At the time that the Menzingers began to write the tunes for On the Impossible Past, the 2012 disc that would become their breakthrough album, they had just started to do a lot of touring. Given their rise in profile, they approached Epitaph, a respected punk label, about putting out the new album and submitted acoustic demos of the songs they were working on. That sealed the deal, and the group, which had written the songs all in “one chunk” instead of in different sessions, headed to Chicago, a city where it drew particularly well, to record at Atlas Studios with Matt Allison and Justin Yates.
“Matt and Justin recorded Alkaline Trio, and we were excited to go in there and record with some of the same equipment and with the same guy,” says singer Tom May via phone from an Amarillo, TX tour stop. The Menzingers perform on Wednesday, Jan. 4, at House of Blues. “Chicago at that point was one of the best places for us to play. It was a city where we drew a lot of people. We were welcomed with open arms there and had lots of friends there. They knew us when we walking into the bar. Even though it was winter, it was a wonderful experience.”
Songs such as “Gates,” a track that opens with nothing more than a brittle guitar riff as it builds slowly, and the droning title track feature poetic lyrics that show off the band’s sensitive side.
“On the record, whoever wrote the song also wrote the lyrics for it,” says May. “We were really into the Clash, and [guitarist] Greg [Barnett] was into Russian writers. I was getting into [singer-songwriter] Regina Spektor. I didn’t listen to Bruce Springsteen while growing up, but that music was becoming something in my life, and I was going through his back catalog. The biggest inspiration was just people in our lives. A lot of the lines are pulled from conversations with people we were entangled with at the time.”
The chorus of “Casey,” for example, was written by a friend of the band’s, and the group reworked it into a different story.
For the current tour, the band will celebrate the album's tenth anniversary and play On the Impossible Past from start to finish. After playing the album in its entirety, it will then play a mix of other tunes, old and new.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]