As soon as I listened to just a couple of tracks of LONG ARMS‘ new record “Young Life”, I knew I’d struck gold. Run by founder and mainman James Menefee, who’s been known from his work with RIVER CITY HIGH (Doghouse Records, Takeover Records) and HIGLEY, LONG ARMS epitomize everything that is great about this classic fusion between punk rock, and rock’n’roll.
Over the years we’ve been blessed by great records from SOCIAL DISTORTION, THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM, THE MENZIGERS, whose offerings are excellent to differing degrees, and “Young Life” is a kind of backward-looking record that fits the scene perfectly. Menefee wrote these songs while driving to rehearsals at night, a mood the album perfectly captures. It is about keeping your values of friendship and rebellion in times of fear and depression. We caught up with James to learn a lot more about the project, find out about his backgrounds, previous projects, and a lot lot more.
Stocked with literary references to Faulkner, Kerouac and Salinger, Young Life is a rallying cry from a band of rock & roll lifers who, in the spirit of their influences, are still flying the flag for art that’s pure, punchy and personal.
“Young Life” is available now on Dead Serious Recordings.
First of ll, it’s great to have an interview with you, How is it going?
I am getting ready to watch all of Stranger Things, Season Two in one sitting so it is going great. There is a groundhog eating all my fowers in my backyard. It is getting colder and I hate the winter. I am reading Flannery O’Connor’s “The Violent Bear It Away.” I highly recommend her short story collection “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”
Cool, thanks! Ok, so let’s get back to where it all Begin for you. Where were you born and raised, and what kind of childhood did you have?
I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, but I cannot claim being a city resident until my 20’s. I grew up in a boring suburban hell that lacked all culture and substance, but was also safe. I ended up having a lot of freedom when my parents eventually divorced as long as I kept my grades up, so I got to go to shows every night when I was a kid, escaping the boredom of the county life.
What are some of your earliest musical memories? Were you glued to the radio as a young kid?
My dad played me The Beatles when I was three and that was it. I remember loving The Beatles in way that made my brain light up like one of those MRI’s where people discover cocaine, and I was attracted to them like a magnet drawn through iron flings. I was obsessed with this little tape recorder I had, and trying to record my voice on top of their songs. Then, like now, I was always disappointed with how the recorded version never actually matched up with what I thought it sounded like in my head. I would listen to Beatles songs and write down the lyrics in notebooks, and I was obsessed with how the front and back cover of that red collection LP had them at the same spot but a few years apart. The beards made them look ancient to me. I thought they had to be 100 years only in 1969. None had made it to 30 yet!
Your first band you formed with 12. Who was this band and how did you fnd together? Tell us something about this band.
So this band was called Fun Size. I grew up across the street from this kid Allen Skillman. he was three years older than me and when he didn’t have anyone else to play with he would play with me. I always tried to be older than I was (but was and am still extremely stupid and immature) so we would hang out and try to not be bored living in the suburbs, catching the woods on fre and things like that. He moved away for a few years and came back when I was 12 and we started playing music together. He came back with punk rock tapes, mostly the Cruz Records/SST stuf like All, Big Drill Car, Descendents and the Doughboys, and we started playing that stuf. We didn’t know what this music was called, we just thought it was awesome. There was no way for us to know even what it was. But it seemed the skaters at our school liked this music too, and one of the kids was this guy Brian, and I had a ramp in my backyard, and we heard he played guitar, so we decided to start a band. We didn’t know how to tune our guitars or anything. I feel sorry for anybody who ever had to listen to us rehearse.
You have been a punk rock musician for a very long time. What are your motivations to continue? Do you still feel connected?
I just like playing music, and I am happy I get to still do it. I do not feel connected at all in the way I did when I was a kid, and I am embarrassed a lot of times when I go to shows and realize that there are so few older folks at shows. I feel like this doesn’t happen as much in bigger cities where there is a large crop of older musicians, maybe where it is more acceptable to be older and “artistic” if that makes sense. For me now though, I am usually the oldest person in the room, and I just have to accept it.
You have a long running history in music with bands like River City High, Higley and Long Arms. In which band did you have the most fun?
Each band provided diferent types of fun. I was most “Successful” in River City High, and we got to play some huge shows and that was the most fun. Higley allowed me to record a record with Bill Stevenson…enough said. The guys in Long Arms crack me up so much that I am crying when we are driving home from shows. I guess I look for the good in each one haha.
What actually happened to RIVER CITY HIGH? I never heard that you ofcially disbanded?
River City High burnt the candle at both ends. We toured and toured and when members didn’t work out we would get some new ones and try to keep going. It’s really hard to fnd people to play with who can live in a van and deal with the squalor of tour and we were never fnancially successful or anything so that was always a strain in a lot of ways. After our last tour two of the members moved away and we just kind of stopped playing. It wasn’t anything planned, it just kind of happened. We had worked hard for years, but organically it ran itself down. I am proud of what we did in general, even though we made every mistake you could ever make.
Is there a chance that River City High will get active again somewhere in the future?
There’s always a chance! I have bass. Will travel. The other guys are so busy though. Mark is Ryan Gosling’s stylist now. He goes away for six months at a time to make a movie with him, so he would never have time to do it. I’m so proud of him. I just used this question only so I could brag about him.
Tell us a little bit about the story of Long Arms. How did this band got together?
When River City High slowed down and all the members were living everywhere else, I had nothing to do and wasn’t ready to stop playing music, because I am an idiot. I was still writing songs, but was broke as hell, and my friend Pedro had a studio in his backyard and he let me come over for about a year and work on them. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think I could’ve ever recorded again.
Your new Long Arms Album is called “Young Life”. What is the idea, motivation or meaning of the title?
This record just had more energy than our previous records. I felt kind of rejuvenated playing the electric guitar again. Like a confused fucking teenager all over again. I had seen this documentary about David Lynch called “The Art Life” about how he was also a kid in the suburbs but he wanted to live the art life, and I felt young and excited again playing these songs and thought about how it made me wanna live the “young life. “
Your Long Arms bio says about your new album “IT’S ALSO AN ALBUM ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A ROCK & ROLL LIFER”. What does it mean to you to be a Rock & Roll Llifer?
It’s no secret that being in a band has its share of letdowns. And most people, at this point, have had enough and have gone on to do things that don’t depress them as much. As of this point, I haven’t had enough, and I had a lot of things I still wanted to say. I didn’t want to abandon it yet.
What does getting older mean to you? Do you feel connected to modern punk rock bands like Iron Chic and The
Menzingers or do you prefer classic bands like Social Distortion?
I really like both those bands a lot. I think that as you get older, your need to belong or be accepted kind of goes away, because you just start to feel a little more secure. So getting older for me just means not being afraid to do your own thing, which is supposed to be the prevailing ethos of punk rock, but we all know that there are many times in our lives where we still have done what the crowd has done, even if that crowd was full of punks. I don’t prefer anything newer to anything older, because it’s all just taste and how you feel at the moment.
What is the biggest diference between playing shows in the past and present?
Everything is much more organized now. This is good and bad haha. Pay to play is not that rare these days. In the past, unless you in LA on the Sunset Strip in the 80’s, that did not exist. Now it’s just called “ticket buys.” House shows, which were a thing a couple decades ago, really fell of for awhile, but came back stronger than before a few years ago. You could do a legitimate tour of houses now, and it would be a great tour. Handing out paper fiers is a thing of the past. That’s good for the environment. I used to love standing outside of shows and handing out fiers though. My favorite would be when someone would look you in the eye and ball up your fier and throw it on the ground.
Outside of the music stuf, what else is keeping you busy these days?
I came across an author named William Gay this year and I really love his books. I read everything he published this year, and I strongly recommend “The Long Home” since it is his frst published novel, and just go from there. I’m just trying to keep the house clean, read some books, make some records, see some movies, and try to not think about how bad of things can get in the world. I apologize to the rest of the world for our insane country, and if I could change it, I would.