Open Heart, Clear Mind: Behind the Men’s ‘New Moon’
The fierce Brooklyn quintet discusses their turn towards mellower sounds on new album
The Men don’t like staying in one place. In a career that now spans four albums in five years, the Brooklyn band has explored new sounds, varying lineups, and different recording locales. On their latest, New Moon (Sacred Bones), out March 5 and recorded in the hamlet of Big Indian, New York, the scuzz rockers further expand on the warmth and twanginess they introduced on last year’s Open Your Heart.
Though none of the bandmembers — singer-guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi, drummer Rich Samis, singer-bassist Ben Greenberg, and lap-steel player Kevin Faulkner — are exactly what you’d describe as chatty, they were willing to take time out from prepping for a lengthy spring tour to speak to SPIN about getting it together in the country, broken glass, and the allure of imperfection.
In a lot of ways New Moon feels like an extension of Open Your Heart. How do you see it as different?
Perro: “Open Your Heart was real layered. Multiple guitars on every single song. We just tried to really strip down and get down a real naked sound. Not affected. Kind of human.”
Kevin Faulkner: “We wanted a real live approach.”
Perro: “We wanted to get the complete package, the whole song, done in one take. Get every element or as much of it as possible being performed by the band at that moment. That was a different approach than we’d normally take.”
The Men’s music has gradually moved towards a more classic-rock influenced sound. Have the band’s influences changed over time?
Perro: “We don’t approach an album thinking we want it to sound like this band or that band. But we did have a record player up there and there were certain records that a lot of us tended to bring: New Morning by Bob Dylan, I think there were like four or five copies of that. Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young. Exile on Main St., Electric Ladyland.”
Chiericozzi: “Leave Home.”
Samis: “A lot of critics are like, ‘Oh, they’re going for this sound on this record.’ We’re not really going for anything, we’re just letting our influences come through. It’s the difference between us and other bands. It’s good songwriting with the influences showing through and it seems like the majority of bands out there now are just trying to be like other bands.”
Perro: “We’re not trying to do that. It’s just how people relate to stuff. Journalists especially. New Morning and Tonight’s the Night, they’re vibe records, there’s a feeling through those records, from start to finish, that’s pretty consistent. That’s one thing we wanted New Moon to have, a vibe.”
You guys recorded this album up in the Catskills. Did you go stir crazy?
Perro: “What was the song where you smashed all the stuff?”
Samis: “The end of ‘Super Moon.’ We had like a bunch of glasses in a bag, and we were like, ‘Let’s just like smash that or something.’ I think I threw a broken cymbal on all these glasses — big crashing sound. At the end it was like, ‘Oh no, I got to clean up.'”
Faulkner: “There was a jar of jelly in it.”
Aside from being able to smash things and not worry about bothering anyone, what was the value in recording in such an isolated location?
Perro: “Kevin and Ben were new to the fold, joining amidst the chaos of touring non-stop. It was good to go up there and get to the point where you feel like a band and not just a touring machine. We had been touring so much. It was kind of a new thing too, being under the microscope or whatever it was. It was good to get away from that.”
Faulkner: “There was no cell phone reception up there.”
What do you mean? What pressure are you under in New York?
Chiericozzi: “Open Your Heart was recorded in Ben’s [Brooklyn] studio. We did like 12 songs, maybe in eight hours. It sounds like a cliché, but you’re in New York and you’re really pushing it. It’s a fast-paced town, and you only have ten hours, even in a friend’s studio.”
Perro: “There’s no time to just be playing around on a piano and do something with it. You’re working. [New Moon song] Open the Door,’ basically where that came from. That wouldn’t have come up if we had ten hours, eight songs we’re going to do, and then we’re going home.”
Chiericozzi: “But there’s a balance too. You don’t want to fuck around for three months. People lose their minds over that.”
Sometimes deadlines are a good thing.
Samis: “Me, personally, I’ve learned to look at records as documents of that time and place. If you want to fuck with the song, want to change it a little bit, then do it.”
Greenberg: “I record a lot of bands and a lot of them get hung up. You wind up doing 15 takes or something, because someone’s like, ‘Oh, I just can’t get this one part, I missed that high hat.’ It doesn’t matter. No one listening to your record cares.”
Samis: “There’s this thing of people worshipping the definitive record. But you can’t try to make that record, it just has to come naturally. That’s how the best stuff comes out. You happen to tap into something and you just let it go.”
Faulkner: “I just think we’re lucky enough to all kind of being in the same mindset: We just wanted to make a record that sounds good to us.”