The Menzingers are a punk rock band from Scranton, Pennsylvania in the US consisting of singer/guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May, bassist Eric Keen and drummer Joe Godino. They have released six studio albums and are one of the most popular bands in their genre of the last decade. Milo Schärer from Radio Radius met with Greg Barnett before their headlining show at Dynamo in Zurich on January 29th to discuss their most recent album Hello Exile and more.
Milo Schärer: I usually start off with this question. How would you describe your band in five words?
Greg Barnett: In five? Describe our band in five words, interesting. I’m going to repeat a couple, I guess, but I’m going to say a really, really fun band.
Alright, can’t argue with that. On this tour, you’re touring with Spanish Love Songs and Mannequin Pussy. Last time I saw you, you brought PUP and Cayetana along. All great opening acts. How do you pick your opening acts for big European tours like this?
We’re really lucky because the bands we like also want to go on tour with us, so how do we pick them? We just kind of all talk about what we’re listening to and the bands that we’re interested in and we kind of just ask and hope they say yes. We’ve known Mannequin Pussy for a little bit, so we have a connection with them, but never met Spanish Love Songs before, so it’s really exciting to have them out on this tour too.
On the topic of Spanish Love Songs, a lot of people have said that they sound like you guys and there’s memes about it. Do you think that’s true?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. We definitely have similarities, I guess, you could say, but I don’t know. It’s cool and flattering I guess.
Ok, now let’s talk a bit about your actual music. You released your last album Hello Exile last year. In general, it’s more flat-out rock than punk, for a lack of a better way to describe it. Is there any particular reason for this stylistic change?
I wouldn’t say there’s a particular reason, but I would say that it’s more in tune to what the four of us are influenced by currently and the kind of music that we listen to. We never wanted to be a band that just continued to write what people would consider to be typical stylistic Menzingers songs. We want to constantly be changing, constantly be doing new things. We just wanted to write something that, in 20 years, when you look at our catalogue, there’s albums and you can go “ok, that was that album, that was this, that was that” and things don’t all just blur together, if that makes any sense. It wasn’t necessarily that we were trying to go down a different road or do anything like that, we just wanted to be honest with ourselves and the kind of music we were listening to at the time.
Sure, makes sense. Could you tell us a bit about the story behind the title track?
Yeah, sure. I was working on the title track lyrically for a while when we first started the album and one day at practice we all kind of came up with the instrumentation for it. That kind of sparked the creativity for the lyrics of that song. I really wanted to make sure that musically, emotionally and lyrically everything kind of intertwined together. I was reading the short story by Anton Chekhov about people that are vacationing in Yalta and they fall in love, but then they have to go back to their lives. It really hit me and resonated with the kind of town that I grew up in. I grew up in a small vacation town and people were coming and going in my life a lot. I felt a big connection with that idea of existing in a place where people are constantly coming and going. I wanted to take the influences from my life and build a story around it. So yeah, that’s kind of where the song came from. And then that became the title of the album just because it has a lot of central themes of being away from ones you love, trying to figure out who you are as a person, trying to escape things from your past and move forward and start fresh. It kind of became the central theme of the album.
You released Anna as the first single from the album. Why did you start out with that song?
I would say that we all just kind of sat down with Epitaph and our management, and everybody was asking what a good single to release would be. I think everybody kind of agreed with Anna as the first single to go for the album. I think it’s one of the catchiest songs, it’s one of my favorites on the album. We just thought it would be a good representation of where the band is going and where it’s been.
I’m not sure if you’re the right person for my next question, I think Tom wrote this one, but I’ll ask anyways. I read an interview with you guys, in VISIONS I think it was, and I was really interested when I read that Last To Know is about epigenetics because I’m a biology student. What about that field interested you, or I guess Tom?
You know, I wish I could answer that question but I guess it would have to be one for Tom. Just speaking of that song in general, I’ve always loved it. I remember when he first came to practice and showed us the first verse and the chord progression and I fell in love with it. He kept going back home and working on the lyrics and really finessing exactly what he wanted to says. I think the third verse kind of does it’s best to facilitate everything of the whole storyline of the song. But I’d have to leave that question to him, but personally it’s one of my favorites on the album and I really like all the lyrics on it too.
One of my favorites on the new album is Strawberry Mansion, so I’m going to ask you what that one’s about too. I thought it had some interesting lyrics too.
Yeah sure. That’s another Tom one, so I can’t go too deep on a lyrical basis but I do know from conversations with him it’s about global warming, it’s about climate change. It’s about the inability of humans to focus on the issues because capitalism drives you other ways. I think it’s very scary the kind of things that if we leave unchecked could happen to our planet. Yeah, I guess that song is kind of nihilistic in that sense.
Your last album is called Hello Exile and you’ve covered Death or Glory by The Clash recently. Without reading too much into this, are you planning on calling it quits or slowing it down anytime soon?
No, absolutely not. We love doing the band and it’s our life’s passion. I never would read into it that far. Death or Glory is probably one of our collective favorite Clash songs and we were thinking of what a fun cover it would be. Hello Exile is a term. It doesn’t sum up the trajectory of the band as more so the emotional state as we were writing it.
Alright, fair enough. Some people have suggested that, so I wanted to ask you that. For the last question, if you want, you can try this Fernet Branca. I don’t know if you’ve had it before.
Yeah, many times. I’m a big fan. I love Fernet Branca. It’s not from Switzerland, right? It’s from Italy?
Yeah, it’s from Italy. There’s a backstory to it. It’s just really polarizing, so I’ve been collecting opinions on it.
Sure. Let me grab a cup right here. I could tell you a lot about Fernet Branca. Well, I don’t know about how much. But we have some dear friends that work in the restaurant industry and Fernet Branca is the go-to shot of choice for our friends who work in bars. I like to hang out in bars, I like to hang out with my friends that work in their bars and typically, when they want to have a shot, we’ll have Fernet Branca. It’s a good choice. What do you think, do you like it?
Yeah, I love it. I’ll grab a cup too.