Im Interview: Michelle Mennona

Für mein nun bereits abgeschlossenes Buchprojekt über Mental Health und Be Well habe ich in all den vergangenen Monaten unzählige Interviews verschickt und dabei gingen auch einige Fragen an die grandiose Michelle Mennona, die sich bereits in jungen Jahren in diversen Clubs rumtrieb und dabei stets mitten in der Menge stand, um mit all den dort auftretenden Bands eine gemeinsame Erinnerung für’s Leben zu erschaffen. Aber nicht nur das: die Kamera wurde über die Jahre ihr fester Begleiter und ich liebe es einfach, welch eine Atmosphäre, welch eine Energie sie mit all ihren Fotos einfängt. Außerdem hat sie das Herz am richtigen Fleck und ist rundum ein wundervoller, herzlicher Mensch. Kein Wunder, dass ich sie unbedingt mit im Buch haben wollte, stimmt`s?

In dem nun folgenden Interview erzählt uns Michelle, wie ihre tiefe Liebe zur Fotografie überhaupt entstand, welche inneren Kämpfe sie bereits austragen musste und welch einen Stellenwert Battery und Be Well in ihrem Leben haben.

Michelle, vielen Dank für deine Offenheit und für das wirklich ausführliche Beantworten all dieser Fragen! Ohne diese Band, ohne dieses anschließende Projekt, hätten sich unsere Wege wahrscheinlich nie gekreuzt- und dafür bin ich Be Well unfassbar dankbar: für all die tollen Menschen, die ich dadurch überhaupt erst kennenlernen durfte. Hier noch zwei Links, um sich all die Bilder von Michelle anzusehen, ihr zu folgen und danach geht es endlich los mit dem Interview:

Michelle Mennona Photography: Flickr // Instagram

How and when did you get into photography and what exactly fascinated you about it?

I grew up with a mother that never left our home without her camera. If it wasn’t for her, I think a lot of our family memories would have never been captured. In high school I joined yearbook because I loved sports. I played many, from Soccer, Swim Team, Basketball, to even Football. I always noticed that there was never any good action shots and so I joined. And when I wasn’t playing I was shooting. That started my love of photography.

What is the challenge of photographing hardcore shows?

The challenge is and always will be, “I hope no-one jumps on or breaks my camera!” You really learn how to tuck in your camera like a football when you see that body coming. At a recent show, while trying to get up I started to fall backwards. My instinct was I can crack my head open. I don’t care.. just save the camera… so my arm went straight up as I fell backwards. Thankfully there were people there to help lessen the fall. Totally thankful for them!

In your opinion, is there anything that has changed over the years in hardcore specifically? What do you love most about this scene?

For me, its seeing more females in the scene! It’s so rad to see more and more women starting bands and KILLING IT! My favorite currently is NØMAN. If you’re not listening to Maha just destroy it, you’re truly missing out.

What do you associate with Battery?

Home, as I’m from the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area and grew up in the DC scene. But also my teenage years, Safari Clubs last ever show that never happened because it burned down the night before and the show was moved down to a spot down the block. As we all moshed and sang along, all of the soot that flew around.. Ahhhhh, I can still smell that smell!

When you compare Battery and Be Well: how do these bands differ live and what are the similarities?

So to me Be Well is like a good mesh of Battery and Ashes. Brian’s writing alone has always been one of my favorite things about him. He’s always put his whole heart into whatever he does. You also have the maturity of playing amongst the other guys in the band. Everyone has grown into their playing and excelled to a level that just blows my mind every time I see any of them play. And the same energy is there that’s always been there from the beginning.

Which song from Be Well did you hear first and what went through your mind?

I was given Strength for Breath off of their self-titled Album. Instantly, it made me miss everything about home. There is just something that was magnetic to the DC music scene to me. It reminded me of how inclusive the scene was as far as music went. We listened to everything, we had amazing mixed bills, and we appreciated all sorts of music. It reminded me of EVERYTHING I missed about shows and bands. I mean after all we were in lockdown at the time. So this just made me more pumped for when the shows came back. I made it a mission to make sure I could catch them play. My first tickets I purchased when things started to be lifted was to see them in DC at the Pie Shop. Then they ended up playing with my husbands band right before that 2 nights in a row… and I’m still amped from those shows.

In what way did the theme in the songs surprise you?

Nothing really surprised me that Brian had opened up. Brian and his brother Mike have always been vocal about their lives growing up. I was just so happy that Brian sat down and finally released all of this. And truthfully, with everything that was going on in the world at the time, I couldn’t think of a better time for this record to come out. I think we all needed to know it was okay to not be okay, that we all fight battles everyday. I think the world needed this. I know I did.

Have you had any experience with depression and/or anxiety? How important are bands like Be Well to bring mental illness more into focus with their songs?

So I suffer from both. I don’t really talk about it unless I’m really asked about it. At one point in my life I was almost 300 lbs. My parents divorced, I moved to and from California, I lost my childhood best friend to a heart condition, I lost trust in my closest friends, I lost my grandmother, and was still battling with things that people had done or said about me in the hardcore scene. The late 90’s and the internet were not kind. From Victory Chat, Trustkill Msg boards, to the Bridge 9 Board. Life was rough if you were a girl in the scene, who did anything to support it and weren’t in the “in crowd” it was like high school. But music and the bands gave me a reason to not give up. It fueled me to get back in the gym and lose 130 lbs. I did take breaks from going to shows but the bands, the bands lyrics that I would sit and read and reread over and over again got me through so much that was going on in my head. When The Weight And The Cost came out, for me it came at a time where my family lost the last little bit of glue that kept our family together, my grandfather and depression seeped right back into my life. This record reminded me that it was okay to not be okay that I wasn’t the only one who was suffering. That mental health is okay to talk about.. and well here I am.

What makes Be Well stand out from other bands?

Everything they are doing! The band as a whole are just really amazing talented guys! Musically, they brought back that sound that to me personally, I was missing so much of! And the fact that they live by their lyrics.

How exactly can you identify with the lyrics? Which song lines speak to you from the soul?

From Magic

I say things I don’t mean and moments later I am filled with regret

I wouldn’t blame you if you left

It probably makes more sense, and I deserve to be alone

I hide it well, I’m like a magician

But it haunts my thoughts, keeps me lost, and it blurs my vision

These 5 lines speaks to my anxiety because I always feel like I speak my mind too much and don’t beat around the bush because I was never told not to hold it back. Then I over think about anything I talk about instantly and pick at every little thing I said, if I offended anyone, or if the person is upset that I told them how I felt or feel. Someone once told me that I am TOO HONEST. But I have my mother in the back of my head saying that even a white lie is still a lie. And sometimes these conversations lead me to believe I should be alone, by myself, with my dog, living somewhere no-one can find me. And my depression I hide so well when it rears its head. And at times I cry alone in the darkness of my bedroom while laying wide awake. Replaying everything in my head until I finally fall asleep and work it out in my dreams.

Which song is particularly close to your heart and why this one in particular?

“Confessional”, shoot even sitting here listening to it, I break down every time I hear it. It talks about how in November his mental health changes and gets worse… every holiday season, it gets like that for me. I look back in my childhood and I loved it. As I became a teen and started listening to hardcore and having my own opinion on things holidays got worse. I got picked on for being vegetarian, I got picked on for the way I dressed, the attitude I apparently carried because I stood up against a lot of the things my family was for. I became more outspoken and I became the target of being bullied and told I didn’t know what I was talking about and that things that I said and stood for was crap. Then came the realization that I was no longer wanted around some of my family because I was to “radical” for them and their kids. And then I lost my grandmother on thanksgiving.

The Weight and The Cost came out in August 2020 and was dubbed by many as the album of the year. What does his record mean to you? How has this album, this band enriched your life?

This record came out as I lost my grandfather to covid, My father had gotten really sick from covid and I thought I was going to loose him too, my family was fighting, and I was about to head to the beach that my grandparents lived at and they wouldn’t be there. So every time I needed a mental break and a good cry I just threw that record on. Each song just hits the heart in so many ways with so many feels. This band brought my love for Hardcore back and what it was and is supposed to be about. It reconnected me to Brian and Mike Schleibaum which I am truly thankful for. It allowed me to have that conversation that I needed to have with people that knew who I was, what I went through, and understood that we have all learned and grew from our mistakes.

What makes Shane Johnson stand out as a person?

His amazing post #ShaneDoes_________, his quiet humor is hilarious. He’s funny as hell! And a killer drummer. I loved Fairweather so this was a no brainer that I would love him in this too.

What makes Peter Tsouras so special as a person and as a musician?

He has a pod that comes to shows wearing shirts with his face on them. Everyone should have that kind of support! He’s also an amazing artist and craftsman. He’s all around a really talented guy.

What do you love about Mike Schleibaum?

This is a loaded question for me, haha. I’ve known Mike since 1996 and he’s always been a rad guy. I love the fact at how talented he is and how much he has grown not just as a musician but as a person. Mike’s energy is next level and Im thankful we were able to reconnect after all these years and pick up where we left off. And I can’t forget about those LOCKS!! My guy has some killer hair! Oh and his cat paintings are my favorite!

What do you appreciate about Aaron Dalbec?

His energy on stage and his emotions makes you want more. He’s honest in his playing and who he is as a person. Let’s also talk about his jumps?!? He always brings his A game! To me he’s like the Michael Jordon of the Stage! He’s got some up’s!

What are you grateful to Brian McTernan for?

Friendship, getting back out there, this record, this band, Making people realize its okay to not be okay and talk about it OUT LOUD on a stage in-front of a whole lot of people. There’s so much more that I could say about him but the best thing I think I can say to him is, thank you! Thank you for everything.

Anything else you wanna add?

There is always someone out there that will listen. You just need to say, “I am here and I need to talk! I need help!” If you were given the gift to be a musician, give that gift to others by writing songs to help them understand they aren’t alone in this world. And if you find music that touches your soul, share it with the world! Again, someone is always listening!

Be Kind, One Love, and always be unapologetically you!