The Philadelphia-based pop/punk band The Menzingers has received critical acclaim for their last two albums, much of which fleshes out the angst of moving from 20-somethings into their 30s.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, everything is terrible
Buying marijuana makes you feel like a criminal
When your new friends take a joke too literal
Making you feel like the bad guy
Oh, where are we gonna go, oh now that our twenties are over?
- “Tellin’ Lies” from “After the Party” by The Menzingers
But two months shy from releasing a new album ("Hello Exile") that has at least one cut offering a bon voyage to youth, guitarist and vocalist Tom May told WGLT aging has become less scary than he and his bandmates might have guessed.
“It’s still maintained its sense of excitement and novelty,” said May. “But there are now certain parts that we can start to realize … the parts of you … you want to be you. As you roll into your 30s with the history of the decisions that you made in your 20s and of things you like and don’t like about yourself … now you can get comfortable choosing those parts.”
May did concede the physical decline of aging has been noticeable.
“The hangovers last a lot longer, I’ll say that,” laughed May.
Lost in a picture frame
The way our bodies used to behave
The way we smiled in the moment
Before they permanently froze
But that was the old me and you
When we were both lookers
- “Lookers” from “After the Party” by The Menzingers
The Oct. 4 release date for the full “Hello Exile” album can’t come soon enough for fans, or the band. Though the previous three albums have all received critical acclaim, with the most recent “After the Party” debuting at #19 on the Billboard Top Current Albums Chart, “Hello Exile” ups the ante with an even fuller sound to the melodic songs that an Epitaph Records press release extolls as songs about “high-school hellraising, troubled relationships, aging and alcohol and political ennui.”
May was pleased to hear someone outside their small circle had heard the album and thought it even better than previous ones.
“I’m really glad you said that,” said May. “It’s funny for us to write and record something for so long and sit on it and wait for the world to hear it.”
“Anna” is the lead single and only song released to the general public.
You got a great big new promotion
But now you travel so damn much
It's like our studio apartment is just a place to keep your stuff
And when you're away, I walk around in a haze
Reminiscing the days, first moving in with you
I have so much to tell ya
Please come back to Philadelphia
This place ain't the same without you Anna
“Anna” from “Hello Exile” by The Menzingers
May won’t reveal if the romantic jangly power pop cut is a composite or specific to one person.
“We like to keep up the lore of whether or not it’s a person. You know, the listener can take it as someone they know. We also don’t want to let anybody who may or may not be a part of our lives in on that whole process. So, we’ll leave a little mystery around it,” said May.
The new album leads off with “America (You’re Freaking Me Out),” a seeming commentary on America’s political landscape over the past three years. Though The Menzingers have addressed socioeconomic issues including critiques of empire building and capitalism on previous albums, this seems to be their first foray into overtly political content.
“Particularly in the past couple years I think whether or not anything has actually massively changed,” he paused before adding “I think the soul of the country has gotten a lot darker. The way it’s portrayed and the way we share it with each other around social media has certainly been a lot more divisive and unexpected, and not to the old formula we’re used to.”
Though the band now calls south Philadelphia home base, members hail a two+ hour drive up I-476 in what fellow native and former Vice President Joe Biden characterizes as “hardscrabble” Scranton. It’s a town like other Rust Belt cities Biden has indicated he or another Democrat will need to win over to become president in 2020.
May said Scranton is often derided for its low incidence of adult education but countered the once plentiful factory and trade jobs out of high school were lucrative enough to buy a house and raise a family. A lot of those jobs were rooted in anthracite coal.
“And now it’s a service and health care economy full of an older generation. And I think those people were kind of riled up by more of the, say, right-leaning news organizations. So, I definitely have seen a massive change in the last five years from a hard-core Democratic party,” said May.
He was reluctant to offer analysis as to what Democrats can do to win those voters back, as he acknowledged his information comes solely from people he knows and news media he consumes, and qualified that he didn’t speak for the entire band.
“But it feels like everyone looked around them and saw their jobs disappear and their kids get addicted to opioids. And the false promises people were delivering didn’t happen,” said May.
Over a decade removed from their hardscrabble hometown where they grew up listening to Epitaph staple bands including Bad Religion, Offspring, and Rancid, the quartet seems poised for even bigger success with the imminent release of what could be their most well received album to date. It’s quite a feat 13 years after the four came together as teens. It’s not an accident, according to May, who said members have been taking a more inward approach to analyzing their progress and “talking about it out loud.”
“Opening a line of communication and getting to the core of things … we were getting lost in it trying to figure out what a song is or what it we’re trying to do before we do it,” said May. “It doesn’t take away from the slow magic of things, but it allows us to have a more intellectual approach to what we are doing. And that saves a lot of conflict down the line.”
The Menzingers play the Castle Theatre in Bloomington Friday night.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.