INTERVIEW: The Menzingers

In this particular time, it’s difficult to think of another band that captures the essence of straightforward punk rock and the thick blood it carries that pumps life into the notes about love, loss and growing up. Since breaking out from a wave of ska back in 2006, Scranton’s own THE MENZINGERS have fused together a blend of aggressive, sincere rock that takes a minimalist form – as it does on the group’s Epitaph-first, On The Impossible Past – and churns out a waterfall of emotion that takes you back to your memories, your subtle nightmares and the rough start of what we call punk. Fresh off their record’s release and on the way to Soundwave Festival in Australia, we caught up with guitarist Greg Barnett via phone and discussed the conception of the band’s new album, their touring lifestyle and why The Menzingers are here to talk about the same shitty town and problems everyone deals with.

Having been described as a band’s band, does your new record have what it takes to make you a fan’s band?

I hope so! That’s a hard question for me to answer without sounding pretentious, but I would hope so. I hope people like it; we’ve always have been referred to as a band’s band but I think people might actually start coming to shows now… hopefully (laughs).
Is that why you chose to stream the album online for free a week before the release date?

We just wanted people to hear it. No one buys records anymore, but I’m the type of person who would like to hear things before I buy them. I would like for others to be able to hear it, because I’d like to do that. It was a conscious decision we made, but the record leaked a month beforehand anyways so everyone could stream or download it illegally regardless.
I’ve always been curious to ask bands when their album gets leaked whether they find it flattering that their fans couldn’t wait to hear it or if they are disappointed because they picked a release date for a reason.

It’s both. Of course it’s flattering because people really want to hear the album if they’re going out of their way to search for it and find it. It’s kind of cool people want to listen to it, but then again, you put so much work into it and this is something that we’ve been working on for over a year. We started recording in September and I didn’t even give the record to my brother because I thought he would leak it (laughs). It’s a bummer because there were a lot of people that were working on it – everybody put so much energy into making it go right – and when some little thing like that happens it really messes up everything else. But really, who cares? At the end of the day, it’s only music.
What about the feedback you’ve received so far? I saw you guys post many negative comments about your new work on Twitter, so in what ways does this type of feedback motivate you?

We just did it because it was funny. It’s really flattering because the few that we retweeted were the only bad comments. Everyday there’s so many positive things written about the band and it’s really flattering, but we didn’t want to be the people that just retweet nice things about themselves all the time. One negative comment came in and we were like “We’ve got to keep doing this, it’s hysterical”. It was just a funny thing to do. It’s not exactly motivation, we look at it as a joke, especially when people spell the band name wrong or just have no idea. It’s usually just some thirteen-year-old kid that does that kind of stuff.

The album itself seems really emotional and nostalgic, especially songs like “Good Things”, “Gates” and “Casey”. Is the album based on someone’s real experience?

Absolutely, pretty much all the songs are. I think it was just one of those things, that when we started writing it, it just went that way. We didn’t set out with the intention of writing a really personal, emotional record from the beginning. But when you write one song, you write another and another and then you can’t really stop and you can’t go the other way at that point. The album’s extremely personal and they’re all true stories unfortunately (laughs).
I also read somewhere that the album is slightly conceptual; does that mean its safe to assume that all the songs are also in some way related?

Yes and no. I think it’s a very, very loose concept and it more falls along a theme or an accident concept maybe. Things are tied together; it’s the same people that we’re singing about and the same type of situations I guess.
With it being a little more mature and serious than anything you’ve released before, it’s also emotional without being depressing. How did you guys find such balance?

I don’t know. I think we wanted to do something that’s real and sounded honest and I that’s how it happened. If you go into it and fake it, then the album’s just going to come out cheesy and lame. You have to be honest and just talk about things that everybody goes through. We’re not these crazy, unique people who live these extraordinary lives or anything, we’re just average people and I think that works for us. We grew up in the same shitty town that everybody else did, and we’re here to fucking talk about it.
With being compared to other bands like Anti-Flag and Against Me!, do you feel like you have big shoes to fill?

Sure, it’s always pretty crazy when people say these things, you just think, “Wow, holy shit, these are the bands I grew up listening to that I love”. It’s big shoes for sure because all of those bands have done some great things. I don’t know if we can ever fill them, but I hope so!
Having toured with similar artists, which would you say is the greater asset: the things you’ve learned or the exposure you’ve gained?

Great question. Honestly, from personal experience it’s the things that you learn; I’ve learned so many things over the years from touring. That’s the best part about it, everyone is just there to help you out. We’re all in the same position and you just ask questions and even if you don’t have questions you learn from being there. It’s insane the amount of things we’ve been able to pick up from the bands we’ve been fortunate enough to tour with. Everyone has been so nice and that’s helped us out so much.

Does that explain why touring has been such an integral part of your lives for the past few years?

Definitely. Touring is kind of crazy; it’s one of those things that once you start you can’t stop, so we just decided to plan it so we don’t have to come home anymore. We started doing that because we were at a point where we were gone for so long that we couldn’t find jobs in between tours and we realized the only way we’d be able to survive was if we just toured all the time. So we did that for a while, and I think we’re still doing that. We’re kind of in the middle of slightly being able to survive, but still touring all the time. If you had told me that I’d ever get to go to Australia, I would have never fucking believed you. It’s a really, really crazy thing for all of us.
That’s an amazing landmark for a North American band, Australia is crazy far, and it’s fantastic that people in that market are excited to have you.

It’s completely mind-blowing, and I think the fact that we’re going to Australia hasn’t even set in yet. I think it’s crazy that we have the opportunity to do it – it’s something that we don’t take for granted at all.
Is touring an essential source of inspiration that you can’t get any other way, or is it just a part of the job?

My favourite part about being in a band, and the reason I wanted to be in a band from the beginning, was because I wanted to travel. It’s a very selfish thing to say, but it’s totally true; it’s the perk of the job. Like now, I’m going to Australia, I get to go to Europe and I get to go to places where normally I wouldn’t go to, like Little Rock, Arkansas, and hell holes like that. Sorry to everyone from Little Rock, Arkansas (laughs). It’s a constant inspiration to be in places you’ve only seen on a map before. We’re all pretty big travel buffs and we like to research the places we go beforehand and to talk to the locals and just absorb everything.
Would you say all your hard work and sacrifices have paid off by putting The Menzingers right where they should be, or do you still have more ahead of you?

I’d say a little bit of both. It has absolutely paid off as all of our hard work has gotten us to this crazy position that we are in now. I never thought that I’d be on Epitaph Records and doing all these tours with our favourite bands. But to say I’m ready to stop because we’re “already there” would be incorrect, because there’s still a lot that I want to do. There’s still a lot that we all want to do.

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