Cooking Lessons: An Interview With The Menzingers’ Tom May

by | Nov 10, 2022 | MUSIC

Coming up in the punk world in 2006 was tough. There was a lot you had to do in order to stick out from your contemporaries. Let’s face it: when the aughts pop/punk era was both at its height and nearing its end, a lot of bands trying to make it started to make their music fit into a mold — which led to short-term success, but not a lot of long-term viability. However, there were also bands in that scene that stayed true to their musical roots, while also evolving as artists. If we’re still talking about you in 2022, you did things right.

For example, The Menzingers — formerly of Scranton, now of Philadelphia. Their sound is just punk enough to be categorized within the genre, but it leaves room for them to expand and mix in a dash of pop, resulting in a sound that can almost be described as post-grunge. This is how the Pennsylvania quartet have survived and thrived despite coming in at the tail end of pop/punk mania.

As the band prepares to hit The National on Monday, November 14, their career highlight, 2012’s On The Impossible Past, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. In light of that, and in anticipation of the upcoming Richmond show, guitarist/singer Tom May talked about what made On The Impossible Past special, both to them and their fans, and told us how to properly cook a Philly Cheesesteak.

You guys are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of On The Impossible Past. Not every album gets the decade treatment and celebration; what’s special to you about this album in particular to go back and revisit?

We had two albums before this one, and you totally hit the nail on the head that not every album gets that treatment. Not just for our band, but for every band. This record in particular, it allowed us to really see the world and start treating the band as an actual career, and a vehicle for us to meet some new people and share music. It was the first record released on Epitaph Records, which was a big deal. And just as we put this record out, our lives changed exponentially. At the time that the record came out, a lot of people our age seemed to really connect to it. So, I think that it was a good snapshot for them as well. People coming to the 10-year anniversary shows are really nostalgic around the point of this record. Everybody was, like, 25 at that point in their life.

Photo by Nick Allan (@nickallanphotos), via The Menzingers/Facebook

Having a decade of experiences and wisdom to go on top of it, would you change anything about that record if you were to record it now?

You know, my mind immediately jumps like a sci-fi movie scenario. I wouldn’t want to go back and change anything, but towards the end of recording the record, we were having a big barbecue on the roof of the recording studio. Greg and I were finishing up some vocals, and we were kind of rushing to get through it.

I guess the only thing I would go back and switch is, I would go back and add some more backup vocals and harmonies to the record. Because we’re looking back on it and love the way it was recorded, sonically. We were going to go put a lot more backup vocals on it, but we just kind of wanted to go get drunk on the roof instead.

What have you outgrown from that time period, song-wise?

At first, I was kind of bummed [about] the songs we didn’t want to play, because we had played them so many times, or listened to them, and we wanted to play something that would get a better fan response. But it really is surprising how little we do mind playing songs. There’s a couple on there… I guess I don’t want to get too specific, but the last track of the record is called “Freedom Bridge.” That song gets a little bit long in the tooth.

What do you feel makes that record stand out and hold a special place for your fanbase?

We wrote the songs together, and [there] was not necessarily a very rigid or even lucid theme. We wrote them together on one clip, as compared to the other records, for example — writing as many songs as you could. This time was the first time we stopped and thought, “What makes this song fit with another song?” I think just having that intention going in made it more coherent, and that record [is] a little better. Again, the main thing I would have to say, I think it was just timing, and the time of the world we were in.

The punk rock community can be pretty unforgiving at times, as bands either attain success or have their sound change. Let’s take Green Day, Blink-182 and The Offspring as the most famous examples of this. As your sound has evolved and you have grown as artists, have you experienced a contingent of that community that hasn’t appreciated the band’s growth?

I guess, as far as seeing people say things like that online and stuff like that, yes, but nobody’s really written that about us. We haven’t really experienced that [situation], like other bands have definitely experienced, when people talk shit to their face at shows.

You mentioned some of the other bands, but when anyone finds a band, they want it to be theirs. To touch on the other tiny thing that you mentioned, we experienced the inverse of what you’re describing. We were on a lot of message boards, and a lot of people were really championing our content when this record came out. Everybody felt like we were theirs; naturally, [this] is what pushed us to positive. So, we kind of had the inverse of people talking shit and saying we sold out. They were really rooting for us, really pushing for us, because it felt like it was somebody that you knew.

Photo by Nick Allan (@nickallanphotos), via The Menzingers/Facebook

The Menzingers have played Richmond a lot over the past little over a decade, primarily at The Camel. What made that place such a regular stop for you, and what are you looking forward to when you’re in town next month?

Richmond is fantastic, it’s a real fun town. One of the first places that we played was Empire bar, which I believe is no longer around. We played there with The Gaslight Anthem, with a couple of people out there. We had a good friend named Chris [Moran], who was a moderator of punknews.org, who really championed us and [was] one of the first experiences of us hanging out a lot in Richmond. We got to meet a lot of friends. And of course there’s Legend [Brewing], Veil [Brewing]… There’s always a bit of legend around Richmond; it’s a great vibe. We’re right in the 95 corridor, so it’s real easy to get to; we ended up cultivating relationships. So it was just an incredible place to meet up and hang out.

Those south of you need to know: what’s the right way to make a cheesesteak?

We moved down to Philly about 15 years ago. Our entire band’s entire career is rooted in Philly. The way to make proper cheesesteak is to get a ribeye and pop it in the freezer for a little bit, so it gets easier to handle, then slice it real thin. Get a cast iron skillet or stainless steel. Then you have to get really fresh bread — that’s what makes a lot of Philly Cheesesteaks. I live a block away from the market with a bunch of bakeries that supply all the spots around. And then yeah, provolone, fried onions and mushrooms.

The funny thing is, a lot of people will talk shit about them, and say, “The main places are no good, you’ve got to go small places.” But in reality, it’s just drunk food. None of them are really that great. We’re not talking gourmet food here. It’s more like: it’s 1AM and you’ve had a long night. I’m not going to lie though, once in a while when we get off the tour I’ll go by my local Chinese spot and get myself a nice $4 cheesesteak.

You guys came out at the same time and coincided with The Office’s height; do you get hit with questions just because of where you’re from?

I think we were still living in Scranton when we did our first tour. We played a bunch of regional shows, like Pittsburgh, and people always talk about The Office. Of course, we were just a bunch of young punks who like to be contrarian by nature, and talk about how there’s so much shit on The Office. I would say, “No, you don’t understand, Scranton is so much more than The Office!”

Then I watched it, and it was such a good fucking show, I felt like a jackass. We get a lot of questions about The Office. It’s funny — they do, in passing, mention the most random places in Scranton. I can definitely see everyone that I know is a person adjacent to every character on the show.

Photo by Nick Allan (@nickallanphotos), via The Menzingers/Facebook

Strangest experience you’ve ever had inspire a song?

The strangest? Well, songs evolve a lot. There’s definitely been songs that started out about one thing and they had one particular image, and then evolved into something completely different. We had one song called “The Freaks.” I went to a friend’s cabin in the Poconos. They let me have the place myself for a weekend. I was taking a couple of mushrooms, then in the middle of the night, a car alarm went off. I was like, “What the fuck?” I went out to lock the doors, and there was no footprints anywhere, and the car alarm was going off. I turned it off, went back inside, and then went off again. I went out and I was like, “Dude, this is really starting to freak me the fuck out!” Then I couldn’t remember whether or not I fully closed the door, because the light was on. So I went back in and started to write a song about the situation in the woods, and it evolved into “The Freaks.”

Your albums tend to have an emotional rollercoaster vibe to them. What’s more difficult to make into a song: the good or the hard times?

The harder ones are easier to write. Actually, the good times, they’re easy to write, but they don’t resonate as deeply as a lot of the hardest times. They don’t relate to other people as much as the hardest. Coming from Scranton, that’s a place where the population is less than half of what it was, typical straight-up Rust Belt. The opioid epidemic hit, and there’s a lot of pain I’ve experienced growing up. It’s kind of easier to draw on those emotions — maybe because they are deeper.


Check out The Menzingers 10-year reissue of “On The Impossible Past” out on Epitaph Records now, and if you want to catch them at The National, tickets can be purchased at www.thenationalva.com.

Bryan Schools

Bryan Schools

Bryan Schools is a Richmond lifer sans a four year hiatus to Radford University where he received his B.S. in Journalism in 2005. Music, comics, video games and LEGO are his main passions, and if you really want to get into a good conversation with him, ask what his top-five anything are, and you've got a conversation.




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