I interviewed Nick Chiericozzi of The Men few weeks back. I’ve loved The Men for a really long time so this was a pretty cool moment for me and Nick was super chill (when I finally got to him – I was given the wrong number initially and ended up massively confusing a random dude in Brooklyn when I persisted to ask him questions about his acoustic album). You can read the majority of my conversation with the real Nick below.
The 405 Meets: The Men
Having started out as a three-piece punk outfit in 2008, The Men have not only gone not from strength to strength, but from genre to genre, perfecting their command over every single one along the way. Now operating as a five-piece (with original bassist Chris Hansell replaced by Ben Greenberg), the Brooklyn-based post-punk outfit take a no-one-is-frontman approach to performance and production that makes their music consistently fresh and versatile.
Earlier this year, The Men headed upstate to a remote Catskills locale that they turned into a live-in studio. The main product of this time away from the city was the country-tinged New Moon, their fourth full-length in as many years that came out in March this year. Alongside that, they also managed to put together an acoustic EP, released earlier this month. Campfire Songs features three reworked versions of New Moon‘s ‘I Saw Her Face’ and ‘The Seeds’, ‘Water Babies’ (a b-side to New Moon‘s single, ‘Electric’) as well as two brand new tracks, ‘Turn Your Colour’ and ‘Patience’.
We spoke to one of the founding three members, Nick Chiericozzi [guitar/vocals], about the constant transformation of The Men, recording in the woods and how Campfire Songs came to be.
Why did you choose to do different versions of ‘I Saw Her Face’, ‘The Seeds’ and ‘Water Babies’?
I guess the songs were still being… Well, ‘Water Babies’ and ‘The Seeds’ hadn’t really been recorded yet; we were sort of still figuring that out. So we decided to just hang out by the fire and play for a change of pace. We were working in a house that we converted into a studio, so it felt right to change up the scene a little bit and go hang out outside and play at night time. ‘I Saw Her Face’ was written a while – probably three or four months – before, but I just wanted to change it up by having four acoustics going verses like the whole regular setup with Rich [Samis] on drums and all. So I guess we were still just working through the songs and they ended up sounding really good.
Campfire Songs was recorded in upstate New York at the same time you were recording New Moon. With both records was it just a case of jamming out all the songs and seeing which versions you preferred?
Basically, yeah. I mean we definitely knew we were making acoustic songs [laughs]. We didn’t have enough cable to run power outside but we did have enough to run microphones out so it ended up being kind of like a demo version. But a lot of times with other bands I like the demo or the first version better than the final one that ends up being on the record. In this case think I kind of like all three – I don’t know if I like them better, but they have different vibe. When we went up there we didn’t have many songs. We had ‘I Saw Her Face’ and ‘Half Angel Half Light’ and a little bit of ‘The Brass’, then we had about four or five other songs we recorded that didn’t end up being on the record. The whole thing was just an ill-orchestrated event, really, but we got an album out of it [laughs].
Of the three, ‘Water Babies’ is probably the most chaotic/least likely to lend itself to an acoustic reworking, but despite being more stripped back none of the songs lose their bite. How do you feel the acoustic and full versions of the first three tracks compare?
Well they’re good sketches, I guess. I like my vocals better in the acoustic ones. I sing on ‘The Seeds’ and on the record we had to do the damn thing like five or six times because I was on a different floor to the rest of the guys singing, so it was kind of just playing with headphones and by the sixth take I was like, let’s just get through this, which is kind of a shame. It’s something I wish I had re-done but I mean that’s the kind of thing you end up living with when you make an album. You go in expecting one thing and a lot of times this whole other thing comes out of it. Not that I’m not happy with that, but I like the sort of quieter vocals on the acoustic versions. They seem to be sung with… I don’t wanna say more feeling because that’s not right, I just think they’re sung more subtly. When you have an electric guitar you sort of tend to over-sing or over-deliver on times but you know, it was so informal and there was nothing to lose and a lot of times you’re better off for that. I think vocally that’s one of the things I like a lot more or thought was at least interesting about the acoustic versions.
When you were playing outside what kind of setup did you have?
We had microphones that were cabled out through a window up to the fire, which you see on the cover of the album. Aside from that there I had a twelve-string acoustic, a six-string acoustic…all guitar-based stuff and maybe a harmonica, I don’t know. Rich had a floor tom, shakers and a cymbal. And I guess actually a bit of harmonium went out there – that was for the song ‘Turn Your Color’ – which is essentially an Indian accordion, more or less, and added a cool texture to that drone bit on it. It filled the air really well, especially at night.
Yeah, the two new tracks, ‘Turn Your Color’ and ‘Patience’, definitely feel more drone-y and psychedelic than anything you’ve done before. Is that a feel and direction you’d intended to go with or did it come about naturally during the recording?
Oh cool. Well, I don’t think they’d been spoken about. I think maybe individually we’d thought about them and maybe Mark [Perro, vocals/guitar] and I had talked about some of them. Aside from ‘I Saw Her Face’ they were all just being tinkered with and there was just a window into a point in time where they were still being worked on and before they eventually became laid down to tape.
Have you considered releasing an acoustic album of entirely new material?
That would be cool. I primarily write songs on an acoustic anyway, so there’s always an acoustic version – even if it’s a part that doesn’t make it onto the track – and it would be cool to include some of that stuff. But just have a single voice and an acoustic guitar. I think it’d be pretty cool to mix that in.
Do you think there’ll be more of a psychedelic or acoustic influence on future releases or is it just something you played with for Campfire Songs?
Oh, yeah! We did a fifth album at the beginning of this year and it’s gonna come out sometime early next year. It has a much different sound to New Moon. It’s pretty slick sounding, for us. It sounds pretty big. The drum sound is really good. I like the drum sound more on this newer one than I do on New Moon. The rhythm section in general sounds really together. There’s a saxophone and some horns, a lot more piano… I don’t know if it’s country or psychedelic. It’s pretty poppy, really. It’s a lot different. But that’s been a while so that ones done and we have some other new songs that Mark and I have been working on that have a lot of different textures too, some synth stuff, some drum machine… Yeah [laughs] it’s a lot of stuff! We’re not really shooting for a genre. There were a lot of country vibes and Americana, people say, on New Moon, and I think that’s cool, I like that kind of music. But yeah, we don’t really stick to one thing. We kind of say one thing in a lot of different ways.
You’ve been through a lot of sonic changes as a band and you’ve also lost and gained a member. How have things changed since The Men first started?
That’s a good question. I think one thing I really like about the band is we have a wide breadth and range, I feel. I always thought that was a good thing, and we play like that in other bands. When we think of a song we might release it as an acoustic or it could be a very layered sound like on Open Your Heart… We’re just exploring, really. We just kind of bounced back and forth from the harder, pissed off kind of stuff that we started with – we did that and I think we perfected that kind of thing as best we could. Then tastes changed and our environment changed and then there’s new members and they bring their own thing in. It’s really the personnel, I think, that probably has a lot to do with it, you know? And what everyone’s into at the same time. Also the band is five people now and it was just Mark and I in the beginning, so that’s a big change. I think it takes a while to learn how to play with five people. It’s like hanging out with four other friends, you know, you can’t all talk at once. And it’s fun, but it gets confusing. You have to be laid back at certain times, step out other times, be aggressive at other times in another point in the song… and there’s a lot of room for that, so I think that’s a big deal, the fact that we’re a bigger number. I think being a bigger band you should play less. It’s about playing less and being people who play with more of a groove.
When you recorded New Moon and Campfire songs, you had a lot more free time to focus on writing a record. Was the whole process helpful for you in terms of having more of a free reign to explore new sounds?
Yeah, it was. Also time away from everybody is helpful [laughs]. After you tour or release an album… I remember when we finished I had nothing to say, really. You put so much out there and it’s self-depleting. I felt like I had nothing else to give, really, but when you’re at that point I think you’re open to hear music in a different way. I sort of enjoy playing by myself after we go on tour and… yeah. I think we all listen to a lot of different kinds of music and pretty much all of us are in other bands. When you play with a lot of people it’s good, you know? You need people for ideas and different temperament with instruments and it brings out different sides of you. When we get together in this ensemble, I think it’s the strongest of anything I do musically, but yeah, you need a lot of ideas from other people.
What were the main things you were listening to when you were recording?
I listened to Hendrix a lot. There was a lot of Electric Lady. We were listening to New Morningby Bob Dylan. All the standard rock stuff [laughs]. I remember listening to Hendrix a lot, I really like the recording qualities of the Hendrix albums. What else were we listening to up there? We listened to a British band called Dr. Feelgood. They kind of sound like Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers a little bit but it’s a little more R&B and more pub rock… I’m not really sure what you would classify them as but they’re a pretty cool band. Mostly while we were cooking we were listening to music. We made all our meals together so someone would throw on an album other than listening back to what we had just done.
Retreating from civilisation and listening to Hendrix sounds like a pretty cosmic time. Would you like to repeat that kind of recording experience?
I hope so, yeah. I don’t know if we will but I hope we do. I think it’s very rewarding. I feel a lot closer to those guys as friends as well as making music together. I think everyone maybe shows more of themselves than they usually do, coming from a busy life into a practice space in a basement in Brooklyn verses a beautiful house on a mountain. We were probably a bit more relaxed. That was a good feeling. So I hope we get out of town again.
Originally published on The 405 here.