Exclusive Interview with June Divided’s Melissa Menago
Success came early for June Divided. It was 2012 and, having scored a spot on Warped Tour, the band recorded their first full-length, Backbone.
Now, four years later, the band is back with an evolved sound that, while aiming more for the indie pop realm than previous releases, still manages to stay faithful to the band’s roots. This will be shown in the group’s first release since Backbone, the upcoming EP Body Wars set for release December 2.
Lead singer and songwriter Melissa Menago took some time to discuss June Divided’s new direction and the recording of Body Wars.
Body Wars is your first release since 2012. How would you say June Divided has grown during that time period?
You know, we started out and we weren’t even ready. We were doing it for fun, and it was just like “Oh, let’s just do this.” We had graduated college. We didn’t even have a chance to sit down and get creative with it and things kind of happened quickly. We got thrown onto Warped Tour off of our first release, and we made this full-length record, the 2012 record, to sell on Warped Tour, and by the time everything had settled down, we were like, “Okay, okay… hang on a minute. What do we really want?” (laughs)
We got lucky in the beginning, but almost too lucky because then we didn’t really have a lot of time to explore ourselves, so yeah, we took a long time. We must have written about two albums of material and chucked most of it.
A lot of people were like “So are you guys like on a hiatus?” Not at all. We’re writing all the time. We’re practicing all the time. It just took us a long time to just settle in on something and then the recording process took forever.
You guys are out of Philadelphia. It seems like every other indie band I talk to is out of Philadelphia. (laughs) What has coming out of a city with a music scene like that done for you?
The music scene in Philly is cool because Philly is a big city, but it’s not New York/Chicago big, so it still feels like a very tight-knit music community. It’s really wonderful, I think. I’m grateful for our scene here in Philly.
It has become more indie over the recent years. We were a little bit of a heavier band at first, and it was hard for us at first because there’s a lot of pop punk and there’s a lot of singer-songwriter stuff, and there’s heavy, heavy rock. We can still kind of fit like that. We’re still an indie band and we still kind of sit somewhere, like…. we don’t know where we sit. (laughs)
It’s a great scene and it’s been really helpful. The music fans here are great. We definitely found our niche here in Philly.
Yeah, I know a lot of bands from there are very unique. You have Dr. Dog and mewithoutYou. People like that. It feels like it opens it up for experimentation.
Yeah, it does. You know, maybe it’s because people are from all over the place. I mean, you can say that about any city. We’re close to New York, but we’re not that close. We’re in the middle of a lot of cities. You’ve got Baltimore down south. It’s a really unique town, a really unique scene. It’s cool to be a part of it.
The latest single, “I Didn’t Mind,” has a very different style. There’s a lot more synth, and it feels like there’s a fuller sound to it. Is that the style that the new EP will be embracing?
Oh yeah. There’s maybe two tracks on there that are a little more indie rock. I feel like “I Didn’t Mind” is leaning a bit more towards indie pop. There’s a couple of tracks… we definitely throw our old fans a couple of bones. We’re still a rock band. There’s still guitar and stuff like that, but, yeah, that’s sort of the vibe of the rest of the EP.
During that four-year period when you were experimenting with your style, what was it that moved you towards the direction you have headed?
A lot of stuff. A lot of our influences grew and, honestly as a singer, another thing that took us a while to come back from is I actually had an awful vocal cord injury. I’m the songwriter, so you can’t write if you can’t sing, so that took a lot out of it. It’s definitely a poppier style, and that’s actually a lot healthier for my vocal cords, but creatively it’s not why we went that way.
Me and my guitar player, and the other guys really like these guys too, one of our favorite bands is Mutemath. Everything that they’ve done, we really took a long hard look at their discography. We’ve always been fans of Mutemath for years and years and years and years because that band has been around forever. We went all over the place. We found influences from Metric to Cold War Kids too, really everything.
My first instrument is piano. I was classically trained as a kid, so I kind of missed piano for a while. I was doing guitar for a long time. I still play guitar on a couple of tracks on the record, but I did write this record mostly on the keyboard.
So how did using the keyboard change the writing process?
It’s just a different thing to hear your sound on. You know, the guitar has a sound, the keyboard has a sound, and you can visualize it a little differently. A fretboard you visualize differently than a keyboard, especially for me since the piano was my first instrument, so it was just me trying to break out of a rut.
Yeah, I know when I’ve played piano versus guitar, on the piano, I feel more chords and more layering.
Yeah. We have cool guitar tones on the record, but with the keyboard, we really dug into [it]… I’m excited for our next record that we do because we’re still digging into sounds. So that was really fun too.
You said you scrapped a lot of material. How difficult was it each time to scrap what you guys had written?
(laughs) I guess that really depends on who you ask! I’m a songwriter and songwriters are always ready just to move on from there. In fact, I’m sitting in my home studio right now, and I’m working on an intro track for our live show, and I’m just having fun with it, and I have all these ideas for new songs. (laughs)
So for me, it was very easy. It was just like “No, this is meh. Alright. On to the next one.”
For some of the other guys in the band, it was harder, and there were fights about it. (laughs) We’re all here; we’re all alive. I mean, it’s really a good problem to have. You know, having your bandmates want to keep music. That’s a great problem to have.
Yeah, the more passion, the better.
Yeah. At least we’re happy with what we’re writing, but I think we did all eventually agree that no, it wasn’t it. And some of the songs will probably be recycled, or they’ve been recycled for other things, but there was definitely a sense of chagrin. At the end, we realized, when we started writing what turned into Body Work that “Oh! This is what we were trying to do.”
For me it was… I don’t know; it’s like this magic button in your brain where you’re like “Oh, that’s it!” And it didn’t do that for me, and there were some fights because of that, but here we are!
I read online that recording Backbone was “four very intense weeks” of recording. How was the process of recording Body Wars different than that process?
Oh, my God. Different in every way. It was totally different for better and for worse. With Backbone, we lived in the recording studio. There was an apartment above the studio, and so it was literally like you didn’t even see the sunlight most of the days. It was done quickly, partly because we got thrown onto Warped Tour and so it was done quickly and was intense, whereas Body Wars took a lot longer and we didn’t do it at a giant studio like we did with Backbone. Body Wars was definitely an entirely different direction.
Two of the songs on the EP were done on our own. It was very long. It took a long time. We ran into a lot of setbacks with scheduling conflicts, and that’s the other thing that took us four years. We recorded this over a year ago; we just ran into a lot of conflicts along the way. I recorded a solo record in the middle of recording. It was nuts. So yeah, it was different in every way.
You said you did a couple of the songs yourself. How stressful was that getting done or was it more of a relaxed recording style?
There’s a bonus track on there that literally was done in my living room and then the other track we did ourselves was “I Didn’t Mind.”
We rented out a studio and it was during…. we had this giant storm called Jonas, and we booked the studio for the weekend that Jonas ended up striking, and we got snowed in alone at the studio. There weren’t any engineers. It was just us in the studio, and it was stressful because we didn’t plan for the snowstorm. We were living off of beer and trail mix. (laughs) We were ready to kill each other by the end of it, but “I Didn’t Mind” came out of it.
It was fun, but yeah, it was stressful. That song is particularly stressful just because of the outside element.
For fans that are familiar with your previous work, how would you describe Body Wars?
I would say be ready for some new sounds and some different approaches, but it’s still the same. It’s still us, and you can hear that it’s still us. There’s still rock on the record. There’s still guitars and drums, and we still do… a lot of our close followers know us for the little instrumental breaks that we do. We do them live, and there’s that on the record too, so that’s always going to be a part of what we do.
It’s us, just us with a slightly different approach, but not totally because it’s definitely still us. There’s still rock on the record.
Yeah, it’s still the same band.
It’s still the same band. I think the songs are more honest, I guess. Thinking about what I do on the record, they’re a little more honest and a little more upfront, I believe, than the previous stuff as far as lyrical content goes. It’s a little more honest.
So what was it that lead to having more honest lyrics for this?
It’s growth over time. I’m a music teacher, and a lot of my students are songwriters, and they tell me “I don’t like my lyrics.” You will. Just keep at it. You get better and better and better, and you always get better and there’s always room for growth.
So I think it was just… and you grow as a person, too. As you get older, you can access your feelings better. Songwriters really have to know themselves. You have to know and understand your thoughts to put them out like that, so it’s just me getting older as a songwriter and as a human being.
What’s coming up for the band?
We just shot a music video for “I Didn’t Mind.” That was cool. There will be another single, and we’re doing a short run with the band Lydia which is cool for us because I remember going to see Lydia at The Barbary in Philly with Chris in college. So we’re really excited for that. We’re doing a couple of dates with them in November.
Then there will be a release show the first week of December and then hopefully more touring. Definitely more touring. That’s something we’re going to do. We’re going to try to get to a lot of places.
And the follow-up to Body Wars hopefully won’t take four years. (laughs)
Watch for June Divided’s Body Wars December 2. You can check out the latest single, “I Didn’t Mind,” now via All Things Go.