The People Vs. Greg Barnett: The Menzingers frontman on Scranton pride, literary influences, and why they never seem to play your favourite song

Ahead of The Menzingers’ UK headline tour, we asked for your most burning questions to put to Greg Barnett. So, to the fan who wanted to know if they knew their flies were undone onstage, wonder no more, as the frontman answers a clutch of enquiries…

The People Vs. Greg Barnett: The Menzingers frontman on Scranton pride, literary influences, and why they never seem to play your favourite song
Nick Ruskell
Tom May

’Tis a rare thing that a band should have fans as invested in them as The Menzingers. The Penn-State punks and their bar-room storytelling have earned themselves a cult following, deeply attached to the lyrics and their characters and events.

“People really pay attention to the lyrics and the people in them,” says singer/guitarist Greg Barnett from his home in Philly. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

So, who better to interview Greg as The Menzingers prepare to hit the road in the UK next week than you lot? We asked for your questions, and you responded in your hundreds.

Without further ado, over to you…

Eòin asks… Why do you always say you're from Philly, when you're actually from Scranton?

“That is a great question. Okay, so let's think of it this way: the band has been together for 18 years. The first two of those, we lived in Scranton, and then 16 years we've lived in Philly. So it would feel pretty disingenuous to say that we're from Scranton. I mean, Scranton is our hometown. But, you know, we put out one album while we lived in Scranton, and all four of us live in Philly. We definitely claim both.”

Philly band Covered In Dust ask… What’s your favourite song on Hold On Dodge?

“This is kind of a tough one, because all four of those songs mean a lot to me in different situations, but I would say Sunday Morning is my favourite. Sunday Morning was the first song that I brought to the band that kind of became a ‘fan-favourite’. I’d written it from the heart and wrote about something personal, and when people related to it, it gave me the inspiration to continue down that path. I felt like I was on to something. I realised quickly that, ‘Okay, people like when you're honest, and you’re personal. You could look at your idols and try to write like them, but it seems like people want you to be yourself.’ That was a really great feeling to know.”

Hanny asks… Was there a song that changed the way that you wrote?

“I think Sunday Morning was one, but I would say Gates from On The Impossible Past. I felt very proud of it, lyrically. And something changed in me where I realised there was now a standard. I'm really proud of it. That’s the one that I hold up and compare the others to, like how with Oasis Noel Gallagher always talks about Live Forever. After that song, everything had to be better than Live Forever. I remember hearing an interview with him where he said that when he brought it to the band they were like, ‘Holy shit, you wrote that?!’ I love having that feeling when I bring something to the band, and they have that reaction: ‘Whoa, where'd that come from?’”

Adam asks… Are Casey, Anna and ‘Julie from the Wonder Bar’ real people?

“That's a complicated question. Yes, they are real people. The names might not be real, maybe they are… I purposely like to leave that that vague. But yeah, they are all real people in some sense, or the other.”

Corinne asks… Do you like Bad Omens?

“I’d never heard of them before you asked this! I thought you meant, like, an actual bad omen. But I Googled it and saw that they are a wildly massive band. I listened to a little bit, I wouldn't say it's my cup of tea. But, it’s awesome that a lot of people people dig it.”

Matthew asks… Which of you guys was an English major in school? Or do you just like literary references?

“I think Tom [May, guitar] went to school for English for a couple of years, but I'm the one that really likes literary references. I'm probably more inspired by writers than I am by musicians. I get more influence from like, James Joyce and Dostoevsky and Jack Kerouac than even some of my biggest musical influences when I sit down to write a song. I'm always reading, and I take a lot of notes while I read. A lot of those references pop in, mainly because you can take them because the authors are dead and they're not going to come after you!

“Did I enjoy English at high school? No! I didn't like writing, I just didn't really like school, to be honest with you. But I do remember reading On The Road in English class in, like, 11th grade, and I would say that was a massive influence on me and where I'm at now.”

Alex asks… What's the story with Nothing Feels Good Anymore never making it onto your setlist?

“Great question. Maybe I should be the one to be at fault here, because I write the setlist and then I pitch it to the band, and then they give their notes. But I never put it on the setlist. I think it's one of those songs where I love the lyrics and I love the song, but we were never crazy about how the arrangement ended up. It's one of those songs that if we could rewrite it, we would. I say that when people ask and they’re like, ‘What are you talking about? It's great!’ Maybe I need to get over that and just put it on and let the song be what it is, and stop having a complex about it.”

Jenna asks… Did Tom realise that his fly was down during the whole Pittsburgh show?

“He definitely had no idea. And even if he did, I don't think he would care in the slightest. I feel like I’ve definitely had my fly down onstage. But I do plenty of embarrassing stuff. I’ve gotten to the mic to tell a story, start telling it and then realise I have no idea what I'm about to say. I often start talking and then think, ‘This is just not something that you need to tell thousands of people. No-one gets this. This isn't as poignant as it sounded in your head.’ It's nice that me and Tom have microphones because then he can save me.”

Jonny asks… Do you have any plans to do 10-year anniversary of Rented World?

“No, we don't. I will admit this: I texted the band and our manager and I said, ‘Hey, what if we just did a one-off show for the anniversary?’ But I sent it late at night and got no response. So I'm going to take that as a ‘no’. But then again, nothing is ever written off in Menzingers World. I couldn’t see it being a whole tour, but a one-off show would be good.”

Ivan asks… Which is better: The Office or It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia?

“This is an impossible question. I love both, but I’ll say The Office. It’s like the pinnacle of perfect television. I love It’s Always Sunny… but The Office is in just a whole other realm. It's up there with Seinfeld. It's perfect television.

“Being from Scranton, I remember when they were announcing the show on the local news and everything, and I think everybody immediately thought that the show was going to be: ‘Let’s make fun of Scranton.’ Everybody knocks on it for being a small old coal town, and a bit backwards, but it kind of showed Scranton pride through all the characters. I think that's why the town really latched on to the show. If it was just making fun of it, it wouldn't have worked. And I think they really did showcase the types of people that live in Scranton, and a way of life that feels so relatable from the way we grew up. I know that they reached out to a lot of local businesses and got props, like the Froggy 101 sticker, which is the local country radio station. Crystal soda is the local Scranton soda company, and in the break room they have that. They did their research, which is pretty cool.”

Brandon asks… What’s the meaning behind the title of Some Of It Was True?

“The album feels like it's very personal, but it's maybe a little bit less personal than previous albums. We wanted to expand the songwriting palette from just being stories about us, and kind of taking other people's stories. A song could have four different things that happened in either my life, or a bandmate’s life, or to a friend or family – that all gets thrown in a blender, and then it becomes one, and we let the narration go wild. Some Of It Was True is kind of a nod to that. We were talking about how old movies would say: ‘The names of the characters have been changed to protect their identity.’ We were laughing about that and saying, ‘What if we named an album that?’ And then about 10 minutes later, we realised that's like the coolest line that Joe Strummer from The Clash sings on London Calling. So we had to change it! Hopefully he’s looking down and approves.”

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