The Menzingers: “I don’t know many bands who are all best friends. It’s crazy how close we are after all these years”

Pennsylvania quartet The Menzingers aren’t just one of punk rock’s modern success stories, they’re also one of its great survivors. On the eve of their seventh album, Some Of It Was True, vocalist Greg Barnett tells K! how they do it…

The Menzingers: “I don’t know many bands who are all best friends. It’s crazy how close we are after all these years”
Alistair Lawrence
Danielle Dubois

For post-hardcore fans of a certain age, listening to The Menzingers can feel like an ongoing rite of passage. Their breakthrough third album, 2012’s On The Impossible Past, announced them to the world as smart punks with a sense of humour who weren’t afraid to do their growing up in public. Since then, they’ve built a committed global fanbase by writing songs that are best known for being anthemic and cathartic, selling out increasingly bigger venues as their seemingly indefatigable commitment to touring the world continues.

The fact they’ve done this with such dependable consistency makes it all the more remarkable. In a world where bands frequently fall apart for all the wrong reasons and fail to realise their potential, The Menzingers’ unchanged line-up of four friends from an unfancied part of the U.S. – Scranton, Pennsylvania – seems stronger than ever. So Kerrang! sat down with frontman Greg Barnett to try to get to the bottom of what exactly makes the band tick and what literally keeps their show on the road…

Your new album, Some Of It Was True, will be your seventh. How do you approach writing and recording to keep it interesting for yourselves?
“Naturally you have to look at the things that you’ve done as a band and where you want to go. We’re always looking toward the future and what we want to achieve. And then there’s a lot of not doing that, of just letting things come out naturally and writing about what you know and what you feel in the moment. When we start writing an album, we always get together and start throwing ideas around. ‘What did we do last time that we want to change? What did we go for that we didn’t achieve?’ We set boundaries and then we blow them up, basically (laughs).”

How did you blow things up this time?
“At first, it was like, ‘No slow songs!’, but we love writing slow songs (laughs). We’d be jamming and, like, ‘Speed it up, speed it up’, then Come On, Heartache comes around and we were, like, ‘Okay, this is good…’”

The narrative for artists is increasingly that nowadays you have to be a live band to survive. How has that affected how you work?
“There’s a delicate balance [with setlists] where you don’t want to just cater for your fans, because you want to be able to challenge the audience and challenge yourselves. Maybe in the past we’d play a new song and people weren’t going crazy, so we’d switch it out for another song. Not so much, anymore. It’s funny, I noticed it on [2019 album] Hello Exile, playing those songs live, it took a while for them to catch on and now when we play America (You’re Freaking Me Out) it’s probably the biggest song of the night. It usually takes a couple shows before we figure out the new core of a setlist. You know pretty quickly when a transition was weird, so I’ll take everyone’s notes, re-write the set and pitch it back. It’s all about getting the right feel.”

Your line-up is unchanged since your formation in 2006. How much of a democracy are you?
“We’re completely democratic, but there are certain things that different people take leadership over. Eric [Keen, bass] has always been the art guy. I do a lot of songwriting, but we all write songs, so that one’s a little complicated… Tom [May, guitar and vocals] is the finance guy. He genuinely likes to do taxes! And he’s so good at it! That kind of stuff is so important in a band, like being able to manage a tour budget. We all take on roles, but at the end of the day we all have an equal vote in every little thing, much to our manager’s dismay. Simple things become very long debates, because you have four very strong opinions going into everything. It’s easy to be a dictator in a band, but that would never work for us.”

How easy is it for you all to stay friends outside of your work?
“Weirdly easy. When people ask what makes us different from others bands, I don’t know many bands who are all best friends. We hang out all the time. Everybody has their own friend group, but… not really (laughs). It’s still just all of us. We all get on each other’s nerves, but in a family-type way. You go through phases, then you realise, ‘Who cares? What are we even fighting over? Ordering dinner?!’ We all moved to Philly in 2008 and lived together for a long time. Now we all live less than a mile from each other. It’s kinda crazy how close we are after all these years.”

Band life has changed a lot since The Menzingers formed. Do you think there are any constants for longevity and success?
“I probably have a different answer every six months, but what I always, truly believe is that the songs matter the most. Social media and making content has its place, but if you focus on your songs, an audience will come. That’s being tested more and more because of algorithms. The best songs don’t always pop through. So I lose some arguments sometimes (laughs). It’s hard to cut through the noise in 2023, but I still believe that if you have good songs then whatever you need will come. Just focus on your music and be yourself.”

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