Will it be even better? Will the stories continue?
Truth be told, it doesn’t matter. Rented World (out April 22nd on Epitaph) is the Menzingers album we need today. Impossible Past provided imagery of diner waitresses, muscle cars, and CVS parking lots but Rented World digs deeper, introducing narratives about intercoms, couches, losing friends, and not so sober nights. There are evident shifts in sound but the Philly four-piece aren’t sell-outs – hell, they even thanked more than 35 bands in their new record’s liner notes. To elaborate on The Menzingers’ step forward, we spoke with guitarist Tom May who chimed in about reactions, practice spaces, emotional connections, and Rented World being an “apple to oranges”.
Does punk have a definitive sound or is it changing alongside those that make it?
I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s got a definitive sound where you can listen to something and tag one of the pigeon-holing punk sub-genres to it. It definitely changes with the people who make it and it has gone through some changes since the late ’70s or whenever you want to say it started.
As bands always feel a need to progress, there are parts of your new album that display a different sound. How did growing older and other types of music influence Rented World?
For one, we certainly got better at playing our instruments so the things that we play on this record are more challenging and they’re more interesting for us to play. Like there are parts that we couldn’t have played previously. Also, just listening to more bands. It’s funny because when I was younger and I first listened to punk rock, I heard Fugazi and thought, “This is whatever, I don’t really get it. All my older friends like it”. But then as I got older, I began to think they were really good. At different stages of your life you begin to appreciate different things and you begin to understand more about the world. I think a lot of that has to do with why your taste in music changes. Not to mention, there’s been 60 or 70 years of recorded music and to hear it all when you’re 18 is impossible.
It was also said inspiration for the album was drawn from some of your favourite ’90s groups. Did you ever feel uncertain while writing in the sense that fans may not appreciate a song sounding like Weezer or a style that’s unrelated to your other albums?
We definitely are concerned with what people think of the record. If people stop coming to our shows… that would be a really big bummer – there’s no way I can get around saying that. When we wrote the album, we wrote what we felt we would like the most and tried not to let what everyone else would think influence us too much. Inevitably there’s going to be something in the back of your mind where you’re partially worried about reactions, but we didn’t get too over our heads with concerns about that.
How does the title Rented World relate to themes on the album?
This album as opposed to the last one doesn’t have an overarching or reoccurring theme. I know the last one was very nostalgic and desperate almost. With this record the themes are more ambiguous – it’s just everything that’s going on in our lives at the moment. The poem itself – from which the title of the record comes from – doesn’t totally sum it up but it is a good summary of what we’re trying to say.
Your music is deeply personal, so were there any tracks that were difficult to write?
Not on this record so much, for me at least. It’s based on things that happened in the past, but at the same time, if you don’t want to share something then maybe you shouldn’t share it if you’re going to be apprehensive about it. The greatest emotional connection you can make with someone comes from personal experiences. I guess maybe some of it is a little difficult. For me, the song “My Friend Kyle” was a little bit weird to record. It was difficult, but it’s been so long since the person whom this song is about died that it’s almost just a reflection at this point.
Are there any that you’re particularly proud of?
I really like all the songs on the record, but I’m really proud of a song called “Transient Love”. It’s track number six on the record. We got a little bit more experimental with the musicianship than we normally would have or ever have previously and I’m really happy with the way it turned out. When we were writing the song we were unsure whether it was going to work because it was a little bit weird and slower, like there’s a lot of room and space between everything. But when we finished it and listened to the final master, we were really proud of it.
What is it about honesty and emotional vulnerability that makes for a great record?
It makes people feel real. You’re not writing bubblegum pop songs though they have their time and place of course, but when you write something that feels so honest or emotional it has a bigger chance of connecting with someone or connecting with someone on a level that’s deeper than the surface. One of the main reasons that attracted us to music in the first place was that connection.
Undoubtedly you must have felt some pressure given how well On The Impossible Past was received. Were you able to use this as motivation or did you guys try to focus on the future?
That pressure was something that didn’t really exist as much. Not to sound like some kind of pretentious idiot, but we weren’t really that concerned with topping the last record because it’s not really a competition. It’s something that’s completely different, apples to oranges. There may have been some pressure, but we used it in the sense of wanting to fix the mistakes we made on the last record.
Were there any experiences from creating On The Impossible Past that stuck with you?
We definitely set the last record aside and started a new project, but at the same time, we’re still us. We’re the same people and we haven’t changed. Who we are influences the outcome of our music and this album is definitely us. The critical reception of the last record was really good, which was great, but I think a lot of that stemmed from the fact that we were a relatively unknown band and people were rooting for the underdog. We’re not the underdog anymore so it will be interesting to see what people are going to say about our new record.
If there was something we were actually worried about, it would be that the punk community tends to shun what comes next for a band after they release a successful album. If a relatively unknown band releases a good album people like to jump on that because they like to feel like they’re a part of something and then they’re immediately on their guard for the next release.
Well, they don’t want that band to change or progress in any way, or release something that sounds different to what they hold so dear.
Exactly and it’s understandable to a point. I’m even guilty of doing it quite frequently.
Sometimes great albums are about a time and a place. Bands progress as people and as musicians, and you can’t expect the same or a similar album two times in a row.
If we were to do something as drastically different as we did last time, we would have to change our band name and start making electronic music or something. I don’t really think there’s a record we could have written that would escape that. We didn’t try to do anything goofy or ridiculous and we’re still the same people.
Is the recording process something you enjoy? Or is it a necessity to keep touring?
Touring with the band is so much fun; it’s probably my favourite part of playing in a band because I get to travel and go to all kinds of places. But the most rewarding personal part of being in a band is definitely the writing and recording process because it’s just us and there’s no one else involved. For this record, we got a practice space and we practiced and wrote for months and months. It was just the four of us essentially. Once in a while somebody from the label would show up, but mostly it was just us doing what we love to do. The recording process this time around and every time around is also fascinating because you get to take these ideas – your little baby – and you get to see it start walking. It’s a really exciting and gratifying feeling that I haven’t really experienced anywhere else.
Do you write a lot on the road or do you wait until you have that practice space?
We definitely get more done at the practice space. We get a lot more productive when we just sit down and do it. You never really stop writing as you’re always writing poems or chords or whatever, but when we’re on the road it’s difficult for the four of us to get the time to sit down and write together. The way we write is a very democratic process, everyone is equally involved. We get a lot more done when were in a room by ourselves.
As a band you seem to have finally found stability and a level of comfort. What’s the most vital thing you’ve learned about yourself or life in general that’s helped you get here?
Probably that most of the problems in my life were always my own fault and I was the only one who could change it. That’s a little heavy, but it’s the one thing I realized between the last record and this. That self-responsibility and self-reliance is important for anybody to achieve the things they want.