The Menzingers are breaking out. Long known as an essential member of the "orgcore" punk scene based around the website Punknews.org and the annual Gainesville, Florida music festival The Fest, with a Billboard-charting new album Rented World, it is clear the band has transcended the scene.
This Monday, the band returns to Phoenix at Pub Rock Live with fellow Fest stalwarts Lemuria, PUP, and Cayetana. We chatted with guitarist and co-vocalist Greg Barnett last week to learn about the band's tour thus far and increased success, personal lyrics, and unexpected influences.
Up on the Sun: First, how has this tour gone so far? I know that you guys are playing bigger venues than you've played previously in your career, especially as a headliner.
Greg Barnett:The tour has been going amazing, it's actually pretty surreal. I never could have imagined that our band would get to this level. It's really cool. All the shows have been great. The highlights of course, are Philly and New York, which we've been playing for years. Both feel like hometown [shows] for us. All of our family came out and friends. No complaints, really.
Where I first heard about you guys was through a site like Punknews.org, and through that punk community. Right now you guys are one of the top bands out of that scene. How do you see yourselves fitting into that community still, and extending its reach?
It's cool to be associated with all those bands. Those are the bands that we all [in the band] listen to. Against Me! and [The] Lawrence Arms put out two records this year that I really like, and I hope we fit in with that, and it seems like we fit in. But as a band we've never really pigeonholed ourselves to any one specific thing, so if those people don't really like us anymore, then so be it [laughs]. But it's nice to be a part of something like that.
One thing that I notice a lot in your music, and one thing that a lot of reviewers point out, is that you use "I" a lot in the lyrics. But you use that to communicate a lot of universal topics. I see it as a "personal-becomes-political." In the song "Come Here Often," for instance. Is that something that's very intentional, using your personal experience to address a bigger political issue?
Absolutely! Whether it be political or social or anything like that. Those are the songs that I always connected to the most, songs that take the human experience and then [use that to discuss] a bigger subject. Growing up, those were the songs that I was super influenced by. As a listener, you can have more of a connection if you can put yourself in that [specific] experience. If you just talk about a blanket issue and you don't really put some kind of personal experience into it, it just sounds really distant. It's really hard to connect [with that]. I've always like songs where you learned about something through the singer's perspective, or lack of perspective. That's one thing we've always tried to do with the band.
To move in a completely different direction, are you familiar with Nardwuar, the Human Serviette?
Yeah, absolutely [laughs].
If you were being interviewed by Nardwuar, what obscure, early influential record would show up?
That's a really good question. Honestly, I think ... what's the Blues Traveler record that has the two hits on it? Like "The Hook" and stuff? That was the first record that got me into music, I guess. It was my dad's favorite record, so we drove around all the time listening to it, and I had a cassette of it. I also have the CD. I just love that record so much [laughs].
Another sort of tangential question is about your band's relationship with [singer-songwriter] Laura Stevenson.
On a couple of your last records I noticed in the liner notes you two sort of call each other out. Calling each other "nerds" versus "We don't want to thank them." Is there any sort of back story to that?
We've been really close to them for about three years now, and one day [Laura] just said "We want to start Internet beef." And so we were just like "Let's do it!" And so [her band] has just always constantly tried to make fun of us. They've gone to such far lengths, shooting out music videos with hidden things about us. They call us "Toilet Men," I don't know why [laughs]. So we're like "We've got to keep the beef going" but I guess it's spawned off of the Internet now.
You guys have always been on some great tour bills, with bands that I think fit well with your sound that complement it, but aren't doing the exact same thing. How do you go about planning tour mates?
Basically for us, it's a question we get a lot, because everyone is always really excited about the tour lineups. It just comes down to what we like, and it's a good thing that a lot of people seem to like things that we like. We're really fortunate to make a lot of friends [touring], and through that we've met a lot of really fucking amazing bands. We're really lucky, that's what it comes down to. We just have always been able to go on tour with bands that we really admire and like and want to hang out with. We've never toured with a band that we just hate. ... I don't know what that would be like. That sounds terrible! I guess we go out on tours with like-minded bands, that are into the same things.
I guess my last question is, since I'm interviewing you for your Phoenix date, is there anything in particular that you have enjoyed here in the past, or that you're looking forward to experiencing this time?
We played in Phoenix in January, and it was honestly one of my favorite shows of the entire tour. We played the Yucca Tap Room, just a little tiny bar. But the show was absolutely insane! So I'm hoping that is a trend that starts happening in Phoenix. I'm really looking forward to this show because I feel like it's going to be pretty good just coming off of the last show.
Every time we're in Phoenix, obviously, the Mexican food is a highlight. It's unbelievable. And we have this hotel -- I won't go into the paper with this -- but it's a hotel that we stay at every time since the first time we ever [came to Phoenix]. ... It's great to go back there just because there's so many memories.
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