Literal DIY: Assembling ‘Devil Music’ LPs With the Men
Record, sleeve, insert, download code.
Record, sleeve, insert, download code.
Record, sleeve, insert, download code.
Record, sleeve, insert, download code.
This was my Thursday, cross-legged on the floor of Rich Samis of the Men's screen printing studio, assembling copies of their new LP, Devil Music. The covers, screened by Samis himself, have a purposeful DIY look and feel, one that is mirrored in the band's approach to their new record and label home (We Are the Men Records). Devil Music is due on November 11, so we have our work cut out for us. Stream it in full below.
Formed in 2008, the Men began as a confrontational, noise-soaked punk band with their breakout LP Immaculada. The record was a hit within punk circles, eventually making waves on the outer edges of that scene and leading to the melodic (yet still confrontational) Leave Home for Sacred Bones. With each record, the Men grew bigger, incorporating more melodicism and flexing influences like Dinosaur Jr with each release. By the time their fourth LP for Sacred Bones, Tomorrow's Hits, was released, the Men had toured the world several times, played some of its biggest festivals, and wore themselves out in the process. The band that released five LPs in as many years decided to sit it out for a bit.
Quietly, a year later, they started to reemerge. A local show here, another there, and then in September, the announcement of Devil Music. Which brings us to this pivotal moment — the DIY band actually packing their own records in anticipation of their new LP release and subsequent party on November 10 at Trans-Pecos in NYC (more details). There is something rather poetic and endearing about watching vocalist / guitarist Mark Perro and drummer Samis pack their own LPs, asking for advice about how to efficiently assemble and more (I've assembled my share of LPs). While I joined the pair in assembling the records, I asked about the inspiration for Devil Music, their approach to the band in 2016, sparks of creativity, Pharoah Sanders and "real jobs."
This record is a move towards your own label. Was that mostly based on timing or more of a DIY spirit?
Mark Perro: The timing was what really knocked it over the edge, but part of it is feeling a little burnt out with how everything was going and wanting to have a little more control over what was going on. We kind of toyed with the idea before that, though. Leave Home, we were originally going to do ourselves. We were in the process of doing that, and then Caleb [Braaten of Sacred Bones] — we didn't even know him at that point — came in, and we were like, “Fuck it, let's give it a shot.”
Rich Samis: Let's get one thing straight, though: Caleb goes above and beyond as far creative control, and in a general artistic sense.
MP: He's the most supportive, positive dude in the world. The fact that they've stood behind us is unbelievable. The amount of shit that we've put them through, that must have been so fucking frustrating to deal with — just between wanting to do things a certain way. It's amazing to me.
RS: Every crazy idea we had, they were always down to help. “We're going to go record this in a cabin.”
MP: “Here's a piano ballad, first track.”
RS: If you want to talk about inspiration, it's very inspiring, seeing people like that.
MP: I respect them immensely. Me, personally, they're probably my favorite label now.
When was the last time you did this? Packed up records like this?
MP: Immaculada. I love that shit. I missed it.
I’d imagine there is something very fulfilling in doing that, knowing that these are your creations.
MP: We put a lot of fucking hard work into this, in different ways. It was a true, complete effort. And Sacred Bones, too, they helped us a lot. I think we lost sight of that a little — where this came from and how many people helped us get there. This was all really helpful for us. It’s such a release to me, all these songs and this whole thing. It's like out of my system completely.
Sonically, this record is not quite Immaculada, but sandwiched between that and Leave Home. Where do you think the ideas were coming from, exactly? Did you feel like you wanted to a “back to basics” thing?
MP: I don't think it was a conscious thought of “where we were.” Part of it is, to me, Tomorrow's Hits and New Moon are, in a way, our most experimental records. We were trying all sorts of fucking wacky stuff on those. I think that Devil Music is more just doing the things that we always do — that come naturally for us.
RS: When Tomorrow's Hits came out and we stopped touring, we took a year-long break. We didn't practice, we didn't write songs, we weren't playing shows. It was an actual break-break. We stepped away from it because we were a bit frustrated and felt sort of deflated. So, coming back, there was this spark or fire inside of us. I think that frustration is what led to a lot of these songs. It's a very frustrated record; it's almost like we were purging them.
MP: I mean, I was fucking pissed. The way that we kind of went into that break, I was fucking pissed about everything that was going on — with the band, outside the band, all that stuff. We weren't writing, we weren't playing, we were so lost in this sea of bullshit, and it led a lot to where these sounds came from. I don't want to get petty or anything, but we took a break and it's like, “Oh, you guys are still playing? That's great that you guys are still playing.” Yeah, we're still fucking playing.
It's funny — in this day and age, you take a year off and it's a big deal. Five years ago, a band would be gone for six years and no one would say a word.
MP: I think a lot of people said a lot of shit about us or had preconceived notions of who we were. That's just a very offensive way to approach things, and that bothers me. You don't fucking know what we're about. I'm not even talking about Tomorrow's Hits or Leave Home — none of those things can define who we are. People are going to jump on this fucking bandwagon and look for something and say, “I don't like that — sellouts,” or whatever. Fuck you, man. You have no fucking idea what you're talking about. Come hang out with me in Iowa City on a Tuesday night in some piece of shit bar and you’ll know what it means to be in our band.
Does it feel like when you guys took this time off, you reconnected via the noisy, more punk sound that brought you together in the first place?
RS: For me, and I joined the band a couple years after they formed, I think it's mostly about feeling — how you feel when you're playing and writing. I don't think it's defined by a particular noisy or pop element. It's in how open the approach is, in jamming and being in the band. The approach has always sort of been: come with an idea, play it out and throw it against the wall to see if it sticks. As far as why this is noisy and nasty, that is because that's what the songs called for. Creatively or emotionally, there was something that was brewing inside that needed to come out in a sort of violent way.
MP: The only sort of concept that we had was to — and it wasn't even a concept in a lucid term, because it wasn't discussed at all — let that barrier down and be real about what's going on and how you feel. No preconceived notion about what you're trying to do or what you want to sound like. We don't necessarily need to return to our roots, because this is where we're at right fucking now. With that said, and I can only say this part for me personally, it was such a purging for me. I don't even know if I feel the same way as I felt on the record.
RS: I always think of our records and recordings as documents of where we were at in a particular time. I feel like when we came back from playing again, it was strange because we had taken off so much time, and it definitely felt weird, and then there was a definite moment where — I feel like almost all of these really came together in a span of a month or something.
MP: They came together really fast.
RS: As soon as they came together, we kind of recorded like a month or two after. I feel like around this time last year is when they really came together.
MP: We started playing again in May last year after getting randomly asked to play a show. That almost kick-started it. Then we got together and played a ton of shows in the past year around here, and by the time we went into record, we were so rock solid with these songs. We went in for two days and did the whole fucking thing. Put it up, set it up, mic’d up, ran the tape. All live vocals, almost no overdubs. Maybe a couple with mixing — with synths and weird shit.
RS: Across the board, though, we agreed: “Let's really make it dirty.” We weren't looking back — it was just what the songs called for. We tried to do that in our approach to the artwork, too — I wanted it to have the same feeling as how I felt on the recordings. I was just like, "All right, let's do it. It's done."
With the move toward doing this all yourselves, we talked about that being in your blood from early on. How do you feel about the current state of what's going on in music?
MP: In general, I have a problem with the oversaturation of music coverage and the insertion of so much stuff that has nothing to do with music. There's so many corporate tie-ins, and I think that the internet and blogs have almost made it a little worse. Less is more, and I don't necessarily need to know every detail. We're doing this thing on our own, and part of that is because we don't necessarily like what you're “supposed to do” as a band.
RS: I guess the ballgame has changed and will continue to change. Sometimes I wonder how bands just blow up. Like Sheer Mag — how'd that happen? I don't know. I think it happens by chance and by legitimately being the real deal. It doesn't happen as much as it should.
Is there a band that you guys look at and say, "They're doing it right"? In approach, not even musically. Or does that even matter to you?
MP: It doesn't matter to us, that's for sure. The ones that come to mind to me are not even relevant anymore. Like Fugazi — that's one of the few.
I feel like Fugazi will always be relevant. And I don't even believe in the word "relevant" — it's subjective.
MP: I think as long as somebody is doing what is real for them — because what works for us doesn't work for everybody. There are people that would think the way we're doing this is totally ridiculous, but to us it makes sense.
RS: I guess I'm just inspired by people who continue to create.
MP: Pharoah Sanders, by the same token, he's 75 years old, played with John Coltrane — he doesn't need to still be doing shit, but he does, because that's who he is as a person. That's all that matters, because it's real.
The new LP is on your own label. Do you think you guys would ever put out another band, even one of your other projects?
MP: I would probably do that. I think it would be sick. I like the idea of having a label and putting shit out, but it would really have to be natural. Like a Dream Police record or something like that, but one step at a time. We're really trying to take it with a “let this happen naturally” approach.
Musically, what are you guys listening to now? Is there new stuff that you guys care about?
MP: Other than bands that we're friends with, I don't care about much. I like the new Nick Cave record, though. Warthog. They've got a sound.
RS: A lot of friends' music, because you have an inside [perspective] on the process. It's kind of inspiring to see — to talk to someone that's just kind of your friends and you see them perform and hear them create and it's just totally different. The new Vanity record is really good. Shredded Nerve. JJ Doll.
You guys have regular jobs outside of the band. Do you think having a “real job” and then having a creative outlet with the band helps your process? You come home from your job, you're pissed off, out comes a riff.
MP: It's kind of the Bukowski model. I think it's better. I mean, the opposite was us for years. None of us were working when we were on the road. We were doing screen printing stuff on the side, but we were on the road six to eight months out of the year at least. For me personally, that was a very unfulfilling creative time in my life.
RS: If you're working full-time or even if you freelance, you're putting [in] a lot of hours, even if you love your job. The extra time you have to dedicate to creating or practicing or being in that zone — you really have to want it because there are only so many hours in the day. So, when you're going and practicing and writing, there's so much attention behind it because you're sacrificing so much. It's just a different dynamic. I think it's different for everyone in the band, but it is a different head space. For the Open Your Heart practice sessions, everyone came straight from work, practiced until late night, got up again the next day. We were practicing like crazy.
MP: We practiced on New Year's Eve.
RS: Yeah, we did.
MP: We practiced two, three times a week at least. I think we're way more focused now because we have limited time.
RS: I think we're all kind of workaholics anyways.
As far as the new LP is concerned, you’re gonna do some light touring. After doing all those years of months and months of dates, do you think you'll ever go back out on that level?
MP: See where it goes.
RS: It just depends where we are.
MP: I think the band is going to keep going, no matter what. I'd feel better committing to another record than doing another tour, probably. I think it would have to be pretty special circumstances. We’re just really proud of this record. There's real emotion in all these songs. I'm not trying to say it's some great piece of art or anything, but this is ... probably the truest record of where we are currently.
The Men play their record release show at Trans-Pecos in Ridgewood on November 10 with Vanity, Honey and Lion's Cage. Details are here.