Since debuting with the self-released 2009 EP We Are the Men, the Men have been bound by an oath to subvert the punk status quo. Even within a single album, these Brooklyn dudes leapfrog from genre to genre with relentless, caustic energy—and on the brand-new Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones) they make their biggest jump yet, bringing a little bit of country into the mix. Before the Men left for their current monthlong tour in support of the new album, guitarist and vocalist Mark Perro was interviewed by guitarist Ryan Lowry of local hardcore group Raw Nerve, who opened for the Men when they came to town in August. The Men play in Chicago on Wed 3/21. Raw Nerve’s final shows are Fri 4/13 (with Ceremony at Subterranean) and Sat 4/14. —Leor Galil
The Men started as a DIY kind of punk band, putting out two of your own records, and then escalated into this band that’s in major magazines. Did you feel like there was a choice that had to be made? I don’t know if there was that actual conversation. We’ve just kind of been taking it as it comes. Like, each individual thing that comes up, you know, does this work for us, does this not work for us? We come from a background of do-it-yourself, DIY, and all that stuff. I think it’s really just about getting involved with people that share those same ideals. What we want to do is make records and tour.
You guys don’t really have a genre, especially with this new record—there’s like a country song on it. And on some of the older records there’s some really harsh, almost unlikable songs. Like, unlikable in a positive way for me, but I could see how other people would just click “next.” Do you think that’s going to change? Well, I don’t think any of this is conscious. We don’t really ever talk about what kind of direction we want to go in. We just go based on what ideas are floating around. A lot of that comes from what you’re listening to at the time or what you’re feeling at the time, and for whatever reason with this record we were getting into a lot more power pop and country music.
Another interesting thing about the Men is that every single person in the band—well, at least with Leave Home—was a songwriter. And [bassist] Chris [Hansell] has left, so is it just you and Nick [Chiericozzi] writing songs? You decide to be in a band with somebody, you accept everything that person brings to the table. Chris is a man that has a lot of ideas, and he’s a songwriter. So you can’t expect someone like that to be in your band and then be like, well, you have to [just] play the bass. Obviously, Chris is no longer in the band and there’s a lot of personal reasons as to why that happened. But it ultimately comes from the same things that happen in all bands, and it’s sad. You know, I love Chris, and hopefully we can rebuild our relationship.
As far as new people, Ben [Greenberg]’s in the band now. We just started really jelling with him. I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out, but it’s that same idea. He’s fronted Pygmy Shrews. He’s got his own band. He’s a man that has a lot of ideas. You can’t expect someone like that to join the band and not have ideas.
My theory was that Chris is too bald for the Men. Yeah, well, we tried to get him to grow out his hair [laughing]. We were always, like, “Dude, you got to grow out your hair.” And he refused, so—
So you kicked him out. That’s the reason. Yeah, that’s it, man. We warned him.
Ben is a very, very intelligent musician. I’ve watched him tune his guitar just by looking. He’s far more skilled than I ever could dream of being. But he’s a very humble person too, which is one of my favorite things about him. He has all that schooling and knowledge, but he’s not one of those music-school jazz guys. He’s been in a van—you know, he went on his first tour when he was 17 or 16 or something. He’s been sitting in vans for ten years. So he knows what’s it’s like and he’s a real dude and I love him.
Yeah, Ben seems like an awesome guy. So—I’ve read a couple interviews that you guys have done, and you’ve pretty much blatantly admitted to being riff stealers. And being in punk bands myself, I will blatantly rip a Youth of Today song off. How do you feel about—I mean, one of the new songs on the record sounds exactly like a Buzzcocks song. To pretend that nothing came before you I think is a very foolish way to be. Not that we were consciously trying to come up with a Buzzcocks song—it’s a pretty simple chord progression, you know. It’s like, to think that they were even the only ones that ever played those three—
Oh yeah, and I mean, it totally works. To pretend that we live in this vacuum, or we exist in this vacuum—we’re not this incredibly unique thing. We’re just a bunch of dudes playing music, and it’s happened a million times before. We’re just having fun and doing our thing. It’s fun for us to fuckin’ play some kind of MC5 riffs or whatever, because we fuckin’ love the MC5 and obviously that’s going to come out in our music. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think what’s wrong with it is when you try to pretend that that stuff isn’t there.
When you guys were writing “Open Your Heart,” did the Buzzcocks song click? Well, Chris actually pointed it out much later. “Yo, you know that’s a Buzzcocks song, right?” We were just kind of like, “Oh shit.” We were not even really realizing that it was so similar. But it’s like, “Fuck it, it’s our song.”
I’m all about just taking your influences and making them your own. I mean, that’s what being a contemporary band that references these old, old ways is kind of about. Definitely. Yeah, I definitely agree with that, taking what came before you and turning it into something new. I mean, in the 60s and stuff, rock ‘n’ roll and Bob Dylan and all those guys—that’s what was going on constantly.
Yeah, exactly. Like Madball used to play Agnostic Front songs. Exactly. Nobody was accusing—well, maybe they were afraid to accuse Madball of stealing. But it’s all the same. To think that anyone owns these ideas is crazy.