Residing in Philadelphia, The Menzingers haven’t returned to their hometown of Scranton for a show since the Steamtown Beer and Music Festival in June, but it’s understandable why – they’ve been traveling the world, only recently taking some time off after recording a new album, which is due out next year.
When The Weekender talked to guitarist/vocalist Greg Barnett, he was thrilled to discuss coming home for the punk band’s annual Holiday Show, which is being held this year on Saturday, Dec. 21 at St. Stanislaus PNC Youth Center with Tigers Jaw; Captain, We’re Sinking; Mike Quinn; and several other groups with local ties. Aside from this sold-out event, we also chatted about the Tom Petty-inspired after-party at The Bog, the upcoming record, memories of 2013, and what’s in store in 2014.
THE WEEKENDER: You toured the world again this past year. What is it like coming home for shows like this?
GREG BARNETT: It’s great. It’s so much fun. It’s great to be able to stay at my mom’s house and be able to see her and the rest of my family and see all our old friends and everything. I don’t get to go home as much as I would like. We’re just so busy, and then when I get home, back to Philly, you’re just done traveling. You just want to stay in one spot.
You miss the area so much, and it’s just so great to play there because the shows are always great and our fans are so supportive. … It’s crazy to think that we played in Germany more times than we played Scranton.
W: Do you find it’s much the way that you left it when you come back to Scranton or is it very different now?
GB: That’s a hard question, I guess. It’s kind of a yes and no. Sometimes it is. Like for the holiday show, it’ll feel kind of like that mainly because a lot of our friends that moved out of the area, they all come back, and then it’s kind of like, “Oh, hey. Everybody’s kind of moved all over the country and here we are all together again.” But then, you know, things change. We started our bands when we were like 14, 15, so a lot has changed since then. You think about things differently, I guess.
W: What have the past Holiday Shows been like?
GB: They’ve been great, actually. This is our third one we’re throwing, and last year, unfortunately, most of our plans fell through, and last-minute this art space that kind of popped up in Scranton stepped up and were like, “We would love to do it.” And we’re like, “This is fabulous.” It was kind of last-minute, but it turned out great. The show sold out and people were really excited.
We’ve always given all the money away, and last year, unfortunately, my grandfather passed away about two weeks before and he was a New York City fireman, and that was really dear to his heart, so we donated all the money to this foundation that he would always donate to every year. That was pretty cool to be able to do something like that. And then the year before, we did Toys for Tots, and we were able to bring in a couple thousand dollars for them. This year, we’re doing the NEIU Arts Alive program. It’s really cool to be able to help out and do something cool. How do you play a show (on Christmas) and then take the money from it? You feel like Scrooge. You can’t do that.
W: The cause this year probably means a lot, too, considering you’re helping kids get into the arts and you guys were once up-and-coming musicians with no financial backing behind you.
GB: Yeah, none whatsoever. That something like this is around is amazing because it’s not a cheap hobby. A lot of times it’s just very difficult for young people to have access to music, I think. It’s pretty cool.
W: This show has a great lineup. How did you decide who would be playing?
GB: (Menzingers guitarist/vocalist) Tom (May) organized the whole thing, and he kind of collected all of our favorite bands from the area and our friends and everybody that was available, pretty much. We were just kind of lucky that everybody was down to play for free and to donate all the money they would be getting paid. It’s going to be great.
W: It’s such a varied lineup, too. Ned Russin from Title Fight just recently wrote in his Weekender column about how the local shows he plays are so diverse and yet everyone seems to embrace the different types of musicians. Do you find that to be true as well?
GB: Yeah, definitely, and that was always something that I noticed about the area from when I first started going to shows when I was 14 or 15, more than other places, I’ve realized, just from traveling. We would go to shows and there would be hardcore to acoustic back to punk to ska. There’s such an eclectic mix of genres that were on every show, and I just thought that all shows were like that, and then I found out that it wasn’t and it kind of bummed me out, so whenever we get the chance to kind of set up our own shows, we always make sure that it’s just good music. Good music is good music, essentially.
W: Tell me about the after-party at The Bog with Scumbag Petty. Who are they?
GB: They’re from other bands. My brother plays in the one band, Captain, We’re Sinking, that are playing, and our friend Ben (Walsh) who’s in Tigers Jaw. They write original songs and they sound like Tom Petty, obviously, hence the name, and they’re actually really, really good. It’s kind of silly how good of a band they are, so they’re doing their record release show at The Bog after-show. That’ll be fun. Besides, it’s our favorite bar in town to hang out at, so it’s kind of the perfect after-party spot.
W: Looking back on this year, what has it been like for you and the band?
GB: It’s been crazy. It’s been wild. You’re just constantly surpassing anything that we could ever imagine that we were capable of doing. We did five and a half weeks in Europe. We went everywhere. We were in Scandinavia to Eastern Europe. That was like a dream come true, just being all over Europe with your friends. We’ve gone a couple times, but we’ve never gone for that extensive amount of time. We went to Australia. We’ve done so many crazy things this year. That’s what’s really nice about something like this, like this holiday show. It’s like the coming home party.
W: What are you most looking forward to about 2014?
GB: This upcoming year, we’ll be putting out a new album, so that’s always exciting because there’s always a lot of tours and a lot of international traveling that’s around that, so it’s going to be a pretty busy year for us, and I’m really looking forward to trying to see new places that we haven’t been, which is becoming harder and harder but still a possibility.
W: How do you feel this new album compares to your previous work? Is it similar or a step away?
GB: It definitely is a step away, but it’s still us at the end of the day, but we just took more risks and just kind thought a little bit outside of the box and we kind of just wrote it for ourselves and didn’t really think about any of the business things of a band. We’re just like, “Let’s just write songs that we like and then hopefully that translates to other people.” If not, hey, we wrote something that we enjoy.
W: What inspired the songs on this record?
GB: It’s a very interesting way to live, traveling for seven months out of the year and then coming home and trying to piece your life back together in between those tours, and I think that’s just the constant inspiration, just trying to figure out how to have a normal life and just being all over the place all the time with family and girlfriends.
W: Have you played any of these songs live yet?
GB: We haven’t actually. I don’t know when we will. Maybe we will at the Holiday Show. We might.