When The Menzingers
told us that they'd be releasing Rented World
, the follow-up to 2012's instant-classic On The Impossible Past
, questions turned to the obvious: "Would they be able to top it? Would they meet expectations?" Such is the life of a band that has released a truly acclaimed album; after doing some research, OTIP
is the only record that has ever been named Album Of The Year by the staff members of both AbsolutePunk.net and Punknews.org, as far as I can tell.
But now that Rented World
is out and we've all heard it, we decided to call vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett and see what he thinks of early reactions to the album, delve into why he thinks people are writing off new music faster and faster, find out when Bruce Springsteen's output turns weird, get his thoughts on the Scranton, PA quartet's upcoming tour and more. Here's a link to my review of the album
(I liked it), and Rented World
is streaming here as well
We're gonna have an American BBQ today since we're leaving for Europe tomorrow. Some friends are gonna come over and we're listen to Springsteen up until the late '80s where it gets weird, eat some burgers and drink Budweiser.
I love Bruce Springsteen. Where does he get weird for you?
Around Tunnel of Love I'd say, that's where it gets weird. He kinda comes back with Ghost of Tom Joad a little bit. The 2000s stuff starts to get a little bit better I think. But with the '70s and early '80s you really can't go wrong. I like The Rising and I thought Magic was pretty cool. But actually, the Seeger Sessions is definitely the best stuff he's done in forever.
You guys just dropped Rented World, but it had been floating around for a bit and a lot of your fans have been listening for a while. What do you think of the reaction so far?
It seems pretty awesome, man. We kinda can't complain. It's the kind of reaction that we were hoping for. We knew that some people would be bummed and maybe they'd rather us put out On The Impossible Past 2.0. But, you know, it seems like everyone else is pretty stoked on the new direction for the band. We've always been the kind of band where, as long as we like it and our close immediate friends like it, that's all that really matters to us.
I like the album a lot, but it seems like the main point of debate for some people comes along when you talk about the growth in the songwriting.
I really just think we've become better songwriters. It's so cliché, and so lame...like it's hard to talk about something like this without coming off like a pretentious douche or saying the most obvious thing that you could possibly say. Beforehand, a lot of the songs were simple-structured songs and we wanted to break out of that. For this record in particular, we kinda wanted to be more minimalistic in ways. Before, we would always be playing at all times, but we wanted to experiment with just the guitar and vocals, or just the bass and drums. Stuff like that, where we weren't really comfortable with that before. I think it has to do with where we wrote as well; we used to write in a basement where everything sounded so bad because we were all playing on top of each other all the time. You couldn't fucking hear anything. This time we got a practice space where we could hear each other. It was like, 'Oh, that's really cool, what you're doing. I'm gonna try to not fuck up what you're doing there, and I'm gonna play something a little bit softer.'
Because of the practice space, you guys have said that this record was conceived around stuff like riffs rather than writing everything on an acoustic guitar. Is that something that you want to keep doing in the future?
Honestly, it's hard to say. It sort of comes down to how the songs feel and how they naturally need to grow. I don't think there's anything wrong with writing a song on an acoustic guitar, then bringing it to the band and we all form the full idea of it. The way that we did it this time, we wrote it and we put the lyrics together while we were forming the songs. I think it's just two different styles and we wanted to try something different than we normally did, and I think it worked out. I think for the next record, or any songs in the future, it just comes down to a case-by-case basis. A song like "Good Things," [from OTIP] that's just a simple acoustic guitar-type song. I think if there was more to it, the point of the song would kind of be ruined.
Speaking of things you guys don't normally do, you recorded Rented World with Jon Low after going to Matt Allison for Chamberlain Waits and On The Impossible Past. Jon Low definitely doesn't focus on punk records like Matt Allison does, so how did his viewpoint kind of affect how the record turned out?
It's important to just get out of your comfort zone for a band...well, for anyone, I think. For us, we had the most amazing recording experiences with Matt and we can't sing his praises enough. At the same time, we just wanted to try something new and it wasn't that we were dissatisfied with the past experiences – not at all. We just wanted to go with someone who didn't know as well where we were coming from and see what they could pull out of it. I think that's what Jon did and he did a fantastic job. Just little things...we recorded the drums and the bass live which we'd never done before. That was something new, usually it was drums first, then bass, then guitar. It felt a little more live and real in the recording process.
A lot of people ask questions about the pressure of following up a record like On The Impossible Past, which attained something of a cult-like following almost instantaneously. Rather than me asking you something you've already answered about pressure, what do you make of the fact that you have listeners who, because of OTIP, are now going to be predisposed to either love or hate your new album before they even hear it? I read a quote where Tom [May, guitarist/vocalist] said that the "punk community tends to shun what comes next for a band after they release a successful album."
I remember reading that interview when Tom did it, and I remember we had a really long conversation about that exact topic one night. I think it's hard these days because music is digested so much differently than it ever has been before. I think that I'm at fault too - you can say it's not even a fault, really - but I think of going on Spotify and looking into the first 20 seconds of something and saying, 'Yeah, it's not for me. I'm gonna put something else on.' It's just that quick. When you had to go to a record store to buy a record, you're almost semi-forced to like it because you just paid $14 for it. So it's like, yeah I'm gonna have a better chance to like it. But now people are really, really quick to write things off without giving time for an album to really breathe. You're not always going to like something on your first listen through. I think, especially with this record, it's a little more dense than our other stuff, and I've read people online who say, 'Yeah, you know, at first I wasn't sure about it but I listened to it for a week and now I like it.' I think that's really cool. It's just a weird spot for bands that want to try new things without people immediately writing it off.
I've written a little bit about the idea that you're talking about, that once upon a time people were more invested in music they listened to, even if it's just because of the simple fact that they had to pay for it and make a decision to buy that album at the store. I know this is a mega-broad topic, but what can a band do to get people more invested in the music? It actually happened for you with On The Impossible Past.
That's a really good question. I think that you just have to be the type of band that people want to support. I think, I hope that we're one of those bands. I think of a band like The Hold Steady, I love The Hold Steady to death, they're one of my favorite bands. And with their new album [Teeth Dreams], I would kinda think, 'Well this is pretty good, but I just want to listen to an older record,' or something like that. But then it's like, 'No, I really appreciate this band and I know there's something here.' So I listened to it more and more and now it's one of my favorite records of the year. I hope that we are a band like that for people, a band that people trust and they want to see what we're doing without writing it off too quickly. I think the people who listen to our band are pretty awesome.
A song like "Transient Love," it comes right in the middle of the tracklisting and it's something of a departure for your band. Where did that song come along in the writing process? Were you guys maybe fucking around a bit, trying to change up what you were doing a bit?
It's kinda funny, we would go to our practice space almost seven days a week, and we'd be in there for five or six hours a day trying to hash out these ideas. But every Friday we would have something called, um, Casual Friday...and on Casual Friday, we would get a case of beer and not really work on stuff. We would be working on something the day before, but instead we'd just play covers or jam the entire time. It was a day where it was totally okay if nothing got done and we wouldn't feel bad about it. So "Transient Love" came out of that, where we were jamming and one thing lead to another and we were like, 'Oh, this is pretty weird. But it's also pretty cool. Let's get into this.' We weren't necessarily trying to craft the song right there, but we just kept going with it, and that's how it came about. I think that's actually pretty telling for that song, which is kind of just one big groove and one big jam, and that's exactly what it was.
At the end of May you're getting going on your first U.S. headliner supporting this album.
We are really, really excited to go out. The bands that are coming out with us [Lemuria, Pup and Cayetana] are some of my favorite bands. We're fortunate to play some of our favorite venues across the country too and it's just gonna be an awesome big summer hangout. I think it's gonna be great.
How do you like that new Pup record?
So good. It's so, so good. We're so happy that they wanted to do the tour. We hadn't even heard the full record, we'd only heard a couple songs but we were playing them constantly in the van and we thought, 'Maybe they'd wanna do the tour,' and they're totally stoked for it. We've never met them but we have a lot of mutual friends and it seems like we're gonna get along really well.
A band like yours could play a huge blowout release show if you wanted, but you decided to do a secret house show to celebrate instead. Why?
Well, we've always had a hometown record release show, but this tour doesn't come by here until later on. That felt weird so we decided to put something together. We've wanted to play the Golden Tea House [the name of the house show place] for a while and it was sorta the perfect storm that it fell on the day the record came out. And the show was so, so fun.
Rented World is out now via Epitaph Records.