The Men on the (New) Moon
ABOVE: THE MEN. IMAGE COURTESY OF ALEXANDER PERRELLI
Brooklyn-based rockers The Men have been making some of the best heavy music to come out of the borough in ages. When their latest LP, New Moon, comes out March 5, it will be their fourth record in four years (and the third released via prestigious Brooklyn label Sacred Bones). Yet The Men responsible for New Moon are quite a different group than the one founders Nick Chiercozzi and Mark Perro conceived of a few years back. Since their last album, the band has added Kevin Faulkner and Ben Greenberg to their lineup, and incorporated more folksy influences to their searing sound, even as they refine their trademark guitar jams.
When Interview sat down with the The Men at a Greenpoint, Brooklyn coffee shop, we were interested to learn how the band themselves thought about their new sonic direction (“Different; not new,” clarified Faulkner). We also talked about the process behind recording New Moon, which involved some intensive songwriting in a Catskills cabin, along with some equally hardcore Bob Dylan listening sessions. Read on to see how the band has changed, their dislike of genre tags (“We just write songs,” says Perro), and what they’ll be doing next—which, as it turns out, isn’t much different from what they’ve always done.
NATHAN REESE: So, first of all, tell me a little bit about the new record. This is the fourth one you’ve finished in four years, right?
KEVIN FAULKNER: The fourth, yeah.
NICK CHIERICOZZI: We went upstate to record it. Ben [Greenberg] joined the band, so it was like a new band. Kevin [Faulkner], who played on Open Your Heart, became more of a solid member. We didn’t have much material going into it. Only three or four songs, and we ended up writing most of the lyrics up there.
BEN GREENBERG: We came back with 19 songs, and we cut it down to a record.
REESE: Do you think the rest of the songs will get a release?
CHIERICOZZI: Of course, we’re already working on our next record. Everything will come out eventually.
REESE: What was it like recording in the Catskills?
CHIERICOZZI: It was cool. Our house was in a town called Big Indian—we got it through a friend of a friend. We were up there for two weeks, and then came back down here [to Brooklyn] and mixed for a week.
REESE: How has it been playing the new songs live?
CHIERICOZZI: It’s been good. We were playing some of them before we went up there [to record], for a year already. The first songs came together together in December 2011. Mark [Perro] and I had some demos [around then]. So we had been playing them all summer.
REESE: Considering how prolific you guys are, is it weird to have to consistently talk about music that’s relatively old?
MARK PERRO: It doesn’t feel that weird. It’s just not quite what’s going on right now.
CHIERICOZZI: Each record has had personnel changes. For Open Your Heart, we had been touring on it for a year before it even came out. It was a totally different band. Leave Home, same thing—there were only two of us that were even in that band that are still here. So we’re always talking a little bit backwards. But that’s OK, it’s just the way it goes.
REESE: There’s a lot more Americana influence on this record. Was there a reason you headed in more folk-inspired direction?
PERRO: I think we were heading in that direction anyway, regardless of who joined or anything.
CHIERICOZZI: I think we just opened up to that stuff. It’s always been there—a little taste there, a little influence here. But as we’ve been playing together more, those things have been brought more to the center, more to the forefront.
PERRO: We don’t see it as anything new, just something that has developed.
REESE: With all the new members, and people contributing different sounds, does it still feel like the same project that you started four or five years ago?
CHIERICOZZI: It’s certainly changed. I think it’s only remained the same because we still want to write songs. It’s not something that’s changed that much from just writing a song. That’s what it’s all about.
PERRO: And just literally, it has changed. Although everyone in this room was involved with Leave Home. Before Rich [Samis] joined the band, he was touring with us. And Ben recorded the last few albums, even before he was playing with the band. Kevin photographed us and jammed with us. He took the cover photo for Leave Home. Everyone’s been around, it’s just the ways in which we’re contributing that have changed and evolve. But it’s mostly the same core.
REESE: Do you have a favorite song from the new record to play live?
CHIERICOZZI: Yeah, all of it. This is the first album where we’ve played the majority of it live. With Leave Home and Immaculada, we played the songs occasionally, but the whole albums weren’t consistently in our set. Whereas we’ve been playing the new one to the fullest. Our favorites change depending on how things are going.
REESE: Was there anything you guys were listening to or inspired by when you were writing the record?
CHIERICOZZI: We listened to a lot of Dylan—I think we listened to New Morning about 4,000 times. A lot of Electric Ladyland, a lot of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. We all brought records [to the studio], but New Morning was the only one I think we all brought [laughs].
REESE: You all seem really careful not to pigeonhole yourselves in terms of genre descriptions. Is that something you consciously try to avoid?
CHIERICOZZI: I think a genre tag is pretty limiting for the most part, which is why we try not to go that route. If that is applied to you, then you have certain things you can or cannot do. We try not to have any sort of limit on what we can play.
PERRO: It isn’t our job, really, to come up with those. We don’t think like that.
REESE: Do you feel pressure or expectation for fans of the last record to respond to New Moon?
CHIERICOZZI: Well, anyone who has seen us over the past year already knows the songs. So hopefully they’ve made up their minds already, and are down.
REESE: I wanted to ask about the album art. For the last few, you’ve had the Sacred Bones-formatted cover. Why did you switch up the design?
PERRO: Oh, that was all this man behind you [points to Sacred Bones’ founder Caleb Braaten]. This is the third full-length we’ve done with them, and we’re the first band to do three full-lengths on the label. So I think he developed the new template for a band’s third album. I believe.
CALEB BRAATEN: Yeah. It’s for a band’s third LP on the label.
REESE: So if another band on Sacred Bones has a third LP, it’s going to have the new format, too?
BRAATEN: Well, yeah, if they want to be on the label. [all laugh]
PERRO: I think the artwork is pretty sweet. I think it’s the best artwork we’ve had. It’s really deluxe packaging—I can’t wait to actually see it. They did a great job with it.
CHIERICOZZI: We also printed the lyrics for the first time.
REESE: Was that because you wanted more emphasis on the lyrics, or just cool packaging?
CHIERICOZZI: Both. I definitely think there was more emphasis on the lyrics. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but it seems that this record, lyrically, is the most focused. Not to diminish any of the past stuff, but I think, for myself, in the past I was more focused on songs musically, and less lyrically. Whereas this record is more of an even playing field.
REESE: So what’s next for the band?
PERRO: We’re hitting the road. We’re going to Australia next week. We’re working on the new record. Touring and writing, that’s what we’ve always been doing.
REESE: That sounds like an intense pace to keep. Do you think you’ll ever slow down?
CHIERICOZZI: I think it will change, but I don’t know if we’ll slow down.
THE MEN’S NEW RECORD NEW MOON IS OUT TOMORROW, MARCH 5. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.