“It’s so bad. It’s been dreadful. It’s been awful.”
The winter months have not been kind to Mark Perro. He sounds defeated.
“It’s just dismal. It’s really sad.”
He’s starting to ask questions that he doesn’t want answered.
“Why in God’s name would Carmelo Anthony stay with this mess of a team?”
Perro is a lifetime resident of New York and a self-described “huge basketball fan,” and if you haven’t been paying attention to the NBA, his hometown Knicks are once again a joke. The team has the second-highest payroll in the league, one of the most prolific scorers alive, and a record that’s 19 games below.500. Not helping matters, its starting point guard just got nabbed on felony gun charges. These are tough times for followers of the franchise, and Perro is understandably bummed. “It’s incredibly frustrating,” he vents. “It’s reaching [Stephon] Marbury – Isiah Thomas levels of incompetence.”
Thankfully, things are going better for his band, The Men. Its fifth record in five years, Tomorrow’s Hits, arrives on shelves today. And this time, it doesn’t come with the baggage of line-up turmoil.
Indeed, speaking of traveling lightly, the record is the slimmest offering in the band’s catalog: eight songs that run their course in under 37 minutes of tape. But that’s pretty much where the concision ends: Tomorrow’s Hits is raucous document, composed largely of tracks where The Men come out swinging and refuse to let up. It’s the sound of five people playing furiously – controlled or otherwise – at the same time in one room. Of course, this has been the band’s M.O. for much of its time together. The difference comes in its continued embrace of high fidelity – the record was made at Brooklyn’s Strange Weather Recording Studio – and the further incorporation of instantly appealing musical touchstones: rootsy classic rock in the tradition of The Band and Bob Seeger, the serrated side of alt-country, 70s am gold, and the Rolling Stones’ version of the blues. There’s plenty more to find in that stew too, if you have the 37 minutes to spare.
This may read as rock and roll comfort food, but The Men still play with a teetering-on-combustion urgency – even if its favorite sports squad doesn’t.
The Men play NYC’s Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday. Last night’s Rock & Roll Hotel show was cancelled due to inclement weather.
Oh, yeah, every single day of my life. [Laughs] I fantasize about living somewhere else. It’s hard, man! After school I moved to Manhattan, and then I couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan anymore, so I moved to Williamsburg, and then I couldn’t afford that and I moved to Greenport, and now I live in Bushwick. I keep getting pushed out back, back, back, back.
And for all that’s happening in Bushwick – it’s kind of, like, the new trendy area or whatever – it’s still a dump. It’s filthy. I live right under an aboveground subway. It’s loud. It’s dirty. There’s garbage everywhere. I daydream of living somewhere where I can actually look out my window and see grass, and maybe even have some grass around my house. It would nice.
I mean, Brooklyn’s cool, because it offers a lot, obviously. There’s a lot going on. But there are a lot of downsides. It’s incredibly expensive. You end up living in shitty conditions and spending so much to do it. It’s kind of crazy.
Does it worry you to see Bushwick becoming trendy? Is the writing on the wall in terms of being priced out?
Oh, it doesn’t worry me – I know it’s going to happen. It’s happening already. I’ve seen it in just two years. The change in Bushwick is pretty remarkable: We get a couple bars, a couple record stores, a couple restaurants, and the rent’s already going crazy.
It’s a mirror of what happened in Williamsburg. A bunch of artist move somewhere because they couldn’t afford to live in the city anymore, and they create this pretty cool atmosphere of music and culture, and then more and more people start trickling in, and then the real estate guys start picking up on what’s going on and figuring out that it’s a desirable area now, and then all of the sudden the artists can’t live there anymore and they have to find somewhere else to live.
It’s going to work out, because I’ll end up on Long Island, where I grew up. If I keep going further east, that’s where I’m going top end up. That’ll be fine. My mom will be really happy.
One of The Men already lives in Long Island.
Yeah, which is funny, because he’s the only one in the band that’s not originally from New York. He moved out there just in the past year. It’s funny because for people that grew up out there, Long Island is a place that you leave. [Laughs] It’s not a place that you go to. It’s place where you grow up and think, “I can’t wait to get the hell out of here.” But as I get a little bit older, I’m like, “Fuck, I love Long Island.” The things that I didn’t like about it, I appreciate now: The scenic nature of it, the space, the ocean – all that kind of stuff that Brooklyn does not have.
You wrote and demoed Tomorrow’s Hits in your apartment, right?
Yeah, right where I’m talking to you from right now. That’s the one benefit of being in Brooklyn and living right under a train: There aren’t too many noise complaints. We did have to strip down a little. Typically, we’re a full stack kind of band – you know, huge amps and loud. We can’t do that in here, but we did have our drums and small amps and acoustic guitars and all of this kid of stuff, and it worked out fine.
Did writing on acoustic guitars have an impact on how the songs turned out?
Definitely. We’ve always kind of written songs on acoustic guitars initially, but you have an idea and you bring it into practice, and then it changes. When you’re plugging a Marshall into a Marshall full stack, there’s an immediate blast of sound, and you don’t really have room for nuances and subtleties. But in this situation, we were writing new songs as a full-on band with these forced sound restrictions. And when you’re play through a little tiny practice amp or with an acoustic guitar, you know every little thing that happens – you can hear it and you can sense it. It changes the way you play, I think for the better. It makes you more aware of what you’re playing. You’re more focused on what you’re playing.
We put a big focus this time on trying to cut away everything that was not absolutely essential. During the writing process, we were very open. Everyone in the band contributes songs or ideas, so we just come in and go around the room, like, “You got a song? Cool, let’s play it. Let’s record it and see what we’ve got.” But as a result of doing things in that way, things weeded themselves out very quickly. It was very clear what was working and what was not working. Things that weren’t working we just moved on from.
We wanted to have a really tight, concise record. The last record [New Moon] was long. It was 12 songs and very long. We wanted to focus on reigning that in and eliminating anything that was not absolutely crucial to the record – anything that didn’t have to be there. So we were trying to be as economical as possible, and we cut things until we felt like we couldn’t do that anymore.
What becomes of those discarded songs?
I mean, they’re around. We recorded them. They exist. But I’m a firm believer that not everything needs to be released. Not everything you do is worthy of release. Some things serve as a footstep to something else. Everything has a life, and somethings reach the end of their life and that’s the end of it. Some songs were just meant to be a bedroom demo. Some songs were meant to be on an album. So, I mean, they’re around, and maybe they’ll come back or maybe they’ll turn into something else. Maybe they’ll see some release or maybe they’ll just be a relic of the session. I’m not really sure.
Does being a singer and a songwriter in a band with other singers and songwriters require an extra sense of humility?
Definitely. And it’s very hard, because when you put out an idea, you’re making yourself vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re exposing yourself to the risk of the people you’re closest with will tell you, “No, I don’t like that. It doesn’t work.”
It’s hard, because everyone in this band has a huge personality and a big ego. Sometimes it can be awkward or uncomfortable, but we try to be respectful of each other. We’re big on serving the song. There’s a constant effort to suppress the ego and remove the personal aspects and just focus on the song and the music. Whether or not we can execute that all the time, we all believe in the idea that the music is bigger than the individual. The song is always bigger than the person. We just try to keep that in mind and do the best we can, and usually it works out.
“Pearly Gates” was ballsy choice of a first single. Why lead with that song?
We decided to lead with “Pearly Gates” because it was ballsy, and it was an all-out, pretty intense jam. It was meant to be a wake-up call, like, “Hey, pay attention to what’s going on here.” With New Moon, we had some people questioning us, like, “Have these guys gone soft?” And it’s like, “Fuck you. We haven’t at all.”
And, at the same time, I think it’s just a great song. I think it embodies the record – the way everybody’s playing with each other. There’s a real good harmony. Everyone’s playing incredibly well. The band is tight. It’s just a good example of that whole process.
All of the songs on record have a real sense of momentum. Even the slower songs, like “Settle Me Down” or “Sleepless”, propel themselves forward. The rhythm section is more up front than ever before. Was that a conscious decision?
It’s something that’s important to us. When we went into the studio, we were very well rehearsed. We had played these songs up and down, a hundred times each, at least. They were ready to be recorded. That’s part of it: We were able to play these songs the way we wanted to play them.
The flip side of it is that we record everything together, as a unit, including vocals and stuff, so we’re able to pick up on that energy that we’re each feeding off of. We’re able to combine everything into something bigger.
It’s hard to play to a recording. It’s a much different feeling than when you’re playing with each other. That momentum kind of happens naturally, because we’re there in the room together, and there’s a collective energy and a collective momentum that starts to go, and I think that was a big thing. And it was a conscious thing: It was important to try to capture that and pull it off.
But that’s how we’ve always made our records. We’ve always done everything live. It’s very important to us that we play together. There’s something different that happens when you play together than when you’re playing alone. Why are you in a band if not to play together?
Are there difficulties in recording like that?
In a performance sense, it makes it easier, but we’re also very comfortable with fuck-ups and mistakes. There are always accidental mistakes that turn into something awesome. You fuck up, so to speak, but then you listen back and you’re like, “Whoa, that’s actually really cool. I like that.”
I don’t think we believe in a perfect take. There’s always going to be a mistake, or something different than how you foresee playing a song in your mind. It’s never going to hit what you think it’s supposed to be, because that’s just an abstraction.
So, we’re ok with fuck-ups and mistakes. I welcome them, if anything. It’s more about that forward motion. If we can hear the urgency, that’s more important if it’s played well. If it’s played perfectly and stripped of forward motion, then it’s pretty boring to listen to. We’re going for a different result.
It does get a little challenging in recording, though, because nothing’s isolated. It’s hard to isolate things if you’re all in the same room. You have bleeding into mics. But, then again, that leads to a lot of happy accidents. You get room ambiance. You get unexpected results, like, “Oh, the guitar actually sounds great, because it’s getting this reverb from the snare mic” – some weird thing that you never would have planned. Allowing those happy accidents is fine with us.
The Men have turned out five albums in five years. Does that kind of prolificacy seem unusual to you?
It feels natural to me. For us, the real excitement and joy of being in a band is creating new music. Once a record’s mastered and turned into the label, it’s not ours anymore. It’s out there in the world. And it’s kind of over. The joy is in those moments when you’re making it and you’re living it, and then it’s gone. As a musician, you’re constantly searching for that new feeling – that rush when something is working. Unfortunately, as soon as it’s done, that feeling is gone. It’s very quick that all of sudden you crave that again. You want that again. We’re constantly chasing that.
This is what we do – we make music. We don’t have any other jobs. It’s a natural thing. I wish we could make more records. I wish we could do it at a faster pace, but there are other factors at play. For us, it’s just business as usual.
Is anything sitting in the pipeline?
Being that we’ve always been a little bit ahead of ourselves, we made the decision to creatively put on the brakes. We decided to wait for this record to come out, so we’re not on the road playing the next record and not playing this record, because we’re burnt out on it already.
Coming into this tour, we took a little break. People did their own thing. Nick [Chiericozzi] and I made a record together. Ben made a record. Kevin plays in another band. We’ve been creating music and doing things, but we decided to let The Men catch up to itself before we start taking that next step.
What sort of record did you and Nick make?
Since The Men started, Nick and I have had this side-project called The Dream Police. It’s more of an improvisational, experimental thing. We just found a calling to go back to that.
It’s a rock record. It’s created by two people, so it’s a little different – there are more electronics and synthesis on it than a typical Men record. But it’s definitely the sounds of the two of us making music. Hopefully that will see the light of day some time in the fall. We’re hopefully going to mix it before we start this tour for Tomorrow’s Hits and we’ll see where it goes from there.
It’s definitely a tongue and cheek thing. It’s a play on the fact that there’s a of of poppier elements on the record, especially for us. It’s an homage of those ’60s [Rolling] Stones records. It was more prevalent back then to be like Today’s Hits! or Here’s a Band! or Here’s a Thing! or whatever. We’re referencing that a little bit. And we just liked the way it sounded. Somewhere in the midst of all that, it stuck out.
The cover is great. It has an instantly iconic feel to it.
Our drummer Rich designed the sign and we had it fabricated out in Long Island. We’re taking it out on tour with us, actually. We’re going to hang it up at every show.
I imagine that will be a fought over souvenir when the tour ends.
It’s actually in my closet right now. Unsurprisingly, no one is too psyched on storing this pretty huge neon sign in their apartment. I don’t mind – I have a big closet. It’s kind of like, “What am I going to do with this huge neon sign other than put it on a stage somewhere?” As a home decoration, it’s not exactly practical. And it’s bright as hell – you’re not going to turn it on in your house unless you’re wearing sunglasses.
Well, maybe it’ll come in handy when you’re out in Long Island and you have a game room to decorate.
Yeah, exactly, over the pool table or something. That’d be pretty cool, actually.