Danny Seim, Justin Harris and Brent Knopf have shared a bathtub. They have also donned Boy Scout uniforms, fed a pug at the dinner table, happily staged intra-band murder via go-kart, and donned antlers and flannel for an outing apparently related to hunting. All these outlandish scenarios have materialized within Menomena’s press images, testifying to the band’s strange sense of humor and constant clever touches.
“I thought it was funny that we’re making this pretty serious music, [and] it was kind of funny to have [that] juxtaposing these three idiots,” the especially affable Seim says, crediting photographer Alicia J. Rose for most of the exploits. “I think as soon as we both start requiring walkers and toupees, it’s probably going to get either more or less funny.”
Note the “both” in that previous sentence. Knopf exited the group to pursue Ramona Falls, his own project, in January 2011, after a decade with the Portland, Ore., band. The three musicians (who’d met as teenagers a few years earlier) formed Menomena in 2000 as the excitement around the Pacific Northwest’s grunge scene was dwindling.
On Moms, Menomena’s fifth and first post-Knopf record, and in times past, they’ve stayed within the indie-pop ballpark while constantly bringing and taking new tools off the field. Crunchy guitar lines, off-kilter synthesizers, nimble piano portions, weird electronic effects and several other ingredients go into their concoction, and the results can sound boisterous, bummed-out or both. Menomena would be perfect opening for a Beck/Flaming Lips tour.
Though the outfit earned a solid reputation in and out of their hometown, internal drama repeatedly plagued Menomena. A September 2010 feature by Michael Mannheimer for Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week portrayed a band that was beloved for their output but could barely stand each other. Mines, Menomena’s record released that year, had been in development for 3 1/2 years, put together in individual segments and collectively completed through e-mail. Seim says he was disappointed with its negative tone—the group hadn’t prepared much of a narrative to promote the record and were just trying to be honest, he says—but evidently, there was truth to it since Knopf left just months later.
While preparing September 2012’s Moms, Seim and Harris explicitly and seriously decided on a shared lyrical theme for the first time in their career—partly so that there wouldn’t be a desire to write about band strife. Seim (whose mother died when he was in his teens) and Harris (whose mother raised him alone after his dad left the picture) dig into Moms’ titular topic in ways both direct (talking about parenting) and roundabout (talking about being appreciated and wanted). The material revealed can get pretty emotionally gruesome. Take this chunk from “Skintercourse: “I fell in love with the feeling of being in love/ I should have known it wouldn’t last/ But I had the traits and the confident face of a man/ And I’ll evolve, if I can’t adapt.”
Both members have called their revamped writing process “liberating.” “We both kind of said how we were feeling at the time and experimented in being transparent for once,” says Seim, who also mentions purposely writing vague lyrics and layering his words in effects in the past because he didn’t want to put everything out there.
Though Moms is coated with a patina of gloom and Knopf’s departure hangs over Menomena’s current narrative, Seim would also prefer to shine the light on some bright spots. “Brent leaving could maybe overshadow the fact that Justin and I are just both really happy to finish the record and to prove we can still write music together or even be in the same room together,” he says. “We had no idea where we’d end up now or if we were still going to be a band or not. It’s been a positive experience, and it’s nice to have fun again.”
The Urban Lounge
241 S. 500 East
Saturday, March 2, 9 p.m.
$13 in advance, $15 day of show