by Joanna Orland
As we mentioned in our review of the MEN gig as part of the Shockwaves NME Awards shows, you may recognize MEN lead JD Samson from the band Le Tigre. Often noted for their political, feminist & LGBT themes which were prevalent in their awesome tunes, JD Samson has taken what she learned from Le Tigre and evolved it as the part of the Brooklyn-based band and art collective MEN. Along with JD, I got the pleasure to speak to MEN’s only literal man, Michael O’Neill.
Starting off her studies in art college, JD had the fortune of meeting founding Le Tigre member Sadie Benning, which forged her path into music as another means of artistic expression.
JD: I was in college for art and I met Sadie Benning, and then she asked me to go on tour with Le Tigre for their first tour. And then she left the project and suddenly I was in the band. That’s how all of a sudden I was in music. I always kind of considered myself primarily an artist even though I’m in the music industry. Like I conceptualize the music more as an artform than just being an album that you sell in music.
As part of the visually artistic aspect of MEN, JD is also spending her efforts designing the band’s visuals and costumes. A sore point at the moment as Michael has just lost his costume in The Netherlands… of all places…
MICHAEL: We’re laughing because I left my costume in The Netherlands and so JD had to make a whole new one today. So, there’s paint drying in the other room actually…
JD: It’s just, it had to happen in Holland.
The band MEN started with Le Tigre alum Johanna Fateman joining JD in writing music. After Johanna got pregnant and opted out from touring with the band, JD gathered her other side project members, Michael and Ginger from Hirsute, and went for it with MEN. JD and Michael seem to be the last men (no pun intended) standing for the touring side of MEN as the other members no longer could be slaves to the traveling of the project. Tami Hart is currently on tour with the band in lieu of Ginger Brooks Takahashi.
The name MEN came from the days of the band that consisted of Johanna Fateman and JD Samson as co-writers.
JD: Originally it was because Johanna had… this philosophy of living that was like a kind of confidence boosting feminist thing, which was what would a man do in this situation. So it’s like a way for you to be like I’m not going to apologize for myself or feel insecure. I’m gonna be confident and strong and stick up for myself. So that’s how it started, and then I think since then it’s kind of become more of like an umbrella term to describe gender fluidity and also just kind of like men as beings, as humans, like men as in the greater term of humans.
If you’ve heard the band’s album Talk About Body, which is out now, you will likely notice the politically themed lyrics. Somehow this band manages to state their socio-political beliefs through their music without coming across as preachy. A rare feat for bands making such strong social statements.
JD: Well, I think partly it’s because we’re not preaching – we’re talking to our friends and our people… I think a lot of it is not using the word I. I think that we often use the word we, and us and stuff, and I think that that makes it have a touch of like it’s just sentimental. Like realizations of feelings, and I don’t know… I think that helps.
MICHAEL: We didn’t even start with a mission like we’re going to be political… it’s just sort of like, we kind of just ended up being political or something, you know. It’s just kind of like who we are and what we do everyday. You know, what we think about, not like a mission to conquer the world with our beliefs or anything.
JD: Yeah, like I don’t feel like we’re trying to change people’s minds. I feel like we’re trying to bring people together to share our common belief or goal.
Asking if the band ever felt pressure to compromise their beliefs or sell out to please the masses, the conversation took a bit of a turn for the weird with MEN’s tour manager suggesting Butt Implants, which JD mistook for Button Pants (see 5:10 in the audio file to hear what I’m talking about).
As JD has been doing DIY music since the days of Le Tigre, she is an expert on how the music industry has changed over the years.
JD: I mean, really putting this record out was like a major shock to me because everything that I had known before was really very different. I mean, when Le Tigre’s records came out, even in our last record, the Internet was just in a really different place….. I think that’s something really interesting – that DIY musicians from ten years ago are actually the people who know what they’re doing now because they don’t have to learn…
And our usual question to terrify our interviewee subjects:
Loose Lips: If there’s one word that could sum up MEN, besides MEN obviously, what would that word be?
JD: Do I answer separately? (long pause)… God…. (long pause)… that’s my answer!
MICHAEL: Make it, like, ‘GOD’ and then cue the Like A Prayer video.
*May I suggest the word “Like”? Works on a few levels…. whilst transcribing, I noticed that JD and Michael do say the word ‘like’ a lot. I have edited a few ‘likes’ out for the sake of readability. Don’t worry… they’re all still there in the audio for all you like likers out there (myself included). ♥ ♡ ♥ ♡