Five dudes playing rock 'n' roll in a band called The Men seems fairly straightforward, right? Not exactly. After making a name for themselves with abrasive noise rock, The Men somehow settled into Crazy Horse country just five years later. Along the way, they've touched on surf rock, hardcore, metal, krautrock and everything else that's suited their fancy. And given the band's prolific output — an album a year for the past half-decade, preceded and punctuated by a number of self-released tapes and 7-inches — The Men's evolution has been well documented.
With their latest, Tomorrow's Hits, the band has polished the ramblin' rock of 2013's New Moon into a taut, no-frills rock record that shares DNA with Tom Petty, Bob Seger and anything else worth your dollars in the jukebox at your neighborhood dive bar. The Men might be the only band on the planet whose Pandora station could just as easily include Bruce Springsteen as Big Black.
"Everyone brings something to the table, and it kind of mutates between all of us," drummer Rich Samis tells the Scene by phone while on a tour stop in Detroit. "That's the cool part about the process: the mutation that happens, the unexpected things that happen with bringing an idea you have to a group of people and bouncing it back off a bunch of individuals. Inevitably it's going to change a little bit."
Tomorrow's Hits is maybe the band's highest fidelity recording as well. Where the previous album was realized in the process of piecing it together, Samis says the band's intent this time around was to record as direct a rock album as possible.
"That was a big part of New Moon, where we were going up to a cabin and making our own recording studio, and there was a lot of experimentation," Samis explains. "I see that as a pretty experimental record in the sense that we were going to somewhere in which there was nothing out there, and we were just building up the whole thing. That record, the whole thing reminds me of a sketchbook. When we were mixing it, there were so many tracks and layers, it took a very long time."
To change things up, The Men recorded Tomorrow's Hits in two days. Despite the different recording processes, both albums conjure wide-open spaces and back roads. If The Men's catalog can be divided into city records and rural records, this one definitely lives somewhere in the country.
"New Moon is Upstate New York, and Leave Home is like some fucking shithole in Brooklyn," offers Samis. "I don't know what Open Your Heart is. Maybe it's a ride on the subway or something."
But given the band's tendency to move on to the next thing in a hurry, The Men have had no shortage of the affable "their old stuff was better" fans ever since their breakout moment, 2012's Open Your Heart. There are also those who caught on to the band later and don't have much patience for the noisy stuff. Either way, Samis says the band isn't sweating those who aren't on board.
"One thing I do notice — journalists, writers and critics, everybody's looking backwards. Everyone's saying, 'Whoa, the record before that, the record before that,' and I think we're looking forward. I think there's an element of noisiness in every record. It may not be as blatant and in-your-face as on something like [2011's] Leave Home and [2010's] Immaculada, but it's still there, especially if you see us live."
Listen to "Pearly Gates" from Tomorrow's Hits and you'll catch his point. Amid all the twangy blues rock is the sort of cacophony The Men have always stirred, just pointed in a different direction. The band is also revisiting and reworking some of their older material on this tour. Like, for instance, Immaculada's fuzzed-out "Lazarus." As for how the "their old stuff was better" fans express their opinions to the band, Samis says that depends.
"In Europe, mostly people will tell it to your face. In America, people will write it on the Internet. In both cases, I don't really care."