The squabbling, infighting rock band has almost become a cliché—partially because it gets online clicks and partially because it’s true. The trials, tribulations, and tension of long tours on the road can become legendary, in some cases helping define the band and artists themselves. But once in a blue moon, a band comes along that not only makes amazing music, but genuinely like each other, and do normal stuff when they’re not playing or writing music together.
One of these bands is The Menzingers. Surprising because of how much they tour, but not surprising because that affection and chemistry is everywhere—in the music, on stage, and in this interview.
“Most people are kind of surprised at how close we are. They’re like, ‘Wait, what? You go on tour all the time and when you come home you still hang out?’” says Menzingers co-vocalist and guitarist Greg Barnett from his South Philly home, where he is within walking distance of the three bandmates he’s been playing with for 15 years. “But yeah, we all live in South Philly, and I love it.”
But even more importantly, what this dynamic shows us is that despite living in the same immediate area, Barnett still had the freedom and space, as well as the full support of his bandmates, to write and record a very impressive debut solo record, Don’t Go Throwing Roses in My Grave, coming out on February 18 via Epitaph Records. (And when I say full support, it’s not an exaggeration: Menzingers’ Eric Keen was on bass, Joe Godino was on percussion, and Tom May took the record’s cover photo).
Pensive and rousing, Don’t Go Throwing Roses in My Grave is also emotional and sometimes-haunting, 10 vignettes from the mind of a talented singer-songwriter who had a rough year and wanted to remind himself that he needs to pause and appreciate life once in a while.
“It’s kind of a heavy record, and right when I wrote the (album and song title), I thought it really summed up all of the lyrical content on the album of just appreciating life in the moment,” he explains. “I feel like I’m always looking towards the future or backwards at the past.”
He pauses for a second.
“Don’t celebrate things when they’re gone, let’s celebrate now,” he adds. “Having a year off in the pandemic just really drove that home… not being able to travel and see my family and friends. I realized how quickly I rushed through things, and I don’t always enjoy things as I should sometimes. I just wanted it to be a celebration of life, really.”
While the songs are big and full of life, this isn’t the punk album some Menzingers fans might expect. Leaning in to more of an Americana vibe and sound, Barnett looked to different wells of inspiration for this record.
“I’ve always loved the singer-songwriter style of music and definitely things that verge on the edge of dark tones,” he admits. “I love Tom Waits, and during the pandemic, I was listening to a lot of Nick Cave and stuff like that. I’ve always really written story-telling type songs, and I wanted to write music that reflects that storytelling vibe a bit. Yeah, I definitely grew up loving this style of music, loving dark themes in songs, and I wanted to take this time to explore that.”
As 2021 comes to an end, Barnett looks forward to playing these new songs live, as well as working on a new Menzingers record.
“Yeah, we are in the very, very early phases of writing an album,” he says. “We’re looking to record it in 2022, but it’s been crazy because we haven’t had any time off from touring to focus. But now, this winter, we’re really going to dive into it. We’ve been bouncing ideas off each other and compiling stuff and are in the very early phase of putting an album together. Yeah, it’s awesome, and it’s exciting, and it’s my favorite part of the band getting together to write music. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Watch the video for “Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave” here:
Photo courtesy of Gregor Barnett and Tom May