Motion City Soundtrack: Everything is alright
Formed in 1997, Motion City Soundtrack’s sound falls on the pop side of the pop-punk spectrum although their most recent album, 2012’s Go, pretty much drops the punk part of the equation altogether. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Speedy power-pop tunes such as “Circuits and Wires” and “Son of a Gun” are radio-friendly numbers. Commit This to Memory, however, is the band’s highest selling and most streamed album to-date. For the current tour, the band will perform that celebrated 2005 Mark Hoppus-produced sophomore record in its entirety as well as a selection of songs from their impressive 16-year five-album career. We phoned singer Justin Pierre at his Minneapolis home to talk about the upcoming tour.
Talk about what it’s been like revisiting Commit This to Memory. And are you going to play it in its entirety?
A lot of people have been asking us that. I thought it was self-explanatory. That’s the plan. We’ll play that record and then we’ll come back and do another set from the other records. In terms of revisiting it, it’s one record where we’ve played most of the songs live. There are still a handful that haven’t gotten played as much as others. Playing songs such as “Resolution” and “Time Turned Fragile” will be fun.
Do the songs sound different now than when you played them then?
I hope not. I think we’ve tried to emulate what we’ve done on a recording. We try to pull that off live as best we can. I think the only thing that changes for me is singing something that is no longer true. There’s a line from I Am the Movie that goes “with drink I see things better.” If it was, in fact, serious, but that no longer holds true for me. Now, I can look at it as sarcasm. It’s not like I have to be all method-y about it. Sometimes I just sing things I don’t agree with. The Beastie Boys would not perform certain songs because of what they said and I think that makes sense. But I don’t think we were doing anything that was sexist or homophobic. In terms of songs about how “you’re the love of my life,” that probably wasn’t even true when the song was recorded. But for the most part, a lot of it holds true. I think it’s more important to not change things like turning “handguns” into “walkie talkies” just because you can. There’s the other side where Tom Robbins had a collection of short stories and essays that came out and he said, “Damn right, I changed things. I didn’t get it right and I had an opportunity to make it right and redo it.” There are two schools of thought on that. For performing this album, I stick to the words that were written and we play it in the style it was done. Last year, we played at the McNally Smith College of Music in Minnesota and we did I Am the Movie in its entirety but rearranged all the songs and played in different styles with different instruments. That was a specific thing and we told people ahead of time so they knew what they were doing. But in terms of Commit This to Memory, we’re going to play them as best we can.
What was it like working with Mark Hoppus on the album?
It was great. He wanted to make it good. He writes great songs. He’s also a highly intelligent human being and he has an incredible ear. We had two studios going at once. We had one in the main studio and another one in the house. We had people singing backups and he would go back and forth. I was in studio A and he was playing something back and said the third note was flat. He’s an incredible musician. He doesn’t Mark Hoppus-fy everything.
Talk a bit about the band’s origins. The group started in Minneapolis, which has a long, strong music history. Was there a good scene there in 1997 when the band started?
I have never been one that was aware of what was happening ever, especially in terms of scenes. Looking back, I think we were friends with bands who were way better than us and were doing really cool shit. We were kind of a mess and they would put us on a bill. The biggest band in our scene was called Cadillac Blindside and we did shows with them and another band called Amp 176. One of the guys in that band was in Dillinger Four at some point and we knew members of Kill Sadie. There was a place called the Foxfire Coffee Lounge that had “all ages” shows. Jimmy Eat World would come through and they would put a local band on the bill. Because of them, we got to play in front of people who wouldn’t normally see us. We also got to meet the guys in Ultimate Fakebook, a band from Lawrence, Kansas. They’re why we recorded our first album with Ed Rose who had done their records. They took us on tours. We couldn’t get shows anywhere and had to go on the road. We built small communities of fans in Long Island and Chicago and Michigan.
Did you use keyboards right from the start?
Yes and no. Within a year of us starting, we added the keyboards. Josh was a big fan of The Rentals and introduced me to them. Then, [The Rentals’ second album] Seven More Minutes came out and we just freaked out. At that time, bands were using keyboards again. Weezer had used Moog on some of their songs. There’s a That Dog album we really liked. Superchunk used some keyboards on Indoor Living. We wanted the Radio Shack version of the Moog. We bought a bunch of those for 100 bucks a piece. Josh and I took turns playing them. I would play guitar and then keys and sing. It was pretty chaotic and sloppy and then we tried to find a keyboard player full-time. After going through a bunch of people who didn’t want to join the band, we found Jesse [Johnson]. That was something we had early on.
Your music has an edge but still has pop hooks. Was that the idea?
When Josh and I started getting together to play music, he introduced me to bands like Jimmy Eat World and the Promise Ring. I was into Jawbox and Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate. We had many of the same interests but where he was into Big Black and Shellac and the Pixies, I was into the Boo Radleys and the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev and psychedelic stuff. We tried this thing where we tried to write what we thought were Jawbox and Fugazi-sounding songs with Weezer-style melodies over them. I think that’s what we were trying to do. I don’t know. When he introduced me to Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good, that blew my mind. I think I got what he was thinking, but he was the idea generator. We just figured it out and went from there.
Your last studio album came out in 2012. Anything new in the works?
We recorded in June at Pachyderm. It was super cool and just an hour away from where we live. We did the album with John Agnello who has produced some of our favorite records from Dinosaur Jr., Jawbox and Sonic Youth. I think right before he did our record, he did the new Manchester Orchestra. He is an insane man and I mean that with absolute respect. I hope it’s not too much like looking at my future self. He has so much energy. He’s super excited. He has a great work ethic. He also plays while he works. He’s a rad dude to be around. He’s one of those guys who says what you do is great and doesn’t touch it but throws new ideas at you. We told him how much we liked that Jawbox album and he set up the way he recorded our album like that. I don’t think it sounds like that because we’re not them and our drummer is cymbal crazy. He took the things we liked and tried to capture what we do live. It was a lot of fun. It was short too. It was the least amount of time we ever spent in the studio. We did the most amount of time rehearsing so we could nail it. We recorded live, which we’ve never done before. It’s coming out in the spring or summer.
Upcoming 2015 Shows
Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
Cincinnati, OH @ Bogart’s
Cleveland, OH @ House of Blues
Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls
Silver Spring, MD @ The Fillmore
New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore
Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade (Heaven)
Louisville, KY @ Mercury Ballroom
Tulsa, OK @ Cain’s Ballroom
Austin, TX @ Emo’s East
Dallas, TX @ House of Blues
Tempe, AZ @ The Marquee
San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
Anaheim, CA @ House of Blues
San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
Seattle, WA @ Showbox at the Market
Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory
Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
Lawrence, KS @ Granada Theater
Des Moines, IA @ Wooly’s
St. Louis, MO @ The Pageant
Chicago, IL @ House of Blues