"We learned you can't force a Menomena record," says Danny Seim, drummer/etc. of the Portland indie-rock trio, explaining the distance between the release of 2007's Friend or Foe and this year's Mines. "When you try, it only makes things worse. One person is really excited to do something and the other two end up pushing back against that idea. There's no foolproof plan for how we put things out. The album is done when it's done."
Sure, bands sometimes have long breaks between albums. The clock is still ticking on My Bloody Valentine's follow-up to Loveless. Axl Rose dropped Chinese Democracy to a series of yawns after spending a decade and, by conservative estimates, a bazillion dollars on it. Oh, and Dr. Dre can't seem to get Detox out there. But can acts farther down the long tail manage to survive long enough to let the artistic process unfold? For Menomena, the technology used to create their music may keep the band around from the long haul or it may mean Mines is the final record.
On stage, Menomena look like a traditional, four-piece rock combo (guitarist Joe Haege from 31Knots performs with the band) with ADHD tendencies (the members tend to play several instruments simultaneously). It's difficult to talk about Menomena's recorded output without discussing Deeler, a multi-track sampling program developed by the band's Brent Knopf. Though traditional recording techniques do figure into the band's process, a great deal of Menomena's material is written in bits and pieces as loops contributed by each member. The pieces are then arranged into songs with clicks of a mouse rather than the band jamming in a rehearsal space.
The question is how long three songwriters, each with side projects, can keep making music this way. Talking to Seim, who releases solo albums as Lackthereof, gives one the sense that he wants to continue making music as Menomena but that this album nearly didn't come to be. Seim described the process of recording Mines: "There was a time when we weren't sure that we were even going to finish this album, when we had to take a long look at whether we were going to keep recording or tour or continue to exist as a band."
That leaves the question of what happens when Menomena reaches the end of Mines' life cycle.
"All the bands like ours, with multiple songwriters — like Hüsker Dü, maybe — tend to end poorly. I'd like to think our unconventional approach gives us a different path to look at . . . You look at a band like Rush, recording songs on the road to continue putting out an album a year, or Led Zeppelin putting out three albums in two years, and you think how admirable that sort of focus is. Instead, we wonder if people will remember us now that we're in our 30s and we're not the hot new blog band?"
Despite the difficult process of its creation, Mines sounds like a band hitting a new creative level with less of the cut-and-paste aesthetic of the previous two full-lengths, which makes Menomena's fans hopeful the band will stay together, possibly releasing new music on a more rapid schedule. Seim is optimistic that the long tour will re-energize the band to be more proactive in creating music on a quicker timetable, but he also thinks the band might not survive another three-year gap. "I don't think this can happen again. We're all in our 30s now. We can't sustain ourselves and call ourselves a band if we take that long for another album."