While Taking Back Sunday finishes up their VIP acoustic set and meet-and-greet at the Summit Music Hall in Denver, Colorado, Greg Barnett, wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, hangs around by the merchandise table.
The twentysomethings who have come to relive their high school years and the eyeliner-clad tweens who have come to meet their idols gather around John Nolan and Adam Lazzara. Meanwhile, Greg and the rest of the Menzingers, a four-piece punk band from Pennsylvania, chat and laugh, fairly anonymous figures to the fawning group that has gathered.
But what the Menzingers might lack in MTV appearances and emo anthems, they make up for in critical acclaim, everyman appeal, and of course, some DAMN good music.
Comprised of Barnett (vocals and guitar), Tom May (vocals and guitar), Joe Godino (drums), and Eric Keen (bass), the Menzingers have gone from four friends making music in their basements to darlings of the punk rock scene in just about five years. After humble beginnings, the band broke through in 2012 with the universally-acclaimed On the Impossible Past and then followed it up in 2014 with the equally-impressive Rented World.
I had a chance to catch up with the Menzingers and chat with lead singer Greg Barnett during a recent stop in Denver during their tour with Taking Back Sunday to discuss the band’s increasing popularity, future plans, and most importantly, how fuckin’ awesome it is playing in a band with your best friends.
Check out what Greg Barnett had to say, and then check out Rented World here.
Ascher: It’s been about a year since you guys released Rented World. What are your thoughts on how the album was a transition for the band, as well as how it’s been received, and how it will impact you going forward?
Greg Barnett: I don’t want to fall into the cliches that all musicians say, like “It’s been a wild ride and we really progressed and grew as artists” – but a lot of that is true. But also, the band has started to become a lot more serious than it was back when we were recording albums in our basements. All of a sudden there’s more pressure.
On the Impossible Past did really well for us, so before Rented World there was a lot more pressure on us, but it’s been amazing – everything I’ve hoped for. It seems like people like the record and things have been going really well. But it is really interesting to just look back at the band, even a year or two ago, and compare it to where we are now. It’s even the little things like bringing more amps along. All that small stuff. It’s just crazy!
Ascher: Yeah, you guys have definitely been getting more popular and getting a little more name recognition lately. How’s that transition been? How’s playing bigger venues and having more fans?
Greg Barnett: It’s been amazing. We’re really lucky as a band, it’s been a roller coaster – well, actually it’s kind of the opposite. We’ve been lucky that we didn’t really have that overnight success that you hear about with a lot of bands, cause when that happens, a lot of those bands tend to fall into traps; like, “We made it here and now we have to do everything to stay here.”
We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve been able to always build the band at a moderate pace. We’re friends first before everything else. The music industry can get crazy, and I’m glad that none of it has affected us too much. It’s been a very straight path.
Ascher: So with your last three albums, it’s been two years in between each one. Do you have any set plans for a timeline on a new album?
Greg Barnett: Not really, we don’t have any set plans and haven’t been in the studio yet, but we’re the kind of band that just writes all the time. We don’t set, like, “We’ll write the record this month and record it this month.” It’s more that we’re always writing, and we’ll continue to write until we feel ready. Writing is just what we like to do and it’s fun and we’re always doing it. I’d like to have something by the end of the year, if that’s just a list of songs or if it’s a recording I can’t say for sure. That’s kind of just the way we roll.
Ascher: You guys are frequently mentioned as one of the real “punk” bands around today. What does the punk rock scene mean to you today, and how do you see punk evolving as we go forward?
Greg Barnett: That’s so hard; it’s one of those questions I really don’t want to shoot myself in the foot answering! But, I think that punk has always had its place in music since its inception, and I hope it will always be that way. It’s great, while we’re on tour, while we’re traveling all over – from a random field in Poland to right here in Denver – everyone is into the music for the same reasons, and I don’t ever see that going away. It’s the whole mentality of “We want to build a community” and “We want something different than what mainstream music is feeding us.” I just think as long as the music continues to be powerful and meaningful, it’s not going away anytime soon. That’s the goal of our band too – to write meaningful songs that you’re not just going to throw away someday. We hope the meaning is still there in 15, 20 years.
Ascher: What bands do you think are really carrying the torch for punk rock into the next generation?
Greg Barnett: There are a lot, but one of my all time favorite bands, one that really has inspired all of us to make this kind of music is Against Me! To this day, they’re still more punk than ever. When they released that DVD in 2004, that is the moment when we all knew we wanted to be touring in a punk band. To be able to call those guys friends now is amazing. They’re one of those bands that’s always kept it strong and said “Fuck you” to anything they didn’t like, and have always done what they wanted.
Ascher: More on other bands for a sec. I know you guys like to party, who’s been the most fun to tour with?
Greg Barnett: Oh wow. Hot Water Music. That was a blast. And Bouncing Souls will always be the most fun tour we’ve ever done. Those two tours we’re just really, really amazing. I have a good feeling about this tour so far too. It’s been a blast so far.
Ascher: If there are people here tonight who came to see Taking Back Sunday, who have never heard of you guys, what one song do you think best represents The Menzingers for someone trying to get into the band for the first time?
Greg Barnett: That’s tough. Hmmm, I don’t know if I could pick just one…but I can just go with my favorite. I think my favorite is “Good Things.” It’s my favorite song to play and one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written. I just have very vivid, fond memories of writing that song, and everything that song is about. It’s one of those songs that when things aren’t going perfectly during a show, I’m like “Let’s get to that song!” I’ll just see it on the setlist and get excited.
Ascher: So you guys started out in 2007. It’s been a long time since then. How do you think you guys have really matured as a group in that time?
Greg Barnett: I think, as musicians, we really just learned how to play together. Back in ’07, we’d play sets of like 5 songs, we’d set up our own stuff on stage during the show – just super unprofessional. And really, to do all those longs drives to play 15 minutes of music is just ridiculous, but we’d do it all the time cause we’d be like “Screw it, we’ll just play and then go party somewhere!”
So, the whole process of actually performing and caring about the performance – that’s now a big deal to us. We talk about it a lot, like, things we can do that are cool, and how to make the transitions cool and keep the audience engaged.
Also, we’ve gotten so much better at songwriting. It used to be we’d just write stuff down and wouldn’t really care. Now we always think “Well, why is that part there? How does it fit with the rest of the song?” Now we really understand songwriting in a way we didn’t use to, and it’s been a big, big change. Songwriting means a lot to us now.
Ascher: When you guys are writing, is it pretty collaborative with you and Tom? Or do you both just kinda do your own thing and bring the ideas together?
Greg Barnett: It’s not just us, it’s the whole band pretty much. Tom and I will bring in skeletons of what we’ve been working on and we’ll just do them together with the band in our practice space. Sometimes the songs we bring in stay similar to what they were initially, and sometimes, they’ll end up completely different.
It’s a tough question, because we’ve never really had a formula of how we write songs. We try to challenge all of our writing habits because I feel like if you pull yourself out of your habits and get out of that comfort zone, you can have a totally different way of hearing things. We’ve been discussing that a lot when writing songs for a new record – to mix things up and not really stick to a formula.
Ascher: In your own songwriting, it seems a lot of your songs are very personal. But I know you also read a lot. Where do you draw most of your lyrical inspiration from?
Greg Barnett: I read a lot and so does Tom. For lyrics…literally sometimes I’ll just see a line I like a lot and write it down on my iPhone. Also lines that just come to me. I’ll write them down. And then when it comes time to write a song, I’ll just flip through a bunch of these lines I’ve written down and think about what it meant to me at that time. Sometimes I’ll go back and read a paragraph or chapter of a book that one of these lines came from to get that feeling back.
Ascher: What are your favorite venues in America OUTSIDE of Pennsylvania?
Greg Barnett: The 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. The crowds are great, they treat you amazing, and I love that place. Also, I really like Slim’s in San Francisco. I do love playing here in Denver too – the crowds are always so great!
Ascher: Okay, one more question. When you’re looking back thirty years from now – I mean, hopefully you guys are still playing music, but in any case – what do you hope to have accomplished playing music and what do you want it to mean to you?
Greg Barnett: I hope we’re still playing, that would be awesome! But, I’d really like to look back and just think about all the fun times we’ve had. And I also want to know that we’ve done everything in our power to do what we set out to do – and that is to have a blast and make music that we like. Whether that means that we played in front of a shit ton of people or in front of nobody, I just want the four of us to look back and say “Wow. That was the time of our lives!” None of this means anything if it’s not fun for all of us!
Check out “In Remission” from the Menzingers’ Rented World below. You can buy the album here!