Hard Yards

21 August 2012 | 2:15 am | Brent Balinski

"It’s all kind of been, ‘Oh man, why’d you put saggy tits on your cover’ or whatever. 'Are you thirteen?! Have you ever had a girlfriend? Are you even a person?' But yeah, that’s the story behind the picture.”

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This has been a massive year for The Menzingers. The Scranton (yes, the whitebread Pennsylvania city probably best known as the setting for the US version of The Office) folk/pop/punk foursome seem to be on the cusp of great things: their third long-player a sure thing for end-of-year Best Album of 2012 lists, tours with (and often putting in the shade) outfits they grew up listening to, and what seems like a move – finally – from becoming a bands' band to both a bands' band and a fans' band. And, of course, it's been a busy year, too. “We haven't had much time off. We went to Australia, we did Europe, a full headline tour in the US,” says Tom May, the Menzingers' guitarist/vocalist. “People seem to really like the album. The new songs go well live and there's tonnes of new fans coming out to see us play. It's so much fun, just the time of my life,” which is probably the most satisfied any young muso could sound when asked about life since releasing a new record.

The Menzingers got together a mere six years ago, forming around a disbanded third-wave ska band, the marvellously named Bob & The Sagets. In that time they've belted out three albums (their first was recorded when May was 19), a handful of EPs and toured incessantly. They've done some growing up and have had some time to reflect on it all, but more on that and the tone of their new album, On The Impossible Past, in a moment. “Since starting we spent all our time touring. We got better. We're able to buy new stuff. We definitely have more fun playing live,” May admits. “The other day we were laughing about when we first started touring – we were completely broke, wondering about where we would eat our next meal, that sort of thing. It was so much fun.

“The other day we went out to eat while we were on tour – not at a really fancy restaurant, but at a nice restaurant – and we said 'remember the last time we were in Florida and we were all in a van, sweating and dying?' Now a couple of years later and it's a really funny thing to think about.”

Looking back and contemplating is the major theme in ...Impossible Past, which the band has called an “accidental concept album” and which takes its name from a line in Lolita: “I was weeping again, drunk on the impossible past.” It's emotional, it's confessional and its stories are full of local references, personal story-telling and a vibe that's both youthful but sort of wise at the same time. Sadly, some of the focus on fan forums has been on the album cover, featuring a black and white photo by a local photographer which features – cue snickering – a woman's cleavage.

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After debating album cover ideas, they decided to go with an image by Mark Cohen, a photographer based in Pennsylvania who is best known for his street pictures. The snap the band agreed on is of an unknown woman with a hand on her chest in an expression of surprise, her wedding band in the near-dead-centre of the shot.

“He made a series called – well, I can't quite remember. It's all pictures of the Scranton area, and they're all grey, black and white, just people living in the area at the time.

“We chose that picture because [the lady] just looks shocked and the wedding ring is in the middle of the picture and it just seems like there's a whole story in the picture. She's shocked at having her picture taken and kind of fumbling and that's the vibe that we got. And yeah, there's cleavage on it too, which is funny, because we didn't really expect the internet, what people would say [to be so puerile] and it's all kind of been, 'Oh man, why'd you put saggy tits on your cover' or whatever. Are you thirteen?! Have you ever had a girlfriend? Are you even a person? But yeah, that's the story behind the picture.”

The current single, Nice Things, deals with the coveting of wealth and importance. The music video features the band as sleazy TV shopping channel hosts, spruiking their album, unspecified “nice things” and the feeling of personal safety. “I liked how it came out,” says May. “I wrote the chorus for Nice Things when Joe – our drummer- and I were working as door-to-door salesman in Philadelphia. We drove to the suburbs every day and walked up to people's houses and we were trying to sell them metal roofs – a high-end kinda improvement you can give your house. It's kind of a comment on the state of consumerism and materialism in the United States, how it feeds the soul and it doesn't feel right and will all come crashing down eventually.” At the same time, May and his bandmates aren't trying to sell some sort of grinning hippie, purely anti-consumerist message. “Eating Ramen noodles every day gets fucking old after a while. And in my early twenties I thought I'd been piss poor for that many years and it's not much fun and I wouldn't mind having a nice computer and stuff like that. So it's kind of trying to come to a balance between those things. Anyway, the video was a lot of fun. It was shot by Andrew Seward from Against Me! It was his idea. We were in Gainesville for a day, so he shot it over that day period and we played a show that night.”

The Menzingers were here earlier in the year for the Soundwave festivals and a few rushed Sidewave shows, but are looking forward to taking their time and playing non-arena venues, to which the band is best suited. “The tour went really well. It's a running joke when we're on tour nowadays and anything kind of sucks, it's just like 'remember Australia?' This time we're expecting it to be a little more subdued, because it's just club shows, it's not festival shows with that more fast-paced environment and we'll get to actually hang out in the cities we're playing. It's gonna be amazing.”