Tom May of The Menzingers Talks Joe Biden, Being Irish and Playing Pure Punk Rock

Categories: Interviews

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On the Impossible Past, Philadelphia quartet The Menzingers' new third effort, is a wail of an album. Angry, passionate and, best of all, literate, the songs resonate with the kind of pure punk spirit that made bands like Black Flag and The Misfits so important to the American indie scene.

Speaking from a tour stop in Alabama in anticipation of tonight's show at the Prophet Bar, singer/guitarist Tom May spoke about the ever-evolving nature of punk rock.

Before hitting Texas, you've done shows in Alabama and Arkansas. What do you think of the South?
We like it. Before those shows, we spent three days in North Carolina. What's funny is that there have been people from New Jersey at every show.

That's too bad.
Yeah, right. [Laughs]

You are originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, right?
Yes, we all met while going to school in Scranton, but we moved to Philadelphia a few years ago.

Isn't Joe Biden from Scranton?
Yes, that's where he is from. He grew up in the Green Ridge section of town.

Is that the hoity-toity section of town?
That would be the hoity-toity section of town.

Brett Gurewitz of Bad Religion said you guys play pure punk rock. What did he mean by that?
I don't know if you can really pigeonhole it. I guess it's just honest.

Then what punk bands do you think are dishonest?
Every once in a while, you get a wave of heavy music that seems to have a hugely commercial focus that is void of the true meaning of what it is trying to be. I am not calling any band out by name.

Would Green Day be considered dishonest?
No way. They created a whole new kind of thing. It's just theatrical. The entire production is a different game from what it was before. They are not trying to be salt of the earth type of stuff. They are trying to create a giant performance with lights and makeup and all that stuff. The older I get, the more I see that the lines between genres are not well defined, not that straight. People have all kinds of reasons for doing all kinds of things.

In the late '70s, punk was about anarchy and in the '80s and '90s, it became more about personal responsibility. What is punk about in 2012?
There's some leftover from all of those. It's still about personal responsibility, but now, I think it's also about community building. It's about creating an environment where everyone can feel safe.

The band's style is very anthemic, like a mixture of Springsteen and The Clash.
I think that's the greatest compliment anybody ever gave us. We get kind of nostalgic about our music. We hope people can relate to it like we do.

You sing with a bit of an Irish accent.
It's true that all of us are Irish or have some kind of Gaelic background. Since our town was a coal mining town, all kinds of immigrants came there, including people from Ireland. It's fourth generation by now.

There are some punk bands that simply produce noise. Do you take pride in being coherent?
Yes, there's always room for those bands as well. And it can depend on the energy of each show. We don't delve into that style too often, but we have a lot of friends in bands like that. It seems to be a raw, youthful type thing.

Why do you think some punk bands mutate into metal bands?
Probably because they just kept getting better at their instruments; they probably got too good to play punk.

The Menzingers perform with They Cried Apollo and Do Something Krazy tonight at the Prophet Bar.

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