With a title like “Moms,” you might expect the latest album from Portland, Ore., indie-rock duo Menomena to be a heartfelt Mother’s Day card wrapped in 10 tracks. “Moms” is heartfelt, but Justin Harris and Danny Seim’s ode to family and the people whose actions and circumstance inform yours later in life goes much deeper than simple sentiment.
“Danny’s mom passed away when we were juniors in high school. It had been exactly 17 years, and he had been 17 when she died,” explains Harris on the eve of the band’s tour, which brings Menomena to Visulite Theatre on Friday with fellow Oregonians Helio Sequence. “One day, he just told me what he was writing songs about. I started thinking about my relationship with my mom, how that’s affected me in a different way. That’s where it started.”
Harris’ mother raised him alone after his father left. Songs like Harris’ “Pique” (tracks alternate between the two writers) are lyrically and musically layered, revealing and thought-provoking, but not necessarily depressing amid saxophone blasts, tinkling keys and sing-songy choruses. The resulting fifth release – and first without founder Brent Knopf – finds the pair at its absolute finest.
Harris says lyrically they opened up not only to their audience, but to each other.
“In the past, we veiled everything with a little vagueness. We were not really so heart-on-our-sleeve about stuff. With each other, we were more open about what we were writing (this time).” He says the approach was actually easier: “Because we were writing to a general theme, we didn’t have to encode everything in a general blanket statement that applied to other people in the band.”
It’s still not so lyrically cut and dried that meanings aren’t open to interpretation.
“That’s one of the more interesting things to me,” Harris says. “When we play live someone will come up and say, ‘I had a relationship with so and so that was exactly like that.’ Some songs that are definitely about my mom, people are interpreting about a girlfriend or significant other. I don’t correct them. It may not be my experience, but I like when that happens.”
Harris says his family has embraced the record: “My sister really liked it. My mom is our number one fan. She really liked it, even though she might not have wanted to like it. She may not have interpreted it the way it was intended. She – like people who come up to me after a show – interpret it in a different way.”
While Harris and Seim have examined how their upbringing molded them as adults, neither has children yet. Seim got married a week before the tour began.
The album has certainly prompted actual mom-fans to check themselves.
“It’s good to think about how what you’re doing affects your children,” Harris says. “We were hanging out with the band the National, who we’ve known for a long time, after their show, and the singer Matt (Berninger’s) sister lives in Seattle. She told us, ‘I just got your album and I’m scared to listen to it. I’m a mom.’ She thinks she knows what it’s about. She hopes she’s not screwing up her children. I’ve had a few moms say, ‘Now I’m afraid my child’s going to feel this way.’ I try to explain it’s not all bad.
“We called it ‘Moms,’ but it’s more like a lot of the ideas – our relationships with our moms and with other people, my mom and how I see her life affected by things that transpired. It was nice to have (a topic) to gravitate toward. It opened up a lot of possibilities in thinking of it like that, and not thinking about, ‘Let’s write this next song about my mom.’”
He adds: “It’s a really deep well, looking at the branches and stems that come off the relationships in your life.”
Courtney's blog: cltsoundbites.blogspot.com
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