Just like the smell of campfire smoke is reminiscent of carefree summer nights, certain songs can transport listeners back to a moment in time, when everything was beautiful or, conversely, when it felt like their world was ending. And the same band, song, book, painting, can mean something completely different depending on when someone experiences it.
Philadelphia-based punk band the Menzingers have been steadily making a name for themselves for the past decade through their nostalgia-inducing lyrics that look at the past through rose-colored glasses.
“I love when you read a good book and you read that story but you’re just constantly relating it to your life. I love taking that aspect towards music as well,” says singer and guitarist Greg Barnett. “What it makes you feel at a certain time is what’s really important about it.”
He uses Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as an example.
“It was my first favorite book, I read it in the 9th or 10th grade (and) it gave me a desire to travel–I just wanted stories of my own,” he says. “I actually just reread the book again and I guess I thought of it a lot different back in the day. I love that something can mean so much to you at a young age and you hold it so dear for your whole life and then you look at it and it’s different. I don’t know if it would have had as much an effect on me at 29 years old as it did at 14.”
He refers to it in the song “Lookers,” which was the first single on their fifth studio album, After the Party, released on Epitaph Records in February: “You little Kerouac/Always running like Dean and Sal/Always waiting on a freight train/Always looking for a story to tell.”
In many of the songs written by both Barnett and vocalist/guitarist Tom May, literary references are sprinkled throughout to add that extra something. The band’s appreciation of the classics has always been one of their defining qualities. Looking all the way back at their first studio album, A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology, released in 2007 when the band members were just out of high school, the song “Even for an Eggshell” is all about Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and “Richard Coury” is based on an 1897 poem of the same name by Edwin Arlington Robinson.
The distinct song-writing style of the four-piece band–which still boasts all the original members including bassist Eric Keen and drummer Joe Godino–honestly talks about the halcyon days of youth and how they felt both in the moment and retrospectively from a more experienced perspective. They also heavily write about place, crafting stories of their experiences living and loving and falling apart on the east coast.
“Writing is like a form of therapy–you can get a lot off your chest,” Barnett says.
Both Barnett and Mays share singing and songwriting duties which generally follows the tried-and-true formula of big hooks, catchy choruses and introspective verses without the songs feeling overdone or clichéd.
“We drove up to Massachusetts together/Your old house was just like you remember/We stayed in your adolescent room/Rummaged through the boxes labeled ‘former you,’” Barnett sings during a verse in “Your Wild Years.” “The souvenirs of happiness in the moment/Your wild years that you often mention/The sands of time in an hourglass/That you're always begging for back.”
Barnett says he just writes from the heart and is glad that fans can relate to their music.
As for possible new songs?
“I never stop writing,” he says. “We haven’t done the whole, write the next album thing, but I’ve got a bunch of ideas.”
The band has been touring on and off all year in support of After the Party, allowing them to cross off bucket list locations with performances in Japan, Australia and Spain. They played a club show during the long-running Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in Las Vegas over the summer which featured Bad Religion as a headliner, and also played at Riot Fest in Chicago earlier this month along with Taking Back Sunday, Jawbreaker and Paramore, just to name a few.
“All the shows (this year) have been leaps and bounds crazier than anything we’ve ever experienced before,” Barnett says.
Joining the list of punk bands who have graced Flagstaff stages recently, the Menzingers will be bringing their distinctive blend of punk and wistfulness to fans this weekend for probably the first time ever (“I could be wrong, but I would put $100 on it that we’ve never been to Flagstaff,” Barnett says with a laugh).
Catch them Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Green Room, 15 N. Agassiz St. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. with Phoenix band Sundressed opening. Tickets are $17 in advance or $20 at the door. This show is a 16 and older event. Visit www.flagstaffgreenroom.com for more details and learn more about the band at www.themenzingers.com.