On their latest album, New Moon, Brooklyn’s The Men made a move toward a sound that recalls Neil Young more so than whatever “pig fuck” is. It’s a second consecutive release that appears to leave any feelings of nostalgia or general interest in re-visiting their previous effort mostly by the wayside. Despite an insistence over never attempting to make any type of music, to record, the quintet made a seemingly specific sojourn to the earthy Catskills region in upstate New York, armed with folk staples like harmonicas and a mandolin.
Although some fans are sure to be left behind, new ones will be found and the success of each subsequent record is a testament to the Men’s versatile songwriting abilities at a prolific pace. On the day of its release, we spoke with singer/guitarist and original member Nick Chiericozzi about New Moon, what went down up in those mountains and where constantly re-inventing yourself eventually leads.
Your fourth album in four years comes out today. How does that feel?
It feels good! We recorded it a long time ago so it seems like a lot of time has passed. I started listening to it a couple weeks ago because I hadn’t in a long time.
For the New Moon, you guys headed up to the Catskills to record. What was that experience like?
It was pretty cool. We found a place through someone Ben knew up there and rented it for 2 weeks. We only went up there with some rough outlines of songs. I think there were only 3-4 songs that we had been playing throughout last year that we knew were going to be on the next record and that was the starting off point. It was a lot of hanging out and living together, which we do a lot of anyway, but it was cool to be there in a house instead of a small van. Everyone was able to relax.
We’d usually work a few hours during the day then we’d take a break and work another 5-6 hours, a lot of times going until 2 AM. Get up early, make coffee, start listening to the last night’s songs or go into some new stuff. We’re sort of a 2-3 take band at the most. A few of those songs were done in one take. Two of them, at least. It was nice to be able to stretch out but didn’t want to get too self-indulgent so that’s why we kept it to a two-week timeline.
So which came first, the Catskills or the folksier songs?
That’s a good question [laughs]. Those songs have been brewing somewhere for a few months before. The first song wouldn’t have existed if we weren’t in that place at that time. It was a product of that house and those two weeks up there. But the idea to play acoustic instruments while playing a kicking beat was a goal going into recording. We don’t really plan out too much before we go in. But there’s always a couple ideas we have and that was one of them; to have an acoustic guitar playing along to a kicking 4/4 beat. In terms of “folksy” or “country”, or whatever you want to call it, that’s been around but now we were just able to write those songs and we were able to relax and get into that vibe.
You also recorded an accompanying 6-track EP up there called Campfire Songs you’ll be giving away on tour. Where did those songs come from?
All of them, except one, were recorded outside at the fire pit next to the house [in the Catskills]. We ran two ribbon mics out there and ran, like, 50 feet of cable out from the engineer room and recorded. It’s really stripped down with us just playing a few acoustic guitars, shakers, a snare, etc. I really like the space of it because you can tell we’re outside.
Would you say the positive reception of those types of songs on Open Your Heart solidified your confidence moving forward with that sound on New Moon?
It was cool to hear people liked the song “Candy”. It was called that because it was a piece of sweetness. It’s not a comment on the lyrics or anything but more how it was placed on the record. We just wanted to make a new record. We didn’t want to make one that resembled Open Your Heart other than having our sound with different instruments that’s hopefully pretty original and familiar at the same time.
It seems like that attitude has been pretty consistent with each of your records having an eye on always doing something different. So, should we expect that to eventually lead to a hip-hop album or what?
I wouldn’t count us out for that [laughs]. It’s kind of like reggae music. I love reggae and that vibe and sound. But at the same time I know when not to do something, you don’t want to go too far out there because you can’t really come back from that.
Has it been a conscious decision on your part to release an album every year in the spring?
I guess it just kind of happens as a result of the ways we’ve always worked, even before Mark and I had The Men. We always had a lot of output and even more songs that never make it to the albums. I guess we’re just hungry. I don’t know if we’re chasing a spirit more so than chasing any success but I think the moderate success we’ve had has been great, to be able to tour the world and travel. It feels right right now, to keep recording and coming up with ideas and if it ever doesn’t we’ll stop.
Speaking of that success, you guys are headlining a sold out bill at Bowery Ballroom on Thursday. That’s got to feel pretty good, right?
Yeah, I remember going there in the early 2000s for the first time and thinking, “Wow this is a big room. That stage is huge!” I’ve always liked the sound there so it feels good as a celebration of this record and kicking off a couple months of shows.
Do you still feel like a part of the independent Brooklyn scene or has it become harder as you grow?
I’m aware of a lot of bands for sure. We’re gone a lot so New York occupies a different place in my life. I’m not in the city every day like I was, where as before there was probably a year where I never left. I feel a little bit a part of the general community but I think one thing that happens when you travel and play outside the city is that your community grows and expands. But everyone we’re hanging with is into being independent; it’s the sort of people we generally associate with. I think independence is just about honesty and integrity for you.
On the new record, you have some harmonica, electric piano, mandolin…did you have it in mind going that those were some instruments you wanted to incorporate?
Yeah, I’ve played mandolin for maybe 10 years. I’m not that good at it, but it fit the part. I brought all the instruments I had: harmonicas, shakers, delay pedals. We wanted to use instruments that we liked but hadn’t used before.
As much as we want to talk about the changes, there's still plenty of loud and aggressive tracks. Is that a discussion you have to have to keep those types of songs included?
I think it’s just natural. The way the record is sequenced has more of an acoustic base the first side and more of an electric, literally and physically, second side. The only discussion we ever have is about the songs and their flow on the record. If we write one that’s more chill we don’t think “Oh, now we have to write a rocker”. Sometimes I do [laughs]. Not as a band, but in my head. You can’t really control how that inspiration comes, it just happens. Then you take it to the guys, they do something with it and 100% of the time you find out if it’s worth a damn or not.
Songwriting has always been a split duty for The Men. Has that balance remained in tact over the years?
If the songs are sounding good and they fit well amongst the other songs then they make it on to the record. There’s not much ego there it really just depends on what’s sounding the best. Me, Ben and Mark all write songs. Our newest member Kevin actually writes really cool songs but he hasn’t done one for The Men yet.
In the past, you’ve cited that the melodies generally come first and the lyrics follow and capture however you’re feeling in the moment. Are there any themes occurring on New Moon?
There seems to be. My friend Kyle, who played brass on the first side and helped engineer the record, observed that we sort of went in the route of redemption and a journey aspect. Journey like traveling though, not the band [laughs]. But I can see a lot of that stuff in there.
With all the new instruments incorporated, how do you plan to pull it off live?
To me, the records are about experimentation and doing what you want. Then live, you kind of bring it more and turn it up louder. One of the things we’re trying to do on these next couple tours though is to have some quieter moments amongst some really heavy psychedelic passes. For us, as far as instruments, we have limitations on what we can bring but Mark is going to be playing piano on this tour, which will be a new element.
What would you like to see added to your Wikipedia page?
Maybe some good personal life rumors but really just another record, to be honest.
Have you guys ever considered playing a show with JD Samson’s MEN?
[Laughs] We sort of crossed paths for awhile and actually asked her to play a show because of some weird incident that happened. She was in contact saying, “Hey, I know you guys are the Men, I’m playing under MEN, it’s kinda weird” and was chill about it but we never heard back. I think Le Tigre is pretty cool and thought it would be funny to play together but it didn’t work out.
Do you enjoy, at this point, getting to reflect on the album now that it’s out or do you feel the urge to keep going and move on to the next one?
Like I said, I’ve been listening lately because it was coming out but I’m not looking back on it with too much nostalgia. Some people are going to love it and some people are going to hate it, which I think is pretty cool. It wasn’t our intention to create a division or anything but I’m proud of it.