After playing a rare European festival appearance this year at Groezrock, Motion City Soundtrack travelled over to this side of the English Channel for a small leg of the #CTTM10 tour, the hashtag cultivated to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the release their sophomore record Commit This To Memory. Playing at Birmingham’s O2 Academy earlier this month, both singer Justin Pierre and bassist/”writing machine” Matt Taylor sit down to look back at their careers thus far and talk to us about their plans for the future.
The performance that night is played in two parts; the first section consists of playing Commit This To Memory in its entirety, staying true to the record’s tracklisting, and a second is a selection of fan favourites. Although the night has been specifically catered to celebrate their past material, on reflection, it becomes apparent that little has changed for them personally over the course of the decade. Justin states that he “feels a lot closer to who [he] was 10 years ago now, but without all the bullshit.”
Maybe this feeling has accounted for the fact that most of the members of the band have settled down, gotten married or have had children. Or both. Guitarist, Joshua Cain, was the first of the members to become a father, but now has very recently been followed by Pierre. He admits to even experiencing “super feelings” now when he sings Time Turned Fragile live. The song, one of those chronicled on Commit This To Memory, was written from the viewpoint of Pierre’s father, thinking about him. Ten years on, the tables have turned and he believes now that the things he had wrote about back then are, in fact, pretty accurate now. Although, he admits that he sometimes he is hit with the realisation that the instances he wrote about on the record, that may not represent him in the best light, he still has to perform.
Time is a healer, and he feels like he’s gotten to a place where he has moved to a point where he’s dealt with it – and it doesn’t matter anymore. It could be argued though, that in writing in performing these songs, it would be a great aid to someone that is still experiencing the things that he went through, but in the present day. In singing about his experiences and being brutally honest about what he went through, it may have the ability to make someone feel less alone. A strength overall for the band is that they always have been relatable in some way or another – but they always leave the songs up to the listener’s interpretation.
Over the years it has become apparent that as a band, they’ve taken on a higher sense of responsibility as being veterans of their scene. A video surfaced including members of the bands Real Friends, Candy Hearts, State Champs, Stickup Kid and Modern Baseball all converging to cover Motion City’s When “You’re” Around. They had seen the video, and Taylor admits he was shocked initially.
“Immediately, I was surprised, just because I didn’t expect it. Then I think about, well when I’m on tour, in the middle of a tour, we do our daily things. We do our soundcheck, we do our press; other than that we’re pretty lazy. Getting us to do something, much less organise all the bands on tour to get together, and maybe learn the lyrics if you don’t know them, and actually learn the tune is a lot of work on it’s own and then to have it filmed then post it online – that means a lot.” He also admits that sometimes a feeling of doubt will also creep in, even after all these years of playing in a band. Motion City first formed in 1997, but Taylor himself joined later in 2002.
“It’s really cool to know that people still actually care. I mean, the longer you do it, you wonder if people still care. When I saw that, I thought, “aw, that’s really sweet.” And for such cool bands to be doing it too is way better.” Pierre also agrees. “I hope this isn’t a horrible, egotistical thing to say but I think the only thing you can hope for is that somebody will hear their band and it’ll influence them in some way – then they’ll go on to make much better music than you ever could.”
In 2013, the band also started their Making Moves project with Drexel University and Mad Dragon Records, which entailed each of the members handpicking one band each, with another band brought to them, helping them to release a 7” for them as part of a series. They also released their own 7” alongside it – and although there are no plans as of yet, they are open to doing it again. It’s refreshing to see how a longstanding band are still so eager to give back to those up-and-coming artists who have probably drawn inspiration from them.
While it’s always been debated on what genre the band belong to, the category that seems to fit – even if not comfortably – is pop punk. Looking at it in a broader sense, it’s apparent that the current state of pop punk seems to be in turmoil with bands breaking up left, right and centre, and others facing serious allegations – it feels almost as though there’s not a lot of good left in it. Few bands that laid the foundations for the scene are left, and those bands that came afterward seem to have perished under the crux of the new social media-dependent generation with bands like A Loss For Words, Fireworks and the Swellers throwing in the towel either for an indefinite or definite amount of time. So how do they feel about the state of the scene at the moment?
“A lot of bands aren’t able to do anything these days because music is not as supported as it used to be,” recognises Taylor. “So we’re fortunate to have people that actually do care enough to come to our shows, maybe buy a record here and there.”
With the strong fanbase that they have amassed over the years, and the change in the way music is consumed, it’s interesting to see how they approach touring, seeing as bands now need to rely on it more than ever before to support themselves.
“[There was a] period where we were a little bit on autopilot because we were touring so much, and it started to become routine to an extent. Now, it’s like “whoa.” I’ve been in this band 13 years,” Taylor continues, “and we’re still doing this, and we’re not getting any younger and you just really try and enjoy every moment you can. Go out, wander the city. You’re travelling around the earth right now. Go out and enjoy that. Don’t just sit in a room and stare at your phone. For me that’s been the biggest thing, exploring what I’m lucky enough to be able to do.” Pierre has been open about his past struggles – particularly in his songwriting – and he also opens up on his darker times. “We get to see places and do things – and I know for me at least, I spent a lot of time getting drunk or hiding somewhere dark – so a lot of these places are new to me, you know? He laughs. “So that’s nice.”
One bombshell that hit the band was the departure of drummer Tony Thaxton in early 2013. In the aftermath, it came to light that Thaxton had been suffering from a serious bout of depression that left him feeling crippled and unable to tour. The last album that was made with him on it was their 2012 release Go, described by the band themselves as being a “dark, wintry sounding record,” and their darkest sounding to date. While the band are known for their darker songwriting, up until that point it was veiled with poppy-upbeat melodies (one example being L.G.F.U.A.D, an acronym for Let’s Get Fucked Up And Die). However, on their last record, things were different.
“Go was very representative of what we were feeling as a band, even though we didn’t really realise it at the time. It’s a very wintry sounding record, made in the dead of winter in the midwest-” Pierre chimes in, “and we were very depressed.” Although he laughs at this statement, it brings the truth to light. “We were fairly depressed, I think we can say that now,” says Taylor, earnestly. The low mood was felt by all, but I was curious to see if Tony’s situation had an impact on the recording of that album.
“Tony and I are best friends, and we have been since the early 90s, so I knew a lot. Even if it didn’t mean him coming out directly and saying it to me, but when you know someone that well and when you’ve been in a band, spending pretty much every day with them, you know. I knew, and I could tell. We all could tell,” recalls Taylor. “Even from just writing songs with him, it was just getting harder to do. When you don’t have motivation to sit in a room for a full day and write with people, you end up just quitting for the day. And that became a very common thing for us where we were saying “Okay, you don’t have to.”” Although, it wasn’t always easy.
“He and I weren’t as close and I think I misconstrued it as he just didn’t like things,” admits Pierre. “He’d be like, “I don’t like that, I don’t like that.” I think with time and with him later being open about it and talking about it, then it makes a lot of sense now. I mean me, I’ve got my own shit, and I think he and I have had similar things but we’ve had different ways of going about them. So now I definitely empathise, and feel a little bit bad about how I might have thought towards him back then.”
The addition of once drum technician for the band, Claudio Rivera, they say, has had a positive impact for the band overall. Taylor talks about writing the new record – so far only dubbed at #MCSLP6 – which has been in the works since it was wrapped at the end of June last year and is expected to be released before the end of 2015.
“When we were writing, we were writing very high energy rock. We were just riding that wave of energy, so to speak. A lot of the songs ended up being pretty aggressive. Not overly so, but there was definitely a different energy.”
“What I hear from the music is that it seems fun and upbeat.” Pierre is however quick to reassure us that they have stuck to their roots. “Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics are still depressing as fuck.”
With this new sound, and new energy, they still make the point that they still miss Thaxton, and the relationship between them is friendly. On the US leg of the #CTTM10 tour, their old drummer came onstage to play an encore with them and they walked off to a crowd cheering his name. There’s clearly a lot of love still there, both for the band and overall. The new album looks to be a breath of fresh air, and even playing live for them now is fun again.
Taking time out from touring both this year and taking time to release the upcoming record looks like the type of regression that they needed. However, taking a backseat does not mean that they’re looking to come to an eventual stop. Pierre states very specifically that the band are not going to split up any time soon. After the band tour the rest of the #CTTM10, it’ll be put to bed and new chapter will unfold. With a new member on board, a new record and a positive outlook, Motion City Soundtrack make it very clear – they’re not going anywhere yet.