Tiny Moving Parts, Daddy Issues
1811 14th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20009
For their fifth full-length After the Party, The Menzingers set out to make the quintessential jukebox record: an unstoppably melodic album primed for bar-room sing-alongs. Delivering anthemic harmonies, furious power chords, and larger-than-life melodies, the Philadelphia-based garage-punk four-piece amply fulfills that mission while achieving something much more deeply nuanced. With its delicately crafted storytelling and everyman romanticism, After the Party ultimately proves to be a wistful but life-affirming reflection on getting older but not quite growing up.
“We spent our 20s living in a rowdy kind of way, and now we’re at a point where it seems like everyone in our lives is moving in different directions,” says Tom May, who joined fellow singer/guitarist Greg Barnett, bassist Eric Keen, and drummer Joe Godino in forming The Menzingers as teenagers in their hometown of Scranton. Adds Barnett: “We’re turning 30 now, and there’s this idea that that’s when real life comes on. In a way this album is us saying, ‘We don’t have to grow up or get boring—we can keep on having a good time doing what we love.’”
The Menzingers explore the tension between recklessness and responsibility all throughout After the Party, with the chorus to its opening track “20’s (Tellin’ Lies)” brashly asking “Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?” On lead single “Lookers”—as in, “You were such a looker in the old days”—the band pays loving tribute to their time spent in Asbury Park, weaving in memories of smoke-filled diners and Jersey-girl heartbreakers. Equally soaked in nostalgia, the bittersweet yet blistering “Midwestern States” offers what Barnett calls “an ode to being in our early 20s and touring across the country for the first time, and just how eye-opening that all was for us.” On “Bad Catholics,” meanwhile, The Menzingers match their heavy riffs and high-powered rhythms with a gorgeously detailed narrative of running into a lost love at a hometown church picnic.
Produced by Will Yip (Title Fight, Balance & Composure, Pianos Become the Teeth) and recorded in Yip’s Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based Studio 4, After the Party finds the band breaking into new sonic terrain, such as in the stripped-down reverie of “Black Mass” and the drinking-song-inspired waltz of “Bars.” At the same time, The Menzingers bring that sharpened songcraft to the lyrical element of each track, with songs like “Thick as Thieves” candidly recounting their shared misadventures (“Building castles with cans and bottles/Drinking like they do in novels”). And on “After the Party,” the band spins poetry out of moments as mundane as listening to Minor Threat on a laptop, turning the track into a dreamy meditation on the innocence inherent in unabashed love of music (“Everybody wants to get famous/But you just want to dance in a basement”).
With each song unfolding as its own fully realized story, After the Party came to life thanks largely to an introspective yet outward-looking lyrical sensibility on the part of Barnett and May. “I take notes on pretty much everything I see and experience—things that my friends say or my family members say, things that I see or read,” says Barnett. “And then when I go to write, I go back to those notes and try to think about what they meant, and then build something from there.” Working in a similar way, May points out that “a lot of my songs come from things I took down in the notepad on my phone when I was out at night and then came back to months and months later.” The Menzingers’ most refined album to date, After the Party was also shaped from an intensive writing and pre-production process that involved holing up for five weeks in Yip’s studio. Along with sculpting more expansive arrangements, the band focused on experimenting with new effects and production techniques to forge the album’s dynamic but intricately textured sound.
After the Party’s sophisticated yet emotionally raw songwriting also owes much to The Menzingers’ broadening their palette of influences in recent years. May, for instance, mined inspiration from the off-kilter song structure of Regina Spektor. “Listening to her made me realize that you can go in with an idea and build the song around that, without it really having to go anywhere in particular,” he notes. Barnett, on the other hand, found himself swayed by their bus driver’s constant spinning of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell on a summer 2015 tour of Europe. “You can say what you want about Meat Loaf, but his ability to craft catchy melodies is absolutely insane, where there’s ten of the strongest melodies ever written all just in one song,” says Barnett.
In the making of After the Party, The Menzingers also returned to longtime influences like The Clash, who were key to carving out their sound in the band’s early days. Formed in 2006, The Menzingers made their debut with 2007’s A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology and relocated to Philly in 2008. Over the years, the band steadily built up a devoted fanbase and—in 2012—saw their highly acclaimed Epitaph debut On The Impossible Past voted Album of the Year by Absolute Punk and Punk News. In 2014 they put out their fourth album Rented World, praised as “driving-around-with-the-windows-down music, ready for maximum blasting” by Pop Matters and “one of the best pop punk albums” of the year by Blurt.
For The Menzingers, the emotional depth attained on After the Party took years of determination and perseverance. “When I was younger, I don’t think I had the ability to experience how cathartic making music is to me now, even though I’ve always had so much passion for it,” says May. With May adding that “it’s really reaffirming and amazing that we’ve been able to create an existence out of all this,” The Menzingers are quick to note that the album was also born from a certain newfound sense of ease and freedom. “In the past our records have tended to come from some kind of struggle, like from being broke or going through hard times,” says Barnett. “This record really came from enjoying life and enjoying the friendships we’ve formed with each other—we had so much fun throughout the whole writing and recording process, and I think you can really feel that in the songs.”
Tiny Moving Parts
TMP bio – Swell
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” That well-known quote, often attributed to Dr Seuss, could also be the mantra that Tiny Moving Parts live by. It’s certainly a philosophy that the trio – who hail from the incredibly small town of Benson, Minnesota and were formed in 2008 by brothers Matt and Billy Chevalier (bass and drums, respectively) and their cousin Dylan (vocals/guitar) – applied while making their fourth full-length record, Swell. For while it’s an album that’s full of absence – lost love, lost friends, lost time – it looks for the positives. Instead of dwelling on those empty spaces, Swell instead recalls what was once in their place.
“The album is about trying to be the best person you can be,” explains vocalist/guitarist Dylan Mattheisen, “and being as happy as you can in the world we live in. That’s been kind of the overall theme of our band – just trying to find the positive in shitty situations and keeping your head up.”
To that extent, Swell is the next natural step in the Tiny Moving Parts catalogue. But if 2016’s Celebrate was almost unadulterated in that positive outlook, Swell finds the band – completed by Mattheisen’s cousins, drummer Billy Chevalier and bassist Matt Chevalier – a little bit darker, a little bit sadder. Its songs still manage to conquer and overcome those emotions, but there’s no denying that some of the situations described within them are pretty bleak.
Take album closer “Warm Hand Splash”, for instance. It’s about a piece of trash at the bottom of a wishing well that adores a coin, which someone eventually steals away, leaving the piece of trash forever alone and heartbroken in the dark. Of course, as awful as that sounds, there is still a bright side. Of course there is – this is Tiny Moving Parts.
“There’s two ways you can look at that song,” says Mattheisen. there's two ways you can look at it. A) you're stuck for life in that well and that's really depressing and dark after having your favorite thing taken away. But, B) being happy that even happened, that the happiness it brought you through those days could be happiness that certain people – or pieces of trash! – haven't seen or felt ever in their life.”
It’s not the only song on the record that plays with the idea of conventional narrator. “Smooth It Out” tells the story of an old stray cat in a city who meets a newly stray – and terrified – cat while “Whale Watching” is a story of isolation told from the eyes of a fish that’s been swallowed by a whale and is trying to find a way out. “It’s Too Cold Tonight” is about watching foxes playing outside, the song’s narrator trying to work out – as Mattheisen explains – whether they’re “glowing so bright from the happiness that you don’t have, or if it’s headlights coming towards them.”
Of course, while these songs might not be sung from conventional points of view, a tidal wave of human emotions flows through them and the lyrics are malleable enough for them to relate to the listener’s own life, experiences and emotions.
“I find it fun and interesting to write from someone else's shoes – or, with animals, I guess it'd be their paws,” chuckles Mattheisen, “but I purposefully write them a little vague. I write about specific things but I give the listener their own paint tools so they can color in their own picture and relate to it the way they want to.”
How they do that – whether they give into the dark or choose to look on the bright side of things – is up to the listener, but the music is so life-affirming, so full of uplifting energy, that they may not have a choice. Recorded in Blaine, Minnesota by Greg Lindholm – with whom they recorded 2010’s The Couch Is Long & Full Of Friendship and Celebrate – its ten songs are a rush of blood to both the heart and head, raucous, desperate songs that are fevered and frenzied but infused with the band’s trademark math-rocky guitar licks and playful, shout-a-long choruses. It’s enough to make you forget all your woes and fill your heart with warmth and love. Which was precisely the idea. Taken from a lyric – “May your brain cells swell” – that’s repeated emphatically at the end of “Wishbone”, the idea of Swell’s title is an incredibly visceral one that the band hopes will have a powerful and positive effect on anyone who listens to it.
“The idea,” explains Mattheisen, “is about following that raw happiness in your brain and allowing it to expand and grow to overcome your doubts. It’s about your brain cells expanding and swelling up and swallowing the negativity in your head to serve an overall better outlook on life. If we can impact people and make them more optimistic in life and be nicer to each other, that'd be amazing. We want to let others know that they're not alone. Because shit can go wrong and everyone has their bummer days, but in the long run were all going to pass away someday, so we want to make sure we live a good life and do the best we could to ourselves and towards others.”
Daddy Issues has mastered the art of keeping it real. The band was originally conceived as a parody Twitter account by three close friends -- Jenna Moynihan, Jenna Mitchell, and Emily Maxwell -- who decided to turn their 140-character wit into three-minute pop songs. Thus, Daddy Issues was born. Their music lies somewhere between witchy grunge and surf glam-- kind of like what the girls from The Craft would sound like if they had opted to start a band instead of Invoking The Spirit. Their lyrics center on a young every-woman who celebrates small acts of rebellion while crushing on boys with blue hair.