“I was reading an article about bands that are really hard to find on Google, and of course, we were in it,” says JD Samson, the androgynous frontwoman of MEN, a high-energy, experimental dance trio. The brainchild of Samson and her former Le Tigre bandmate Johanna Fateman, MEN was initially conceived as a DJ side project, and the name was anything but arbitrary. “Men is very much about gender fluidity,” Samson explains. Guitarists Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Michael O’ Neill — both recruited from Hirsute — yet another of Samson’s bands — round out the threesome, who have earned accolades for their electronic, guitar-fueled live shows. Three years after first recording together and while juggling a demanding tour schedule, the members of MEN have finally mastered their debut album, Talk About Body. The lengthy recording process lends their album a pan-genre eclecticism, serving up good-humored social commentary on tracks like “Credit Card Babies” and “Who Am I to Feel So Free.”
You guys were in a few different projects before MEN. How did all of your individual influences affect the vibe in a new group? It’s funny because we were all actually in lots of different projects together, but in the end we’ve always been doing the same thing we’re doing now. When Johanna Fateman (of Le Tigre) and I were Djing, we wrote a couple of songs and then Ginger, Michael and myself were in another band called Hirsute and wrote a few more. All of those songs are very similar to each other and the one song on the new record that I co-wrote with Johanna, we all kind of adopted as our own. So, I think that in general we’ve always been collaborating in the same way artistically.
If listeners buy the new album Talk About Body, and later hear your previous projects, would they notice the similarities right away? In some ways I think so. We all bring different things to the band and they’re reminiscent of what we’ve brought to other projects we’ve been in, but we each get to really be ourselves. It’s like we’re weaving this thing and all of our influences and all of our histories are in there. I think we found the perfect people to make this record exactly like it needed to be and we’re all really proud of it. It’s what we intended to do, which was to create something genre-less, or maybe – genre-full?
Why did you decide to name the group MEN? When we originally came up with the name it was because Johanna and I were in the airport, annoyed at all the people who were traveling for business. She said, “I have this new philosophy: What would a man do if someone cuts him in line? I’m going to start sticking up for myself. If the promoter tonight says, ’We can’t give you the whole fee,’ I’m going to be like, ‘Fuck you, give me the fee, we deserve it.” Then, that day someone asked us to title our project, and we decided: Let’s call ourselves Men. That was original idea, but when we adopted it as our name, the three of us, it meant something new. It was very much about gender fluidity and how everyone can really call themselves whatever they want.
Is the name of the album reflective of its general theme? That concept of fluidity… Talk About Body is a lot about gender expression, queer livelihood, and the way we see the world. It’s not something that we want to express, it’s something that is expressed. You inherently write about the things that affect you and the things that you are. This record brings up a lot of issues about money, power struggles and the things we experienced while making the record.
What was it like recording the album over a three-year period, while touring? It was a learning experience, and the second time around will probably be much different. The first process happened over so many years. We started this project three years ago and it’s evolved a lot since then, so the next album will happen a lot faster and that alone will be very different. This record happened over such a long span of time and influences and inspiration and we’re going to be cutting that part out, so album number two is going to be a little more of a focused concept.
Is the album a little scattered because it was over recorded such a long span of time? It’s all over the place in terms of genres – there are pop songs, crazy jams and funky rhythmic stuff, but we love that it’s all over the place. There is a common ground that makes it work as a cohesive record.
You’re renowned for your live shows. What should a first-timer expect to see at one of your performances? Our beats are electronic, but the guitars are very audible and loud, so it’s a very specific decision for there to be two guitar players in a band with three people. I think that’s what makes it really interesting — there’s this constant conversation between the two guitars. Live, that’s just a really interesting thing that people don’t very often, especially with electronic beats. It’s a compromise between electronic dance music and indie-rock. I’ve seen a lot of bands that are great on their record but live it’s just disappointing, but we just love to perform. We decided that we wanted to make this our job so we have to have a really good show, do it all the time, and make people want to come see it.