Whilst taking a well deserved break from recording their debut album, we caught up with JD Samson from Le Tigre, Michael O’Neill from Ladybug Transistor and Ginger Brooks Takahashi from LTTR who collectively make up MEN. They braved the wintery weather to play some UK dates and we hung around to learn a little more about them.
Hi MEN How’s the UK been treating you?
MO: The UK has been welcoming - with open arms, smiling faces and sweaty dance parties!
You’ve just played some of those parties in London and Brighton. The live performance is a pivotal part of the MEN experience. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
MO: Yes, we believe a live show should be much more than playing songs on a record. We try to incorporate multi-media, mostly in the form of visual sculptural elements. Our recent shows have included back-up dancers with protest signs.
What do you hope the impression you leave on the audience is from such a show?
MO: That the experience of a live show is a shared one. What the audience gives, we respond to - and vice versa.
How do you find the UK audiences differ to American ones?
MO: American audiences vary across the country. Crowds in small towns can be far more enthusiastic than big cities. I'd say a London crowd is similar to NYC - a bit of a tough shell at first, but once you break through the energy is amazing.
You’ve all come together from many different bands. Have you all known each other for a long time?
GBT: JD and I have known each other for about ten years. In college she booked my old band Boys Of Now to play at the cafe on campus! And I've known Michael for about five years, from a tight-knit wild queer young artist scene that tended to move through the world as a pack.
So in that history where were the seeds of forming MEN sown?
JD: MEN kind of started out of two different projects. One of those was a DJ/remix/production team that was formed by Johanna Fateman and myself. We started writing original music around the same time that Ginger, Michael, Emily Roysdon and myself were playing in a band called Hirsute. MEN was truly started in an airport in the Midwest on a layover and Hirsute was created in a warehouse space in Williamsburg belonging to the painter Amy Silman.
Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted the band to be or has it evolved to where it is today organically?
JD: Interestingly enough I think our vision was just to make music for our people, our family and to continue a revolution with new and fresh sounds and performances. The sound has definitely evolved. Not so much in a general way but more specifically from song to song.
What about your direction, how has that changed?
JD: I think our direction is probably similar to when we started. We want to make something new and something real.
You are currently unsigned. It seems today a band can function pretty well without a record label. Are you looking for a partnership with a label or planning to continue as you are?
JD: We are curious to see what is out there, so we plan to look around and get some offers although being creative in this moment is a must and sometimes labels don't really give everything they used to. We'll have to see what comes to us, but we certainly aren't afraid to put the music out ourselves.
How do the challenges and opportunities differ from being in a band in 2010 than it did in 2000?
JD: The biggest change is that it’s really all a brand new business. The internet is the biggest publicity tool now. Labels have lost a lot of their power. As I mentioned before it’s really all about being confident, creative and taking risks. No one knows the answers anymore so we just all have to experiment until we get it right. We can't be afraid to fail.
You’ve taken a break from recording the album to come and play these shows. How is the album coming along? What can we expect?
MO: We have more than half recorded and now have two months in NYC to finish recording. We hope to bridge the gap between the old-school concept of an "album" and the new-school approach of "single downloads". They'll be enough bangers for those interested in just the hits, but we hope to provide an album that is also successful as a cohesive piece.
If you were given carte blanche access to musical archives, what would be your dream track to re-mix?
JD: I would love to remix Talking Heads or Joan Armatrading. Not sure which tracks, any of them really.
What are your current favourite albums?[o]
GBT: I am so curious and excited for Trash Kit's debut album coming out on Upset the Rhythm this spring. We played with them last night at the White Heat party.
Are there any things on your “must do” list when you are in the UK?
GBT: For me, touring is a chance to try local food and other traditions specific to where we are. So I'm excited to go to the Turkish sauna at the YMCA here. And eat steak and kidney pie and walk around in the marketplace in Brixton.
How’s the rest of 2010 shaping up?
GBT: We have big plans for this year! Two thousand and MEN! Finishing the record is the priority for us but we are quite busy with performances at X initiative art space in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City, the San Francisco museum of modern art and the Michigan womyn's music festival. Also a European tour and a us tour!
And then off they dash to try and find somewhere still selling a steak and kindey pie before returning to work on their eagerly anticipated debut.
They'll also be returning to the UK for a one-off London show on Monday 12th April at Cargo.
Painting by Celeste Dupuy-Spencer