Why The Menzingers Are Getting Dark On New Album Hello Exile
In their 13-year career, Philly quartet The Menzingers have not only built up one of the most dedicated fan bases in punk, but also a deserved reputation as consistently excellent songwriters. That doesn’t mean that frontman Greg Barnett is any less nervous when the band have something new to unveil, though.
“The thought of other people hearing this is surreal,” the vocalist and guitarist grins, referencing The Menzingers’ sixth record, Hello Exile, announced earlier this month. “It’s wild, because we put so much into this album, and we’ve been working behind the scenes on it for so long. You do everything on your end, and then when it’s like, ‘Okay, we’re going to put everything out there,’ you start going, ‘Well, is everything lined up right? Do we have everything?!’ But it’s a good nervousness…”
The follow-up to the brilliant After The Party – one of Kerrang!’s Albums Of The Year 2017 – Hello Exile is due out on October 4 via Epitaph, and will also see Greg, guitarist/vocalist Tom May, bassist Eric Keen and drummer Joe Godino hit the road, touring their new music through the UK and Europe next year. Gorgeous lead single Anna arrived recently but there’s so much more to come from the record than that loved-up track; in fact, as Greg tells Kerrang!, album number six will show a darker and more weighty side to the band’s storytelling…
What were your aims when it came to writing Hello Exile?
“It was kind of all over the place, and I feel like that’s what’s always made us a pretty unique band. The four of us come together from different angles. Depending on who’s singing, me or Tom will usually come in with a verse or a chorus, or maybe something even more structured than that, and we’ll all kind of put it together. I think Anna is a really good example of that, because the song took so many forms. It started off as a completely different idea, and I just had this melody that everybody loved, but I couldn’t get the story down. I was thinking about relationships, and when you move into your first apartment with your partner, and how exciting that all is – I wanted to write a song about that, and a long-distance relationship. I’ve had a lot of examples in my life and my friends’ lives that I based it on, so it all just fell into place.”
With previous album After The Party, it was the longest you’d ever spent in the studio writing and recording. Was it a case of wanting to do that again this time?
“We spent a lot of time on this album, and it was exactly like After The Party in that sense. We were in the studio for about six weeks, and we were writing for a long time before that. I would say, too, looking back, it was almost difficult to write, in some ways – and I think when the album comes out, that will make a lot of sense. A lot of the stories were difficult ones to tell. After The Party was a really fun album that came out of us – we were partying when we wrote it – whereas this one felt very different. I don’t want to give the perception that it’s a downer-type album, because it’s not that whatsoever, but the subject matter definitely feels a lot more serious this time around.”
Looking at some of the song titles, such as I Can’t Stop Drinking, you definitely get that impression…
“Yeah (laughs), I Can’t Stop Drinking is one of those really, really heavy songs on the album. I’ve actually been working on that one for a couple of years, and I’m so glad it finally came around in the way that it did. That’s just one that, I felt like, if I was going to tell that story, I had to be brutally honest – and if I wasn’t, it would almost be cheating the song. Sometimes those stories are difficult to tell, but you have to tell them.”
You were asking a lot of questions and reflecting on your 20s in After The Party – especially on Tellin’ Lies, with lyrics like, ‘Where we gonna go now that our 20s are over?’ Now you’re in your early 30s and with that album done, do you feel like that direction has become much clearer?
“Yeah, I think I do. When we were writing After The Party, the band was definitely at this crossroads; we were able to sustain our life off the band, but to say that we had this longevity in our career was a little bit more up in the air. We knew that we were going to continue to do this, but we weren’t fully established, in a sense. After The Party really did a lot for our band, and we became a much more successful band because of it! I think that the nervousness of wondering if a career in music could actually be sustainable was settled with After The Party – it was kind of a breakthrough album for our career, I would say. And now I don’t think all of us have those anxieties anymore, thankfully. I’m sure it’s always going to be there and you’re always going to be questioning everything in life (laughs), but I think that stage is kind of over, and we’re looking more towards who we are as people, and where our relationships, lives and families are going. It’s less of a ‘This can all blow up any minute!’ feeling.”
The first song on Hello Exile is called America (You’re Freaking Me Out). What made you decide to get political?
“I think we’ve always been a political band – sometimes that gets overlooked because a lot of our singles are love songs and things like that, but when we started the band, we wanted to be The Clash! We wanted to be a political band, and I think to not talk about politics in 2019 is kind of crazy. It’s everywhere in life, and to not sing about it would be like not referencing the elephant in the room.”
How close to the truth are some of those lyrics for you? A line like, ‘What kind of monsters did our parents vote for?’ will probably resonate with a lot of people…
“Sure, and I think that that’s such a common thing both in the UK and in America. There’s such a disconnect between the youth and their parents, and we’re constantly having to have these difficult conversations, with the people that you love, of, ‘How could you vote against the interests of your own children about the environment, and about everything?’ It’s really difficult when you love somebody so much, but they don’t really see that your future is being jeopardised. I really love that line, and it means a lot to me – and I hope that it resonates with a lot of other people, too.”
Are there any other political nods or references on the album?
“Yeah, there’s a song called Strawberry Mansion that Tom sings towards the end of the album, which is about climate change and global warming. It’s kind of crazy how much of an issue this actually is, and how little people seem to actually care about it. Tom has been really diving into it, and he’s telling me more stuff every single day. We always have loads of late-night conversations about it, and we’re kind of at a major crisis now. It’s scary. But Tom is a really good person to talk about that, and he wanted to write a song about, well… impending doom (laughs).”
Personally, what song did you find the hardest to write?
“Emotionally, there were a couple that were really, really difficult to write, lyrically. There’s a song called High School Friend, which was a difficult one. We had been working on it for a long time, and nothing was really clicking, and then I really wanted to go back to the drawing board. I had some really emotional connections with some friends back home, and I just drew on those stories. I think there’s something really powerful about what you share with friends that you grew up with, that no-one else can ever really relate to. You have these bonds with these people, and they know you, your families, and they know everything about you. As you go on, it’s really important to keep those people in your life, and that song in particular is about that, and about coming through difficult chapters in both of our lives.
“The closing song, too, was a really difficult one – Farewell Youth. I wanted to write a song about a friend passing away. That’s always a very difficult thing, but it’s also hard when you grow up and people come in and out of your life, and they go from best friend to acquaintance. It makes you question everything. That was a difficult song to look back on and write.”
Did writing it help you with the healing process, though?
“Yeah, absolutely. And that’s kind of what I was getting at earlier when I was saying it was a difficult album to write. It wasn’t so much that there were roadblocks or anything; it was just that the subject matter was tough to revisit. But at the end, it was very cathartic to go through it all.”
What are your hopes for Hello Exile?
“We’ve put so much of ourselves into this album – more so than any other one, emotionally – that I really hope people can connect with it on the level that we connect with it. It’s a very emotionally heavy album for us, and I hope that if our fans are going through something difficult, they can listen to the album and know that they’re not the only ones out there that feel that way.”
You’re coming back to the UK and Europe early next year, headlining the likes of London’s 2,300-capacity O2 Kentish Town Forum. How does that feel?
“It’s literally insane! It’s something that we’ll never be able to comprehend. Europe is my favourite place to tour and visit, and we’ve had some of the best times of our lives touring over there three times a year. I think we’ve been going to Europe for 10 years now, and to be able to play these giant venues and have people scream along, and travel around to multiple shows, it’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s the reason why we continue to want to do it so much.”
It’s probably far too early to be asking this, but what have you got planned for these shows?
“It might be a little bit too early, yeah (laughs). But we want to do something a little bit different to what we’ve done in the past. We’ve talked about playing a longer set and putting more into the set – we have so many albums that it feels like we’re finally at the level where we can have a bigger-style production than the more DIY punk stuff that we’ve done in the past. We can play for a longer time now, and I think our fans are excited about that. But we’re focusing on putting together an awesome set, and we’re just really excited to release the album! It’s been something we’ve been sitting on for a while now, and it’s going to be really exciting to play these new songs live for everybody.”
Before After The Party was released, the band all felt it was a career-best effort. Does Hello Exile now top that?
“Oh yeah! Of course I’m going to be the cliche band member to say that the new album is the best one that we have (laughs). I truly, honestly believe that, and I think I believe it so much because it really does feel like a turning point for our band. I feel like we’re becoming the band that we’ve always wanted to be, and we’ve achieved things that we hadn’t in the past. It’s got all the stuff that I love – from the quirky, honest storytelling of [2012’s] On The Impossible Past, and then it has the big rock moments that [2014’s] Rented World had, and then it just has the excitement of After The Party. And then there’s also parts that are like [2010’s] Chamberlain Waits and our early stuff that just feels very youthful. I love that we can continue to grow, and we’re constantly improving on who we are – both as a band and as people.”
The Menzingers’ new album Hello Exile is due out October 4 via Epitaph Records.
Catch The Menzingers live in the UK and Europe next year at the dates below. Get your tickets now.
Menzingers UK/European tour 2020
25 Hamburg, Germany – Gruespan
26 Berlin, Germany – Bi Nuu
28 Vienna, Austria – WuK
29 Zurich, Germany – Dynamo
30 Stuttgart, Germany – Universum
31 Munich, Germany – Technikum
1 Cologne, Germany – Kantine
3 Amsterdam, Netherlands – Melkweg
4 Antwerp, Belgium – Zappa
6 Southampton, United Kingdom – Engine Rooms
7 Bristol, United Kingdom – SWX
8 Manchester, United Kingdom – Albert Hall
10 Dublin, Ireland – Whelan’s
11 Glasgow, United Kingdom – QMU
12 Newcastle, United Kingdom – The Riverside
14 Birmingham, United Kingdom – The Asylum
15 London, United Kingdom – O2 Forum Kentish Town
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