The Men Get Out of the Gutter

Brooklyn's post-hardcore noise addicts clean up but won't turn it down

He says he's engineered countless punk records that probably won't ever see the light of day, and members of the New York scene speak of him in exalted platitudes. Jamie Morrison, bassist of Pale Angels, says he e-mailed Greenberg after reading the liner notes for Open Your Heart, looking to get some of his magic producer dust dumped on his band's songs. "[The Men's music] is more human," says Morrison. "There's a lot of bullshit in this world." Greenberg, and the Men, says Morrison, believe in what they're doing. No bullshit.

Ric Leichtung, curator of 285 Kent, has been booking shows in New York for almost seven years, and says Greenberg's addition to the Men "brings it from something that's sloppy, raw, and visceral to something with purpose. Before shows, you'll see Ben in the back doing scales and exercises with his fingers to prepare." Doing scales to warm up for a punk show? Sounds like the setup to a joke.

Since his addition, the Men find themselves approaching a whole new level of mainstream popularity. "It's weird. This is all new to us. I've had friends do this," Greenberg says of press interviews, while he digs into a two-and-a-half-pound steak at Aurora, an Italian restaurant in Williamsburg. He recalls getting photographed for an article in SPIN where they shoved the group in a bathroom—trapping them inside the shower stall, trying to get them to laugh. "I hate that shit, man, when people act disingenuous. Just let us be us."

Getting hairy: The band’s catalog pulls from traditions found all over the rock spectrum—post-punk, Americana, and German motorik.
Carrie Schechter
Getting hairy: The band’s catalog pulls from traditions found all over the rock spectrum—post-punk, Americana, and German motorik.
From left: Kevin Faulkner, Ben Greenberg, Rich Samis, Marc Perro, and Nick Chiericozzi.
Carrie Schechter
From left: Kevin Faulkner, Ben Greenberg, Rich Samis, Marc Perro, and Nick Chiericozzi.

But maybe getting goofily photographed for a major music publication is something they'll just have to get used to. Two days after the release of New Moon, on March 7, the band plays a sold-out Bowery Ballroom. After that, they begin road-dogging it through Europe and then back here on the home soil, an exhaustive tour which will keep them busy into early summer playing far-flung exotic locales like Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Cleveland.

Of course, tours of this length at this time in a band's come-up are, best case, break-even propositions. All the love and ink spilled about a band, no matter how euphoric, doesn't necessarily translate to dollars. And that financial conundrum could even be considered one of the reasons for the band's transformation. Chris Hansell, the group's big and bald original bassist—and champion of the pigfuckery—was, in his words, "kicked out" (and over the phone) because he couldn't afford to go on tour.

"They were probably the most successful band I ever did, so I had the reaction that anybody would," says Hansell. "We had just put out a record that was doing amazing, and then, you know, you're not in that band anymore, so there's that sense of, 'Well, fuck, this sucks.' " (Hansell and the Men say they're on good terms now, even if Perro does describe the relationship as "a little awkward.")

New Moon was recorded over "two weeks and change" in a cabin in the Catskills in upstate New York. Yep. One of those band stories.

"We were touring a bunch before that," recalls Samis over a few beers. "So to go and live in this house wasn't that radical of an idea. It wasn't like, 'Oh my God, this is so crazy.' It was natural."

So natural, in fact, that on top of recording the entire album up there, they set up some microphones by the campfire and made a six-song EP titled, aptly, Campfire Songs. They'll give it away for free on their tour. Perro, who proudly learned how to chop wood ("So badass," he says) during their Catskills idyll, cites New Moon's first track—a bouncy, piano-driven song filled with harmonies and acoustic guitar riffs called "Open Your Door"—as an example of how recording there inevitably affected the outcome. "That song wouldn't have happened if we weren't up there," he says.

That's not the only song that wouldn't have happened if the boys didn't lock themselves up in the middle of nowhere. "I Saw Her Face," New Moon's second single, carries a Neil Young & Crazy Horse swagger indicative of the album's push toward pop. It launches with massive crashes and strums from the guitars of Greenberg and Chiericozzi, eventually breaking down into galloping classic rock that sounds like 1972, but somehow retains a youthful vibe. This is not to say the Men have completely changed. "Supermoon," the record's closer, is a sprawling, grimy collection of noise that builds to a nice punch to the mouth. They've still got one foot in the scratchy, dirty punk foundation into which they were born.

"It's so often that bands have to have a 'sound,' " says Chiericozzi. "We're not afraid to write one weird song that might be a lot different than the record before—or even the song before. All of it comes from the same place. That's what the Men are."

The one sound they're perfectly happy to play over and over, though, is Tom Petty, who's become the soundtrack of their tour van. Back at the Williamsburg bar, the members talk further of their Petty influence beyond New Moon. "Wait till you hear the next one," says Greenberg of the album's follow-up, which is already recorded but has yet to be named (hopefully it won't be Eclipse). Perhaps soon, they'll share a stage with their hero.

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