Rank Your Records: Mark Perro Plays Favorites with The Men’s Six Albums
Before the release of their seventh album, 'Drift,' the co-frontman and songwriter looks back on the Brooklyn rock outfit's genre-hopping career.
In Rank Your Records , we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Brooklyn rock mainstays The Men have had a career arc that’s been as unpredictable as it has been solidly consistent. Formed in 2008 as the product of punk kids with a strong sense of DIY ethics who played basement shows, the band, which has always boasted songwriting pair Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi, has gradually and consistently evolved in its decade-long run. Their sophomore album, 2011’s Leave Home, is a strikingly loud and adventurous foray into painstakingly textured, distortion-based drone, while their breakthrough LP, 2012’s Open Your Heart, was a masterclass in fuzz-riddled, anthemic rock ’n’ roll.
The middle point of the band’s career took another sharp turn. 2013’s New Moon, which was recorded over a weeks-long stay at a summer house in Big Indian, New York, dove headfirst in the country-leaning lap-steel flirtations the Men debuted on Open Your Heart. The album was jammy, twangy, and still felt authentic to the band’s identity, even though it sounded like none of their earlier records. While still relatively rootsy, its successor, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Hits, tightened up that sound for a polished, songs-forward LP that’s still the band’s most immaculately produced collection yet.
Nowadays, the only constant with the Men has been their proclivity to never stay in the same place. Compared to Tomorrow’s Hits, the self-released 2016 follow-up Devil Music was almost impossibly lo-fi and bare bones. Out of context, it’s a drastic turn, but knowing the band’s noise-punk roots, it’s undoubtedly a fitting and cathartic change in direction. Battling complacency has long been the band’s calling card, and as co-frontman Mark Perro looks back on his own discography, his sentimental favorites have more to do with the dynamic of the band than of the songs themselves.
He explains, “At first, I didn't know if I wanted to do this—self-evaluating and being forced to make judgments like that—but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was thinking too much into it. It was really fun to think back on the different reasons I like certain records. Some were very personal but it ended up being a really positive thing.”
The band’s forthcoming seventh album, Drift, which is out March 2 via their longtime label Sacred Bones, is a fitting display of all of the their charms and talents. There’s rootsy, Lou Reed-inspired acoustic cuts, but there are also eerie, industrial-based tracks like “Maybe I’m Crazy.” Fans of any of the Men’s various iterations will find something to love. “I think we're finally starting to actually understand how to write a song. That's always been my number one imperative and I think that we’re finally getting there, learning how to strip things down and not hide behind the distortion anymore. But yeah, Drift would definitely be in my top seven," Perro slyly jokes.
Ahead of that album’s release, I called up Perro to see how he views his boundary-pushing band’s seven-album catalog in retrospect.
6. Open Your Heart (2012)
Mark Perro: One of them has got to be last. In a way, this is our best record and that's kind of why I put it there. Because with all of our other records, there's this sense of exploration and they're all kind of messy and unsure of themselves. They're just very exciting to me because I can hear that enthusiasm. With Open Your Heart, not to toot our own horn, we were almost so good at that point that it was just automatic. I don't relate a big, personal experience with it, I guess. But with that said, I love of that record. Some of those songs are some of our best. There's just that other piece of that for whatever reason that I'm just more connected to the other records.
Noisey: One thing I’ve noticed about most of your discography is that each new album can read as a reaction to its predecessor. 2011’s Leave Home was so loud, chaotic, and noisy but this one was more anthemic, accessible, and reined in.
At the time, and I think throughout my whole life, I've always been trying to understand songwriting and write songs. I've always wanted to write songs in a very traditional sense, for lack of a better word. I've always been drawn to songwriters and all that stuff. With Leave Home, it was all over the place and that's what we were going for. We were going for just sounds. There were songs in there, obviously, but the sound was more important than melody or vocals or anything like that. After that, we had just sort of internally been trying to strip that down and get to the essence of the song. Open Your Heart was one more step in that direction. I think we just tried to remove all that noise and layers and we're still trying to do that. That's a big thing behind the new album.
This was also the first album with your drummer Rich Samis. What was it like having him on instead of you being the band’s main recording drummer?
It was perfect. I was drumming before that primarily. I started becoming the drummer sort of out of necessity more than desire. We just didn't have a drummer, we couldn't find a drummer, we tried out a bunch of people, and nothing worked out. We all thought it sounded good so we just went with it but that was never really the intention. The intention was for me and Nick to be playing guitars. So I had known Rich for years, he had been on tour with us filming stuff, and he kind of felt like he was already in the band so it was just a natural fit.
That became, in a way, the apex of the band when it was Chris [Hansell], Rich, and then Kevin [Faulkner] came in on the lap steel at that time too. It was almost the truest version of the band or the climax of the band. That plays to why it's my least favorite because I like exploring and I finding out. Once you've found it out, it can get stale.
In some ways, this is the first record that really brought the band rave reviews and a wealth of attention. How does that initial hype feel six years later?
It was a great thing. And honestly, in hindsight, like that Faces song, I wish I knew then what I know now because I look back on how I handled that whole thing and it was a lot. We were just punk kids, not that we ever achieved that much fame, but we were used to playing in basements and lofts, doing our own tours and booking our own shows, putting out our own records or whatever. Then all of a sudden, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and all these people are telling you how great you are. Then, later, they start criticizing you after that. I was coming into my own as an adult. I was in my late twenties and it shook my confidence. Especially when you're praised so much and then the opinion turns and then people are criticizing you. It's hard not to pay attention to it. You don't want to pay that much attention but you hear it and it's hard. But that's the nature of the game. I think now at this point, I don't give a shit. It was so much for me to go so personally but really it was wonderful. I wish we could have handled it a little better because I think it kind of scarred us a bit. That album opened the door to all that stuff and it changed all of our lives.
5. Immaculada (2010)
Oh man, I put that last? That's the number one. I played with the list a couple of times and I couldn't remember which one I sent you. It’s changed every day pretty much. But I want to go with the list I gave you.
When you put this initially that far low, was it more a case of feeling like the band has improved so much since the debut?
Like I said, I really love all of our records. I really do. When I listen to this record now, I played it recently for a friend who hadn't heard it before, and I hear some of the sounds of things we were doing on that record and I'm blown away. I don't even understand what we were doing, it was so bizarre. I don't even think we realized it. That record is just such a good feeling. It was just freedom, creative freedom to just try all these crazy sounds and weird things.
Throughout your career, your M.O. has always seemed to be that the records are just documents of a moment in time for the band. Where were you guys eight years ago when Immaculada came out?
At that point, we didn't know how to play that much, and we didn't know how to write a song or anything, so we were just doing whatever came into our minds. It was a good experience. It's fifth because something has to be fifth, but that record, especially the whole process, was so much fun. We pressed it ourselves. We made the LP jackets ourselves, which was crazy. We just decided we had to print on the inside of the LP jacket too so we had to cut them and scale them and glue them all together by hand. That's what it was all about to me and I miss that to this day. Even though it’s number five, it was a really wonderful time for the band. I just remember this compulsion or propulsion within myself and within Nick that was this feeling that we had to do it and make a record. I think that just comes from the human desire to express yourself. There was just something inside of us that we needed to get out.
4. Tomorrow’s Hits (2014)
In certain ways, this is my least favorite one that we've done. I think we have the most misses on this one. But what we were striving for, which I don't think we totally captured, is what I've been always going for my whole life. It's to make this, and I hate using the word traditional, but a more traditional rock album. We had an idea of a real gritty, more basement-friendly sounding rock album and it ended up coming out really huge and produced. This one's conflicting for me because it was also the weirdest time in the band. It was the weirdest album. It was one we probably swung and missed on the most. But I love what we were going for. I'm still going for that. There's still some songs on there that I love. "Dark Waltz" is arguably my favorite song we've ever done.
This is the first album you guys recorded in a high-end studio, at Brooklyn’s Strange Weather.
It's probably still the nicest place we've ever been. It's beautiful. We recorded that during the Open Your Heart album cycle in 2012. We were on the road touring with Open Your Heart and we'd record during the time that we were back. We were taking interviews in the studio and stuff and doing things that I would never, ever do again. I would never compromise recording process. We can't compromise the creative process to do the press and marketing process. We were caught up in all that, we had a lot of pressure coming on us from all different types of directions. It was good stuff, but we just didn't know how to manage it all the time.
Was there a sense that all of those other obligations made the studio feel like just clocking in at work?
Yeah, it was kind of like clocking in and going to work. Honestly, I like going to work and working on music. But it was a different feeling than all of the other ones. For example, during New Moon, we went upstate for three weeks or whatever it was, and all lived together, playing 24 hours a day. Here, we'd go to a studio and go home and have dinner with your girlfriend or something and you wake up and do it all over again. It's a much different experience.
I’d probably put this one closer to the top of my own list. What’s clear on the record is how the songs speak for themselves. The songs’ simplicity and efficiency are some of their biggest assets.
It's funny, in hindsight, my appreciation actually grows. I remember that when that one came out, I was so frustrated creatively with the band with where we were. I was really against it for a while, but the more distance I get from it, the more I come around to it and see what it is. I still have that feeling of what I wanted it to sound like and I got to get over that because you can't always have what you want. But there are some good jams on there, like "Different Days."
3. Leave Home (2011)
I read an interview during the Open Your Heart album cycle where you said, "But when [Leave Home] first came out I didn't think it was that great. I didn't think that the songs were that strong. I thought our first LP Immaculada was a lot more cohesive as an album, as well.” What changed?
I think it's fantastic. That record is another example of this evolution. I see our career as a series of peaks, and Leave Home was just the perfection of what we were trying to do as a band for the previous however many years. We just nailed all those ideas that we had been dancing around with different versions of trying different things. When you're in something, it's really hard to see where you're at when you're in the middle of it. But from a distance, it becomes much clearer in hindsight. I love that record. I think it's wonderful.
You mentioned earlier about how this is a sounds record as opposed to a songs record. Mind elaborating on that?
With Leave Home especially, we were really into this distortion, drone, and volume as drone or distortion as drone. All of the songs on Leave Home have that texture which is just really fucking loud distortion. A lot of times, we would just take the guitar's headstock and just put it on the tip of the amp so you'd get that [vocalizes distortion] vibe. We've done whole sets where we just did that for 25 minutes and then just walked off. We were obsessed with that sound. On Leave Home, we just incorporated that sound. We had a couple songs and tried to put it through that lens of distortion.
How was playing the drums on this?
I only played drums on half of this one. We had a drum machine on one song. Chris [Hansell] played drums on one or two songs and then we had this other guy Chris Bowman who played in a local hardcore band called Nomos, play on one song. We were already getting away from the "me as the drummer" thing. I think the drums I did play on that album, which were on "Lotus," "Think," and "Bataille," are in my opinion the best drumming I can do. I'm not a drummer. I can't do better than that. There was nowhere to go. All I could do was play this straight beat.
In a lot of ways, the Leave Home lineup was practically the first time many of the members of the band collaborated. Bassist Ben Greenberg was working in the studio and Kevin Faulkner shot the album cover.
Everybody that's come through the funnel to the band has been there since the beginning. There's really never been a new person injected. Ben did Leave Home and Ben did Open Your Heart. We were also touring together when he was in a band called Pygmy Shrews. Kevin was always around because he was taking pictures all the time. He may have bullied his way into the band because of that. It worked out, though. It's always been a family. Everybody that's left the band, like Ben Greenberg and Chris Hansell, have gone on to do such good things and it makes me proud, honestly. Chris' band Warthog and Ben's band Uniform are such great bands. I clashed creatively with both of those guys. We were going for different things, which is fine. And now seeing them blossom into what they actually wanted to be doing makes me so proud. I'm happy they both had an imprint on this band.
2. Devil Music (2016)
Following Tomorrow’s Hits there was a small break for the band. You guys didn’t really tour. Where was the band at this point?
We did take a break. It just kind of combusted. Ben left. Nick and I made that Dream Police record, Hypnotized, and even after we did that, me and him took a break where we weren't even talking. It was a rough period but I put Devil Music up this high, not because of what's on that album, but more that it was the rebirth of the band. I've never felt this pure of a release of emotion, and whether or not the songs are any good doesn't even matter. But that's genuinely how I was feeling at that time, and it's funny because as soon as that record came out, and as soon as we finished recording that record, it was just like something had just left my body. And I was like, cool, now I'm done. All those feelings are over and I'm ready for the next chapter.
You said in an interview a couple years ago, “Tomorrow's Hits and New Moon are, in a way, our most experimental records. I think that Devil Music is more just doing the things that we always do—that come naturally for us.” Does that sentiment still hold up for you?
That was just us. We weren't trying to reinvent the wheel. We all come from the punk rock world: guys in a room who wrote some songs. That was it. It's what we always did by turning the guitars really loud and just playing for a half an hour. There it is, it's done. Wrap it up, press it, and put it out.
Since it was self-released, what was it like packing LPs on your own? That’s something you hadn’t done since Immaculada.
I loved it. It was great. Rich screen-printed them all at his shop. The thing is that we learned how to do it so much better. We're not going to hand-cut the LP jackets, we're going to order LP jackets and screen-print them on a screen-printing machine. It was way easier and it was fun. I love doing that stuff. This is what I want to do with my time. I don't want to work a job or something. Who's got time for that?
1. New Moon (2013)
This was the first album with Kevin Faulkner and Ben Greenberg as active members. There’s a sense, compared to Tomorrow’s Hits, where you’re locked in together, that this one had you guys finding yourselves? It’s much more open and authentic.
I put this as number one because of the process. The way we did this was pure freedom. We rented a house upstate and we were immersed in this thing completely. And there was just no hesitation, just like, "Hey, you got a piano idea? Want to play the mandolin? Let's try it." It was all so positive. I love that record. I also love its imperfections. It is so sloppy. The songs are a mess in a lot of ways and there are some songs that we didn't even need to put on the album, it's probably too long. But I love how imperfect it is.
Some of these songs come from material you wrote around the time Open Your Heart. Why are these albums at opposing ends of the spectrum?
That's an interesting question. I think my frustration with Open Your Heart comes from the fact that a lot of the ideas about loud volume and droning distortion were mine but I was still chasing that sort of folksy, country-tinged sound. That's the true sound in my heart. With New Moon, we were in that world. I don't think we were all that successful in executing a lot of the songs but the intention was there. Open Your Heart was the end of an era and then New Moon was the beginning of a new era. What I was saying in the beginning, the best parts of any time are when you're finding yourself, but once you've found yourself, you're like, "Now what?"
Also, I know since there’s no main songwriter or lead singer this might be a tough thing to answer, but this album feels more lyrically cohesive too.
We definitely were really tight. Me, Ben, and Nick were writing lyrics, and while we were rarely writing together we were all sharing experiences and feeling the same way. I'm not surprised that they go together. Actually, we did write some lyrics together. Nick and I did a duet, but more so we were all basically in the same place and on the same page, going the same direction.
Josh Terry is a writer in Chicago. He's on Twitter.