Jimmy Menkena: "I Thought The Beatles Wrote Every Single Kind Of Music."
We praised Menkena when their debut album, With You I'll Travel, came out last year. But the lineup has changed since then, and now features prominent members of The Polyphonic Spree, The Demigs and The Felons. In advance of their free show at The Foundry on Saturday with Fort Worth's The Cush, we asked about their first musical obsessions, when they played together for the first time, and what to expect with the band's next album.
What was the first instrument you learned to play?
David Hickmott (guitar): Cello. I was in third grade. It was electric though.
Mark Pirro (bass): Drums. My dad was a drum teacher. I concocted this plan to get his drum set out of my grandmother's attic. I wanted to play drums in the grade school band and he said he'd give me drum lessons if I was serious about it. I said I was serious, so he brought me home a drum pad. That's all I ever got. I was like, "Damn Dad, can't you just get me the drum set?" But he was like, "No, you have to earn it." It was like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. He was making me play traditional and I just wanted to rock out.
Jimmy Menkena (vocals, guitar): When I was growing up, my dad was a bass player so I remember when I was five or six years old, I'd go see him play. I always wanted that sound of that distorted guitar, but at the time, I thought the bass did that. Just because it was big and heavy. So then I plugged my dad's bass in when I was nine and it didn't have the sounds that I thought it would. I said, "Hey Dad, what's that sound?" I can't remember which Beatles record it was. He's like, "Oh, that's a guitar." I was like, "Oh yeah, that's what I want to play." I used to clean my grandfather's store for ten dollars a week. He had a television/VCR repair business, so I worked there every weekend, saved up $300 and bought a Fender Japanese Strat. I didn't even touch an acoustic guitar until the InDK days. I had to sell all my guitar equipment because I was poor and living on the street. I had a beat-up acoustic guitar that one of my friends gave me. That was all I had to write with, so I kept using that and put all these pedals into the acoustic.
Guyton Sanders (drums): I started out on piano. About two years later, the drum genes started kicking in and I've been playing ever since I was eight years old.
Who was the first band you were obsessed with? Mr. Hickmott, don't be shy. It's OK if it's Dashboard Confessional.
Hickmott: No, it's even worse: Poison. I fuckin' loved Poison. I wanted to be C.C. DeVille. I thought they were the shit. I was seven, what are you going to do?
Pirro: I was kind of into the hair metal bands growing up, but it was The Sex Pistols that I saw on the back of a kid's jacket at school. I had heard the name - you always heard stories about how the bass player killed his girlfriend and all this. I went, got the tape of Never Mind the Bollocks, and I swear, that thing changed my life. It made me realize there was a whole other thing going on in music outside of the world I was being fed with MTV and with friends at school. You listen to that record now, it just sounds like a rock band. At the time it was released, it was so off the beaten path. I thought it was strange that it was a band that existed and broke up ten years before I discovered it.
Menkena: Without a doubt, The Beatles. There was this point in my life when I was five or six, I thought The Beatles wrote every single kind of music. Say I was in the car with my mom and dad, and a random song came on. I'd ask, "Who wrote this, John or Paul?" They'd say, "What do you mean? This is Boston." I'm like, "What do you mean?" So my dad had to sit me down and say, "This is the Stones; different band. Here's Fleetwood Mac. This is Queen. Different band, different songs, different people." After The Beatles, it was Queen, The Clash, and Ministry. When I heard Land of Rape and Honey and The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, I was like, "Oh my God." It was punk rock, but it was different.
Sanders: I started out with The Beatles when I was real young. My dad would play a little bit of The Beatles or John Coltrane and stuff like that. The bands that could say I was mainly influenced by were My Bloody Valentine and Ride.
David, you're the most recent member to join the band, correct?
Hickmott: I am.
How would you guys describe how this lineup first played together live?
Hickmott: It was fantastic. We played at the Granada. I never got to play the Granada.
Was this the Concrete Blonde show?
Hickmott: It was with Burning Hotels.
Menkena: The Concrete Blonde show was with Eric Martin. There have been many incarnations of this project once the old lineup left. From the very beginning, it was either one thing or another. I just couldn't give it up. There was every reason in the world for me to say, "You know what? Fuck this, I'm just going to write records and I'm going to record them and I'm not going to worry about all this shit." But I never did that; I always had a band. When I was in New York, everybody that was in bands was in one band. Like, when you went to see InDK, it was always those guys. When I moved down to Texas, there was a whole different dynamic of musicians.
Hickmott: The first practice I had with Menkena fuckin' sucked for me. My amp was a piece of shit, but the next practice, I felt the chemistry was there and things were going to go well. While things are always evolving and I'm always learning more, I still have a lot to learn. I am a one-band kind of guy.
For as long as I've known you, you've been Dave from The Felons, with various lineups and that's it.
Hickmott: But, with the year I had last year, I was like, "OK, enough of that fuckin' band." At one point last year in July, I was driving down I-30. I was just about in Fair Park and I was thinking about whether or not I should continue being a musician. I thought, "Well, what's the best case scenario? If you could join any band and play with anybody." My thought was Menkena. A little after Thanksgiving, I saw the status update by Jimmy, so I texted him. It worked out, thankfully.
Since this is not y'all's first band, Dave and Mark have experienced the tragedy of losing a band member in the past, seeing the ups and downs. You don't overlook any of the triumphs you've had so far. Is that a safe assumption?
Pirro: I think it's too easy to take things for granted in general, with the lifestyle we live in America. When you hear about how we live versus the rest of the world lives, it's too easy to take it for granted. But having some of that perspective, you have to remind yourself to stay focused on the positives. We do that with this band a lot. If we're doing something that's not an ideal situation, we think about what we're going to get out of it that's a bonus.
Menkena: It's great because Mark came into the band and he's kind of like the band mediator. Sometimes I get a little neurotic, but Mark is always saying, "Hey man, look at it this way. Since I've been in this band, everything has moved forward, and it's all of us." Like, there are many internal things that have moved the band to the next level and that's what we're all focused on.
Pirro: Some of the things that Jimmy's gone through with different lineups of the band can be a point of frustration with somebody. When I got in the band, I made it my goal to remain positive no matter what. So we had to get another guitar player because Eric Martin couldn't do it anymore. That seemed like a setback. But it was, one door's closing, another's opening.
Speaking of taking things to the next level, what's the word on the first record with this lineup? Any plans on recording this year?
Menkena: Yeah! We're in the process right now of getting our own personalized studio. And for the first time, this band is going to be writing together, all of us. Here's the thing. Every single guy in this band, is a front guy. Everybody's a songwriter. Everybody in this band has amazing songwriting capabilities and they've proved it over and over again with their other bands. For the first time in my life, in the 20 years that I've been doing stuff, I'm in a band with all front guys. I could look at it like it's intimidating, but it's a fuckin' challenge. It's great. We're looking forward to seeing what process we're going to go for with this next record. I don't know what's going to happen. We're going to figure out a flow. I want to take advantage of all the talent. This is what I always say: if you have five minds creating one feeling, it's going to be a lot better than one mind creating one feeling.