[13 December 2010]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Talking over the phone with Justin Pierre, lead singer of pop/punk/alt/rock outfit Motion City Soundtrack, is exactly what you think it would be: fun, calculated, sporadic, thoughtful, intelligent, serious, light-hearted, scatter-brained, and comedic (for instance, our call inexplicably dropped around a half-hour into the conversation. After a brief few minutes, we were connected again and I was met with the phrase, “Oh, I have never been so offended in my life” in a mock-diva tone on the other end. The quick exchange exemplified exactly how enjoyable speaking with the songwriter can be).
One sentiment overriding all of the rest, however, can be summed up in precisely one word: excitement. It’s used a lot when speaking about his band’s future plans—plans that include a new album, a new attitude and, most immediately, an attempt at spearheading a music festival in their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 18 called the Popsickle Festival. It’s the band’s first crack at being behind such a production, and according to Pierre, it doesn’t come without risk.
“This is not a money-making venture,” the singer says when asked about the event. “It’s a not-money-losing venture. We’ve taken a lot of chances as a band in the past few months, and this is another one of those that we feel as though we can have fun with”.
The night is set to take place at Minneapolis’ First Avenue and 7th Street Entry and will feature a slew of bands including Gospel Gossip, Foxy Shazam, A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, and the act that Pierre notes was essential to the progress of the festival: Minus The Bear. Without them, he says, the entire project probably wouldn’t have found its footing.
“It all depended on Minus The Bear,” the singer says. “If they wouldn’t have said yes, we probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. We thought with the two of us, we might be able to pull in enough people. Plus, we really wanted to play with them. It turned out that with the routing (of Minus The Bear’s touring schedule), they were able to come, so we are super psyched about it”.
According to Pierre, the nucleus of the festival originally came to mind when it was suggested by one of the band’s managers that the band hold a music festival in the winter—a time not typically associated with music festivals. Though the original idea suggested renting out a ski resort and combining the music with snowboarding and skiing events, the group quickly came to the realization that it simply wasn’t feasible to acquire the money needed for such a venture. That, in turn, led them to move the festival to First Avenue and 7th Street Entry with hopes of beginning a tradition that could be carried out during future winter seasons.
The message behind the Popsickle Festival is to ultimately try and expose listeners to a wide array of acts, much like Lollapalooza did when it began its run in the early 1990s. The singer himself knows a thing or two about exposure and the importance of giving chances to acts that one may not initially be open to embracing, and it’s not just because of his band’s relentless touring schedule, either.
“About 20 years ago, I went to see the Smashing Pumpkins,” Pierre explains. “There was a band that opened and their named was Shudder To Think. When they came on stage, I was like ‘Who are these weirdoes?’ because all I wanted to see was the main band. I probably ended up seeing them two or three times thinking that same thing. I wanted to see the Smashing Pumpkins and I had a closed mind to everything else that was there.
“Years later, I ended up hearing a song, and I was like ‘Who is this? This sounds amazing! It turns out it was Shudder To Think. I was like ‘Why did I never pay any attention to these guys before?’ If I would have been just a little more open minded, I would have loved them. And that’s the kind of thing we are shooting for with this festival.
“We are going to kind of try to shove it down their throats,” he adds jokingly. “We wanted the lineup to be as eclectic as it could be.”
The end of the festival will mark the beginning of another chapter in Motion City Soundtrack’s life. According to Pierre, the band plans to get back in the studio for a week in January to write songs and flush out ideas the members have been bouncing off each other while touring in support of their latest release, My Dinosaur Life. Following that, the band plans to do a short tour of Brazil with All Time Low before returning to the studio to have all new songs written and recorded by May. A new release is tentatively scheduled for summer, though the singer admits that “things change with this band a lot,” and it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that a new record won’t be out until the fall of 2011.
As for new material, Pierre is quick to suggest that the sky is essentially the limit, considering the place in which the band currently resides as a unit. Inspired by a recent trip to see Metric in concert, he says the band is now concentrating more on the types of songs they enjoy writing.
“People kind of think we are in a box with our music,” Pierre says after much thought. “We are going to stop fixating on that and try not to say ‘no’ to any new idea. We just want to let all ideas happen. When Matt and I saw Metric, we were like, ‘Why can’t we do that?’ We got really lazy in 2006, 2007, and 2008—lethargic, even. Our second record [2005’s Commit This To Memory] was really our first record as the band we are today. It was also our first record we made from scratch. Then, we wanted to focus on the fact that we thought we couldn’t write pop songs on Even If It Kills Me. We kind of got back to the more rock-y stuff on My Dinosaur Life and now we just want to write stuff we like writing.”
Then, after a short pause and a brief chuckle, he continues.
“I don’t want to freak any of our fans out, but for some reason, I’ve been writing a lot about death and dying,” the singer says in a tone that promises he genuinely doesn’t know why his lyrics have turned the way they have. “These songs are so dark. It’s going to be spazzy, but it’s also going to be fun”.
Dark songs aren’t something the songwriter and his band mates aren’t familiar with. Considering they have been responsible for penning such lines as “Let’s get fucked up and die” and “Hello helicopter, have you heard the news/No one gives a shit about the things they do,” it’s no surprise that a shade of gray may preside over whatever it is Motion City Soundtrack puts out next. That said, though, Pierre is passionate about the place his band is in now, and, probably most importantly, where it plans on going.
“I’m happier than ever with the band,” he says. “This band started when Josh sought me out and asked me to be in it, so I always kind of thought that this was his band. But over the last couple of years, I’ve been kind of like ‘Fuck yeah, this is my band, too.’ I’ve been known for phoning it in from time to time, but it’s not like that anymore. We want to write the best songs we can.”
And after ten-plus years as a band, numerous side projects, four full-length releases and hundreds, it not thousands, of tour dates under their belt, what’s the best possible way Pierre could articulate what it feels like to have the future look brighter than ever rather than have it merely freak them out?
“I’m excited,” he says with a sense of rejuvenation that has clearly only become palpable within the ranks of his band more recently than ever. “I’m so excited.”