ARCHIVES: ‘Hell yeah’ – Menzingers are back in Scranton for Steamtown Beer & Music Festival
When The Menzingers were asked if they’d like to play the first-ever Steamtown Beer & Music Festival, guitarist/vocalist Tom May felt the answer was obvious.
“We love beer and Scranton, so hell yeah!”
While the four punk rockers moved to Philadelphia over five years ago to better network with fellow bands, it was the Northeast Pennsylvania music scene that encouraged them to originally take the plunge.
“The idea of being in a band wasn’t some kind of unattainable thing. It was everybody that grew up in the same town as us – everybody booked their own shows and everybody did everything themselves, so that definitely was an inspiration and got us going for it,” May described in a phone interview from Atlanta, Georgia before a headlining gig.
“We grew up in Scranton, so it’s where we’ll always really call home, and that’s where… our friends and family are. That’s where we go to visit on holidays and things like that. It’s fantastic.”
Formerly of local ska group Bob and the Sagets, May admits they weren’t always so fond of Scranton, often hoping to escape the hometown that served as inspiration for their honest, heartfelt music. Their latest record, “On the Impossible Past,” contains a song called “Sun Hotel,” named for the South Scranton bar and flophouse closed down two years ago after a major drug bust.
“I rented a practice space and had a screen printing shop next door there, underneath the Dominican grocery store that was there. We were all 19 or 20, so basically we would just go there and get wasted and screw around and practice and print t-shirts. The Sun Hotel would serve us underage,” he recalled.
“It was totally shady. I got jumped outside of there one time at the gas station. It was an interesting experience down there.”
It was one of many sights familiar to local fans.
“The record before that, ‘Chamberlain Waits,’ was because we’d come out the back of the screen printing place, of the practice space that we had, and we’d be standing right next to the river and all you could see was the giant arms manufacturer right behind us,” he continued. While he found this area of downtown to be “a weird place,” he wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
“From what I understand, it’s changing a bit. It has a lot of economic problems recently, especially with the city being so broke, but that’s just who we are – we’re a bunch of kids from the Northeast in a place that used to make stuff, and now that things are changed, they don’t really make anything there anymore. It’s just an interesting American experience.”
This identity, perhaps, is what makes their music so relatable to the youth across the country – and the world – who have embraced The Menzingers, landing them a deal with Epitaph Records, one of the largest and most well-known independent punk labels, in 2011.
“That was the label that had all the bands that we listened to growing up, so it was a strange kind of full circle thing. You spend years and years and years of just daydreaming about that and then it ends up working out,” May noted.
“It’s like a kid who plays baseball at Lackawanna Little League and then becomes part of the Phillies. It’s kind of ridiculous.”
And they were welcomed with open arms by owner/founder Brett Gurewitz, who is also a guitarist and songwriter for the legendary Bad Religion.
“Instead of taking us out for whatever or trying to wine and dine us or something, they just closed off the parking lot…and set up barbeque and some beers and stuff like that, and everybody who worked at Epitaph Records just took a two-hour break and we just sat around eating and drinking. Brett Gurewitz just told us all kinds of stories about all the bands that we loved; it was so interesting. It was awesome,” he enthused.
“When we got done, everybody who worked there just said, ‘He never did that before. We heard so many things that we didn’t know. We never heard any of these stories.’”
A lot has changed for The Menzingers in just a few short years, but what didn’t change for them matters much more.
“The idea that as a band we’re friends first and a band second, and that a lot of the people that you meet within the industry that you work with, that you tour with or that work for you or you work for – it feels like everybody is friends first. It’s all about having the same sort of ideals and morals and approach to the industry, and then second comes all the business parts. That’s really reaffirming,” May emphasized.
“There are lots of sharks and people like that, but in the scene that we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, it’s not like that.”
This environment has allowed them to stay sharp creatively as well, taking a few months off recently to write new songs to record by year’s end.
“I can definitely say it’s heavier than anything we’ve done so far. That’s not screaming or anything like that – it’s a lot more riff-driven and a lot heavier, a lot bigger guitars and things like that,” he said of the upcoming album, which is already “pretty far along.”
“We’re not trying to make the songs a little bit more complicated, but trying to pay more attention to what we’re writing.”
The group hasn’t played in the area since a sold-out benefit in December, and while many of the local venues they used to frequent have since shuttered their doors, the Steamtown Beer & Music Festival on Saturday, June 15 has granted them their first opportunity to play the much larger stage of the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain. It’s the people, not the place, that matters most, however.
“We really have no idea what to expect, but we are expecting to have a really good time, and a bunch of our family members are going to come out, and they usually don’t come to the small, very packed places,” May said.
“[I’m most looking forward to] the people I’m going to see there, for sure, and the fact that we’re playing at a place that we grew up going to concerts at. That’s really exciting. There’re some people that I haven’t seen in a long time who have contacted me and said that they’re coming, so I’m so excited to see them.”