"You gotta keeps it moving," says bassist/lap steel guitarist Kevin Faulkner of Brooklyn's the Men. Two months after the release of the band's third album, Open Your Heart, they did just that, sequestering themselves in the Catskills for two weeks to record the follow-up.
That was last May, as waves of praise for Open Your Heart's thick, thrilling, textured rock swelled. But upstate, in a house-turned-studio, the Men pieced together New Moon – an intimate, fuzz-caked collection released today on the Sacred Bones label.
Formed back in 2008 by guitarists Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi and ex-bassist Chris Hansell, over five years and four albums the Men have expanded the horizons of their punk origins into whatever realm of rock and/or roll they're drawn to (lately: smatterings of country, folk and power-pop, to name a few). They've also grown into a quintet, adding Faulkner, drummer Rich Samis and producer/multi-instrumentalist Ben Greenberg. No one's the "primary songwriter." No one's really the frontman.
"Nobody ever really tells anyone what to play, ever, and I think that's part of what allows different things to happen," Perro said during a recent chat with Rolling Stone at a Brooklyn studio. "You show somebody the part and do your thing. It becomes a culmination of five people's song rather than one person's song played by five people."
The Men arrived in Big Indian, New York with just a few completed tracks and a handful of song skeletons. A primary recording space was set up in the living room, and for the first few days they just jammed, going around in a circle, building off each other's ideas, listening for little accidents. "That definitely happened a lot on this record," said Samis. "You surprise yourself – that's the best part about the whole experience. It's kind of like when you're a kid and you pick up an instrument for the first time and you have that 'wow' experience."
Though the assured lurch of "I Saw Her Face" and the scathing guitar screeds on closing track "Supermoon" are both products of single takes, other songs were built over time, like "Half Angel Half Light," a song that saw a slew of iterations (and, Samis recalls, caused one walkout), finally coming together after Chiericozzi conjured its aching acoustic riff. One song was built over multiple rooms: guitars in hand, Greenberg, Perro and Chiericozzi took to the basement to record "The Seeds" while Faulkner and Samis kept the groove on the floor above.
On New Moon, the Men found themselves toying with vocal harmonies more than ever before, forming a band-within-a-band they dubbed the Big Indian Singers. They doubled up on lead vocals on the opening track, "Open the Door," while choral "oohs" and "ahhs" roam about the country swooner "Bird Song" and blossom from the cracks on "Freaky."
"It's a physical thing I'd never experienced before," said Perro. "There's a reason the street corner dudes do it, 'cause when you're you're in a pocket and you can feel peoples' . . . " He trails off, looking for the right words, which Greenberg finds: "When you're singing at each other, you can feel the resonance."
Most of New Moon was recorded in the living room, but periodically Greenberg and co-engineer Kyle Keays-Hagerman would lace any space they saw fit – basement, bathroom, even outside – with mics to capture every coarse, cavernous corner of the house. It was the perfect fit for the raw, straight-to-tape sound the band wanted.
That wasn't the only benefit: "We were sorta thrown into this house for two weeks, and I think that allowed for everyone to get to know each other a little better," said Chiericozzi. "Even though we've lived together a lot on the road, this was a much more stable environment."
"We were having every meal together," added Perro.
"Cooking food together, picking records together," said Greenberg before being cut off by a grinning Perro: "Goin' into the hot tub together."
When the Men hit the road behind New Moon, they'll do it with a new lineup – same people, just some on different instruments. Samis will remain on drums, but Greenberg and Chiericozzi will play the guitars, Faulkner the bass, and Perro will play piano. (They'll also be testing some songs you won't hear on a recording until the next album.) For the Men, it's nothing more than the natural course of things.
"It's fun to play with arrangements and have a song that exists in different ways," said Perro. "It changes a lot of those songs, the vibe of those songs, and it's cool because then there's not even a definitive way. It's a thing that breathes and changes."
"And," added Greenberg, "it'll change again."