Laura Musselman
Portland band Menomena cobbles heady, experimental rock and roll songs out of as many conflicting instruments and ideas that can be comfortably


Menomena's Danny Seim on Cover Bands, New Members and Being a Control Freak

Laura Musselman
Portland band Menomena cobbles heady, experimental rock and roll songs out of as many conflicting instruments and ideas that can be comfortably crammed onto a track. The result is music that is both precise and loose, cacophonous and composed, emotive and detached, unexpected and familiar. Unfortunately, the band's members don't mesh as well personally as they do musically, and it took three years of conflict-ridden writing and recording for the band's second Barsuk release, Mines to be complete. I spoke with Danny Seim, the band's drummer, on the phone last week about the process, and while a modest smidgen of our interview made it into the paper, the rest of our discussion is worth sharing, too. Herein, we discuss the band's internal conflicts, rumors of Menomena's imminent demise, the band's new fourth member and letting go of creative control. The band plays its first headlining gig at Showbox at the Market Friday (tomorrow) night.

What Northwest bands are you into right now?

Honestly, I've been getting into cover bands from Portland, which is kind of bizarre. Friends of mine that have been in bands forever...there's kind of been a new trend in Portland to stop trying to write music and play other peoples' music. It's funny because when I was younger, I'd always associate cover bands as being kind of the last resort for an aging musician who still wants to make a little money playing casinos, but these bands are playing at the clubs here in Portland with all the other bands. These guys are younger, hip-lookin' dudes with nice hair and tattoos and stuff and they're rocking these songs for these fans of the original bands who are in their mid-to-late '40s and maybe pushing a stroller or two.

It's pretty common knowledge that you and the rest of Menomena fought a lot during the making of this album. Are you guys getting along any better now?

Hypothetically. I don't know. It's funny...we've been asked that a couple times. We were struggling to put this bio together for this new album and I ended up sending out this thing...I was trying to be really honest, but it ended up sounding super depressing. And now people are like, 'Are you still a band?' It just took so long and there was so much conflict and so much conflict of interest and so much personal conflict and so much bad communication. And it just magically worked itself out.

The good thing about this sort of conflict is that it makes you not want to repeat the past. The next time around, maybe we'll learn from these things and streamline the process. This album was the first album that [we] kind of started to realize the career potential, I think...and I think all the other albums we were just fucking around. Music was just kind of a fun hobby. We didn't really have any delusions of grandeur or anything and I'd like to think we still don't.

But with this one, with all the last touring for the Friend and Foe stuff we had to quit our jobs and take music more seriously and treat music as a means to an end. And as much as I'd like to think we can do that without becoming conflicted in that and think, 'How can we...make this commercially viable?', at the same time, it's hard to have a mortgage and student loans and shit like that. It's impossible to work a day job and focus this much time and energy towards music. I think that moving forward I'd just like to hope that we can find a way to sustain ourselves and our creativity without putting too much pressure on the end result.

The three of you recorded Mines at home, on separate computers, without coming into personal contact. Did you do the same with Friend and Foe?

It definitely was a little bit more of a communal effort with Friend and Foe, but at the same time our process hasn't really changed all that much as far as the writing stuff goes. All three of us are just set up to make our own music individually if we wanted to. We all have a decent grasp on playing all the instruments and singing and kind of know what it's like to put a song together on our own. It's more a matter of trusting the other two peoples' input.

Speaking personally, I'll finish a song and I'll think it's the best song on the album and be like, 'Don't touch it. This is perfect. Don't get your grubby hands all over it.' When you finish something, you're delusional, I guess, but then you send it to the other two guys, they change it and alter it and add all these new parts and the initial reaction is, 'You just destroyed my masterpiece!' But then I realize the song is ten million times better than anything I could have come up with on my own and trust that it's going to be kind of painful to see your canvas completely repainted over in some ways. This process as an individual has really taught value Brent [Knopf] and Justin's [Harris] input.

Every record is a lot of tinkering. We've never recorded in a studio, you know, so we have all the time in the world to finesse these songs to death if we wanted to. They're just kind of sitting on our little home computers here for free, basically. There's no pressure, but there's no time constraints, either...every record has been really stretched out and I don't want to say overworked, because the end result is always decent, but there's potential for it to be overworked. It's just us sitting here with our headphones on and mixing vocals so they sound less abrasive.

There are rumors circulating that Menomena might break up after this one. How likely is that to happen? Or are things better between you guys now that the album is done?

It's been better for a few reasons, the first one being we added this new fourth member named Joe Haege. He's been a longtime friend of ours and he's been in a bunch of Portland bands that we've all loved. He's just a total all-around solid dude and I think a fourth person involved does a lot for our morale. Not only does it make some of our songs easier to play because there's another set of hands onstage and a voice that's probably better than all of ours put together, it makes it less stressful because we don't have to juggle so much. But it's also...where there's four people instead of three it increases the social dynamic. There's not an odd man out all the time.

[And] as the band kinda grows and gets more of a wider following, some of our shows kind of become less stressful, you know? We're not just showing up at a tiny bar in Fargo playing to seven people who've never heard us before who wish we were a Robert Palmer cover band. It's...I just feel like it's kinda gotten, I don't want to say easier because it's still stressful to worry about filling bigger rooms, but at least it's really gratifying that more people care about us and more people care if we stay together or not. I feel really fortunate in that way, that we actually have people being supportive. So that's definitely made it easier too, but like I said we leave in two weeks, so who knows how that's gonna turn out, and a lot of stuff is up in the air right now, but I think we're eager to try it again.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow