Interview The Menzingers: ‘We Wanted To Make Sure It Was Personal’

This is an album that has been celebrated for being so much more than just a punk record.

For many, records released in the early throes of January tend to get lost when it comes to deciding that all important Albums Of The Year list, but, sometimes, there just happens to be some that stick with you throughout the year. Undoubtedly, ‘On The Impossible Past’ is such an record. One that, with every returning listen, evokes some new emotion, provides a new wry smile, or simply makes you fall in love with it that little bit a more. This is an album that has been celebrated for being so much more than just a punk record, and we caught up with Greg Barnett, of the band, to find out how things have been on the inside.

You released ‘On The Impossible Past’ earlier this year, and it’s been an undeniable success. How’re you feeling about everything that’s happened, as the year draws to a close?
I’m just unbelievably happy and flattered with everything that’s happened since we put it out. It’s been a wild year. We put it out in January, and, I mean, it took us to Australia, we’ve been to Europe twice, we’ve toured the States many times over, and everyone seems to really like it.

So, in terms of the album itself, how did you approach making it? Your previous two albums seemed like solid records, but this one seems to be on another level. Was there anything you specifically set out to achieve or explore with this one?
I think there’s just something about it. It’s definitely the most thought out album that we’ve ever done, but the main point to me was, we didn’t really plan it exactly. It just sort of… happened, and that’s the part that I hope we can keep creating. We didn’t go into it thinking, ‘Okay, it needs to be this, it needs to have this.’ We were just think, ‘Well, let’s write some songs’ and then it came out as an album, in my eyes. I think that’s why so many people seem to like it so much; a lot of people have been saying that it’s so personal, and that their lives are a reflection of the record. I guess that’s why - or at least, I hope!

Musically, this album seems to be quite different to your previous work. Would you agree?
Yeah, I agree, but it was a total natural progression. I think that’s what’s important about music. You just have to be constantly growing as an artist and a musician, and not going there would be denying yourself that. You can’t start saying, ‘I want it to sound like a 90s rock album’ or ‘I want it sound like 70s punk record’; something like that. Just stop labelling things and go for it, try something instead of having an idea before you go in. I think that it just works out a lot better. That’s what we alway try to do. Just, don’t limit yourself. If you have an idea, just throw it out there. We’re a very democratic band so I guess that’s how it’s always worked for us; we’ve just tried things and if it works, it works.

Would you say that you approached this album any differently, in comparison to your previous two albums?
Yes and no. For one, I wrote some things on the road. So did Tom, just verses and things. We’re always writing. Just one line written down or whispering into a cellphone, and then you go back. It’s funny because I just got a new cellphone, but I was looking through my old one after I’d just thrown it in a drawer, and the first line of ‘Good Things’ was written in the notes - ‘I’ve been having a horrible time, pulling myself together’ - and then we just played it on acoustic guitar, and that song started from there. The song was just written. So, I guess, it took a lot longer to write the record, because we were putting together pieces and then, when we had time to sit down and write, it all came together. That was different to a lot of the other times when we’ve recorded, where songs have just been written on the spot. This was a lot more pieces coming together.

There’s always a very evident theme of personal honesty throughout the record. Was that something you were quite intent on including, or was it a natural occurrence?
Yeah, you know what? I would say that the one thing that we did go into the album thinking was that we wanted to make sure it was personal. Lyrically, both myself and Tom - well, all four of us - had been through a lot in the last few years. There’d been a lot of changes, a lot of relationships, a lot of lost friendships, and we just wanted to share it. It just felt good to get it on paper, and we’d look at it and think, ‘Should we be saying this?’ then thought, ‘Fuck it, go for it!’ But, I think it definitely works to our advantage.

The main comment when it comes to opinions of ‘On The Impossible Past’ is just how much people really relate to it, especially in terms of the lyrics. So many people really seem to have conviction when it comes to, say, singing along with you at shows. That must be a surreal but incredible feeling.
That’s the thing! I can’t even remember - I was saying the other day - I can’t remember playing a show and not smiling. Now, we’re so far from home and we have so many people singing along. It means so much to me and the rest of the band; it feels so humbling, it’s insane. It’s just one of those things where some bands are afraid it’s gonna get old, but it’ll never get old for us. I don’t think I’ll ever stop smiling at it.
That’s the thing, I’m a much different person to when the album came out, but a lot of people are going through the same things I experienced. These songs just help us connect with people on a totally different level.

Finally, as you mentioned earlier, you’ve had one hell of a year, but do you think there’s something in particular that is the craziest thing to have happened to you?
I think the craziest thing is just that we’ve been able to tour with a more diverse roster of bands. We’ve been on tour with The Bouncing Souls, Propaghandi, and Taking Back Sunday. It’s just such a broad spectrum and that’s the cool part, I think, about our band. That’s what we’ve always strived to have, to not be stuck in certain things. That to me, is the greatest part, and the part we’re most happy about. Just being able to tour with different bands and have different people come to our shows.

The Menzingers ‘On The Impossible Past’ is at number 20 in DIY’s Albums Of 2012. Find out more here.

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