Possibly 4th Street: Menomena on a Rooftop in Brooklyn


Rob Trucks’s “Possibly 4th Street” expositions, in which he invites musicians to perform live and impromptu somewhere in New York City, run intermittently here at Sound of the City. We filmed this one last November, the night after Menomena headlined Webster Hall, before we knew this would ever exist. We should have taken Brent Knopf’s suggestion to play in the Fifth Avenue Apple Store glass elevator. Alas.

photos by Rob Trucks

Possibly 4th Street
Number 14 (Part One)

Portland, Oregon’s Menomena consists of three risible and resourceful guys who, against all rock and roll odds, are willing to meet at 10 a.m. on a Sunday following a Saturday night headlining Webster Hall. Danny Seim, quite probably the tallest percussionist in indie rock, is an accomplished screenprinter while Justin Harris, among other arts and crafts, excels at carpentry. Brent Knopf’s many strengths also depend on a sure and certain sense of precision. Call him composer, inventor and and/or den-mother (Brent’s the one who thinks meeting before noon is a good idea).

“I do a lot of the logistics work,” Brent says, “mostly because I’m kind of a neurotic person. I kind of like being able to plan ahead.”

While Brent and I search for the perfect “Possibly 4th Street” setting on this frosty Brooklyn morn, Danny and Justin, snuggly wrapped in heavy winter coats, attempt cat naps on a Prospect Park bench. But the mix appears to work. The trio divides the burdens of band business (Brent as tour manager, Danny as merch guy and Justin as van interior decorator), frequently switch off both instruments and vocals and, thanks to a Knopft-penned computer program called “the Deeler” (Digital Looping Recorder), share songwriting duties by passing around a microphone, one member at a time, to begin most compositional courses.

“Deeler keeps the process democratic,” Seim has said, “which is the only way we can operate.”

“I should clarify,” says Brent Knopf. “I mean, we need kind of a more subtle word because it’s definitely not majority rule. It’s not two against one, end of discussion. That’s not how it works. We make decisions and we take into account how strongly each one of us feels about something. A very common situation is to find one of us strongly for, another one of us strongly against and the third one of us completely indifferent.” Knopf laughs and, like staccato smoke rings, visible puffs of band leader breath escape into Prospect Park. “We have many impasses like that.”

But, Knopf admits, “the work flow does end up becoming split a third, a third, a third. It pretty much kind of emerges that way and I think it’s because it’s a band of equals. I think we all want to contribute as much as anyone else is contributing. Both in a good way and in a bad way we feel responsible.”

Possibly 4th Street
Number 14 (Part Two)

Brent Knopf, Justin Harris and Danny Seim, collectively known as Menomena.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A rooftop mere blocks from Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza.

What Menomena sounds like when they’re inside, at night, with the house lights down and the stage lights up:
A vaguely religious, slightly proggier, more experimental though still tuneful offering than their Northwest neighbors Death Cab for Cutie.

So it’s not surprising that . . .
“Geddy Lee” is the band’s top ranking MySpace friend.

Unlike, say, Vampire Weekend . . .
Brent Knopf is more comfortable hiding his Ivy League education (Dartmouth) under a bushel rather than allowing that particular light to shine.

Brent’s job on the rare occasions that Menomena isn’t touring:
“Well, I got fired. I got laid off. I got laid off from my waiting tables job for touring too much. You know, I wanted to come back after our tour and they were overstaffed and couldn’t take me back.”

Something Brent has never ever done:
“Smoke pot.”

Something he’s done once and one time only:
“Looked for a carousel on a very cold Sunday morning in Brooklyn.”

A book he’s read at least twice:
Ficciones by Juan Luis Borges.”

A movie he’s seen at least three times:

The first album Brent Knopf bought with his own money:
“Probably a Weird Al Yankovic album. It might’ve been Dare to Be Stupid.”

What album have you listened to more than any other in your life?
“If it’s not justified for proportion per year, if it’s actual quantity, probably Violator by Depeche Mode.”

Do you own a rake?

“Yeah. I own three rakes.”

Tell me something about “Rotten Hell.” That’s a Deeler-composed song, right?
“Yeah, that was a Deeler. Basically this is a case where two of us (Danny and Justin) took the Deeler session and began working on it independently without each other knowing, so Danny was arranging it at the same time Justin was arranging it so you have these two competing versions with different lyrics with different melodies. And then it was kind of an interesting process to try to meld those two together. So the first half of the song, I imagine you could say it was mostly arranged by Danny, and the second half of the song was mostly arranged by Justin. In advance you might think that wouldn’t work, that it wouldn’t work to take two different concepts, two different melodies and try to meld them together, but I think it works fine, so it’s one of those happy accidents.”