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The Menzingers: “Philadelphia Breeds Creativity”

The Menzingers are one of Philadelphia’s finest indie rock bands. Singer Greg Barnett (black T-Shirt) talks about the city’s flourishing alternative music scene, bars he likes and why he prefers Philly over New York.

Where do you live in Philadelphia?
I live in South Philly. South Philly has kind of the same vibes like Fishtown further north. And great bars. I like hanging out up there.

When I was in Philadelphia we were haveing dinner at at a diner in Fishtown. I think the name of the place was Joe’s Steaks and Soda Shop. It is right across the street from this bar and venue. I think it is called…
Johnny Brenda’s! That’s a great place.

Right, Johnny Brenda’s. Cool place. So we were having a vegan Philly cheesestake and while we were eating this guy sat down next to us. And I remembered him from somewhere. And then it hit me that the guy was the singer from Knapsack. The funny thing is I saw Beach Slang play in Hamburg three years ago. Beach Slang are one of the reasons why I wanted to get to know Philadelphia. And when I saw them play in Hamburg Knapsack was the headliner that evening. And here I was siting, three years later, in Philadelphia and the singer of Knapsack sits next to us. Actually, he played a show that night at Johnny Brenda’s with his other band Racquet Club. Funny coincidence.

The band Trophy Wife live at Johnny Breanda’s (Photos by: GreenHouse Media/Jessica Kourkounis)

That’s awesome. What is so cool about the city is that that stuff happens all the time. You pump into musicians and all of a sudden you are like oh that person works here. I did not even know. One time I walked into Johnny Brenda’s and I saw the Frances, the singer from Hop Along, and I said to her: What are you doing here? And she said: I work here. It is cool to pump into people. Some members of the band Cayetana work at a Belgian bar called Monk’s Café. So it is always cool to go there and hang out.

Have you ever heard of a band called Restorations?

Yes. They are great!
Yeah, they used to do the door at Union Transfer.

Propagandhi live at Union Transfer in Philadelphia
Propagandhi at Union Transfer (Photo by Hannes Siegl)

We saw Propagandhi at Union Transfer when we were in Philly. And Radiator Hospital at First Unitarian Church.
I love that band so much. The First Unitarian Church is the punk staple in Philadelphia. Everyone who has been in a band has played there. It is legendary. So you had a great music experience in Philly.

It was funny though. Because it is always All Ages shows you can’s buy drinks there. So everyone went to the liquor store around the corner and bought beer for the show.
Yes, they let you bring alcohol in. First Unitarian Church is my favorite place to play. The shows were always so much fun there.

The band The Orwells at First Unitarian Church (Photo by Daniel Topete)

Your latest record is called After the Party. So you are done with partying?
That is definitely not true. Unfortunately. The way the album was shaping up was we were in Europe and doing a festival tour and did maybe the hardest partying of our lives. We got back from it and everybody just needed some time off. And then we were kind of questioning that. It is funny. The album came out and it is about getting older. But the partying gets more like when we used to be kids. And gets crazier and crazier. Maybe it is because the shows are so well attented and the crowds are so stoked. That is making us just want to party more. The party is definitely not over.

The record is about getting older. Were you afraid about turning 30?
I dont know. The others were breaking the waves. There was definitely a fear of everybody else in the band turning 30. Are we gonna do this for another decade? As a touring and working musician 30 is definitely a turning point. Am I gonna continue investing time and energy and everything in music or find some other work? But the answer in the album is that 30 is just a number. Life goes on. Why put these roadblocks in your life? Just enjoy what you do.

But you tour a lot?
Yes, but lately we have the chance to take more time off as the tours are getting more successfull. We did diy touring for years and years and years being on the road for 9 months a year. Now we can do three major tours a year and make it through the year financially. It is mentally a lot easier to come home for a full months instead of just a week and go back on tour.

What do you do when you are home? Whatching your local NBA team the Philadelphia 76ers?
Trust the process! My life is always surrounded by music and when I am home I immediately start writing songs again.

The Menzingers are Joe Godino (drums), Eric Keen (bass), Greg Barnett (guitar and vocalist) and Tom May (guitar and vocalist)

Why did you as a band decide to move to Philly and not New York for example?
When we moved to Philadelphia it was the heat of the housing crisis in America. That was around 2008. You could get very, very cheap rent. Houses were very affordable for people who wanted to buy them. Creative peopole started flocking to Philadelphia for that reason. It made this pool of creative music scene. There has always been an amazing music scene in Philadelphia. Like Lifetime, Paint it Black or Bouncing Souls were all doing cool things way before we were. But now there is a lot more media attention on the music scene than there used to be. Philadelphia was always that weird bastard child of New York. Big magazines only wanted to write about Bands from Brooklyn. Bands from Philly were like whatever. But Philadelphia still breeds creativity because it still has this attitide that is missing in other places that I have been. People do it because they love it and there is not necessarily that competion among musicians and artists. It is about trying to help each other out and putting your friends bands on the shows.

We have a really really strong indie rock scene. But it is intertwined with the DIY production companies, the punk bands and the venues. No matter how big you get you stay connected because it is small enough so that you can support each other. Just take The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile or Waxahatchee.

And compared to New York Philly is still affordable.
Exactly. When we started the band we asked ourselves if we should either move to Brooklyn or Phildalphia. But Brooklyn was just way too expensive and you could never afford it as a touring band. So we gravitated towards Philly and it was the best decision we ever made. We found our home.

Bar and Bands! Boot & Saddle (Photo by Boott & Saddle)

Any other places in Philly you would recommend?
As I said First Unitarian Church, Union Transfer and Johnny Brenda’s are great places. There is a bar and venue in South Philly that has opened up quite recently called Boot & Saddle. It actually is just a couple of blocks from all our houses. Kung Fu Necktie in Fishtown is also a great bar and venue. In South Philly 2nd Street Brew house is our local bar. We love hanging out there. Grumpy’s is also a cool bar in South Philly. Cayetana even have a song on their latest record called Grumpy’s.

Greg Barnett (30) sings and play guitar in The Menzingers. Their latest record “After the Party” was released on Epitaph Records in 2017.

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