Posted June 2, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

The Menzingers: A fully democratic process

The Menzingers
The Menzingers

Philadelphia-based pop punk band The Menzingers ups the ante on its new album Rented World, a terrific collection of songs that has drawn comparisons to the Replacements. The very funny music video for the tune “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” also has gotten some well-deserved attention. Singer-guitarist Tom May recently phoned from his Philly home to talk about the album and current state of punk rock.

I love the video for “I Don’t Want to be an Asshole Anymore.” Did you guys come up with the concept or how did it come to be?
The director thought it up. We had been given a couple of treatments for the video. We didn’t really like very many of them. The director sent that one and all four of us were like, “Yes. This has to happen. Whatever we need to do to make it happen, we gotta do it.” It was filmed while we were in Australia and we didn’t see anything until the video was done. It was pretty cool.

It was like the coolest thing we’ve ever done and none of us had anything to do with it.

What about the song? I mean it’s a good song, too. What inspired that?
Thanks man. It’s actually something that our drummer said one night when we were leaving the practice space and then [singer] Greg [Barnett] took that and turned it into lyrics. It had a couple different incarnations when we doing the music for it and decided to go with this. It’s kinda what we’re used to, the straightforward punk rock anthem kind of song.

Were you trying to do something differently on this record? Can you talk about it a little bit?
Yeah, every record that we do, we try to challenge ourselves in a sense.  The things that we write, we want them to be difficult for us to play at first. This record we didn’t say, “Oh, we need to make some conceptual rock record” or something like that. We just kind of got together in a small room up in North Philly and thought about what we’ve been listening to and what we want to play over a period of a couple months. We kind of just smashed all the songs up.

Jon Lowe worked as an engineer. What do you think he brought to the album?
Sonically, he brought everything the album is to it. I remember a lot of times where we’d be playing and he’s like, “Woah, do you really need to be playing anything there?” He brought an idea of contrast to recording that we never really thought of before. He definitely brought a perspective to it that we weren’t used to ourselves.

How does the songwriting work? Are you the primary songwriter or does the group as a whole? How does that happen?
Well, Greg and I both sing the songs, so we’ll sing whatever we write, but for the most part we’ll come to practice with a couple chords. It varies, but we usually come to practice with a couple of chords or some lyrics in mind or some melodies in mind and then four of us really write the songs.

I brought songs to this record that sounded completely different in my mind before we started working on them together. It’s a fully democratic process.

What do you think are the differences between the two of you in terms of your approach?
I don’t know. I guess I usually wait on lyrics and focus on melody first whereas Greg usually has the lyrics beforehand. Greg has more of a structure or chord-based kind of thing. I like to write lyrics over riffs more than chords straight through. I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about the differences.

Do you and Greg share influences?
At first, we were influenced by almost all the same stuff. Greg is a lot more into folky kind of music. I listen to a lot of electronic music and stuff like that. But for the most part, since we spend so much time all of us together driving around in a van, everybody’s listening to the same thing all the time. We’re always texting each other different music that we find. So, we listen to the same stuff for the most part, but it can diverge for sure and it’s really funny when it does.

Scranton, Pennsylvania is not really known for producing a lot of bands. Are you guys the odd people out?
It is now actually. A lot of times we’ll be in England or Germany or something and someone will say, “Why are there so many bands coming out of Scranton?” And we don’t really have any idea. You’ve got Tigers JawTitle Fight and all those bands.

At what point did you guys move from there?
We moved to Philadelphia about six years ago.

You guys often get comparisons to the Replacements. Is that accurate?
It’s the coolest comparison you can get. I don’t particularly see it. They’re a really good band, a quintessential rock n’ roll band. They’re the band that everybody wants to be. When people compare us to them, especially it’s happened more recently, it’s really, really cool. That’s one of the bands we grew up listening to. They’re phenomenal.

Do you remember the band’s first show?
Vaguely, we’ve debated about what the actually first show was. The first show we played–the first memorable show–was at Café Metropolis, which is a venue in Wilkes-Barre. It was cool because I think I broke several or at least one guitar string and everyone was drunk, so it was a big fuck about. I think that our first couple of shows definitely just blend together in my mind. Those days were a lot of fun.

What do you think of today’s punk rock and what do you think will happen in the future?
It’s weird because sometimes I feel I’ve become a bit detached. I’m not a 17-year-old kid who listens to punk and I’m not even in a punk band that’s just playing whatever basement show they can play. When I go and see my friends’ bands it seems to me that punk rock has gone a bit towards what you would call punk rock and emotional rock. I’m talking about the smaller bands that lean toward the indie side. I think I really don’t know where the political part has gone. I mean everybody has philosophically political lyrics but there’s no real Anti-Flag holding up the scene like there was when I was younger. I really have no idea where it’s going to go. I think maybe another genre of music will fill that spot. Some kind of electronic movement or something

What do you guys have planned for the rest of the year?
We’re just going to tour and tour and tour. It’s similar to the last time we released a record where everything was new and exciting and our shows were bigger and we just met all kinds of new people. The rest of this year, I think we’re just going to go and see our friends from around the world and play music for people.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

June 2
June 3
June 4
June 5
June 6
June 7
June 8
June 10
June 11
June 13
June 14
June 15
June 17
June 18
June 20
June 21
June 22
June 23
June 24
June 26
June 29
June 30
July 2
July 3
July 4
July 5
July 6
Rochester, NY – The Bugjar
Toronto ON – Opera House
Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
Pittsburgh, PA – Altar Bar
Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge
Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock
Des Moines, IA – Vaudeville Mews
Davenport, IA – River City Experience
St. Louis MO – Firebird
Denver, CO – Marquis
Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
Boise, ID – The Shredder
Seattle, WA – El Corazon
Portland, OR – Branx
San Francisco, CA – Slims
Los Angeles, CA – The Roxy
San Diego, CA – The Irenic
Phoenix, AZ – Pub Rock
Albuquerque, NM – Launchpad
Austin, TX – Red 7 Inside
Houston, TX – Fitzgeralds Downstairs
New Orleans, LA – Siberia
Tampa FL – Orpheum
Orlando, FL – The Social
Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade – Middle
Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
Baltimore, MD – Ottobar


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.