The Menzingers
Contributed by Shogun, Posted by Epitaph Interviews

How you interpret the title of the new Menzingers album, Rented World, is something co-vocalist and guitarist Tom May hopes will be vary from ear to ear.

I'm going to leave the onerous responsibility to the receiver on that one," he says with a nervous laugh, a month before the big release. "I hope they take from it what they want to take from it and I hope it's different.

But to me, it speaks a lot to the socioeconomic state we've been in for several years. I can't speak for everybody in the band about the meaning of the title, but it speaks a lot to the idea of being born into the world that already exists and you don't own any of it.

He might not feel that he has true ownership of the world around him, but his band has certainly made its mark on it with three reputable albums released and a very solid fourth coming out on April 22, 2014 via Epitaph Records.

While at home in Philadelphia, enjoying the "calm before the storm," (the storm in this case being the intense, full-on touring that May says he loves), the 27-year-old Menzinger spoke to Punknews interviewer Gen Handley about the new record and the impact that unavoidable adulthood had on its songs.

So how long did you guys work on the new album for?
Well, we spent five weeks recording it and we spent several months writing it – we spent more time writing this record than any of the other records.

Why so much time writing?
Honestly, it was because we had the resources this time. So we were able to sustain ourselves and just write for a couple of months. The work we did was that we’d up at the back of the stage every day for a couple of hours and just play songs.

Do you think that extra time has resulted in something pretty special? Do you think it made a big difference?
Yeah, totally and we didn’t get sick of the songs either. It was funny though because most of the songs would happen all at once. So, we’d write the majority of the song in like an hour and just spend weeks, fleshing the songs out, trying to make them better.

It sounds like the songs kind of occurred naturally…
Yeah, totally…I mean, we didn’t force anything and the timeline…There wasn’t as much pressure to get done and even pushed back for more time to record.

So there wasn’t any time pressures on you, but because The Impossible Past was so well-received, did you feel other pressures to top your last one?
Um, yeah, but not any type of overwhelming pressure where we would think that we were writing the wrong kind of song or something like that. There’s always pressure, but it’s just part of being in a band – it’s not any different from any other pressure that comes with working on a creative project.

Yeah, and as a band you just want to keep moving forward…
Yeah, totally. You don’t know what going to happen, you can’t see where you're going so those uncertain outcomes can be a bit nerve-racking. But those are the biggest rewards too, though.

So why is the album called Rented World?
I’m going to leave the onerous responsibility to the receiver on that one. (Laughs) I hope they take from it what they want to take from it and I hope it’s different. But to me, it speaks a lot to the socioeconomic state we’ve been in for several years. I can’t speak for everybody in the band about the meaning of the title, but it speaks a lot to the idea of being born into the world that already exists and you don’t own any of it.

How did you decide on the title?
We did an e-mail chain among the four of us and we went back and forth with a lot of different names – that’s the one we ended up with.

I’ve really enjoyed the album so far – I’m finding it more sentimental and even more cynical than past releases.
Yeah, you think so? I think there’s some healthy cynicism that we attached to the lyrics. We didn’t try to…I think our lives are better than when we wrote the last record, but yeah we didn’t consciously do that – we just wrote about what we know and that’s how we felt when we wrote the songs.

There are some cool surprises on the album like "Where Your Heartache Exists," which kind of reminds me of The Pixies, in a way…
That’s a complement if I ever heard one…Yeah, that’s awesome. We tried a lot of different versions of that song, different styles and right when we were about to give up on it we just started to jam on that riff at the beginning – the guitar lines – and the song ended up calming down and coming out like that.

Going back to what you said about the band being in a good place, having better lives now, could this album be the sound of you guys growing up?
I would hope so…I would hope that it would be the case. I mean, we didn’t think, "Man, we’ve got make a more mature record" or some kind of pretentious thing like that. But we are definitely getting older and I hope that what we create will reflect our place in life. Like, we were listening to Blink-182 recently and laughing about how they wrote songs about being in high school when they were like 25 – it would be pretty difficult to do that (Laughs). The older I get, the more awkward it is to deal with, like, 15-year-old kids too…

I also got a pretty diverse range of moods on this album…
Awesome man, that’s what we were hoping to do – we wanted to make a more well-rounded record.

Are you worried about how fans might react to some of the new sounds and directions?
No, it’s the opposite. I’m really excited. Every time we release a record there’s always people saying all kinds of things about how they like old stuff more. But we are definitely changing as people, we’re not the same people so it would be kind of silly for our music not to be the same.

Who did most of the writing on the record?
Well Greg (Barnett, guitar and vocals) sings more song that me – I think it’s seven to five – but the way we write is that the four of us write together. So Greg and I will bring the skeleton of a song, the chords and lyrics…maybe not even that, and the four of us will flesh it out and figure out what kind of song it’s going to be. All four of us are very heavily involved in the songwriting process.

When you’re writing a song, starting the skeleton, how do you go about it?
Usually what I do is I concentrate on something or care about an emotion and not spend that time to write it down. A lot of times, I’ll get the feel of the song…and just fill it in sonically and write and finish the lyrics later – a lot of times I don’t finish my lyrics until I’m in the studio because I change my mind and wait for the last possible minute. For this record, I had most of the lyrics done before though – they were more thought out. I spent a lot more time contemplating them.

Is that because of the looser deadline or because you’re just feeling more contemplative these days?
I didn’t really think about it…I didn’t really consider while I was doing it. I guess it is because we had more time and also that we’ve been writing songs for a long time and I’m becoming more and more settled with how the process works for me.

What was it like working with Jon Low at Minor Street Studio in Philadelphia?
It was the first time we recorded where we live so we were able to go home to our beds every, which was awesome and we could take the weekends off. Recording in Philadelphia, it definitely has the feeling of the city and where we’ve been living – one of the reasons we wanted to record here was we wanted to become a little more involved in the city’s scene.

What Jon brought to the table was a lot of things…He has a perspective on recording that we’re not used to – he doesn’t really do a lot of punk bands, he does a lot of indie bands and things like that. He showed us a lot about contrasts so there’s a lot of contrasts on the record – like, he’d have guitars playing different things. His perspective, sonically, is really awesome. He kind of made the songs spatial, like sound really big, even with lots of things going on the songs feel like they have a lot of life. It was such an interesting learning process and he got out of us what we really couldn’t get out of ourselves.

He also did a lot vocally. We were going in the studio early every day, about a half hour, to do certain exercises. He taught me how to use muscles I didn’t even know existed and how to control them. Jon played such a huge role and did a really good job too.

Yeah, you and Greg sound really good on the record.
Thanks man. Yeah it feels really good to sing the songs the way he taught me. We spent a lot of time on vocals, an entire week. Actually, I even got sick at the end when it was my turn to do vocals, I got a chest infection and we have a recording somewhere when I was trying to do the vocals sick and it’s pretty funny and gross. (Laughs)

And Jon produced the album?
Jon produced and he engineered it and Matt Schimelfenig was engineering a couple days a week – he’s actually an old friend of ours from Scranton, it was really cool to have someone we know working with us.

It sounds like, overall, it was a really comfortable process…
Yeah, it was great. I mean, we worked really hard, but just being good friends with Jon and Matt and being in Philadelphia was so comfortable.

What are your favourite tracks on the album?
"Transient Love" is a lot of fun to listen to and it was a lot of fun to record. But as far as playing, in practise, I really like "Bad Things," it’s a lot of fun.

And what kind of touring are you guys doing for the album?
Yeah, we haven’t announced it yet, but we’ll be doing a big tour after – we’ll pretty much just be on tour forever, is the plan (Laughs).

The last time we spoke, it was in 2010 and Chamberlain Waits had recently come out. I know it’s a big question, but what’s changed since then?
So much has changed since then. Anyone would change in that amount of time, I would hope, especially at this age I’m at. I’m 27 and I was 22 or 23 then and how I’ve changed during that time has been drastic, a lot of growing up. As a band, we’ve gotten a lot better, a lot smarter, a lot more comfortable and we’ve met so many wonderful people. Like, a lot of people we look up to we’ve met – we put out a split with the Bouncing Souls last year and they’ve been heroes of ours for so long. One thing that’s really cool is when you have images of these people in your mind, of these bigger bands you look up and it turns out they’re really cool.

You said you did a lot of growing up during that time?
Yeah, I think so (Laughs). I definitely grew up a lot. Reality sets in and you realize that what people used to drill in your head and you were like, "Yeah, that’s not true," it is totally true. Like the idea that you are in control of your life, the decisions that you make have consequences and the only way to learn those consequences is to fuck up, you know. There was plenty of that that went on and I think it definitely adds to not really wisdom, but life experience…You see the world in a little different way, things become a little more clearer, and more serious. That goes into the music for sure.

You guys have released some pretty solid albums for being a fairly young band. Do you feel pretty content as a musician?
Well, thank you man. Yeah, yeah I feel great. There are definitely some older songs that we’ll listen to and I’d be like, "Man, what the fuck was I thinking when I said that?" But I think it’s normal in life to look back five or six years ago and be like, "Goddamit…" (Laughs) But I’m definitely satisfied with our catalog. The thing is, a lot of people seem to like our band it makes them really happy to listen to us. Aside from the selfish part of seeing your own creations come to fruition, the best thing about this is making people really happy…It’s pretty cool. You show up to town and bring the party, it’s really gratifying.