By Jazz MonroeWith new album New Moon released this March, hardcore bumpkins the Men secured themselves among a royal lineage of bands (the Minutemen, Yo La Tengo and the Velvet Underground for starters) whose sound is best defined by its resistance to definition. In light of their thrillingly un-pin-downable and country-tinged new record, we chatted with Mark Perro and drank in the wisdom of a man desperate to wring positive vibes from his almost-jaded personality. Veering from concerns about his spiritual well-being to the trauma of firing the band's former bassist Chris Hansell in 2012, Perro put paid to the band's evasive rep and gave one of his most revealing interviews.
You have a new live setup — how's that gonna work out? I'm excited — I'll be playing piano for the entire set, so we're reworking a lot of New Moon songs and older songs into that, and we've got a bunch of new material we're gonna be playing. Being on the road is an up-and-down, love-hate thing, but there's also a sense of dread, getting ready for the challenge of trying to get through another one of these. But everything's positive.
Are the new songs kind of piano-based then? We were home for about four months at the end of last year. All the songs are not necessarily piano-based but there's a piano in every single song.
I know you don't plan how an album will sound in advance, but I'm wondering who made the decision to take a piano, steel guitars and harmonicas down to the Catskills Mountains, where you recorded New Moon. Well, Kevin did some lap-steel on Open Your Heart too. Me, Nick [Chiericozzi, vocals/guitar] and Kevin [Faulkner, lap steel] would jam together, even before the Men, on acoustic guitars and harmonicas and stuff. So when we went upstate [to record New Moon] we thought, "Let's bring everything we've got and see what happens!"
What about the new stuff, was there a similar mindset? Yeah, well we're actually still in the studio now.
In the city? Yeah, in Brooklyn again. Basically we got back from tour and we didn't have a practice space — we'd been on the road for almost a year. And I had some weird situations where I found myself living alone for a little while. So for whatever reason we just loaded all our stuff into my apartment in Bushwick. Piano, small amps, acoustic guitars, muted drums. We must've went through 30 or 40 songs — more than half of which are just dead — but we ended up with like a dozen new songs. It was cool playing that way — everything we've ever done has just been so loud, it's been based on that volume. So it took us out of our comfort zone to be out there naked like that.
You have this process of recording an album, immediately getting into new stuff, new situations, and then recording what represents that. Presumably that feels very natural to you. Do you get frustrated when people refer to how prolific the band is? I don't get frustrated per se, but I don't feel we're especially prolific. This is what we do. We make music. I don't have anything else — side projects, jobs: I live and breathe this band. I'm always writing — we're all always writing, we're always playing. That's our job. It's what we do. I don't think we're such an exception; it's not that crazy of a concept to be a working band.
Do you feel pressure to keep the band moving forward stylistically? Not really. There may come a time when we don't have a record for five years, and that's okay too. We're not gonna force anything, but if the ideas are there we're gonna go full steam ahead. I don't think a song is something you can will into existence.
Some bands would record an album, spend a few months mastering it, then go on tour and maybe start thinking about new stuff after a short break, your process seems quite intense; maybe more comparable to bands like Black Flag, who'd spend long periods of time hanging out in their van and argue and get sick of each other. Do you feel those morale dips? It's inevitable that people go through a range of moods. Sometimes people are gonna be super-high on what's going on and sometimes they're gonna be super-low. I mean, myself, through the course of a tour, at certain points I'll feel so good and it's the happiest I've ever been, and at others I want nothing else than to just be at home. But we're pretty respectful — we try not to take things personally, and you let everyone have their moods. Because it's not a reflection on each of us or the band, it's just everyone trying to deal with it. Also, for us the biggest thing is not touring, the biggest thing is making records. So if anything, the touring — while amazing — is also creatively stifling. So we have to make sure it's not gonna push somebody to the point where they're not happy any more.