The Menzingers’ debut, 2007’s A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology, was as literal as it was raw, including Hamlet references in shredding vocals and surging gang choruses. Over the course of three albums since, the four-piece have honed their aesthetic focuses while broadening their potential as a unit. 2014’s Rented World is a massive set of stories related through vocalists Greg Barnett and Tom May. The album broadens the scope of the band’s repertoire while further emphasizing the clever audacity in their songwriting. The tail end of this year has seen them headline a European tour before returning to the Northeast US and their native state Pennsylvania for a few disconnected shows.
On October 25, they took over the downstairs of Cambridge’s Middle East Club with Spraynard, Cassavetes, and Lee Corey Oswald in support. The sold out show kicked off with all three openers bringing engaging and energetic sets. Lee Corey Oswald probably grabbed some new fans as they blasted excitedly through selections from their debut Regards with minimal banter. Following up was Cassavetes with their surging, dynamic sound before Spraynard came in with tightly performed anthems, a few jokes, and positivity all around.
As the siren-like intro to Rented World’s opener “I Don’t Want to Be An Asshole Anymore” rang through the monitors, the crowd for The Menzingers went into a frenzy. They didn’t rest until the encore sent them home an hour and a half later. May and Barnett were concise and defiant at the microphones, while drummer Joe Godino and bassist Eric Keen effortlessly completed the picture. Well worn songs like “The Talk” and “Who’s Your Partner” showcased May and Barnett’s stage command. Meanwhile “Ava House” and “Nice Things” opened it up for the rhythm section of Godino and Keen to drive, and to use tasteful improvisation to make for a refreshing and unique performance. As a tradition, The Menzingers’ encore closed with the title track from A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology, sending fans on stage to share the microphone and sweaty bodies crashing everywhere.
Before the show, MEB caught up with drummer Joe Godino and talked about the way that Rented World has been received both internally and externally, as well as what is on tap for the band.
MEB: How was the UK and Europe tour?
Joe Godino: That was awesome. It was weird because we were with Holy Mess, who basically live right in our neighborhood, and then Smith Street Band, who we’ve toured with before, so we’re all just such good friends on the tour. It was really weird, because sometimes I would forget that we were in Czech Republic, and I would just be like, “Oh, there’s Steveo from Holy Mess, I hang out with him at home and now we’re here.” You kind of keep having to slow yourself down and take it in. It was really cool though.
And that’s the first time you guys have been there since Rented World, right?
Yeah, because last time was for Groezrock so that was, like, early April. I could be wrong – it was right around the time the album came out, but it wasn’t like a proper headline album tour. It was festivals and stuff like that. So yeah, that was like the first real headline thing over there.
Was the reception good for the new songs?
Totally. It’s awesome, actually. You always go into it a little nervous, because we’re so excited to play the songs and to have new songs to play, and you don’t think about the fact that some people could be like, “fuck these songs, I want to hear everything else.” But honestly it’s just been really cool, especially over there. A lot of European crowds, through the language barrier, it can be a little harder to reach them and grab them and translate, but it was awesome. The UK especially, but then again UK is kind of like America (laughs).
So now you guys are going down to The Fest.
Yeah, our eighth Fest. It’s crazy to think about. The first Fest we played was at 1982, the venue there. It’s a really small place and a really rad place; they have Nintendo at the bar you can play. But we played up against – I think this was 2007 – we played up against D4 [Dillinger Four] so there were about 10 people at our show, and throughout the years our Fest sets have kind of grown with our band, and vice versa. It’s been really cool to see. Now we’re headlining one of the newer, outdoor stages, which is really awesome. It’s kind of wild to think about; it’s just a big reunion of friends. It’s gonna be rad.
The festivals you’ve been at are pretty diverse. Is it weird to go into that setting where you’ve grown with The Fest and then switch to playing at something like Fashion Meets Music Festival, where Kanye is playing another stage?
Well, I mean, it’s weird because there’s always been Fest and playing shows with bands right in our scene. Then you start getting offers for these different kinds of things. Especially in Europe, we’ll play a lot of festivals – with the exception of Groezrock, that’s a huge punk festival – but I remember one year we played at a festival against The National. We play more and more of those kind of things and it’s awesome because we can bring our own thing to it. There’s maybe a handful of punk bands or alternative or those sort of bands that will be on it, so it’s a weird world. You’re backstage in your area and you’ll see – I remember we played Riot Fest and it was like, Sublime with Rome’s dressing room, or all these huge bands, and then us in the corner — it’s so funny. It’s cool to do both, actually. Fest just feels like home, so when we go back to play Fest you kind of ground yourself a little because it just feels so normal. That’s what we’re used to more; we don’t have to force anything and it’s just chill to have friends everywhere, but it is cool to do both because it gives you each view of it all, the whole spectrum.
It’s really awesome the way that you are leaders in what’s happening in Philly and that it’s given you the chance to tour with bands like Cayetana and Spraynard [both also from Philadelphia]. Do you see yourself getting attention in that way? As you grow are people looking to you to be taking out smaller bands from that community?
We just do things that make sense to us, and if it is bringing out friends bands or whatever it is, that’s just what feels right to us. When we were just starting to tour more we had a lot of bands that we looked up to that would take us under their wing. Prime example is The Bouncing Souls. When we really started going for it, we started playing some one-offs with them, and then they started asking us to tour, and we learned how to do things right by them. It’s weird to say now because you feel like it would just come kind of natural, but really when you tour more and people, as you say, it starts to look at you as this thing that is somewhat of a force. I don’t know if that’s a lame way to put it, but you see that there are right ways and wrong ways to do things and you have to keep your head about it and basically just not be a fuckin’ asshole. That’s what it comes down to.
When you say this band really grew and they didn’t just put twenty albums of the same sound over and over, Rented World is that kind of album. Do you like the record?
Oh, yeah. That’s an awesome question because it’s a question that you ask yourself sometimes. Am I fully passionate about the music that I’m making and putting out? For me it’s 100% yes. It sounds fucking cheesy, but if I were to hear it and I wasn’t in the band, I would like it and I would probably want to listen to it. I think that’s what it has to be like. If you can’t listen to your own band then it’s a problem; you have to like what you’re doing.
It’s not like anybody in our band writes everything, so it allows you to be more on that side of it. Say Greg wrote an entire song or Tom wrote an entire song and he’s just like “Here’s what you have to do, and here’s what you have to do and this is going to be the song”. I think it’d be easier then to be like, “I really like that song” or “I really don’t like that song”. But it’s a four-way road with us; we all write equally. Lyrics and stuff are kind of their thing but everything else musically is very democratic and we all have our own little part. So I’ll have a part that I came up with that I like, Eric will have a part that I like, and everything’s in it together in that big pot. We just fuckin’ stir it up.
Yeah, I like it. I love playing it live; the songs are so much fun to play. Not that I don’t like playing any of our songs, but you have songs for a while and you play them and they get old sometimes. It’s nice having these new songs. They’re more dynamic so there’s different ways to play them or you can change something up. They’re just a lot of fun to play.
Playing live, do you feel like you, as a member of the band, have a different perspective than playing them in the studio, or in rehearsal?
Yeah, you know in the studio you have a 5th and sometimes 6th member of the band. You have producer and sometimes the engineer. Especially with this album. John Low who did the album had a lot of input, mainly in the way that we physically played our instruments. He had a lot to do with that. I would play a little lighter at parts, and I didn’t have to be beating the shit out of a crash or something, so he’d say “just chill on it a little and really hear it.” Stuff like that in the studio and then live, you’re more into it so you do end up beating the shit out of something. The dynamics that start in the studio end up being played a lot of different ways. Between practicing it, recording it, and then playing it live, things change, but it’s cool. You get to switch things up if you want, you don’t have to always play it one way.
I have to say I’ve always felt that The Menzingers as a live band are very different than listening to them on record.
I definitely think so. Mainly our tempos, which are something we can really beat ourselves up over. We’ll be like, “you played that song so fast tonight, what the hell is your problem?” But that’s all good. When I listen to our songs now, especially the new album songs, there’s already songs that I realize we play so fast. Like the first song, “I Don’t Want to Be An Asshole [Anymore],” I heard it the other day and was just like “holy shit, we play that so fast.” You know it starts off with the guitar and I think you kind of rush it, and energy is going and everything and you end up blowing through it. It’s funny, but it’s cool. I wouldn’t want to play it to the click. Fuck that. It’s more fun.
Do you ever feel like you have different identities? You play something like “Sir Yes Sir” (from 2007’s A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology) and then you turn around and play something from Rented World “Transient Love” or something. Does it ever feel bipolar?
In a way. I think what it comes down to more so than that is just that you take yourself back to when you wrote it. For example, “Sir Yes Sir,” was written in Scranton before we moved to Philly in our first practice space ever, which was literally a dungeon. When you think of a dungeon that’s what this place was. It was horrible, but it was cool at the time. I think I was probably 19, almost ten years ago. It’s funny to think that when we play a song like that – if we do, we haven’t played that song in a really long time – you kind of bring yourself back to that and you think about how you played your instrument back then and lyrically what was going on. It’s a very polarized type of song to anything off the new album.
Do you see younger fans connecting with that – discovering you with Rented World and then backtracking?
Totally, which is awesome. Not going to lie, you see that especially with Twitter. I think that social media like it or hate it, is a really good representation of where you’re at as a band and what people are thinking of you. It’s very current, so you do use it as a tool sometimes. You can’t help it, you see what people play and pick up on it. Not to put it to any age thing, but you see a kid who’s like 17 and really into our band, and they like Rented World or [On the] Impossible Past, and then they’re like, “Just picked up Lesson in the Abuse didn’t even know it existed, this album’s awesome.” It’s funny, because they were probably eleven years old when that came out, but it’s awesome, because that’s exactly how I think any of us would have gotten into this music. A band has something that reached a bigger audience and that can grab your attention because it’s the most current thing. Then you go back and you’re like, “Man, that old shit was awesome too.” I did that with so many bands growing up and I still do, so it’s exciting to see that because they are very different types of music. But I think there’s enough of the same there that will grab somebody’s attention that may like the new shit, but it’s not hard for them to like the old stuff too, or hopefully.
Alright, last question: quintessential or song of yours. What is the defining Menzingers song?
Say like, if I had to play it for my aunt and uncle?
Yeah exactly, what’s the song you play to them?
That’s tough, I would probably – well maybe that’s not such a good example, because I’d probably play them something chill so that they think we’re tame.
Play them “Where Your Heartache Exists” or something?
Well honestly that might be it. It’s hard to kind of think back on four albums and pick one from that many songs, but as far as the new album goes, that’s one of the songs that I’m most proud of. That’s definitely the kind of song I like – that kind of slow tempo and then big explosive chorus. I love shit like that, I’ve always been a sucker for that ever since I was younger. That kind of stuff is what I love, so honestly, that might be it for me. I think that I would probably say “yeah, listen to this,” and be really proud of it, to show it.