The Brooklyn rock band The Men have a new album — but they’re not ready to discuss details just yet. “I don’t want to talk too much about that, because we still have two records out,” says Ben Greenberg, the band’s bassist, laughing gently.
The Men emerged on the radar of independent music fans in 2011, with their album Leave Home, a furious hurricane of thrashing guitar that jump-started conversations about the return of muscular rock n’ roll. But resting within all that noise, was a firm sense of direction, the idea, always, that the band knew what they were doing and how they were going to go about doing it. The Men were and are fiercely collective, a fact which accounts for the unity of their sound, and also explains their discipline in all other facets of industry life.
“Most bands these days tend to be one person’s ideas and the musicians they decide will play with them,” says Greenberg. “We all grew up checking out bands that were bands, that weren’t just a front-person and backing band. Bands that were a hive mind.”
Leave Home garnered The Men a wave of enthusiastic press, much of it from journalists who saw the record as the reincarnation of a kind of take-no-prisoners rock ‘n’ roll. But the band has firmly refused to even flirt with the idea of being pinned down. In an interview with Mother Jones, Rich Samis, objected to the idea that a band should embrace a single category of sound, citing comparisons to bands like Sonic Youth and The Replacements as particularly irksome.
Hand-wringing about being put in a box is par for the course for many bands. But The Men have walked the walk since Leave Home, adding an unpredictable combination of classic Southern rock, country, and krautrock to their repertoire. Their 2013 projects, New Moon and Campfire Songs, harness all those sounds to a rustic sensibility which harnesses the band’s penchant for chaos, bringing an order to the ideas that they’ve incorporated over the last three years.
“I think that there is a core sound that has stayed there from the very first record,” Greenberg says. “It’s just a feeling and an energy. Even as the records certainly sound very different, there’s a pervasive spirit there for sure. I don’t really know what to call it; it’s just a feeling I get when I listen to it.”
Though Greenberg, as a producer, had been one of the architects of the The Men’s sound since before Leave Home, his position in the band changed last year, when the raw, charismatic bassist Chris Hansell left, telling the Voice that he was kicked out when he couldn’t afford to go on tour, (a subject the band studiously avoids in interviews). After Hansell’s departure, Greenberg took his place as a bassist, and also became one of the lead vocalists and songwriters on this year’s records, both of which were recorded in the Catskills, as the reconstituted band worked to shape their sound.
Campfire Songs, in particular, is indicative of the benefits of those sessions. Though it was originally being given away for free during their winter tour, it was officially released as an EP last month on the band’s label, Sacred Bones. The songs on Campfire capture the evenings that The Men spent in the mountains, the reflective periods after the heavier, electric work of the day. It doesn’t consist of much more than four acoustic guitars, a tom, a shaker, a cymbal, and a couple of microphones.
The EP is more peaceful than anything the band has done in the past (though it’s not without its face-ripping moments, as on the ferocious opening minutes of “Patience”), but the band’s live show has not softened. Fans still leave grinning happily, sporting tinnitus and talking of bleeding ears as if they were purple hearts.
“Its important to us to do a live show that feels strong, that feels really powerful,” Greenberg says.
Even as the band prepare to put the 2013 albums to bed with a final spate of shows, it’s clear that they’ve shifted their focus over to the next album. In several interviews, including one with the Chicago Tribune, band members have been champing at the bit to talk about their new focus.
“Now that it’s been eight months or something since [New Moon] came out, we have a little bit of retrospect,” Greenberg says. “It kind of does seem like New Moon was a very transitional record for us as a band. And the next record….well, there was a lot more rehearsal that went into it.”
The Men perform at Music Hall of Williamsburg Tuesday night with Purling Hiss and Pampers.