Sometimes when you play festivals, different companies give out free shit to the artists. Once, and I think this might have been the first time this happened, someone said, “Hey, if the band wants some stuff, we’ll see if they can get a discount.” I remember thinking, “Oh wait, there could be other cool perks to playing in this band?” It felt like a trophy of accomplishment.
Everyone picked out different stuff, but I went for a pair of hiking boots. I vaguely remember wanting to get a different pair that were black and maybe more industrial punk looking, but in the end, I decided on a pair that looks maybe a little more outdoorsy, which I think represents me in a way. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with fashion, and in my mind these boots are so neutral they’re appropriate for any occasion.
I don’t know if you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or seen the movie, but there’s a scene where one of the writers of the guide says “Never leave without a towel.” These hiking boots are kind of like my towel. Any time I have them with me, I know that if there is a disaster I can run really far, and I’m not even going to get wet because they’re waterproof!
I’ve brought them with me on pretty much every single tour we’ve done since I got them. The reason I like them is while on tour I get to go and check out all of these cities and be in these different situations. It’s good to know I’ll always be prepared for what’s out there.
I haven’t always been into hiking. I was born in Philadelphia and I lived there for the first couple of years of my life, but then we moved up to Scranton, Pennsylvania, which isn’t really a hiking-oriented place. It’s nestled in a valley, so you’re kind of surrounded by the visuals of mountains everywhere, but the city is your typical rust belt American city. It had a massive coal mining industry that went away. The population went from 150,000 or 175,000 people to maybe half by the end of the twentieth century. There are lots of bars and churches, row homes, and shit like that.
When I was growing up, we rode bikes, beat each other up, and played sports and games like hide and seek with other kids in the neighborhood. Close to my house was McDade Park, where we spent a ton of time. There were some trails there and a pond with fish, and you could see geese and ducks there, too.
My first real interaction with wilderness was when I was twelve and we went to Promised Land State Park. My friend invited me to check out this Boy Scout thing—they used to go on outdoors excursions once a month. For me it was kind of a transition into some kind of self-reliance and adulthood. You got to carry a knife, which was pretty sick. And there were some kids who were a little bit older who were basically in charge. They had a compass and a map and it just seemed dangerous and exciting, and also a departure from my typical family life and everything else that we had at home.
I guess I took a bad influence from people who told me it wasn’t cool and I kind of drifted away from that and got more into music and skateboarding and stuff like that. It’s only been in the last couple of years, when we started to tour out to other parts of the country where there are days’ worth of driving that you can do completely in what’s essentially the wilderness, that I’ve been excited about nature again.
People will be like, “Hey, you can stay with us on your off day and we’ll take you to a lake…” One of the first outdoor places we went to was Whiskeytown Lake in northern California outside of Redding. Unfortunately I think it got burned up pretty bad a year or two ago in the wildfires, but we went there with Broadway Calls, who took us out with them on tour, and we met a bunch of their friends and kids who were in hardcore bands who we never met before. We had a great experience, and we saw things we’d never had a chance to see on the East Coast. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
When we tour, most of the places we play are urban, so I end up doing a lot of hiking in cities. I can walk tens of miles on off days. It’s the best way to get a good grasp of the neighborhoods we’re in, and the culture of a place. A lot of times, I’ll take a hike to the supermarket first and see what the subtle differences are, like a weird local soda they’ll have. Maybe I’ll check out the post office, or where to find a meal, especially if it’s something unique, like looking for Polish food in Detroit…
Sometimes I’ll wander into shops and run into a person who’s almost out of a novel, like an old guy behind the counter of a taxidermy/bar with coke-bottle glasses, who phrases things in such a bizarre way… there’s no cut and dry transfer from what I experience on these hikes to what ends up in our music, but the way that I look at the world is shaped by what’s happening in my everyday life.
I’d say I don’t have an emotional attachment to my boots, but I recently checked and found out they don’t make them anymore, at least not now and not in my size. So I went on eBay and found them there and bought the exact same pair. When these die, I can put my boots back on again, and keep on exploring.
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Tom May is the co-vocalist/guitarist for The Menzingers, a critically acclaimed punk band based in Philadelphia. Ever since their formation in 2006, the Menzingers have distinguished themselves with a hard-driving sound paired with stories culled from everyday life. Their just released sixth full-length album Hello Exile is a reflection of past and present, tackling topics ranging from high-school hellraising and troubled relationships to aging, alcohol, and political ennui. The Menzingers are currently on tour.