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The Men

The Men

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 21st January, 2013 9:47AM

The Men released third studio album, Open Your Heart last year and proceeded to tour internationally with the likes of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. UTR caught up with bassist Ben Greenberg to discuss getting the hell out of the city to record their forthcoming album, due out March.

Hey Ben, how’s it going?

It’s going pretty good, how about you?

Good thank you. What are you guys up to at the moment?

Right now I’m at Mark’s (Perro) house: we were just playing music all day, hanging out.

Are you guys on tour or recording at the moment? What’s going on?

No, we’re just rehearsing. We have a new record coming out in March that’s all recorded and mastered, so we’ve been playing a bunch of those songs on the road and now we’re rehearsing a bunch of songs to record for the follow up - we’re trying to stay even further ahead of the game than we have to haha.

I was going to say, that’s a pretty prolific level of output. Let’s talk about the forthcoming album. When and where did you write and record it?

Yeah that’s awesome, I’d love to talk about that. We recorded it way back in May and we’d all been writing the songs for a couple of months at that point. We went to upstate New York, to a house in a town called Big Indian and it was just a big empty house that had enough bedrooms for everyone and a big living room. I brought my whole recording set-up and Kyle who’s our road manager brought all of his recording gear and we build a make-shift studio up there. We’re really, really excited for it to come out.

Going into the recording process, was there anything in particular you wanted to achieve?

We try and get a bunch of stuff together beforehand but in my experience everything changes once you're actually in the studio. You’re re-working things on the fly and there are always a few songs that aren’t quite worked out before you get in there.
When we went upstate we were up there for two weeks in this huge house. There was a fire pit out in the yard and we would play songs all night out there and then record them the next day. We wound up recording a bunch of stuff out by the fire just on a guitar. We also wound up with so much more music than we ever thought we would - I think we recorded like twenty songs or something.
So it was definitely a really great experience: to just hole up, get away from our lives and out of the city and really just focus in on what we wanted to do.

Is that the way you guys normally record or is this a new experience for you?

Before then we’d made the last two records at my studio in Williamsburg but that closed shortly after we recorded Open Your Heart because it was in the basement of a Catholic school and there was a really cool priest who was renting me a room there. Then he got sent as an army Chaplan to Afghanistan - yep, Father Jim went to Afghanistan. Three churches in the area then came under the control of this Bishop who’s a much older guy who didn’t want to deal with musicians and artists and stuff so he kicked everyone out. It was literally like two months after we finished recording Open Your Heart.
After that I was debating whether to open another studio or not, and in the mean time I’ve just been working at other studios around New York because there are literally thousands of recording studios here.
So before that we had a home base that the band did rely on because they could come in there and work but it was still like you come into the studio and work all day and then you go home and live your normal life. Most of us hadn’t had the experience of really getting totally away – there was no cell phone service up there! So it was really beautiful.

Reflecting on the forthcoming album now that’s it’s finished: is there a difference in sound or theme because of the fact that you recorded it in this isolated location?

Yeah I mean it definitely sounds like the house that we were in which is my favourite part about doing this kind of thing. There’s a single that’s going to come out some time in January as a 7” and it’ll give you guys a sense of how things have progressed or whatever. But yeah I mean I’m very excited about it, I think there’s a lot more of a third dimension now.

Your records are all pretty eclectic and seem to come from a myriad places. Are there any ongoing reference points that you guys have as a band?

Yeah well I think we’re all really big music fans and we’ve all been that way since we were little kids. and I think that’s why we work together so well. So I mean there’s lots of stuff that we’re all into and that’s why we write all kinds of different songs. In saying that I hope that it winds up sounding like the same band – that’s definitely the goal.
I just did an interview ten minutes ago and the guy was like “people call you guys post-hardcore, what do you think of that” and I don’t really relate to that term very much. To me ‘post-hardcore’ means a dude in an At the Drive In t-shirt or something so I told him that I think we’re just a rock 'n roll band and I think that works. We’re just trying to divorce ourselves as much as possible from references. We try and create a space where we're writing music from the most primal instinct, where we can really just get out the most instinctive sound that we can produce.

So when you guys are writing it’s this instinctive sound that comes before and theme or lyrical sentiment?

Yeah I thinks so. There’s three of us who do the initial writing and we all have very similar writing processes and there’s a lot of sitting at home with an acoustic guitar finding a melody and finding a riff and spinning it out. But people seem to be under the impression that we don’t care about our lyrics but I think we really do. A lot of times it’ll come along with the rest of it but sometimes you know, you wrote a song and you have to teach it to a bunch of other guys so you listen to the music again and again and the lyrics eventuate more organically.

Earlier on you were talking about the recording studio you used to have. Tell us a little bit about your experience in the music community in Brooklyn.

Um, yeah I mean I’ve got a lot of friends who I’ve known for a long time who have been really supportive and I’ve been support of them. I’ve lived in New York City my entire life – been here for 27 years or whatever – and I’ve been playing music for 20 of those years. I’m still in touch with people from elementary school who are musicians and we talk and share things. I love it here, it’s my home for sure.

The ability to have a recording studio underneath a Catholic school must lend itself well to the progression of creative projects in Brooklyn and New York, yeah?

Oh absolutely. People always talk about how it’s too expensive to live here and how can it ever work, but it’s kind of the same as it has always been. It’s a city with 10 million people so there’s a lot more haves and a lot more have nots and a really dramatic vision of how they interact. But you find your space: there’s always little cracks and little nooks and I’ve been recording bands here for ten years now and it’s always been “Oh you have that little space, yeah we can make that work”. I’m using the same eight track tape machine that I got when I was 15 years old and I’ve been recording all sorts of bands on it, even electronic music. It’s just about consistency here I think. If you can stay consistent it will provide something that people can relate to because things change so fast here.

You guys are coming out to New Zealand for Laneway Festival, have you been here before?

I’ve never toured down there. I lived in Melbourne for a month and had an amazing time but that was years ago so I’m incredibly excited to come and play music and meet people and see all the cool bands. I have no idea of what to expect, I’m so excited.