Besides Iceage, The Men are one the most notable acts of 2011 making post-punk music. Like Iceage, they have managed to give the genre a blood transfusion with a vitalizing sonic combination of innovative and derivative passion. Their smashing sophomore release, Leave Home, caught the attention of Sacred Bones records, an instantaneous affirmation that The Men needed to be heard outside of the basements and bars of the five boroughs. Spectrum Culture caught up with The Men after a blistering show with support from Olympia’s rising Milk Music at the Knockout in San Francisco. Before their breakneck set ended, a grown man threw up a translucent chunky liquid that lined the floor. The mess couldn’t be cleaned up until the crowd was certain The Men were not returning to the stage for another song.
I want to talk about some of the thematic ideas behind Leave Home. The album title seems to refer to yourself, whereas the opening track “If You Leave…” reads like a sort of threat.
Mark Perro (guitarist, vocals): The title in a lot of ways has to do with the Ramones record. In some ways, but not entirely, it’s an homage to them. Other meanings people have for it are just coincidences.
Nick Chiericozzi (guitar, vocals): Yeah, it’s like a comfortable coincidence. We’re massaging these two things that happen to correlate with each other. It’s a known coincidence between our album title and the Ramones record but not an intended coincidence. It’s a coincidence that we’re okay with.
I think more and more bands are okay with borrowing and referencing other bands in this way. I think that The Men are one of those bands that are more transparent about it. Can you talk about your relationship to Spacemen 3?
MP: They’re just really good. One thing about Spacemen 3 that I can say is in the tradition of MC5, Mudhoney and Spacemen 3 – or maybe in reverse order – is that they’re kind of paying homage to the same exact song and there’s this tradition of doing this.
Rich Samis (drums): Blatantly.
MP: Yes. These bands were part taking in a tradition of borrowing and referencing and were honored to be a part of it. Knowingly.
NC: It’s a spirit thing.
MP: These bands weren’t trying to pretend that they weren’t referencing. In an old rock ‘n’ roll tradition, people used to play each other’s songs all the time and it wasn’t considered theft or stealing or anything else. It was just what you did. I think we’re trying to be a part of that now.
RS: And also, most of everything has been done already. If you think about the musical spectrum from classical music to now to jazz, everything is just a reworking.
MP: There was some Red Hot Chili Peppers song and a law suit about them ripping off a Tom Petty lick and then there was an interview with Tom Petty where someone asked him if he was upset or angry and his response was, “Every rock ‘n’ roll song is the same.” And that’s why we steal stuff or pay homage or whatever you wanna call it. It’s part of that kind of tradition of making music and rock ‘n’ roll and carrying on others’ idea and trying to move them somewhere else.
It’s best to be up front about these things.
RS: Yeah, you should celebrate it. It’s not a secret.
MP: Yeah, that Ramones album is awesome and in some ways we use that title to take some of that and try to have it associated with us.
I think that there are many camps of this tradition but to break it down to two, there are those that are sly about their influences and those that are blatant about them. Neither of which, I think, is indicative of any kind of flaw, but the effect of both is interesting. What do you think of what the Ramones said about not liking what they heard on the radio and setting out to change music as non-musicians and make something, make a record that they want to listen to?
NC: I think that the Ramones are a band that took the elements of the late 1950s/1960s pop and sort of stripped them down to their best. So I think they had some foresight as well as an attitude. And I think they knew more then they said they did. I think they were more premeditative than they say they were. I don’t think they were this cartoon image of themselves.
MP: Johnny Ramone talks about how he doesn’t know how to do this or that on guitar but I don’t necessarily believe him because even though he plays simply, he plays very well and very smart.
MP. Totally. Some of those structures of some of those songs are very complicated.
NC: And look at the songs that they covered, like “California Sun.”
MP: Yeah, I think that that was just kind of an image they wanted to portray. And the same thing with Dee Dee and all those guys. They were so talented. I think that when they’re trying to dumb it down that they’re just these dudes from Queens that don’t know anything about music, I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t see how that could be true. I mean except for Marky.
NC: Mark has his own tomato sauce.
Is Marky Ramone as to the Ramones as Ringo Starr is to the Beatles?
All: No, no, no, no
MP: Ringo is one of the best drummers. Ringo Starr has sold the most records out of all of the Beatles, post Beatles. I bought a Ringo Starr record this morning, actually, for six dollars in Sacramento. He did a country album called Beaucoups of Blues.
NC: Can we talk about country music? We love country. Do you listen to country?
Sort of, not really. I’m working on Loretta Lynn right now.
MP: She’s good, Marty Robbins is good.
My mom would play me Dolly Parton in the car sometimes.
MP: She’s good, too. Johnny Paycheck. Gram Parsons.
NC: We love country.
For some reason, people my age think it’s cool to say, “I listen to everything except for country.” Despite the history and mythology of country, the whole genre got stigmatized somehow.
NC: I think that’s because pop and rap are sort of like the two heads that sell music and…
MP: And country itself, I mean what it has turned itself into, is so gnarly.
NC: Yeah, it’s a pretty shitty caricature of itself.
MP: Yeah, if you look at country music made 50 years ago and then if you look at country music made now, they’re not in any way the same. Country music now is so far removed from what guys like George Jones and Buck Owens and what all those dudes were doing. It’s kind of like if you look at the Ronettes and Britney Spears. They’re not even close. They’re both pop music sung by women, but in terms of similarities… that’s it. So it’s like, if you look at George Owens or, god, I don’t even know who to reference. Garth Brooks or…
RS: Kenny Chesney.
Okay, so you’re very aware of how music was made half a century ago. What do you think about other kinds of music made right now? What do you think about the face of contemporary music that doesn’t have an easier parallel from past generations?
NC: For example, Milk Music, who we played with tonight, and other bands from Olympia. There are a lot of good bands in New York, too. I think there’s a lot of good music out there and a lot of good bands…
MP: It’s just few and far between.
MP: After Milk Music and Wolf Eyes, the list gets short.
Don’t you feel like there are more bands than there has been, ever?
RP: No, I think it’s just easier to find out about bands now than it was before. It just seems like there are more bands.
MS: It’s easier to record now. There were probably just as many bands in the ’60s, but it’s just that they never recorded because it was expensive and more specialized than it is now. Now all you need is a laptop. Everybody’s in a band now.
NC: In the Minutemen documentary, Mike Watt talks about how hard it was to get a guitar back in the 1970s and to maintain it and buy new strings. He says that today the challenge is more mental. It was a drag to get a band together, whereas now you can get a band together easily but you stumble into black holes and dead ends.
In terms of production or creativity?
MP: No, it’s kind of like now there is an overload of that.
RS: You write something and you think it sounds good and then it’s like, oh it sounds too much like this or that.
MP: And I think that’s the problem with making music right now. Everything gets overanalyzed. To go back to what they were saying in the Minutemen documentary, it’s not that hard to get a band together and as a result you have a lot of bands that don’t try too hard and so there’s always all this music floating around just kind of existing that doesn’t have a lot of effort or concern or passion or caring about it. Maybe this kind of thing didn’t exist before because in the past, in order to have a recording, there was so much more involved in order to record.
NS: Yeah, it’s work.
MP: Yeah, and you really had to work hard at it. It wasn’t just something you could do on a Thursday afternoon or whatever.
NS: And then send it over to your friends.
MP: Yeah, and just Gmail it to all your buddies after.
What constitutes hard work?
MP: Hard work is what we’re doing right now. Hard work is being out on the road for three weeks and then another three weeks and playing a show every fucking night, dealing with van issues, people getting hit by cars. When you’re willing to sit in a van for 12 hours to play in some random bar in Montana or wherever else we’re going, New Mexico, wherever. That’s hard work.
NC: I think hard work is also something that you can decipher during practice. Like when you hear someone play, you can tell that they play by themselves, you know? You can tell during practice who puts in time when no one else is around. You can tell when it’s not just something somebody does like, “Oh, I’m in this band.” It’s something that they want.
MP: Bozz (Steve Bozzone of Chief City Recordings) was complaining about a band member that he was involved with and he said that he could tell that whenever everyone plugs in and sets their instruments up, he could tell that this one guy would always just play the same thing. The same exact thing. And he knew this guy never practiced. He never brought anything new to practice, he’d never just turn on the guitar, plug in the amp and strum on something that you’ve been working on. I always remembered that.
Can you talk about some of the obscure song titles on Leave Home like “L.A.D.O.C.H.” and “()” ?
MP: The one with parenthetical is named that because we couldn’t decide on the name.
NC: A lot of the names we have for material come from mockups or working title names.
MP: Or they have to do with the person who originally came up with an idea, like for our new songs, there’s “Nick Youth,” “Mark Rocks,” you know? Like the name of the person and what it sounds like. We had a song that got scrapped that was called “Buzz Cocks.” For this new record that we just finished, Nick and I were writing lyrics the night before we went into the studio and these songs have existed for months and up until that point we were just making up titles and not singing words for them at shows and stuff. In a lot of ways, words are almost secondary to the music. A lot of the time, they’re not even thought about and, at the end, the record is about to come out and we’re like, “Fuck! We need a name for this song!” That’s what happened with “(),” which originally was just a place holder. We kept it.
How did you find yourself into the hands of Sacred Bones?
NC: Ryan from Nude Beach passed on a very generous description of us at this record store in New York called Academy Records and they put it on the wall. It was for our first record, Immaculata, and Sacred Bones Records is mostly located in the basement of that record store. Caleb (Braaten) heard it and liked it
MP: They didn’t approach us. Ryan from Nude Beach just said, “You need to send this to them.” Ryan Naideau was the broker. I think when our bassist Nick drunkenly, kind of aggressively approached Caleb that runs the label and said, “So are you gonna put out our record or not?” That’s when Leave Home started to become a reality.
by Sky Madden
The Men Tour Dates
November 5th @ 285 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY w/ Screaming Females
November 9th @ SUNY Purchase, Purchase, NY w/ Pygmy Shrews
November 10th @ Now That’s Class, Cleveland, OH w/ Pygmy Shrews
November 11th @ 1800 S. Peoria, Chicago, IL w/ Pygmy Shrews, Divine Right, Den
November 12th @ Cropped Out Fest, Louisville, KY w/ Pygmy Shrews
November 13th @ Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH w/ Pygmy Shrews
November 14th @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY w/ Russian Circles
November 15th @ Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ w/ Russian Circles
European Tour Dates
December 7th @ Espace, Paris, France
December 9th @ Consortium (Generiq Fest), Dijon, France w/ Cults
December 10th @ Poudiere, Belfort, France w/ Black Lips
December 11th @ TBA, Strousbourg, France
December 12th @ Exit, Rotterdam, Netherlands
December 13th @ Madame Jojo’s White Heat, London, UK
December 14th @ Shacklewell Arms, London, UK
European Tour Jan 17th – Feb 23rd TBA