Over the last five years, Brooklyn punkers-turned-rockers the Men have made a reputation for themselves as one of indie’s most hardworking acts, delivering a steady stream of acclaimed releases and touring relentlessly. Following last year’s New Moon, their fourth full-length album (and third for label Sacred Bones), as well as a surprise acoustic EP Campfire Songs, the Men are already getting ready to show the world their next big effort. Tomorrow’s Hits, the most concise and straightforward collection of songs the band has done to date (and the most hi-fidelity sounding, too) will be out on March 4. I had the pleasure to chat with singer/guitarist and band founder Nick Chericozzi about the forthcoming record, playing live vs. hanging out in the studio, and bands’ natural tendency to evolve.
First of all, tell me more about recording the new album. Is it true that you had it done even before New Moon came out last year?
Yeah, that’s right! We finished the record a year ago already; it’s pretty wild! It was done six months after we finished the New Moon record, and from there we went right into the studio. We toured a lot that year and we took a month in November and most of October to write songs, and we used Mark’s bedroom as the rehearsal space. We brought a lot of acoustic guitars, sort of deadened the drums; we played in his apartment and wrote the record there. Then we went in [to the studio] and kind of banged it out in two days in December. That was it. Yeah, it was pretty quick! And it sounds so good. It’s kind of funny, you know. It took us the least amount of time in the studio, and we ended up with maybe the best sounding thing.
That’s usually the way things work out the best.
When you went into the studio, did you record the album by yourselves or did you have any extra help?
Well, we recorded it at the Strange Weather studios, which is where we mixed the New Moon album, and while we were mixing New Moon they were constructing the new Strange Weather; we kind of jumped on that opportunity. There’s a beautiful stage [there now] and a beautiful board, and a lot of good gear to experiment with aside from our own stuff. And then Ben Greenberg and our friend Daniel [Schlett], those two did most of the work. Daniel is sort of the in-house dude, and he and Marc [Alan Goodman] run Strange Weather, so they were collaborating with the band in setting up the mics and the levels and doing other things together; then we all sat around and mixed it up with the band running the board and just giving input and all that.
I know that you had some material left over from the Catskills sessions [for New Moon]. Did any of that end up on Tomorrow’s Hits?
No, none of it did, we decided to let that lie. We don’t want to release everything. Some ideas were cool, they were out there, and some of them were good but didn’t quite fit on the record, so we just left them out and decided to let them sit. Then we put out an EP [Campfire Songs], the acoustic demo thing, and that was kind of a leftover that actually made it out onto something. But yeah, all of Tomorrow’s Hits was written in about a month, in November, and then we went right in and recorded it.
Do you think that those other songs might see a release in the future, possibly?
I don’t know. I like how consise Tomorrow’s Hits is. You know it’s only eight songs, and it’s 36 minutes, our shortest record besides out first EP, our 12’’ EP. But I really like it a lot. I like how the studio equipment works and the horn sound, and the drum sound especially.
Coming back to New Moon for a second; I feel like that LP was very loose and jammy, and stripped down, while Tomorrow’s Hits has a more focused, pop feel to it. I noticed that pattern with your previous albums, too, with Open Your Heart being more song-oriented than Leave Home. Does it mean that you like to change it around and experiment as much as possible, or is Tomorrow’s Hits an indication of the direction you’re going in?
Well, it’s a direction we were in [laughing]. Because, you know, things change so much… It was a long time ago [writing and recording the album]. I agree with you, I like the tightness of Tomorrow’s Hits. But live, we really like to stretch songs out, experiment, and work with improvisation to achieve a whole new experience. The record is its own experience, but when documented live it becomes more aggressive, in terms of feeling I guess, because of the volume. We like to play loud, you know, we’re kind of a louder band.
Have you found that the new songs translate well into a live setting?
That’s what we’re doing now; rehearsal. Rehearsal is just starting for the tour, so we’re just going to work straight for a month to really own this in, and see if we can pull off some of those quieter moments. Because, you know, we’ve been playing live for about five years now, and I love acoustic music and acoustic guitar, most of the songs I write on that instrument, so the ability to translate some of that is kind of the goal, and [use] different textures that we wouldn’t normally have, as a sort of garage band, two guitar lineup, you know. So I’m looking forward to that a lot.
Does that mean that you haven’t been playing any of the new songs live?
We played some of them last year… Last spring.
Yeah, because I saw you guys in LA in October, and some of the new songs sound familiar. Maybe it’s just me imagining things.
[Things] sounded pretty weird in that venue… [Laughs]
No, it was a good show!
Well, I definitely heard some weird stuff coming out of my amp [laughs]. Yeah, we played a few of the songs before, but we made a conscious effort after that, after the fall to sort of take a break. Mark and I made a record, I think Ben made an album, Rich has done a bunch of printing, Kevin’s in another band [Juniper Rising]. We wanted to put these songs to rest because we’d always have an album ahead of the curve… you know what I mean? So we were kinda playing songs months before the damn record even came out [laugh]. So we kinda made a decision for the first time, like: “let’s chill all these songs, and then we’ll like bring them back up and have a whole new approach to them, where we actually tour on a fresh record.” So I’, excited for that, I’m really excited! It’s gonna be a great tour. You know, after years of touring straight it felt good to have had this break, and exciting to have a new show out there.
I can’t stop but notice some Big Star references on Tomorrow’s Hits: the neon sign on the cover and the title itself, that sort of relates to the audacity of Number 1 Record. Were you trying to pay some sort of homage to them with this album or am I reading too much into this?
[Laughs] Not really, it ended up just happening that way! We were cracking up about that, actually, just today, ‘cause we just saw the jackets for the first time. They look really good; the artwork is amazing… Rich and Kevin did a really good job, and I think it’s the best artwork, too. We had that sign made in a place in Sunset Park in Brooklyn and our friend photographed it.
It’s not a direction with Big Star… I mean, definitely Big Star is a great band, or was a great band. But it’s not as tongue-in-cheek as other times when we kind of ripped off the Stooges, or paid homage MC5. It’s not a tribute but just embracing a rock’n’roll attitude or whatever, that’s come before us. It was more coincidental but we were laughing how it is similar and people are probably going to think that.
And the title kinda came from… I was thinking about ‘60s records that were compilation records, you know, like the Kinks had a record with so many number 1 hits on them… It was just this older idea.
Yeah, like the some of the US releases of Beatles records that compiled their singles…
Yeah exactly! Like Introducing… The Beatles. It was funny to play with that aesthetic.
If not Big Star then what were you new inspirations, specifically for this album?
What were we listening to, let’s see…. I cannot remember, it was so long ago. But a lot of great albums we know are not that long. We kind of always tried to make these bigger, sprawling kind of records, and we were flipping over looking at the backs of jackets of, you know, like even Fleetwood Mac, pretty mainstream stuff [laughs]. Again, this record is only 30 minutes. You know, the Ramones’ first album is 29 minutes or something… Meat Puppets too, 28 minutes. Like this great sounding records that was only under half an hour. And it was big deal for us to go to the studio… I mean we’ve done it before but for us to lay all these songs out there, you know. So we just wanted to go in quickly and make a consise record that sounded really good to us. And it sort of drew from that [classic short albums]. You know what I mean?
I do, and I feel like in the “golden age” of classic pop/rock songwriting you had a lot of that, short albums. I also think that there’s a big resurgance of that kind of attitude recently, you know, this sort of “classic songwriting” with more complex, upbeat bass lines and more guitar soloing. Do you see the Men as part of this wave of bands?
I’m not sure. I haven’t picked up on what you’re hinting on… I just haven’t been listening to much indie stuff. Well, there’s one of my friends’ bands that I’ve been listening to, they’re a band from California called CCR Headcleaner; they’re kind of a blown out rock band [laughs] and they’re really really cool. They have just a wild sound, and we’ve played with them a bunch. But I haven’t really noticed that trend.
I’m thinking of, for instance, the Black Lips, who started out as a garage-rock band with more streamlined, punk-rock songs and they’ve gotten consistently more 70’s, Americana-influenced. And I feel like that’s a direction that a lot of punk bands have been going into.
Yeah, well, I can’t speak for the other bands but I can say that a lot of bands (and the Black Lips have been around for a while) tend to change; you just want to evolve. Any good band tends to evolve into something, whether its forced upon them by the forces of the universe or whatever, or they just don’t wanna play the same kind of songs. And I love that, and I feel it’s one of the things that makes a strong band. Whatever that spirit is – and I know that a lot of people invoke that, and musicians do it a lot, but it’s true; if you follow whatever is coming out of you in a natural way and play with people who are smart and talented and are your friends, then I think you’ll make honest music and you’ll enjoy it, and it’ll meet some sort of a critical standard for yourself.
Yeah, that’s why I’ve steering clear from asking about Leave Home, because I guess at this point you must be pretty tired of explaining your direction, and that album is pretty irrelevant to what you’re doing right now.
Well there’s that spirit to it… it’s not irrelevant; it’s all part of one thing, really. I mean I still got the same feeling when I wrote “Bataille” or any other song on the album that I get now. It’s the same feeling, it’s just coming out differently. I’m still chasing the same spirit or excitement when I write new songs as when I did when I wrote something that I liked back then. I mean, I think the context has changed, and we changed members, and so forth. We have moved on of course, but I love Leave Home. I think it’s a great album, I don’t dismiss it.
Speaking of new members; now that Kevin Faulkner and Ben Greenberg are very much part of the band, are you guys a full democracy? What is your writing process like?
We all have an idea that we develop on our own very briefly. A sketch, or sometimes the whole idea is presented, but I think the best songs come when collaboration happens. I’ll maybe bring in a song that only has one part, and I’ll say “what about this?” We’ll just throw ideas around. And then maybe Mark will come up with just one part and we’ll play what works [musically]. And after a while it’s like, “whoa, we have eight or nine songs here that are pretty solid.” Then we’ll try to, like, go and record them, but that’s, you know, a whole other art form, really. Some songs for whatever reason don’t work in a recorded fashion, in studio, but are good songs to jam on or play [live] and we just try to look for a flow. And with Tomorrow’s Hits we were looking for the flow, and I think we found it and it’s the eight songs, even though we had 15 ready to go. It seems like: Ok, these are the songs everyone’s comfortable with. I think it’s [also] somewhat of an equal representation of our different perspectives, and how those intersect in developing this flow. And then from there it goes: ok, this song goes first, second…etc. But the actual process is half improvisation and half someone coming in with a little tidbit of a song.
Here’s my last question: you guys are extremely prolific and known for an impressive work ethic both with recording and playing live… so I was wondering what do you personally like better? Recording music or touring?
There’s a certain release that you get from playing live, I know that this word is used a lot but it’s true. I think playing live to me is like playing as one instrument, feeding off some sort of energy that’s established in the rhythm, with the right hand for me (cause I’m a right-handed guitar player) and what Rich is doing on the kit, and when everyone’s blinking up with some sort of a rhythm you can really deliver and play as one thing, and if the vocals are also in there, it kind of creates a spiritual experience or whatever… The studio’s more temperamental. But when you play it… my favorite part of the studio is the playback , after you play it and listen to it and you’re thinking I can’t believe I did that.. I can’t believe this is me. I remember that feeling I had when I was, like, 20 or whatever, and we went into the studio(not with the Men but this other band), and I couldn’t believe I took part of it… and you go home and you listen to it a hundred times before anyone knows about it. There’s your own secrets that you have in your mind that you’re trying to communicate emotionally, physically to the person in front of you in a live setting, and then just to yourself in the studio. So it’s kind of intense. I can’t really pick one, but right now I think I’d say playing live just because we’re about to embark on a tour now.
I’ll definitely try to come out and see you play again. Good luck!