On 'Hello Exile' the Philadelphia band examines life 'After The Party'
Being in a band that does one thing really well means you run the risk of being pigeonholed as a band that only does one thing well.
In the case of the Menzingers — singer/guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May, bassist Eric Keen and drummer Joe Godino — it’s not breaking news to say the band writes a lot of songs about growing up. If anything, the foursome is in on the joke.
On its last album, 2017’s wonderful After The Party, lead singer Barnett wondered, “Where we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” On the opening song of the band's new album, Hello Exile, released earlier this month, Barnett ponders, “How do I steer my early 30s?”
The thing about getting older is that it never stops. It’s a constantly evolving and never-ending process with plenty of source material, especially if you’re a scrappy punk band with a penchant for writing wistful songs about “Gettin’ fucked up with a high school friend/Wonderin’ where all the good times went.” (See the aptly named “High School Friend.”)
“It's interesting to be a part of a subculture and do something that has always been inherently defined by and surrounded by the youth,” said May, who will join his bandmates in concert at the Columbus Athenaeum on Friday, Oct. 25. “Punk rock is inherently a useful manifestation of a disagreement with the generation before, with changing times. And now that we're getting older, we're starting to reconcile those differences. So we're starting to get comfortable in our lives. But now, the discomfort in our lives runs a little bit deeper, because it's a little bit more unsettling, because it applies to the entire world.”
So, yes, Hello Exile does talk a lot about growing up. But like every Menzingers album before it, it reflects a specific time in the life of the band, a time when its members are beginning to settle down with partners, making enough money to support themselves and dealing with the realization that they are no longer the same 18-year-olds who started the band in 2006.
A perfect example of that is the somber, acoustic “I Can’t Stop Drinking.” For a band that never shied from singing about alcohol, the song takes a decidedly more realistic approach to the nihilistic rock lifestyle. When Barnett sings, “I’m whiskey drunk in the ShopRite parking lot,” it sounds like the saddest line he’s ever uttered.
When asked if this is a song the band could have written three albums ago, May doesn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely not, no way,” he said with a laugh. “We knew some people who had to stop drinking because they were addicted. And we knew some people who died from drinking or drinking-related accidents. But the day-to-day relationship and life toll didn't really start to take hold and make a whole lot of visual sense until we had the life experience to watch what it does for a couple decades and it became a reality.”
On Hello Exile’s final track, "Farewell Youth," Barnett pens a reply to his younger self. “Farewell youth, I’m afraid I hardly got to know you/I was always hanging out with the older kids/Always in a rush, but I was never sure from what,” he sings. It’s a fitting album ending for a band that has spent hours contemplating the perils of aging. Greg, Tom, Eric and Joe are growing up. And they’re fine with it, regardless of what the future holds.
“I do know that [no matter] what happens in the world, [no matter] what happens with us in our lives in our band, I think that we'll all still be writing and playing music,” May said, and paused. “I mean, who knows? Maybe we won't even have shows by then. We'll all just be plugged into the phones that are implanted in the back of our heads [and] we can have one show a year with every single one of our fans at it.”