Turning 10: The Menzingers' Tom May revisits 'Rented World'
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Monday, April 22, 2024 - 19:22
Turning 10: The Menzingers' Tom May revisits 'Rented World'

Ten years ago today, we were treated to The Menzingers’s fourth album, ‘Rented World’. And with the band opening up their sound more than ever before, it really was a treat. The album not only gave the band their most streamed song ever in the form of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore’ (great video as well!), it also packs some of my favorite Menzingers songs in the form of the melancholy-drenched ‘Where Your Heartache Exists’, the expansive ‘Transient Love’ and of course, ‘In Remission’. To celebrate the occasion, we caught up with vocalist/guitarist Tom May for a look back at the writing and recording of the album.

The Scranton punks will be celebrating 10 years of ‘Rented World’ with a one-off date in Philadelphia on November 29, and two nights at London’s Underworld on December 6 – 7. Get your tickets here https://themenzingers.com/pages/tour.


PRT: I guess a logical place to start would be the first song on ‘Rented World’... 10 Years down the line, did Greg succeed in not being an asshole anymore?

Tom: Haha, oh yeah. Ten years is a long time. A lotta miles, a lotta people, a lot of beers. People have come and gone. I was actually thinking and writing on this very thing the other day. I like to think we’ve grown as musicians. We’re definitely much better. But interestingly, we have really grown as people. Seriously, I’m so damn proud of myself and the boys for the people that we have become. Our communication skills and the way we support each other and our friends and family are better than I ever would have thought. It’s pretty fucking sick.

Fun fact: the chorus was lifted right from the real world via our drummer Joe. If I remember correctly, he was kind of stomping up and down the steps singing and saying some kind of version of not wanting to be an asshole anymore. It became our most streamed/played song and that is hilarious.


PRT: Both you and Greg write very personal songs that deal with things that are going on in your lives. What is it like to still sing those songs 10 years later when the things that the songs are about, are a thing of the past?

Tom: That’s a good question. We’ll take things from our own lives and use them to craft more broad and relatable stories and narratives. The older I get the more I see how deep the role of stories are in the human experience. It’s how we describe the entire world to ourselves and each other. We use them to explain everything. I could go on about that for days.

We are not the same people we were ten years ago and we don’t view the world in the same way. It’s ok to change your mind and it’s part of everyone’s experience to be wrong. However, these stories aren’t rigid moral tales or dogmas haha. We view them differently but they are what they are. Personally when I’m singing one of those old songs the broader stories work, but once in a while a very specific memory - bitter or sweet - will pop into my mind and heart and I’ll either crack a smile or hold it deeply.


PRT: Are there songs from ‘Rented World’ - or any of your other albums - that you don’t play anymore because you can no longer relate to the lyrics?

Tom: I’ve never told anyone this, but we have some songs about friends that passed and after I learned about some other circumstances surrounding their death, I said I would never play one specific song again. I’m not going to name it because of family and such. But looking back that was more of a reactionary response. After all these years and all this time I’m grown the fuck up, ya know? Maybe we will play it again some day.


PRT: Can it be weird to have people come up to talk to you who feel like they know you through your songs, but you don’t know the first thing about them?

Tom: Ah, the parasocial special! On sale now! Honestly though, no, it is not weird. Thankfully our fans are some of the sweetest and most level-headed people out there. They’re smart, they have interesting lives and jobs and they often share a connection with their loved ones through our music. I love talking to fans of our band. There’s some weirdos out there, don’t get me wrong, but we’re all weirdos in some way. Sometimes you get somebody thats pretty hammered but we’ve all got one of those cousins or something ya know? Also we’re the ones putting ourselves out there. Can’t be upset when ya get what ya give.


PRT: Even though you write these very personal songs, I read an interview with Greg where he says that he never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. Does that work the same way for you?

Tom: Absolutely. No great stories without a little story spice. Our songs are not autobiographical in an objective sense. We should put one of those law and order “all resemblances to real life people are coincidence yada yada”. That’s actually where the title of the new record “Some of it Was True” came from.


PRT: Today marks the 10th anniversary of ‘Rented World’. What does the album mean to you personally?

Tom: Ya know, it’s interesting. It’s a great record. It doesn’t have the same story in our career as ‘On The Impossible Past’ or ‘After The Party’ et al. Those records are far and wide fan and critic favorites. ‘Rented World’ was not panned or a creative failure or anything crazy like that. But it’s not at the top. But every time I revisit it, I remember how much fucking fun it was to record and how good it felt to take the reigns and do something we felt was different. It’s tough to have 95 songs and trim that down to 25 for a live set, so we don’t play a ton of those songs live. Perhaps the biggest association I have with ‘Rented World’ is that it came out and sustained us when we really became full time musicians. Oh! And although we’re now split, I met my wife because she was covering us in the studio and such for a music magazine. These are some beautiful memories.





PRT: What was the first song you wrote for the album and how did it come about?

Tom: So we wrote the big chunk of this record in a shared performance warehouse place up on Castor Ave in Port Richmond in Philly. It was a kind of long trip up and back and we would listen to live demos on those drives. I don’t remember which was actually first but one of the first was this way poppier kind of version of the guitar line and chords for Asshole. I can vividly hear it. The record could have gone in a way different direction haha.


PRT: Was ‘Rented World’ in general an easy album to write?

Tom: None of our albums have been remotely easy to write haha. Except ‘On The Impossible Past’ actually.


PRT: You spent more time writing and recording ‘Rented World’ than any of your previous albums. Was that simply because your schedule allowed it or did you set out to have more time for the album?

Tom: We set out to have more time, and we had more money. We were able to afford a practice space and didn’t have to work other jobs the whole time. These days we have all kinds of high and low level conversations about our writing and producing. We have a whole arsenal of mental and real-world tools (we have our own studio in Philly) at our disposal now. And there’s intention. While we had intention for ‘Rented World’, we were still learning a whole mess about ourselves and our band.


PRT: How ‘finished’ was the album when you headed into the studio?

Tom: I’m gonna say 90% finished, whereas our previous records were basically done and we just re-recorded what we had. Working with Jon Low, we were able to craft a whole shit-ton of new sounds and pieces we never would have thought of on our own.


PRT: Low is best-known for his work with non-punk musicians like Kurt Vile and The National. Did you seek out a producer working with non-punk musicians because the songs were already moving in a slightly different direction?

Tom: Kind of, yeah! Jon Low was good friends with Restorations, some of our closest buds. Jon had many different ideas about gear, about the recording process and he was a Philly kid. Also, he was a peer. We specifically wanted a producer that was at a similar point in their career as us. There was something attractive about both being hungry to work and shape our identities.

Jon is still a friend, in fact he mixed our newest record! Jon showed us how we could get a certain analog sound and vibe by cutting the drums and bass live, using some vintage guitars, and blasting some tracks through a Space Echo. It was an incredible experience working with him.


PRT: You recorded at Miner Street Studio in Philadelphia. It was the first time that you recorded an album at home. I’ve already heard bands say that recording an album elsewhere had an impact on the end result. Did staying close to home have an impact on ‘Rented World’ as well?

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I rode a motorcycle at the time and had a little ritual of riding up to Fishtown to start the day. We were with friends and their visits undoubtedly left a vibe on the record. The corner store where we got lunch, the bar across the street (it was called the Nut Hut) and even the coffee spots left a mark. When recording elsewhere you get fully immersed in the project and basically every minute is for that purpose. Staying home you still have parts of your life to deal with, but it’s also a stronger reflection of your life.


PRT: I feel like if ‘On the impossible past’ was the album that made you become more of a household name, then ‘Rented World’  was the one where you really started to build on your sound with songs like ‘Where Your Heartache Exists’, ‘Transient Love’ and ‘When You Died’. Was there ever any hesitation to already change up the sound so soon after you started reaching a wider audience?

Tom: Actually quite the opposite. No hesitation, we did it on purpose. We constantly want to do something new. I understand we aren’t genre-jumping virtuosos or wildly talented multi-instrumentalists, but with every record we want to change. We’re constantly trying to get better and challenge ourselves. We’re also avid music and art fans and with each passing year we take on more influences.

There was certainly pressure not to fuck it up since ‘On The Impossible Past’ gave us a following we never had. But with more time and plans we were able to make songs like ‘Transient Love’.


PRT: I read that you wrote the album during a darker time for the band because ‘On The Impossible Past’ was such a big album for you, but not so big that you could live comfortably off it. And how the success came with a lot more touring, which put a lot of strain on your relationships with people at home. Was there ever a time where you thought about whether it was all worth it?

Tom: The past is often remembered as an easier time than it was. There definitely were tough times because we were constantly broke. However, we didn’t have to work for someone else anymore. Relationships at home were definitely strained with the increased touring. And the touring was hard. However personally (maybe kind of selfishly) I never thought about whether it was all worth it. It was always worth it. Up to that point I hadn’t had many long term relationships, I had never lived with a partner, I had simple needs and wants and making a “living” rolling around with my best friends making music was fucking awesome haha. It still is.


PRT: On 2017’s ‘After The Party’, you sang ‘Where are we gonna go now that our twenties are over?’. In a couple more years your thirties will be over as well. Any ideas already on where you are gonna go then?

Tom: If I had to predict it I would say we are going to lean into a whole new part of ourselves. I can see us producing a lot of our music ourselves. We’ll probably incorporate new rhythms and sounds (I’ve become a synth nerd and got my hands on a mellotron for what its worth). We’ll really try to hone in on our story telling and the reflections of life that draw people to our music. I’m fucking excited! I sometimes worry what it’d be like playing punk songs you wrote when you were 20 at the age of 45 and what that says but then I remember how much I love what we do and how we continue to challenge ourselves and to some degree our listeners to keep on making music that makes people feel like themselves. We’ve grown with our fans the whole time. Ain’t no reason to stop now.

Tom Dumarey
Tom Dumarey

Lacking the talent to actually play in a band, Tom decided he would write about bands instead. Turns out his writing skills are mediocre at best as well.