Interview: Matt Pryor of The Get Up Kids
The impact that The Get Up Kids have had on indie music cannot be understated. Their first album, 1997’s Four Minute Mile, was one of the defining albums of the second wave of emo music then taking off in the US. Though they departed from that sound on later albums, their impact was felt by a number of bands who followed.
After a decade of nonstop touring and four full-length albums, the band called it quits in 2005, and its members went on to pursue other projects. In late 2008 the band reunited for a surprise show in their native Kansas City, and in 2009 they embarked on a full-fledged reunion tour in support of the re-release of their 1999 album Something To Write Home About.
Playing together again for the first time in years sparked something that had lain dormant for a long while, and in 2009 the band returned to the studio. Released in April of 2010, their latest effort, an EP entitled Simple Science, was the first new Get Up Kids recording in five years. Not even a month into the new year, 2011 marks the return of The Get Up Kids full time, with a national tour kicking off January 21st and a new full-length album, There Are Rules, released January 25th on the band’s own label, Quality Hill Records. Verbicide‘s Paul Comeau spoke with lead vocalist Matt Pryor about the new album, the band’s tumultuous past, and what’s in store for the future.
How does it feel to be back together as The Get Up Kids, and getting ready to tour and release a new album?
Pretty good. We’ve been rehearsing all [throughout] the last week and it’s been going really well. It’s good times.
From what I’ve come to understand, when you guys broke up in 2005 it was not on the best of terms. What led you from that to where you are now?
Well, hindsight being 20/20, we should have just taken a break from each other. We’d been going nonstop for 10 years at that point and things had changed. I wanted to spend time with my family…but none of us were really “healthy” enough to be able to recognize that that’s really what needed to happen. You know when you’re just so incredibly sick of somebody that you’re like, “I don’t ever want to see you again,” and then enough time goes by and you’re like, “You’re actually my friend, I like you?” That’s basically what happened — the musical equivalent of that.
When you went into the studio together for the first time in almost five years, what was the dynamic like?
It was good. It took a minute to figure out what the dynamic was, necessarily. Instead of it being a constant struggle, we let each individual really handle their own set of strengths, so to speak, with Ed the producer and Rob being the drivers. So it was good, but it was also very loose and kind of freeing because we were like, “We don’t have to do this, we can just keep playing the old songs if we want,” but we wanted to do it because we liked it.
So how did that affect the process of writing songs going forward? You’re playing to each others strengths — how did that gel together into the Simple Science EP and the new album,There are Rules?
We would write in these bursts where we would get in a room together and jam on stuff, for lack of a better word, and then we’d get a basic song structure and start to flesh it out in the studio. There’s definitely a weirdness to the record…
In what way?
Well, we’re just not afraid to just do something totally bizarre if we think it sounds cool. I’ll give you an example. There’s a song on the record called “Pararelevant.” In the middle of the song there’s a minute-long instrumental thing, where it’s literally just playing the same part for a minute, and there’s a backwards vocal psychedelic freak out thing. And [the discussion was] like, isn’t this part really long? Yeah, but it’s cool so who gives a shit? What, is it gonna get played on the radio? We did it because we thought it sounded cool, and just having fun with it, and being like yeah, make it weird. We said “make it weird” a lot when we were making the record.
I think you have to go into it with an open mind. You can’t go into it and expect it to sound like our first record, or our second record. You gotta go into it being like, okay, I know that these guys do what they do really well, and I’m just gonna go on this journey with them and see where it goes.
Speaking of the first record, how has your process of doing things as musicians changed over time? You all have several years of experience playing with other bands, so when you get back together is it the same vibe that you had back then, or has it changed over time?
It’s more so that original vibe when we’re all together now than it was for probably the last three years that we were a band before we broke up. We get along better now as friends and as…what would be the word…creative partners, than we did, probably since our first record. Our first record was written in a similar manner, where it was all of us in a room coming up with ideas. For our second, third, and fourth records, it was a lot of finished songs that Jim or I would write and bring to the band. I think the big thing is we had to learn how…we had one kind of relationship when we started out. We did everything together. We lived together, we toured together, we worked together, but then as we got older, people started to have families, and you have to learn that the time that you are together can be great, but you need to get away from each other and do other stuff.
So it’s like a certain maturity level has been reached?
I guess…I hate saying that, but it’s probably true.
I mean, I hate saying that too — I stick by the Kevin Seconds sort of motto, “Young ‘till I Die.”
I don’t think it’s maturity in an old sense… Okay, we’ll scrap the word “maturity” and we’ll use the word “enlightened.” It’s a wiser way to deal with other people. It’s better to be away from each other and to have better conflict resolution skills than to just try and like cram it down each other’s throats all the time. Mature sounds boring in rock ‘n roll.
What was the reasoning behind releasing the new full-length on your own label versus returning to Vagrant, who did your last three full-length albums? What was the reason for getting away from them?
We weren’t really getting away from them. We always did, and still do, have a great relationship with everyone at Vagrant. I really think that this is the way the industry is going to a certain degree. As long as you’re willing to put the legwork into releasing your own album, I don’t see the reason why a band in our position would want to be on a label.
Do you think the whole system of labels is archaic?
No, because I think there are those who can make great music, but can’t run a business. Therefore you need to have some sort of partner, and the label would play that role. I think it’s also harder for younger bands who aren’t established to get that first foot in the door without that help as well. I think that as long as you’re willing to put the work into it, [self-releasing] is totally a doable thing. But saying that, though, doesn’t mean that I’m dissing labels. And you know, it could be a total flop — we could totally fuck the whole thing up, and who knows.
Do you have an interest, if this takes off, to support other bands that you’re friends with in this way by releasing their music on your label?
No, for two reasons. It’s really just a label in a name. On paper, it’s all the same company; the label is just one arm of the band as a company. We did that once before with Vagrant, and I kind of feel like we have enough…we have a hard enough time with our own band, and our own band’s expectations, that we should probably just keep it at that.
Setting up the ideal vehicle for your own musical output?
Back to the new album, you were telling me that you wanted to “make it weird, make it weird”…
Not all the time, not all the time. If a song was weird [we said], just run with it… don’t [say], “We can’t do that.” But then again, if we had a song that was poppy and straight ahead, [we didn’t] make it weird just for the sake of making it weird. But that did come up a lot. Don’t be afraid to make it weird if the song called for it.
So you were letting the songs do what it seemed like the songs wanted to do? How would you describe that?
It’s not so much what the songs wanted to do — you can take a simple song and make it more complicated in the studio. It’s more like what the consensus was amongst us. If we’re doing something that’s really dark and really different, then we’d just stick with that, and [not] be afraid — don’t be like, “Well, we can’t do that, we’ve never done that before.”
Is a resistance like that something that’s ever come up in the past on [earlier] albums?
It certainly came up. I mean, we made compromises. I don’t think we ever scrapped something because it was too different. It might have ended up as a B-side or something.
What does returning to full-time touring with The Get Up Kids mean for the future of The New Amsterdams and your solo-work?
Well, I’ve been writing a bunch of stuff over the winter and I haven’t really decided in what capacity it will be released. I feel I might have confused things by taking a solo-project, and then making a solo record. So I can’t decide if I should just stick with it as that, as Matt Pryor, or if I should do it as The New Amsterdams, even if it is a stripped-down-sounding record. I have a new album of material written [and] I’m probably going to record it in the spring, but I don’t know under what name it will be released. Because I feel like whatever I do, I need to stick to that.
With all these other projects, what is the future of The Get Up Kids beyond this 2011 tour?
We’re going to do some international touring this year to promote the record, and then just play it by ear. We had a really good time making the record, so unless everybody hates it, we don’t have a really good reason not to keep doing this.