Photo by Ben Moon
Read it in context at pitchfork.com.
It’s been more than three years since the Portland indie trio Menomena released their last album, the BNM’ed Friend and Foe. Since then, the band’s members have kept busy with various side projects (Lackthereof, Ramona Falls, Faux Hoax), but those extracurricular activities aren’t all that’s kept them from releasing the follow-up. When Pitchfork checked in with Menomena last year, they said that it took them a while to get on the same page to write the songs.
But now album number four, Mines, is done. Barsuk will release it in North America on July 27, and Europe will get it one day earlier via City Slang. They also released the non-album track “Pilgrim’s Progress” on a split Record Store Day 7″ with the Helio Sequence.
We spoke with with multi-instrumentalist Justin Harris to learn Menomena finally came together to record Mines.
Pitchfork: When I talked to you last year, you said that it was taking a while to get the songwriting process going. Did that end up taking a long time?
Justin Harris: Yeah. I think more than anything, it just took a long time to get the three of us on the same page at the same time. Events over the year and our personal lives kept delaying the process. But ultimately, I look at it as refinement after refinement, and the end result is what we have.
Pitchfork: Did you go through multiple versions of these songs during the writing process?
JH: Yeah. Typically on our albums, each song goes through a number of permutations based on just what each one of us might do to it, and then what each one of us might change back. I wouldn’t say any of the versions were drastically different than what they ending up being, but yeah, there’s definitely that process: one of us finishing something, being really excited about it, and handing it off to the others. Then the others want to change stuff, and we inevitably have to talk about where we compromise, or what gets actually changed and what stays. Each one of us usually has a very good case built against why something should stay the way it is, and the other has a good case built against why it shouldn’t. That process can be time-consuming.
Pitchfork: With all three of you playing different instruments and taking on multiple roles in the band, I would imagine that everything would be a lot harder. There’s no clear leader of the band, and everyone plays everything.
JH: Yeah, it does add to the difficulty. I’ve never been in a band where there is a main songwriter or two, so I don’t know really how it differs from other peoples’ process. But I can imagine that scenario would make things go a little more smoothly and efficiently. But also, I’m really grateful to have band members that are equal contributors. I think it just adds to the diversity of songs. The layers, I suppose, are a little more in-depth than they might be if one person was doing the same thing for most of the songs. I suppose that we could get into a monotonous wreck if one person was doing most of the songwriting. Not to say that bands that have one songwriter are monotonous, but it’s something I don’t have experience with. I do appreciate that aspect of our band.
Pitchfork: You cover a lot of stylistic ground on the record, more so than on previous records. Horns play a big part, and certain songs are more aggressive than I’ve heard you guys get before. How did this evolve into a more all-over-the-place album?
JH: I don’t know. It appears that the older we get, the more polarized we become. Each one of us has such different taste and views on what music we like at this point in our lives. I’m pretty certain that’s contributed to the stylistic diversity. Over the last three years, there’s been some just big changes in each one of our lives. That’s also a solidifying of ideas of music– what we think a song should contain, and what it shouldn’t. Certainly in this album, it came out more emotional than any previous album has. Lyrics were a big focus for us this time around. It wasn’t something we were consciously talking about. We didn’t start out trying to cover a lot of stylistic bases, but I would agree that we did.
Pitchfork: Were the three of you listening to any records that might have had an influence on the record?
JH: Yeah, undoubtedly. Danny has gotten really into reggae in the past few years. If you listen to the songs he’s more or less responsible for writing, there’s a lot of two and four rhythms going on, some steel drum in there. We joke about the reggae thing. Now, when we’re trying to learn these new songs, Danny keeps saying, “Just think reggae, just think reggae.” I can’t point to any particular artist that each one of us was listening to that would have influenced the record. I mean, I kind of stick to the same regime of music most of the time, which is usually the classic rock side of things, if you will. Brent and Danny have a way more broad range of music that they listen to.
Pitchfork: The title of the song “Killemall” is a Metallica reference, right?
JH: Yeah, I think initially it was. That came from our initial brainstorming session. That’s what we named it then, and we just liked the title, so we kept it. It has very little to do with the actual song. I may or may not have to say that. You know how Metallica likes to sue.
Pitchfork: Does the title of the album have any particular meaning?
JH: It does, kind of. Initially, it was taken from the plural possessive word of “mine”, like “That’s mines”. It’s a long story, but my girlfriend’s three-year-old niece started saying that, I thought it was funny, and I put that in as one of the lyrics on one of the songs I was writing. Then, it kind of made sense with a lot of the songs, as far as possession goes. There’s obviously the more immediate connotation to land mines or coal mines or something like that, but the military references are not really there in the music. It’s not a huge, significant meaning to the actual overall album. It showed up here and there in the lyrics in different ways in different songs. That’s how we settled on that, but it’s definitely more in line with the possessive meaning of that word, which I don’t think you can really pluralize. I don’t think it is pluralized in the English language.
Pitchfork: Are you working out how these songs are going to work live? You’re not bringing a horn section with you or anything, are you?
JH: Not yet. I wish. We’re trying to work that out. We are adding a fourth player, Joe Haege from 31Knots, for touring. He’s a very good utility man and a good friend of ours. He lives here, and he’s super talented and a fun person to watch play as well. I think it’ll be a good fit all around. He’ll definitely be taking some of the load off.
More than on any previous album, we just threw caution to the wind on this one. I don’t think any of us were really thinking about how we would play this live as we were recording it, whereas a little more thought was given to that in previous albums. It seemed necessary and imperative, if we wanted to be playing better and at least well live, to have another set of hands. I would love to have a horn section at some point. I guess there’s not too many horn section parts, but I just like horns. I would just want them even if they weren’t playing anything.
Pitchfork: You had really good videos for the last album. Are you kicking around ideas for new videos?
JH: Yeah, definitely. I wanted to get a jump on it a little sooner than the last record, too. We’ve gotten a couple different treatments from a couple different directors so far, and yeah, we’re looking forward to making a handful of good videos. I probably shouldn’t talk too much about individual ideas because I don’t think any of them are really confirmed yet. But Stefan Nadelman, the one who did the animated video for “Evil Bee” last time, is really interested in one song on this, so we’re excited to work with him again. We’re excited to work with a couple of directors that we worked with in the past.