April 18th, 2011 | Interviews

Photography by Daiana Feuer

We sat down with MEN at a coffeeshop. JD Samson, Michael O’Neill, and new member Tami Hart are on a mission and so their songs are happy and exciting but the message is serious. They keep it very real. We tune into this interview shortly after the band discussed sticking pot cookies up their butts. This interview by Daiana Feuer.

Do you have a favorite tag-word?
JD Samson: Recently I’ve been saying ‘Girl.’ I’ll be like, ‘Giiiirrrll.’ Even to the keyboard. We usually have a word we say a lot. Like ‘shart.’
Michael O’Neill: We like doing accents. I know it’s not really a word but we find our way like talkin’ like we’re in tha South. Tami’s from Carolina so it kinda catches sumtimes. JS: Sometimes we’ll talk in accents when we’re talking about money or serious stuff. ‘Oh I wanted to tell yoo, when yer playin’ that part in that sawng, it’s kinda too lawd.’
MO: It makes it easier to take because I want to hear you say whatever you’re going to say right now, even if it hurts me.
Do you like the song ‘Jolene’?
JS: Yeah. She’s a lesbian.
TH: I heard she has full-sleeve tattoos too.
JS: She does. She wears long sleeves all the time—never shows her arms. I know somebody who had sex with her. [All gasp!]
TH: Nuh-uh.
JS: She teaches knife-throwing.
Dolly Parton?
JS: The person who had sex with Dolly Parton. She’s really serious.
TH: On her obsessed fan website, I read that she says she only has two—one is an angel and one is something else. But I’ve heard that really she’s covered.
What were you doing on a Dolly Parton obsessed fan site?
TH: I wanted to know! I wanted to know about Dolly’s arms.
Do you like Patti Smith? You have that line ‘Free money.’ ‘… My gift to you is a mercy fuck, free money free money,’ to be precise.
JS: That was a direct reference which we love! Emily Roysdon, our collaborator, wrote the lyrics for that song, ‘Life’s Half Price.’ We did some acoustic sessions, and I felt like I was embodying Patti Smith a lot.
Money comes up in a few songs—why?
JS: Every single song. I didn’t even realize it when we were writing it but by the end of it I was like, ‘Oh my god, every song was somehow about money.’ We were writing the record during the financial crisis. It was a scary time financially and I was confused about how I was going to make money. Money became this avenue to discuss all kinds of things like power and love and that kind of was the thread that went through all of those things. I talked about it in therapy. I personally grew up in a mixed-class family. I was confused about where I would belong and that still happens to me. I feel like I’m really trying to keep up all the time and it’s hard. I didn’t realize how hard it was until I started writing about it in everything I did! Even if the song was about how queer people have to spend more money to have babies.
Do you feel like your life is dictated by money?
JS: We’re in our thirties now and all of a sudden money means something different. We’re trying to save up so we can survive the rest of our lives. It’s scary.
MO: The decision to be musicians or artists … well, this is what we feel we are born to do and what we want to do but there’s no money in it. We grew up similarly—in middle-class families where making money was crucial. My parents’ message was, ‘You’re good at guitar but what are you going to do to make money?’ And yeah—they’re still right.
JS: When we decided to put out a record and make this our job, that was a really big decision and that also has a lot to do with it. You can make music all you want but you have to decide to make it your job.
MO: You have to quit your job to make it your job, which was difficult. JS: That’s why this record took three years to make because we had to make money in between. MONEY!
How do you know when you’re in love?
JS: I have this crazy thing physically that happens when I’m in love. My ring fingers—both of them, where my nail is, it hurts. It’s really weird. Under my nail. It’s happened more than once. I’m a lover. I’m usually in long relationships. If I love someone I don’t really ever stop feeling a lot for them. I’m not like, ‘I love you,’ and the next day I don’t love them.
Are you good at admitting you’re in love?
JS: I admit it when I’m in love, but I’m not a U-Haul person, like, ‘We’re going to get married—I just met you.’ Lesbians are known for shacking up after five minutes. I try and take a while to move in.
MO: The prospect of experiencing love can make me feel embarrassed or self-conscious. Knowing I’m in love is when I don’t care, when I’m not looking at myself from the outside. How am I acting? What am I doing? But just being in it completely.
TH: I love love. I fall in love almost every day. But I like to shack up with one special person. I don’t know anything about love.
MO: What is love?
JS: I was thinking today how I want to go to a website that gave free love advice. I was thinking about that in the shower. Is there anything free about love?
JS: I think there can be. Sometimes love can be very freeing but sometimes it can feel very much like jail.
MO: The shitty thing about love is that you’re giving yourself up. And I think in a lot of ways that’s the opposite of freeing. You are sacrificing to be with someone you love. In a way I think it kind of stunts personal growth because you’re working on a growth with a partner instead of yourself.
JS: … That was really nice, what you said.
MO: Are you mocking me? Because if you are, you gotta mock me with a Southern accent.
TH: I would just like to quote Dee-Lite. ‘They say depending on how you see a thing, you cage your mind or you free it.’ … That’s ‘Good Beat.’ She just wants to hear a good beat.
JS: And I may just want to quote George Michael. ‘Freedom.’
Is that the part you want to quote?
JS: Wait, how does it go? ‘Freedom, I won’t let you down, but I will not give you up, Freedom. Gotta have some faith in the sound. It’s the one good thing that I got.’ I might also quote Eminem.
Not from the song about beating someone?
JS: No, it’s the song about how music is his life. [Looks down solemnly.] MO: It’s pretty amazing. So much of music is about love and everybody can say the same thing over and over again and it never gets old. Like: ‘I love you.’ ‘What is love?’ ‘Is this love?’ ‘Love is—’
JS: [sings] ‘Love hurtssss!!’
MO: Love is a winding road. Love is a long road.
JS: [sings] ‘Why don’t we do it in the road?’
MO: ‘Love is a battlefield.’ C’mon, it never gets old!
JS: Yeah it does. That’s why we don’t write about it. Money is the new love.
Is it the artists’ responsibility to lessen the burdens of life for their audience?
JS: I don’t think our attempt is to lessen the burden, but just to realize the burden and admit the burden. Someone asked me if my record was depressing and I was like, ‘Whoa, it is kind of depressing.’ It’s just realities. Some of them are really depressing. Most of them are. But they are set to happy music. We’re creating this reality that is aware there are burdens. I’m reading The Tao of Wu. It’s by RZA. That book is awesome. There’s all these quotes from Eastern philosophy and there’s one about listening. It takes someone seven seconds to decide that they’re going to say what they’re going to say. They go over it seven times in their head before they say it. Just remember, it’s a lot easier to break the glass than to build the glass. It’s basically that we should think of everybody speaking as this thing that they’ve created and thought about and it took them a lot to put that energy out to do it. We should take it as a gift and listening is our gift back, instead of smashing their gift of speaking. Wait, what am I trying to say?
That you’re lessening the audience’s burden and in return they’re giving you the gift of listening instead of smashing you to pieces.
TH: We’re lessening the burdens of queer youth in small Midwestern middle-American towns. MEN can’t live in a commune in Detroit and make music because they have to get the message out. Which is why I was psyched to play with them. When I left South Carolina, I had to get out of there or else I would be … I don’t know what I would be! I just think it’s important. All this gay bullying is still happening. There’s a relevant message.
MO: I was just thinking about being a teenager and wanting to be a musician. I’m lucky to be able to do this and tour and be a musician. Even though there are a lot of things that could have prevented me from doing this, but I feel like it’s important to pass the torch. … If some 13-year-old kid jamming out in his room gets inspired by our music and ends up doing his own thing, that’s pretty awesome.