On the eve of Menomena’s CD release show for Friend or Foe, which will feature a glorious, 25-member choir mostly comprised of Portland indie rockers, Brent Knopf and Danny Seim took some time out from rehearsing to talk to the Vanguard. Here are some highlights from our chat.
Who are your favorite musicians?
Brent Knopf: Probably PJ Harvey. I like To Bring You My Love and Is this Desire? When I listen to her, I mostly respect her guitar playing.
Danny Seim: Brent and I were in a cover band called The Gay Lon Mabons. It was an all-PJ Harvey cover band. We played one show, at the Meow Meow, opening for a Tooth & Nail band … I love PJ Harvey as well.
Who are your favorite drummers?
DS: I know that I like Led Zeppelin a lot, but I don’t think John Bonham would have been as amazing without John Paul Jones … I kind of dedicated my life to The Flaming Lips drummer, Steven Drozd, right around the time Menomena started. I still am impressed with them. It’s waned a bit, but I’m impressed by his ability to multi-task.
Has it been a much different experience with Barsuk Records and your old label, Film Guerrero?
BK: Not in terms of integrity. You just can’t compare a label that has one person versus a label that has a dozen or 15 working all the time, every day. In some ways, it’s not really fair to compare the two. It’s like comparing Moonstruck Chocolate to … what’s a bigger chocolate company?
BK: They’re both good, one’s just on a bigger scale.
What are your plans this year?
DS: We’ve got an album release tour in early March. About a month after the album’s release, we’ll hit the ol’ road. The same path we’ve taken in the past, around to the major cities and a few of the smaller ones in between-the East Coast in late March, over to South by Southwest.
BK: We’ll probably tour in the fall…
How did you guys get hooked up with Craig Thompson?
DS: He did that [graphic novel] Blankets thing. John Askew from Film Guerrero did the listening companion. We did a book signing show in Anacortes with Tracker, which is John’s band, and Holy Sons, and that’s where we met Craig. We’ve kept in touch…Craig’s become a big surfing buddy of Justin’s. He’s become close with Holly and I as well. He’s just an awesome guy. Brent had this crazy idea for the album artwork, and I don’t think the three of us could have pulled it off. Craig was the obvious first choice. It really blows me away. I don’t think any of us had any idea it was going to be that intense. We just gave Craig the parameters …and before we knew it, he had this whole new world drawn.
Are you going to do music videos for this album?
BK: Hopefully at least one, for “Wet and Rusting.”
DS: Lance Bangs is working on it.
BK: It should be released early March.
Whose idea was it to sing with a choir?
DS: Justin’s. His songs tend to be more vocally layered. He put this together with the help of his opera-singing mom, Diane Harris.
BK: I’ve been very amazed at these people working so hard for the fun of it. I feel very excited about it.
What inspires your musical ideas?
BK: Usually I just try to be quiet. The problem is usually that there’s too many ideas, or I’m not really listening. The better stuff, personally, comes when I’m quiet and don’t try to force it.
DS: The song “Rotten Hell”… I was so bored with that Deeler session [the demo recording session]. I thought I would just play the shittiest drumbeat to compliment that shitty bass line. I don’t know how I ended up arranging that song, but now it’s one of my favorites. The software is great for that … just take these raw, crappy tracks and two months down the road they might not sound so horrible.
BK: For the Deeler session for “Ghost Ship,” there was a guitar riff that I was mortified about. Every time I heard it, I felt like a fraud as a musician. Somehow, Danny placed it in the song such that it doesn’t sound awful somehow. You never know …what you hate the most you might end up liking later.
DS: The problem with trying to write songs linearly, at least for me, where you sit down and try to strum interesting chords with an interesting melody on top of it-when I try to do that I get so frustrated. When you do the spontaneous thing, even things that might be boring can still sound fresh and exciting because they capture that moment. Some of our songs, the chord progressions might.
Are your Deeler sessions all totally improvised?
DS: Yeah, we set the tempo with the click track first, then layer the drums to the click track, then layer the other instruments to the drums. There’s always a click track, so the more you layer, it’s always anchored to that click. You can then split those tracks apart without it sounding off-tempo.
Do you have favorite songs from this album?
DS: I have favorite moments.
BK: I feel good and bad about all the songs. That’s kind of what I strive for in music…where it makes me feel some way where I can’t really describe. I guess I should be satisfied when that does happen. There’s some songs, where I know I don’t like it…and I’ll listen to it and still be a little be puzzled. And I get kind of excited that I’m still puzzled with the music after listening to it so many times.