Q&A: The Menzingers Take Ownership on “Rented World”
For a band that once shared their Scranton, PA, home with the fictional characters of comedy sitcom The Office, The Menzingers have still managed to admittedly take a more focused, if not serious approach to the making of their new album, Rented World.
Released on April 22 through Epitaph Records, Rented World sees the band – Greg Barnett (vocals, guitar), Tom May (guitar, vocals), Eric Keen (bass), and Nick Wilson (drums) – steer clear of putting forth another concept album (which is how many viewed 2012’s On the Impossible Past) and focus on putting together a collection of tracks that could stand on their own, yet fit nicely together.
In a recent conversation with Riffyou.com, Barnett discusses the extra thought that went into Rented World; a few notable tracks; and their desire to be looked at as more than a punk band.
RY: With the recording process a ways behind you, how would you say the new songs feel to you today?
Greg: “They feel great – like we captured the songs at the right moment in time. It was the perfect storm. We went to practice them [the other day] and were like ‘holy shit, we actually pulled this off.’ We couldn’t be any happier or proud.”
RY: When you were initially putting those songs together, were you targeting how you wanted them to come to life?
Greg: “In your head, you always have an idea about how you want a song to be. We all had a specific idea about what each song should sound like. As the vocalist, you think ‘I want the song to convey this amount of emotion,’ but the other three guys are probably thinking something different.”
RY: On the Impossible Past is very much looked at as a concept album with the songs connecting in a certain way. Rented World isn’t like that. Did you purposefully decide to go about this one a different way?
Greg: “We didn’t want to make the same record again. ‘Concept record’ is a bit of a stretch of a term for that album, because it was accidental. But for this record, we wanted these songs to stand on their own and not be completely dependent on the other songs. We didn’t decide to make them unrelated…to me, they’re 12 standalone tracks that fit together very well as an album. That was more of a decision this time around.”
RY: I never like to be that guy to determine what an album is for a band. So, what is this album for you?
Greg: “That’s an interesting question. This is the best of us as a band. This album is the most thought out, involved one for us. This us at our best.”
RY: Do you view that type of progression for your band as a natural thing, or something that’s been painstakingly worked on?
Greg: “There were so many perfect accidents on the last album. We didn’t really know what we were doing. With all of our albums, I don’t know if we truly knew how to write a song. [A song] would come out a certain way, and that was the beauty behind them. But as we’re growing as songwriters, we can pick out what works in a song and what is and isn’t needed. Contrast was a big theme for this album. [Before] everybody would play at once, as loud as possible [to write a song]…this time, we’d think ‘why are we doing this? What happens if one person does this?’ I think those contrasts are the beauty of this album.”
RY: With Rented World’s first track, “I Don’t Want to be an Asshole Anymore,” are you owning up to being an asshole for a long time and trying to get away from that?
Greg: “Yeah, everybody can say that there’s been a time in their lives where they’ve done a lot of shit and only thought about themselves. That song is definitely a realization of that and trying to better yourself. I like how it’s the first song on the record, because it makes a statement that this album is about trying to find out who you are and better yourself.”
RY: On the opposite side, you have “When You Die” closing out the album. Was there any concern about ending the album on such a somber note?
Greg: “That was a conversation that went back and forth until the very end. I’ve sat on that song for three years. I think everyone has a song that’s their baby that they are so afraid to let go of and get out there. I have 10 different versions of it recorded on my computer. It means so much to me, and I didn’t know if I was ready to let it go. But, it finally got to a point where we were all happy with it. I’m not really worried about ending albums with an acoustic song – that’s never really bothered me. If it makes sense for the album, it makes sense. I feel like there are so many rules with music, and [I think] ‘fuck ‘em all.’”
RY: That’s interesting and leads into this next question nicely. You’re on Epitaph, so the automatic assumption is that you’re a punk band. But, your album doesn’t feel abundantly punk and it has a lot of different elements going on. Is it hard for you to convince others that there’s more to your band than the punk influences you have?
Greg: “Yeah. I think that’s one of our strengths as a band…we don’t write the same album over and over again. We have no plans of doing that. You have your older punk fans that just want a fast beat and a punk chorus…blah, blah, blah. But I don’t know, if they don’t like our band, there are a million other bands who sound like that that they can listen to.”