NEPA Scene Staff

MUSIC VIDEO: Scranton’s Menzingers follow alien’s road trip in ‘America (You’re Freaking Me Out)’

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From a press release:

Today, Scranton/Philadelphia punk band The Menzingers unveiled a new track from their forthcoming album, “Hello Exile,” that releases some pent-up frustration with the state of our union.

“America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” starts the new record off with restless urgency; it’s pounding rhythms and furious guitar riffs provide a much-needed release for all those feeling frenzied by the current political climate.

“We’re living in a pretty insane time, where all you can think about every single day is, ‘What the hell is going on with this country?’” vocalist/guitarist Greg Barnett said. “But as I was writing that song, I realized that it’s kind of always freaked me out, especially coming-of-age during the Iraq War. I love so much about America, but I think you can’t deny that there are some people in power who are absolutely evil.”

The song debuted with a new music video from “Hello Exile,” due out Friday, Oct. 4 on Epitaph Records. The funny yet poignant video that follows up last month’s “Anna” features an alien life-form traveling across the United States, enjoying himself but becoming increasingly troubled by the way things are until the Department of Homeland Security takes him away.

It was directed by Rob McConnaughy, whose previous work includes The Menzingers’ video for “I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore” (which is directly referenced in the new video) as well as the “Jackass” TV pilot and movies, sketches for Funny or Die and “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” major commercials, and music videos for ZZ Top, Flogging Molly, Mudhoney, Municipal Waste, and The Thermals, among others.

The lyrics of “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” include sharp lines like, “Oh, ain’t it a shame what we choose to ignore. What kind of monsters did our parents vote for?” and, “America, I love you but you’re freaking me out. Driving through the bible belt, billboards claiming how Jesus felt. Oh, how’d his words confuse themselves? With cranks for Christians in powerful positions. I’ve always felt like all their pomp and circumstance is just cover for the devil to dance.”

Since forming as teenagers in their hometown of Scranton in 2006, The Menzingers have shown their strength as rough-and-tumble storytellers, turning out songs equally rooted in frenetic energy and lifelike detail. On “Hello Exile,” the now Philadelphia-based punk band – featuring singers/guitarists Greg Barnett and Tom May, bassist Eric Keen, and drummer Joe Godino – takes their lyrical narrative to a whole new level and share their reflections on moments from the past and present: high-school hellraising, troubled relationships, aging, alcohol, and political ennui. And while their songs often reveal certain painful truths, “Hello Exile” ultimately maintains the irrepressible spirit that’s always defined the band.

The sixth full-length from The Menzingers arrives as the follow-up to “After the Party,” a 2017 release that landed on best-of-the-year lists from outlets like Clash and Noisey, with Stereogum praising its “almost unfairly well-written punk songs.” In creating this album, the band again joined forces with producer Will Yip (Tigers Jaw, Mannequin Pussy, Quicksand), spending six weeks recording at Yip’s Conshohocken-based Studio 4.

“That’s the longest amount of time we’ve ever worked with Will,” Barnett noted. “We wanted to make sure these stories didn’t get lost in the music, so we kept it to a lot of room sounds with the guitar and bass and drums.”

Despite that subtler sonic approach, “Hello Exile” still rushes forward with relevant and powerful songs like opener “America (You’re Freaking Me Out).” Elsewhere, The Menzingers turn their incisive songwriting to matters of love and romance, exploring the glories and failures of human connection. A wistful piece of jangle pop, “Anna” paints a portrait of lovesick longing, complete with dreamy recollections of wine-drunk kitchen dancing. And on “Strangers Forever,” the band shifts gears for a searing tribute to parting ways, backing their spiky guitars with brilliantly barbed lyrics (e.g., “Maybe it’s for the better if we both stay strangers forever”).

An album fascinated with home and displacement and belonging (or the lack thereof), “Hello Exile” takes its title from its heavy-hearted centerpiece. With its aching vocals, graceful acoustic guitar work, and beautifully lilting melody, “Hello Exile” draws inspiration from Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” (a short story set in the Black Sea resort city of Yalta).

“I grew up in a tiny town that’s essentially a cross between a summer vacation spot for New Yorkers and a retirement home, so for most of my childhood, there were always people coming in and out of my life,” said Barnett, who hails from Lake Ariel. “Reading that story made me think of how isolating it felt when my friends would leave to go back to the city at the end of the season and I’d still just be stuck way out there in the woods.”

In looking back on the songwriting process behind “Hello Exile,” Barnett points to the starkly confessional “I Can’t Stop Drinking” to illustrate the band’s commitment to total candor.

“We’ve written so many songs about fun times with alcohol, but the older you get, it’s not always fun anymore,” he admitted. “With ‘I Can’t Stop Drinking,’ I wanted to be completely truthful and get away from glorifying anything. Sometimes it’s tough to look at yourself and at others that way, but it felt important to make it as real as possible.”

With the band achieving that soul-baring intimacy all throughout the album, “Hello Exile” emerges as The Menzingers’ most emotionally daring work to date.

“We’ve always been in love with good songwriting and the beauty of taking a song to its fullest potential, but with this album, I feel like we’re really becoming the band we’ve always wanted to be,” Barnett said.

Not only a creative turning point for The Menzingers, that uncompromising honesty helps fulfill their mission of leaving each listener with a potent sense of solidarity.

“A lot of these songs are looking at different life challenges – they’re stories of people at some sort of crossroads,” Barnett explained. “We might not have the answers for anybody, but hopefully the songs will help them to see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that they’re not alone in whatever tough decisions they’re facing.”

Recently wrapping up a national headlining tour with The Sidekicks and Queen of Jeans, the band announced a fall headlining run last month that begins Oct. 25 in Columbus, Ohio and wraps Dec. 7 in Boston, Massachusetts before they head overseas for a European tour in early 2020. Fellow Scranton band Tigers Jaw and Culture Abuse will provide support for these shows, which include a concert at Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia on Friday, Nov. 29.

“We grew up with The Menzingers in Scranton but have never done a proper tour together. We are so excited to tour the U.S. with them and Culture Abuse later this year!” Tigers Jaw said.

“Hello Exile” tracklist:

1. America (You’re Freaking Me Out)
2. Anna
3. High School Friend
4. Last to Know
5. Strangers Forever
6. Hello Exile
7. Portland
8. Strain Your Memory
9. I Can’t Stop Drinking
10. Strawberry Mansion
11. London Drugs
12. Farewell Youth

See NEPA Scene’s photos of The Menzingers performing at the 2019 Vans Warped Tour in Atlantic City, New Jersey here and see our review and photos of the band’s show in Bethlehem last August here.