Two weeks ago, we announced—along with the rest of the Internet—that Brent Knopf, one of the three original members of Menomena, was leaving the band
to focus on his solo project and on recording a few records for his friends. Since then, Menomena has mostly keep quiet, but both Knopf and Seim were kind enough to answer some of my questions on record about the future of Menomena. Here are the important bits from my email conversations with two of Portland's best (and most forthcoming) musicians.
WW: Why did the band decide to carry on without Brent?
Danny Seim: I'll speak for myself here: Menomena is my baby. I can't imagine life without it. It's no huge secret that the three of us we were unhappy for quite a while. I understand Brent's frustration with the process of collaboration in this band better than anybody, but every time (and believe me, there have been dozens of times over the past decade, if not hundreds) I've been tempted to cut my losses and quit, I've realized that this band isn't something I can just walk away from. It would be like severing a limb. It's like the three of us were hiking somewhere near Moab, Utah and this massive Menomena rock fell on each of our arms simultaneously and Brent was able to free himself by sawing through his own flesh with a dull pocketknife. Well, I'm happy for him. I really am. If anything, maybe he and I just have proven ourselves to have different pain thresholds. Brent is a bottomless well of talent, and he's going to accomplish great things in his lifetime. But meanwhile, Justin [Harris] and I are still here, pinned together. We're getting really good with our left hands. And all this survival stuff (training new bandmates; comforting understandably anxious record labels; slowly going insane while drinking our own pee, etc) has strangely bonded the two of us together instead of making us want to cannibalize each other. I guess only time will tell if we're able to keep making music that keeps us—and the folks who will hopefully keep listening to us—inspired and happy. But we're going to try.
I'm actually quite optimistic about Menomena's future. I was lucky enough to be in a band with my two favorite musicians in the world for 10 long years. And now I'm still lucky enough to be in a band with one of them. That's probably still one more than most other people in most other bands can claim. Listening back to all the songs of ours that Justin primarily wrote—The Pelican, Muscle'n Flo, Weird, The Late Great Libido, Twenty Cell Revolt, TAOS, Queen Black Acid, and so on—leaves me with only one thought: Menomena is still going to do this. Of course we're still going to do this! I simply love this music too much. And I know I probably sound like a total narcissistic douche right now, self-references and all, but it's true...Justin's still here, I'm still here. We lost a major creative force in Brent, but thankfully, Brent's not Kurt Cobain, and we're not Nirvana. Brent's more like Peter Gabriel and we're more like Genesis. And everyone knows how much better Genesis got after that talentless hack Gabriel quit. Waitaminute...
WW: How will this change the band in the present (I saw you're doing a video with Alicia, rad!) and future? I assume just none of his songs in your sets?
Seim: In the present tense, we've been rehearsing like mad with Paul Alcott (of Dat'r), who is a truly gifted individual. I can't think of anyone else who could possibly carry on the Knopfian computer-programming-whiz-meets-band-geek torch as well as Paul. Plus, he easily has the best hair in Portland. And of course then there's Joe Haege, who has already solidified his spot in our cozy hearts from the tours he's done with us over the past year. I hope he'll keep playing music with us forever, or for as long as his tender vertebrae hold up. Joe has other obligations making magic in both Tu Fawning and 31Knots, so fortunately for us, Dat'r has one other member who happens to be another great musician. His name is Matt Dabrowiak, and we've already been getting him up to speed for the tours Joe can't do. Thank you Matt, and thank you Dat'r for allowing yourself to be completely absorbed by Menomena. Thank you Paul and Joe as well, while I'm at it. We've all hit rehearsals hard the past couple weeks, and we've already got about 13 songs well upon their way to being performance-ready. The importance of these upcoming shows needing to be decent isn't lost on us.
As for the future, Justin and I have already started working on the fifth Menomena album. Lord knows none of us earthlings will be around to release albums after 2012, so we have to get cracking. I'm really looking forward to making this one, and I'm honored to still have the chance to make it with Justin. Finally, in the unlikely event that the Mayans were wrong, I'm looking forward to reuniting with Brent and touring the casino circuit in 20 years. Can't you see this is a land of confusion?
Statement from Brent Knopf:
Yeah, I'm working with Cheri (from South Africa) of the band Dear Reader, I'm producing her followup LP, it's really fun. I worked with Matt Sheehy recently as well, his record is gonna knock people's socks off. (Even fortified wool socks which are very wind-resistant will find themselves involuntarily airborne when confronted with Matt's new album). Once we wrap up this Dear Reader record, I'll hang up the producer hat for a while and make some more original music with Ramona Falls. It's so invigorating to daydream new ideas.
I'm excited to see where Danny and Justin take Menomena. They're genius songwriters, I'm lucky to have had the chance to work with them.
Despite how hard it is to picture a Knopf-less version of Menomena, all reports make it sound like this really is the best move for Knopf, Seim and Harris. I saw Ramona Falls open for Wild Flag last week at Bunk Bar, and Knopf looked happier than I've seen him in a long time, smiling the whole set and clearly stoked to play music with Cheri and his good buddy Matt Sheehy. I expect to hear more material much sooner from the notoriously slow working Menomena, and Knopf always seems to have a new song up his sleeve.
Photo by Jake Stangel