MEN - Interviews - Soundblab


by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

If you've got your ear to the queer/feminist DIY punk underground, chances are you'll be well up on MEN. If not, well - do you like super funky, dance floor conquering pop influenced by dub, reggae, disco and electro-punk made by fiercely smart, inspiringly iconoclastic people who write lyrics about issues which would normally never get within a million miles of chart-friendly pop? You do? Oh, well then you'll love MEN.

The band began life in 2007 as a DJ/production project put together by Le Tigre members JD Samson and Johanna Fateman. Since then it's evolved into a proper group, with JD backed by Michael O'Neill and Ginger Brooks. JD is something of an icon to queers and feminists the world over. Her refusal to be pigeonholed by stereotypical notions of gender and sexuality, her androgynous looks and nifty dress sense - all of this feeds into what are MEN about.

Next month the band releases 'Credit Card Babie$', their debut UK single on Trouble Records. It's a genius pop nugget which dissects the thorny issue of LGBT people having kids, taking a nuanced look at how it feels to do something which is at once so natural and yet so reviled by certain sections of the LGBT community as well as right-wing nut-jobs. It is - no messing! - one of the most extraordinary singles released this year.

Soundblab swapped emails with JD to discuss the band's upcoming album, why UK audiences rock and the prospect of being the next Scissor Sisters.

Soundblab: Do MEN have a mission statement and if so what is it?

JD: We don't have a mission statement per se but we do have a certain perception of what we are doing in this specific project. It's pretty important to us to be conceptual, collaborative, political, and generally artistic within the constraints of the music industry and in some cases pop music.

Does it bother you to think some people might not get the message behind your songs and just enjoy dancing to them?

Actually no, I think one of my greatest goals is to be able to move our message into the mainstream whether or not the world really understands what we are trying to say. I think of bands like Madness, or Talking Heads or the B-52s and that's really the company I think we would be happy to share. People that are smart and say relevant things, but people who aren't ashamed of writing catchy material and working it with all they have.

Would you be happy if your music crossed over to people who didn't know much about feminism or queer politics? If MEN became a massive band like Scissor Sisters are over here?

I think I answered this in the question before. But to reiterate, I would feel very comfortable being on a stage and playing to whoever wanted to be there to watch as long as it felt safe and loving and fun and positive. I think it would be near impossible for someone to be a fan of our band and never listen to the lyrics or look at the history of the projects we have been involved with. We would be gaining visibility for both queers and feminists no matter if it registered to people that we were a queer/feminist band.

You've played live in the UK this year. How did that go? Were audiences receptive?

The audiences were great. Our record won't be out until the winter. So it's been interesting to see who has come to the shows without a major press push. We found it was mostly just people who have heard about us word of mouth which has been really cool. Seems like the UK is totally interested and ready for MEN and all of our antics which felt really good to us.

'Credit Card Babie$' includes lines like "why procreate/ and overpopulate/ there's insecurity/ questioning our liberty". How serious are those lyrics? What do you guys think about queer or LGBT people having babies?

Well I really wanted to make sure to give both sides of the queer family debate in the song because it really is complicated to think about why we want to have children in general at this point (I mean, hello, 2012). There is a great desire for children in my personal heart, and I hope to one day be able to work within my financial means to make that happen. I think the hardest thing for me is to realize that I do have to pay to get someone pregnant and I do have to plan in order to make that a reality. Sometimes I find that I can get extremely jealous of people who can just accidentally get pregnant.

What's the situation with the album? Can we expect it later this year and what will it sound like?

The album will be out this winter (finally) and we can't wait to get it out there already and start working on new music. The record has a couple different kinds of songs. There are pop songs, there are housey disco dance tracks, and there are some tracks that drift from reggae to disco to funk to new wave to indie rock. It's kind of a mix of a lot of things.

What kind of music do you guys like? I imagine it's a pretty wide selection.

We all listen to different kinds of music. I guess we all kind of shift somewhere in the region of pop/ dance/ indie rock/ noise/ experimental/ reggae - it really depends.

The band started as a DJ/production/remix project before evolving. You also worked with visual artists. Are there any other projects you'd like to take on? Could MEN evolve into something else again?

Yeah, I think something that is always important is that the project is always collaborating with different visual and sound artists and that we are constantly pushing the envelope in terms of what a band really is. We have played shows with live drummers. We plan on doing shows with live horn sections or choirs. I think adding new elements for different tours keep us as a band inspired and keep the audience ready for more.

You're coming back to the UK later this year, right? What should someone who hasn't been to a MEN gig before expect?

Expect to hear a lot. Expect layers of music and performance. Expect to pay attention.

Le Tigre worked with Christina Aguilera. Who would MEN like to work with?

MEN would work with anyone if it made sense and we all got along. I think the most important thing in a collaboration is that everyone is on the same page and wants to come out of it with the same outcome. So whether it be R.E.M or Lady Gaga I think it would depend on the project.

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