The Men play skuzzy, punk rock that evokes a listener’s typical skuzzy, punk rock reaction – you kind of wanna break things. With the band’s new record Open Your Heart, out March 6 on Sacred Bones, the group continues to explore this sound, but with a bit more focus. Recorded around the same time as their previous critically-acclaimed record, the visceral Leave Home, Heart is a bit different. “We’ve become more focused,” guitarist/vocalist Nick Chiericozzi says. And he’s not lying. The new LP, although still as aggressive, sounds and feels much more controlled than their previous work. Chiericozzi and fellow guitarist/vocalist Mark Perro chatted with Prefix about making press calls rather than playing guitar, evolving in sound, and what it’s like to be labeled as the saviors of punk.
You’ve been together since about 2008, and it seems like you’re finally seeing the fruits of your labor. What’s it feel like to be finally seeing that?
Mark Perro: If anything, it’s a new feeling. One of the biggest things is it’s a lot more stressful, just kind of a lot of pressure on things outside the actual music, which is a new thing we’re not used to. Even in bands before the Men, we’ve done records and recorded and released things, even with the first couple Men records, we put them out ourselves. We just put ‘em out and moved on with our lives, and toured, played shows, wrote new songs, and it wasn’t a big thing. It was just what we did. Now, we’re still doing that, but there’s this huge wash of other stuff going on. That’s a new feeling. It’s exciting because it’s all coming from a positive place, but there’s also that other side of it that’s kind of new and it takes away from some of the other stuff.
What type of pressure are you feeling?
MP: I mean this in just an observation way, but like, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon and we’re making phone calls instead of playing guitars. That’s a new thing that’s not exactly our favorite thing to do. But, you know what I mean. I’m not trying to sound like a dick.
Ha, you don’t sound like a dick. I’d imagine it’s a difficult transition after creating stuff for awhile, now you have to talk about it. Have you been surprised at the response?
MP: Yeah, I think so. I didn’t really have any expectations personally about it. I was surprised how Leave Home sort of took off gradually and by the end of last year was a fairly well-known record. I thought that was pretty cool and surprising all at the same time. I’m even more surprised about people wanting to write about us and excited about the next release.
Talking about Open Your Heart, would you talk about the growth of the band?
Nick Chiericozzi: I think that maybe, I’ve never thought about this before, but we’ve become more focused on our actual instruments because we don’t switch anymore. Not that I couldn’t play a drum part or something, but the idea to move around and play different instruments kind of seems ridiculous now. Maybe that’s a product of the new record as well, having a more focused sound where you can actually really dig into your instrument and to your part without having to worry about playing bass or something. We’ve already left where Open Your Heart was, because that was done before Leave Home even came out.
You said the record was done before Leave Home?
NC: It was 80 percent done. I think that growth or whatever had happened, and that was already 10 months ago or so. It took awhile for Leave Home to come out because Sacred Bones were really busy, so there was a delay there, so we recorded again and made this new record. We already sort of left where Open Your Heart is anyway, with different ideas now and even a different sound with different songs, and it’s changed.
How do you feel fans will respond to this more evolved, focused sound found on Open Your Heart?
MP: It’s an interesting question, because as Nick was saying, we recorded that and wrote that and were almost finished with that before Leave Home was out, so before it wasn’t even really an issue about how people were going to respond to the record. It’s a weird thing to think now, in hindsight, how people are going to respond to it. I don’t think we really thought about it much. I hope people respond positively. We’re being just as real as we were being on Leave Home, we’re the same people, just trying something different. It’s still totally our record. It’s still us. I don’t see why anyone would have any problem with it. I think there are a lot of similarities that are still there. But at the same time, that’s the one thing we can’t really control so we try not to harp on it. We just try to do what’s real. If people want to come, we’ll embrace that and that’s all we can really do.
What drove you to this evolved sound, even though you recorded Open Your Heart around the same time as Leave Home?
MP: Personally, I felt a lot more at ease when we were doing Open Your Heart. I think a lot of us did, really. I think a lot of these ideas are not new and it’s not like all the sudden we woke up and decided to write an acoustic song or something. We knew the things we’d been playing with since Nick and I started playing music together. I think maybe we just got a little better at realizing them and making them into real things, whereas before maybe the ideas kind of got stopped halfway because the ideas weren’t coming together as they are now. There are things that have been around for awhile.
Do you feel like it’s that more focused attitude that you have that’s allowed you to access this sound?
MP: I think we were always pretty focused on things. But like I was saying before, maybe it was because we were like, “Okay, you’re playing guitar on this album.” As songwriters, we were able to hone in some of the ideas we had out there that have just kind of been free and found there way randomly into songs. I think this time we were able to be a little careful and pick and choose what we wanted to add to specific songs.
Could you talk a little lyrically about Open Your Heart and what it’s about thematically?
NC: I think we wrote the majority of the lyrics the night before we did the vocals, so a lot of them, Mark and I just had our notebooks and we looked at each other and tried to come up with stuff that we each thought would pass our critical examination, and what sounded good. I think the words were just a gateway into melody. The melody was really the most important thing. I don’t think there is really an overarching thematic piece, it’s not a concept record for sure, other than the concepts of the emotions we have and try to channel those through us and put ‘em out through the songs.
With a song like “Please Don’t Go Away,” the repetition of the lyrics puts a lot of pressure on the phrase, because it’s the only one. Is that a tool or something you did purposely?
NC: I don’t know if it’s something we’ve thought out too much, but we’ve played with that idea before. I think it’s just the idea of really simplifying things and really focusing on melody, the fact that the more you repeat something, the more it takes on another life. That repetition is an important part of what we do. We tend to do that with parts, we repeat parts a lot, and we repeat melodies a lot. We do that purposely to create a different rhythm or life as your listening to it. We’re very into drone music and it’s something off of that concept, that repetition of breathing something else into your mind. It’s nothing that we were strategizing, it’s just things we like and are things we try to do.
What do you think repetition of lyrics or sounds does for the listener emotionally?
NC: I think it is emotional and the earliest forms of music, I think, were very repetitious. Eastern music. African music. Stuff like that. Not that we intentionally pulled from these sources, but I think repetition allows you to get to that pleasantly empty space in your mind, when you can let things flow and you can relax and be challenged, all at the same time.
MP: Yeah, if it’s too busy your brain is working in a different way, you know? It’s trying to comprehend what’s going on. When that guard comes down and you can reach that meditative place and you’re not really using your brain anymore, and you’re feeling it from a different place, whether it’s your whole body or your guts or something like that, we’re more interested in trying to go there inside your head and have you figure out the math problem.
What does a slower song like “Candy,” which is the closest thing to a ballad on the record, allow you to do musically versus something that’s more aggressive?
NC: The thing I like about that song is the space within it. It’s very stripped down – two acoustic guitars, a bass, a drum, and a slide part. But it feels like, when I listen to that song, it’s not compressed or anything. It feels like it just sort of goes all the way around you. It’s not a sonic song, it’s a little on the quieter side – probably one of the quieter songs we’ve done on a record, if the not the quietest – and I think musically, it just allows simplicity to come in. I think that’s what we’re headed towards becoming, doing more with less.
The media has lumped The Men into this group of bands who have been labeled the saviors of punk or post-punk – these big, huge, giant claims. How does it feel this categorization put on you?
NC: We’ve read a lot of different things where people lump us into this or that – they’re part of this pig fuck revival, or this part of this or that. We don’t really think about that, we try to ignore it. We’ve never been a band that was part of anything. We’re an independent entity. While we’re down and support a lot of these different things, we do what we’re doing outside of that and we want to remain outside of that. When people say that, it’s almost a little bit like, “Thank you, but no thanks.” We just want to do our thing. We’re not trying to save punk. We’re not trying to destroy punk. We’re just trying to do our thing.
That might be people are lumping you into it.
NC: That’s the role of everyone else outside of the people playing the music. [We] play music, and just play music, and it’s everyone else’s job to tell [us] what [we’re] doing. It’s an interesting thing when you read something about your band or your record and they’re like, “They’re trying to do this or trying to do that,” and in a way, it’s like “Fuck you, that’s not what we’re trying to do at all.” Just listen to the music and enjoy it, rather than try to lump it into a category or make some movement or something so people will read your article or whatever it is about it.
Since you’ve gotten more and more buzz, has it been hard to escape these pressures? What do you do to keep your mind off it?
MP: I think it’s a distraction, but it’s a minor one, I think. Sometimes I get stressed out about it, but I think you just have to have the right perspective on it. Now that it’s happened, we’ve had the chance to think about it, and we’ve realized what press we want to do, what press we don’t want to do, take time when we want to take time away from it. I think realizing that, and realizing the push behind the record so we can just talk about it and tell people about it, that it’s coming out, is about to be finished. The record comes out in a few days, and it’s just part of being on a label, I guess, and having people interested, which is cool! We’d rather keep it positive and not let it ruin things.
NC: Yeah, just try to focus on what’s important, you know what I mean? That’s what got us on this phone call anyway, just playing and writing and being excited about your band. I think it’s important to not get overwhelmed by all those things on the outside and remove yourself.