You’d expect a band with a name as un-Googleable and as blankly resigned as The Men to be a little stand-offish, if not just completely jaded. After all, the Brooklyn-based four-piece have been at it for roughly five years, only one of which found them getting some recognition outside of New York. The record responsible for the elevated profile was last year’s Leave Home, a ripping, visceral slab of deafening post-punk and thrash that found them on a whole slew of year-end lists (Home came in at No. 57 on the Voice’s 2011 Pazz and Jop critic’s poll). It was a record so passionate and unforgiving it was hard not to immediately love, but calling it “inviting” would be something of a stretch. So it’s weird that The Men’s new album, Open Your Heart (out March 6 on Sacred Bones), is borderline welcoming, a no-bullshit rock record that trades in the guttural punch of its predecessor for patches of Americana, psych and straightforward guitar pop while retaining the grit that included The Men at the front of a pack of bands reviving all things sonically pernicious in New York. Stranger still is how truly affable The Men themselves come off. “If you wanna come with us, you’re welcome and embraced, but if not, that’s okay too, yo,” guitarist and vocalist Mark Perro told Sound of the City. We talked to Perro and fellow guitarist/vocalist Nick Chiericozzi about influences, expectations and the new record.
So, Open Your Heart. I can honestly say that I think a lot of people who liked Leave Home are going to be genuinely surprised by this record.
Nick Chiericozzi: Yeah, I mean, that’s okay. But, I mean, it wasn’t our intention. I don’t know what to say to those people. “I’m sorry,” maybe? [Laughs] We weren’t trying to surprise anyone, we were trying to do our thing.
So there wasn’t any kind of conscious decision to move away from a more aggressive sound and replace it with something more straightforward?
Chiericozzi: I don’t think there was a conscious decision to move away, I think we had different ideas. I think we had some new ideas and some different things we were trying to accomplish and new sounds we were trying to accomplish. We weren’t trying to make another Leave Home, that’s for sure.
Last year, I think there were a lot of people that looked up to your band for bringing really loud, aggressive music back into the spotlight, especially in New York. So this record is in no way a reaction to being sort of pigeonholed in a way?
Chiericozzi: I don’t think so. I think our only goal was to make a new record, and not repeat ourselves. I think that was the main thing. Whether it’s aggressive or not didn’t really come out, it didn’t really come into the studio. It just happened. Those were the songs we had at the time. I think that at a certain point, when you’re recording, you want to move past what you’ve done. And I think with this record, after Leave Home—it’s not a rejection of Leave Home, it’s just not wanting to repeat ourselves. Sort of like I am now. [Laughs]
Mark Perro: I mean, Leave Home was a very real, true thing. That was a real, true thing and this is a real, true thing, too. Come to see us, we’re still fuckin’ pretty loud, you know. We’re a loud band, that hasn’t changed, but you gotta move on, progress and keep nurturing some of those new ideas. And some of those new ideas, by their nature, are different. We can’t cater to expectations, that’s boring. And end up being disappointed in yourself as a musician. You gotta move forward.
Another New York band, Liturgy, seems to be always catching shit for purposely toying with people’s concept of genre or what can be done inside that box. Do you worry that you’ll face similar scrutiny?
Perro: I’m not worried. I don’t want to speak for everybody, but I don’t think we’re worried. I mean, people can think what they’re gonna think. If people are upset that it’s not the exact same record as Leave Home then—not to be harsh—but sorry, see ya later. Enjoy Leave Home, it’s still there. You can listen to it as much as you want, but we’re doing what makes us happy, what we see as a good record. If you wanna come with us, you’re welcome and embraced, but if not, that’s okay too, yo. We’re not trying to like, toy with people’s ideas or fuck with people’s expectations. We’re just trying to do what’s real to us. What happens from there is what happens.
One of the things that jumped out at me about Open Your Heart is that there are a lot of strong Americana influences. Where did that stem from?
Chiericozzi: I guess, to be honest, in terms of Mark and I—and I guess [drummer] Rich [Samis] too—those influences have always been there, but they’ve never been able to manifest themselves into songs that are done. A complete song. I think we’ve always toyed around with and experimented with those kinds of sounds for four years or so. Five years. We’ve just been able to add subtlety and pull from a wide variety of influences, and have been able to form it into a song that might sound like Creedence Clearwater Revival or whatever. So it’s just a product of something that’s been there for a long time, and I just think that we’re better songwriters at this point, and we were able to put it together better.
As a band, do you guys listen to a lot of the same stuff? Were there any, say, roots rock or psychedelic records that helped forge some of the new material?
Perro: Yeah, man. I think we all—I mean, we spend a lot of time together, and you know, somebody gets into something, and very quickly it travels amongst everyone in the band. And then all of a sudden everyone’s into it. That definitely has always happened in the history of our band, kind of gotten into the same thing around the same time and been into the same bands and the same records at the same time. Like Nick was saying, that stuff was always there and it’s nothing that new, but there definitely was some stuff that we were really into. I mean, John Fahey for one, and Gram Parsons, a lot of those guys. Those phases were definitely pretty strong when these songs were being written… you know, I guess that was a big part of it, you know, the Stones, Big Star, a lot of that kind of stuff was definitely being listened to. Maybe that did have some sort of impact. I don’t know.
This is a pretty relatable album; it kind of paints the picture of a band that you’d want to grab a couple beers with. Would you consider yourselves to be an approachable band?
Perro: No. [Both laugh] Don’t come talk to us at a show. No, I think we’re pretty approachable. You wanna come talk to us, we’re here; you wanna grab a beer, we’re down. I think we try and be nice guys.
Your lineup has shifted around since Leave Home—you replaced [bassist] Chris Hansell. What happened there?
Perro: [Pause] Well, I mean, I don’t know how specific we want to get into it, but it basically comes down to just going in different directions, I think. It happens all the time in bands, and things work out and things don’t work out. You know, touring together for a long time is a very hard, taxing thing. You get to see sides of people, or of yourself, that most people don’t get to see, and relationships get strained in ways that most relationships don’t. It’s just a casualty of all that nonsense. But, you know, it’s one of those things where it all works out in the end, and everything’s okay.
Do you see yourselves as a band that will take a little bit of a new direction or a detour with every record that comes down the line? Is that a goal, to cast a wide net?
Chiericozzi: I don’t think it’s as conscious as that. I think we tend to write how we feel at the time, and I think that, in my life, at least, I haven’t felt the same way everyday. But I do think we have a sound though, that aggressiveness—if you strip away the guitar parts—there’s still a consistency, it’s still us. It’s not like we’re wearing a mask in the studio. But at the same time, you do want to develop something new and not write the same song. Hopefully your life and your experiences are always different, so when the songs come out at a different time, it’s going to be different whether you like it or not. But it’s still you. You can’t change who you are like that.
So the label you’re on, Sacred Bones, has steadily grown to be one of the more reliable independent labels. How do you guys feel like you fit in over there? What do you think you bring to a roster that seems to be ever diversifying as time goes on?
Chiericozzi: The personal side of it is great, [label founder] Caleb [Braaten] and [partner] Taylor [Brode] and everybody over there are really cool and we’re good friends. I think that’s more of Sacred Bones to answer, in terms of how they’re curating their label. I’m not really sure how we fit in because I haven’t even heard all the records. They put out a lot of stuff. But what I kind of like about it, as you were saying, the variety on that label is pretty strong. They shell out a lot of stuff that’s all over the place, in a good way.
Maybe a better question would be if there are bands, inside or outside of New York, past or present, that you feel a certain kinship with?
Perro: I think just bands that we’ve played with and are friends with and have toured with. Milk Music in Olympia is one of them. Sex Church in Vancouver. American Snakeskin in Florida. And there are plenty of bands in New York that we’re friends with and play with all the time. I could rattle off a list of 20 or so. But yeah, there’s plenty of bands. And that’s part of it: Being with bands and making connections with other bands and making friends.
You’re obviously touring a whole bunch to support Open Your Heart, including a whole bunch of SXSW dates, which seems kind of brutal. Are you dreading that?
Perro: No, we’re not dreading it. I think we’re laying much lower than most bands do. We’re only playing four or five shows while we’re down there, which sounds like a lot. But the thing is, you get offered 40. I know a lot of bands try and play three, four shows a day. We’re not doing that. We don’t wanna be stressed out and deal with all that kind of industry crap. We’re playing our label’s show and WFMU’s show, which is one of our favorite stations. We’re doing a couple things down there and we’re just going to try and mellow out and enjoy ourselves a little while we’re there. I’m not dreading it. I think it’ll be fun.
The Men play 285 Kent with American Snake Skin, Nude Beach and Organs on March 7.