Menomena strips down with new album Moms
By Kate E. Lore
Photo: Menomena [l to r] Danny Seim and Justin Harris rwill perform on Friday, Feb. 15 at The Basement in Columbus photo credit: Alicia J .Rose
Every human being on earth gets their own unique experience; this is the journey that we call life. We all come from different places and go through different things. Each of us is made from our parents and our friends. We are shaped by these people around us, who are each unto themselves experiencing these same ups and downs. No two lives are exactly alike and nobody’s life is perfect. Every family, relationship and individual harbors some dysfunction within. Menomena’s new album Moms embraces some of these issues and spills them out for us musically.
Menomena currently consists of Justin Harris on electric guitar, baritone guitar, electric bass, Moog Taurus foot synthesizer, baritone saxophone and alto saxophone and Danny Seim on drums and other percussion. They will be playing at The Basement in Columbus on Friday, Feb 15.
Originally from Portland, Ore., Menomena started as a side project, but grew into something much bigger. Just recently Brent Knopf left the band to pursue other projects. Moms is Menomena’s first studio album since Knopf left the group.
As the title seems to suggest, this new album features several songs devoted to the relationships these guys have with their mothers. And just like the real world, their perspectives are starkly different. Seim wrote about his mother who passed away when he was a teenager, while Harris was raised by a single mother after his father abandoned them. There is more to the album than just maternal issues, but most of it remains deeply personal. Collectively the writing in Moms reaches a new emotional depth that Menomena had not touched before.
Following Knopf’s departure, Seim and Harris chose not to replace him, deciding to continue on as just a duo. This change has not affected them too much musically. They have some similar instrumental breaks to those that made us love them back with the album Friend or Foe. There are songs with orchestral accompaniment and music so layered it’s hard to believe this is just two guys. Still, there’s a track or two where you may wonder if Knopf really left at all. Excluding a few, it seems like Menomena is picking up its feet and heading in a new direction. For the first time these boys will be playing a show in Columbus which gave me an opportunity speak with Harris about the new album.
After listening to Moms repeatedly and obsessively for a few days, I found myself extremely curious about the process in which it came to be. Had this been a concept album from the start? “[It] more developed that way,” said Harris. “Danny writes quickly, [his concept] formed, it took shape, became clear and I followed there.” With Seim writing some seriously personal lyrics Harris said, “I ultimately didn’t want to write [songs] about trivial stuff when he did something heavy.” Harris wrote five of the songs on this ten-track album which delivered his own emotional impact. The even distribution of songwriting was an interesting choice, which made me wonder about the songwriting impact of Knopf leaving.
Harris said that the writing process for this album hadn’t changed too much. They still email back and fourth with their initial song ideas and they still collaborate at about the same level. What the absence of Knopf provided, according to Harris, was that writing and developing the album became smoother. “[In the past] it always felt anxious and trying to get things perfect it took longer,” Harris said. “Song acceptance was smoother and it worked well. Take one additional collaborator away and things are easier.” At least it worked that way for Seim and Harris on this album. These two have been working together since late 2000 and remain close friends. “We’ve worked together forever,” Harris said, then admitted that might be an exaggeration. Forever is a long time.
When performing live, Menomena has been using a replacement for Knopf. This person will play the parts Knopf contributed to older songs, as well as all the parts that couldn’t possibly be covered by Harris and Seim from Moms. The band had been joined by Paul Alcott, a friend from Portland. Unfortunately, Alcott left mid-tour for obligations to other bands he’s involved with. “He’s a drummer first,” Harris explained. For the tour, Alcott had to perform keyboards and be tech-savvy to use the samples they play. Harris said he did a great job, but they’ve got a new replacement named Dave Depper to finish up the tour. Good friends with the band, Depper is another Portland native. Harris sings his praises as a talented musician, “I was shocked at how quick he learned.” He fits the role quite well according to Harris and this promises to make some great shows for the rest of the tour.
For any other band, particularly one that consists of three people, one member leaving easily could have ended it all. But not for Menomena. Harris and Seim are braving forward, and they’re stepping it up with more serious impact.
Menomena will perform on Friday, Feb. 15 at The Basement, 391 Neil Ave. in Columbus. Opening the evening will be Guards. Tickets are $13 in advance, $14 DOS for all ages. Doors at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit menomena.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kate E Lore at KateLore@daytoncitypaper.com