UTG INTERVIEW: The Menzingers

Greg Barnett of The Menzingers

Scranton punks in The Menzingers kicked off their headlining tour this Memorial Day Weekend. Day three was in Long Island, NY at Revolution Bar and Music Hall in Amityville.

Also on the bill, the band’s friends in Fake Problems, Restorations, and Captain We’re Sinking helped contribute to a slew of stage-dives, sing-a-longs, and smiles.

It’s been over a year since The Menzingers’ album, On The Impossible Past, was released through Epitaph Records. Fortunately, we had the chance to catch up with vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett and ask him a few questions ranging from the band’s international touring to writing a new album. Read more to see what Greg had to say, and make sure to catch the band between now and June 12 on the road.

You guys have shared the stage with a lot of huge bands. The Gaslight Anthem, Rise Against, Bouncing Souls, Hot Water Music, Taking Back Sunday and many more. Who have been some of your favorite bands to play with?

Damn, that’s such a hard question, like you’ve said we’ve played with so many great bands. I guess I’ll go with tours. Bouncing Souls and Hot Water Music come to mind first just because they’ve been two of my favorite bands since I can remember. Same thing with Against Me! That was one of our first big tours and that’s kind of the main reason I’m here because of those three bands, so it’s just kind of a surreal moment in the band’s career to be able to say, “Hey, Against Me! is up next, or Bouncing Souls, or Hot Water.” We’ve been very fortunate to only tour with bands that we really love, so I’d say all of them essentially.

Is it ever intimidating playing with those types of bands?

Yeah, for sure. Especially the first day when you don’t know them. You kind of get there and you’re like, “Fuck, I really hope we can get along with these people — these are my idols.” It’s worked out every time so I hope it keeps working that way.

Do you have any crazy or funny stories from the road?

I feel like all of the crazier stories happened when no one would come to see us. I remember we did this one tour with this band The Leftovers who are some of our dearest friends, and there was about five days where saying five people came would be generous. Every show there was like one person, then no-one. Then the drummer Adam looks at me and says, “Do you think anyone is gonna come? The whole tour? Like there’s gotta be somebody!” And so, that’s where the crazy stories begin to come, because you show up, the promoter doesn’t even know there is a show going on, and you’re like, “Fuck it! Who cares?” And we would just go get loaded, see what sort of trouble we could get into. Next thing you know — there has been some wild stories.

Unfortunately, you guys were robbed last year in the UK. Were you able to completely recover from that?

It was probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for us — a lot of people wanted to help with donations. None of us had internet so we just drove to the next show and we realized, “Oh my god, we almost made all of our money back.” That many people, it was insane. And you just went through the list and seriously we were like all in tears. All of our friends, bands, everyone that we’ve met on tour. Everyone helped out, $1, $5, $10. It was absolutely insane. It added up and it all worked out. Just to go from one day having everything gone and passport gone and the next day being able to say, “Ok, we are gonna get through this.”

How did you fix the passport situation?

Our booking agent called the embassy and got us an appointment. Me and Eric had our passports stolen, we got dropped off in London. We stayed there, woke up at 6 A.M. and waited in line for like five hours. They gave us temporary passports that day, then we took a train to the show and just made it. When we got to the show that’s when we found out that people were donating. We got our passports back; we were able to pay rent when we got home. It was hands down the nicest thing that’s ever happened to us as a band. We are forever indebted to all our fans and friends. It’s still a crazy thought to think about that people are that nice and that willing to help out.

So, that was a UK tour?

Yeah, it was two and a half weeks around Groezrock, that festival in Belgium, so we did half and half with the UK and mainland Europe. We did Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France. That one was just a lot of fun, except for when that happened. In Paris it was us, the [Bouncing] Souls, and 7Seconds. Just really cool weird things like bands hopping on at the last second. Now it’s awesome to be able to call the Souls really good friends of ours. That tour solidified that, being that far from home.

Being from Scranton, PA, how often do people drop The Office jokes on you?

I feel like it’s mainly interviewers. But you know what, since I love the show, and if it was a show that sucked, I’d be like, “Ugh, can we just stop talking about it?” But, yeah, it’s cool. I’ll attach my name to the show.

What else is important to know about Scranton that isn’t portrayed on NBC?

I think it’s just incredibly mediocre and incredibly average. That’s what I love about the show, they’re just people that don’t look like they’re from Hollywood. I remember hearing that Phyllis was just a production manager on there or something and they kind of just put her in. It’s not Hollywood 90-pound celebrities on there. It’s just normal looking people and I think that’s what everybody connected to. That’s kind of just Scranton — quirky and weird. They don’t film anything there though, in Scranton.

How is the local music scene there?

You know, these days I don’t even know. Unfortunately it seems like a lot of people just kind of move out when they reach 18-21 and move to New York or Philly or wherever. I haven’t lived there in five years but when we were living there it was amazing, it was the best place in the entire country in my eyes, after touring everywhere. Just every Friday night it would be us, Tigers Jaw, Captain We’re Sinking, Title Fight, and then any band that would come to the area which a lot of them actually did surprisingly, even though you wouldn’t think so. The shows were packed, there would be 200 people just going ape-shit for everyone. The scene was really, really good. I feel like it’s still good — at least when we go back and play shows there are tons of people, I’m just not as connected as I used to be I guess.

So you’re doing this headlining run with Fake Problems, Restorations, and Captain We’re Sinking. Why did you guys choose to go out with them?

It wasn’t even like a selection process, it was like, “Let’s go on tour with our friends,” and those were the first names we put together and thankfully everybody thought it was awesome. In Captain We’re Sinking, the guitar player is my younger brother. We’ve been best friends with the rest of the band too. We knew them growing up. We did a couple of tours with Fake Problems and we’re really close. Restorations are from Philly and we’ve known them for four or five years now, and they’re also really close friends, so it worked out perfect the whole thing.

The album On The Impossible Past was released through Epitaph in 2012. It’s been over a year, but how would you say the response has been to the album overall?

It’s been insane. It’s been more than I ever could’ve expected. We didn’t really have expectations or anything, we just went into it saying, “This is cool, this big record label is gonna put out our little small-town band.” It was crazy, scary, whatever. It worked out, they were pumped and people seem to really like it.

Epitaph has released some legends. How has your experience been working with them?

It’s been awesome. We’re really close with everyone that works there. They are super-supportive and they are down with whatever dumb ideas we have. We said, “Let’s put out a tape!” They said they hadn’t put out a tape since ’96 but they’d put out our tape. They are like-minded people and they are in it for the right reasons.

When Under The Gun initially reviewed On The Impossible Past, our writer Tyler Osborne described the many “sounds” of the PA music scene. He coined The Menzingers as:

“The sound of driving down the PA turnpike or I-95 with your best friend with all your windows down on the way to your local WaWa.”

How do you feel about that strand of thought?

I think that’s written very well. Jersey bands I feel like they always try to stick together. I think that Pennsylvania is just so big that it never really had some kind of “identity” especially in music. I think in the last 10 years Pennsylvania has made a name for itself. That’s not to say that it hasn’t had amazing bands throughout music, but recently people are really proud of where they’re from and the scenes and the communities that they’ve built and it’s awesome man. It’s pretty great to be a band from Pennsylvania.

Are you guys working on a new album?

We’re still writing. We got a good chunk of it done — maybe 10 songs done. We’re gonna try to write a bunch of them and see which ones make the cut. Hopefully we’ll record it at the end of the year.

Do you know who you’re going to go into the studio with?

No, it’s all too early to tell. We’re just focusing on writing right now.

Do you think the new songs are different than your music in the past?

Yeah, I think so. They are a lot more gritty — they have a really raw, live feel to them. They’re pretty heavy. I think it’s gonna make for a real good record. I’m really excited about it.

Do you think there are any aspects of your live show that contribute to your music that a fan couldn’t experience from listening to your record?

It’s such a hard thing to balance I think. There are some bands that you just want to listen to it and think, “I want to be at that show.” There are other albums that you hear that you want to enjoy as an album and you don’t want to think of yourself in the space — I want to be laying on my couch with my headphones on sort-of thing. I think that finding the balance between the two where you want to be there and feel the energy and some songs you just want to chill, that’s always my ultimate goal in writing an album. If that makes any sense.

The video for “Nice Things” is pretty funny. What was the concept behind that?

It was Andrew, from Against Me! — well, he just left Against Me!, but, he was calling us telling us that he was shooting a bunch of music videos and he’d love to do one when we swung through Gainesville (FL), and he had this concept. We said “Fuck yeah!” and hung around all day. We went to their offices and practice spaces and shot a bunch of the stuff there, then we went to the bar we were playing, the Atlantic in Gainesville, and shot the rest behind the bar. It was a quick, fun thing to do and I think it came out awesome. Andrew is super cool and fun to work with. It was the day before my birthday too, so we went there and he bought us a case of beer. He feels like people get a little bit more relaxed when they have a couple of beers in them, so we started drinking really early and then didn’t play until 1 A.M. and Gainesville was just this drunk and messy town so I woke up with the worst hangover of my life on my birthday. It was a great way to spend the day.

Right now it’s Memorial Day weekend and you guys are out on the road. Does being on tour ever affect you in instances like this where you may want to be home with family and friends?

Well yeah, sure. I’m lucky that a majority of my family live in Long Island and they are all coming to the show tonight. So it’s kinda cool that it was planned that way. I don’t think they have work or anything tomorrow. Me and my brother are staying at my dad’s house tonight, so it’ll be cool to stay there. But it can definitely be hard, but it’s the trade-off. A lot of things are hard. You can’t really complain about being on tour. I’d rather be on tour than digging ditches or something — that’s actual hard work.

Is there anything that you like to do on tour for some alone time or to escape the hectic lifestyle?

I bring a skateboard — I like to skate. I broke my leg twice skating and it was the end of trying to further my abilities, now it’s just fun to hop on a skateboard and explore the town, skate around and find a park. Coffee shops are always a good one. Go and read a book. We’re all such close friends and we’ve lived together for years that I don’t need to escape them, I want to hang out with them. We’re really close.

Are there any bands The Menzingers haven’t played with that you’d like to?

You know, a band that we’ve never played with that I don’t know why is Alkaline Trio. They’ve been one of my favorite bands forever and would love to be able to play with them one day.

What can we expect to see from the band in the future?

Later this year we are going to put out a split 7” with a band that I can’t really announce yet, but that’s what we are doing this year. We will be recording the record this year and putting it out sometime early next year. We’re going to Europe for five and a half weeks, playing the Fest in Florida again. A couple of other fesitvals and light touring, but the album is the main focus right now.

To see more photos from The Menzingers show in Amityville, NY, check out Derek’s photography page below, D. SKANK PHOTOGRAPHY.

Written and conducted by: Derek Scancarelli
Photography by: Derek Scancarelli, D. SKANK PHOTOGRAPHY

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