Pitchfork Mines Interview / Preview

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.

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