Menomena | Parallel or Together

Menomena will take the stage at the Luminary Center for the Arts on Monday, October 11. Before the show, I got to talk with multi-instrumentalist Justin Harris.

Menomena’s third album, Mines, is a cartoonish, random yet intricate portrayal of something only halfway real. The album’s sound and the accompanying artwork are perfectly in sync. Together, they conjure a picture full of rabbits, evil men dressed in black, tiny beds illuminated by the headlights of an old truck—all in the middle of the woods in a land of freakish occurrences. Menomena will take the stage at the Luminary Center for the Arts on Monday, October 11. Before the show, I got to talk with multi-instrumentalist Justin Harris about recording, touring and being in a band that has no lead singer.

 Mines came out at the end of July. How does it feel to take such a labor-intensive project in front of a live audience?
Bittersweet. It’s good to be done with it and start playing these songs. . . You kind of get to this point where you get out of the realm of, “Oh, god, I hope I don’t screw this part up,” to actually being able to enjoy playing them live. It’s been good, long story short, but also exhausting.
You guys are a collective, but you seem to work separately a lot during recording. How does this help the creative process? Do you think that it hinders it in any way?
Yeah, I think it probably does both. First, it’s all we know; we haven’t really done it any other way since our inception 10 years ago. But we get to the end of the recording process and just think, “God, there has to be an easier way.” I think the fact that we all work separately for a good majority of the time just leads to a way of collaborating that’s delayed. We’re inevitably going to be working on each other’s music, so I do think if we did it from the start we may avoid certain flow issues. But ultimately, we don’t know any other way in this band.
It must be fascinating to play songs live, because you’re hardly in that setting unless you’re touring.
The songs take on a different form after we’ve played them live. With our first album, we’d been playing those songs live for a year and a half before we decided to record them. So that was a lot different. . . , in that [the songs] morphed into what the ultimate final recording would be, as compared to Friend and Foe and this most recent album. [Now,] we just record as we write and worry about playing it later.
Despite its spastic tone, Mines is an extremely cohesive piece of work, both lyrically and in its overall sound. Is that coincidental, or did the band set out to make a themed album?
I guess it’s coincidental. It’s kind of funny about our last record and [Mines]—at the end of them, listening to all the songs in the right sequence, we were surprised by how we could draw a lot of parallels and lines between them. When we write, we don’t talk about lyrics. That’s probably the most secretive part about this process with each other. All the songs are about very different things, pretty dramatically, but you can certainly draw lines between all of them, I think.
Even with no chief songwriter, there’s still conflict within the band. Can that be attributed to strong, conflicting personalities or stark musical differences?
We are three very different personalities. Musically, we more or less line up in the ways that matter, but we do have vastly different tastes in a lot of ways as well. I think that’s only helped us over the years because there’s things that Danny [Seim] and Brent [Knopf] do to songs that I’m working on that I’d never do, and I think that’s what makes them better, or at least more interesting. I think we all add to each other’s music in a way that wouldn’t otherwise happen.
What are some of your biggest influences musically?
I’m a fan of classic rock. My go-to staples are the Led Zeppelins, the Bowies, the T-Rexes of the world. As far as contemporary stuff, I don’t know. There’s so much I don’tlike out there these days. In the spring, we’re co-headlining with The Walkmen, which I’m super excited about because they’ve been one of my favorite contemporary bands, although I don’t know how much of an influence they are to me personally. We get compared to TV on the Radio, and while I wouldn’t say they’re a direct influence, they’re certainly another one of my favorite contemporaries. We often get compared to them because of certain vocal aspects. But…I also don’t listen to a lot of music, especially during the recording process—not consciously, but it’s something I just don’t gravitate toward. I did recently discover my love for INXS. It was on repeat for a while, actually. That, and Crowded House. I don’t know why I was drawn to the Australian bands [laughs]. For some reason they started making a frequent appearance.
Despite the well-publicized conflicts during the recording of Mines, it comes off as a well thought out and carefully orchestrated work. Do you think the band as a whole has hit its desired stride with the album?
I’m really happy with it. It’s interesting to listen to it months after the completion, because I’ve always looked at our records as a whole right when they’re finished as this sort of giant cluster fuck. It seems like all these parts are out of left field, and so many songs are so different from one another. It’s really hard to see the forest through the trees. It’s nice to be removed from it for six months and look at it more objectively. I can now see how it all fits together and plays out as a whole.
Could you start recording another one tomorrow?
We are excited to get back to recording as soon as possible. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot on this tour, trying not to wait as long between albums and keeping the momentum going. For us, that’s one of the more negative aspects of releasing an album three years after the last. We spent so much time touring and promoting an album, and to have everything lose steam just based on an extra year is kind of unfortunate . . . . We’re going to try and hopefully come out with our next one a lot sooner, but also with the same quality. | Justin Curia
Menomena and Tu Fawning will be at the Luminary Center for the Arts on October 11. Doors open at 7pm, and the show is at 8pm. Tickets are $12-$14.
 

 

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