In this week's music feature, Menomena drummer Danny Seim goes into detail about the band's unique songwriting process and its newest Barsuk Records full length, Mines. Read on below for some interview outtakes, in which contributor Ryan Wasoba discovers Seim's apparent obsession with Creed and Rush, and explores Menomena's commercial potential. The band is playing tonight at 8 p.m. at the Luminary Center for the Arts. Tickets are $12 to $14.
Ryan Wasoba: Now that Menomena has more tricks up its sleeve in the recording studio, has it changed your songwriting? Danny Seim: The more we've learned about recording and mic placement, the more we have to contain ourselves and not go too far from it. The limitations we used to have became our sound back in the day. If we get too comfortable, we could go into these long-winded directions. I don't see us writing vague references to saving the whales or something. Or maybe we'd go the opposite route and become the next Creed. Nothing against Creed, by the way. (Singing in fake Scott Stapp voice - ) "Can you take me high-ah?"
Let's talk about your side project, Lackthereof. Does that outlet relieve the stress that comes with Menomena? It's really helpful. Back in the day, Lackthereof was the side project of my first band with Justin [Harris]. We were sort of this Christian grunge band with a hint of Dave Matthews. It was a poor man's Creed.
You keep coming back to Creed! Well, they're the definitive band of our generation. (laughs) In that first band, I was the singer and guitarist. I couldn't play drums at the time, and I wasn't very good at singing or guitar either so I just made a fool of myself on stage. If I hadn't bought a four-track recorder, I'd associate playing music with being in that band. I probably would have moved to Brazil and given up on music.
So Lackthereof preceded Menomena? Yeah. Back in the day I would make these tapes and hand them out to like 15 people. Brent [Knopf] was one of those fifteen people. Luckily he didn't blow me off. He listened to my tape and saw potential in it. I was never confident enough to perform Lackthereof live back then, and Menomena gave me the option of hiding behind a drum kit. Modern day Lackthereof is an outlet where I can make songs without having to worry about pleasing Brent and Justin. With Brent's side project Ramona Falls, it's a similar thing. But that's the good thing about Menomena: It's the filter of approval, and I'm really grateful for their quality control.
Menomena exists in the weird spot where you're accessible, but the average person would just think you're weird. Do you think there's a self-inflicted cap on how successful Menomena can become? Hmmmm...Did you happen to see that Rush documentary that came out last year [Beyond The Lighted Stage]? I'm not a big Rush fan, but it's really amazing. One of the most clear examples of a band going against the flow of what people perceived as popular, but the mainstream actually shifted to them. They're the dorkiest, nerdiest guys. There's a scene where they're on tour with Kiss. All the Kiss guys are out partying and Rush are in their hotel room playing Scrabble.
Are they nerdier than Menomena? I don't know - we've been accused of wearing matching pocket protectors. But the core of their band is being friends and being nerds, and they are really aware that they're dude rock and they play huge arenas that are 99 percent male. I'm not saying that we want to aspire to play to only dudes, but I think my goal in life now is for Menomena to be thought of the same way people think about Rush. Just whatever success comes our way being a testament to our friendship and talent and determination.
It seems like all the things that make Menomena interesting and unique are the same things that prohibit you from ever having a conventional "hit" song. I think if Menomena went out to write a perfect three minute song that would fit perfectly on whatever the 2010 version of The O.C. is, we'd fail miserably. I think we have to keep making music that appeals to us, if something comes out like a concise pop song, that's cool.
"Wet And Rustling" was close. I could see that. But if we're too worried about making concise pop songs, we'd go crazy because we've never had to do that before. Fortunately, Barsuk are really supportive of what we do and we don't have that major label sort of pressure, which is good because we don't have any resentment towards our label. But maybe having some kind of deadline or some kind of pressure would help us move faster. I don't know, I'd like to point out how it takes me twenty minutes to explain why we can't write a three-minute pop song.