In March 2020, The Menzingers were more than 10,000 miles away from their beloved Philadelphia when the world started to understand that COVID-19 was bound to become a history-altering global event. The band were in Melbourne, Australia, to begin another leg of the world tour in support of their suddenly aptly titled sixth album, “Hello Exile,” when everything shut down.
“If we had left a day later, we wouldn’t have gone,” Tom May, one of the band’s dual guitarists, recalls. “If we had left the day before, we would have thought everything would be totally fine. But on the day we left we were like, ‘I don’t know about this, I’m hearing all these things that make me think this is going to be a pretty big deal.’”
By the time their flight landed in Australia the New Zealand leg of the tour had already been postponed. The Australian government would be shutting down shows in a day and the United States would soon follow course. “We were like, ‘Do we even play the show?’” May says. “But we played it, it was super fucking weird. Then we hustled back here and thought we’d postpone our next tour coming up for two weeks.”
The weeks became months. Then the months became years. The Menzingers, like all of their brethren in the music industry, were grounded from touring and forced into a sort of exile. Ever since the inception of the band in 2006, the four members had been damn near inseparable. Greg Barnett (guitar and vocals), Eric Keen (bass), Joe Godino (drums) and May didn’t just tour together, they spent years living in a house together. Prior to going on tour, bands have to take on a ton of expenses in preparation, and with everything canceled, The Menzingers not only found themselves in lockdown, but also with no way to recoup the money they put into the tour.
Simply put, the band needed to find a way to continue to make a living. A lot of bands had turned to Zoom acoustic shows, but The Menzingers were a little lukewarm, to say the least. “I don’t care if the Zeta variant comes out and we get shut down again,” May says with more than a tinge of frustration in his voice. “I’m not playing another fucking Zoom acoustic show again.” They could put out some shirts or other merch, but at the heart of it the band wanted to keep making music. Then one of them—May thinks it was Barnett—suggested re-recording “Hello Exile.” The result was “From Exile.”
The idea of re-recording an album not even a year after its release is not something most bands would relish. But it gave the band the opportunity to play with some of the songs, as well as the chance to learn an entirely new way to write music.
“We weren’t necessarily trying to ‘fix’ the other versions of the songs we did [on “Hello Exile”], we’re really happy with that record,” May explains. “When we were initially starting the project we had a really rough time and a lot of really difficult conversations about how intense we were going to be perfectionists. Thankfully, after a lot of frustrating conversations and doubting, we were like, ‘We’re fucking doing this.’”
The experience was so much different than anything the band had ever done previously. They had always written together in the same room, playing with things and going back and forth. Now they were sending recordings to each other in Dropbox. The new way of doing things was certainly galling at times, but in the end they created a record that stands out as a true reflection of the time it was created.
On June 5, 2020, the band released “America Pt. 2,” a reworking of their track “America (You’re Freaking Me Out)” from “Hello Exile.” The track dropped two weeks after the death of George Floyd and the band held nothing back, particularly the song’s second verse:
“Well, George Floyd was murdered by a cop
The whole world saw the video and watched
Now justice is long overdue
Grab your pitchforks, we’re heading to Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“Everyone was stuck at home and you feel kind of helpless,” May says. “A lot of people were in the streets and a lot of people were raising money, and we felt that we had a way to commiserate with people, raise money and be able to say something.” All proceeds from the release went to, and are still going to, local bail funds through Act Blue and Campaign Zero to end police violence.
In 2021, The Menzingers were able to get back on the road in some semblance of the life they had lived for over a decade. At first, they had the intention of sharing the stripped-down songs on “From Exile,” but once they looked out at a crowd of people ready to let loose for the first time in over a year, those plans changed almost as quickly as their touring plans had in March 2020.
“As soon as we played shows again, we just wanted to be loud,” May laughs. “Oh my God, it was fucking amazing [to play again]. It wasn’t even weird, I expected it to be weird, but it wasn’t even weird. The shows have been awesome.”
With a summer full of shows planned and the seedlings of new songs forming in their heads, The Menzingers are ready to say “Goodbye Exile” and get back to doing what they do best.