Interview with Motion City Soundtrack: Far From Extinct

In a world undergoing rapid cultural balkanization in which fans can devote their musical explorations to sub-sub-genres with the click of a mouse (or touchscreen), there’s something to be said for pop rock. It’s catchy and uniting. Just go ahead. Admit it. You like it.

Motion City Soundtrack, now in their teens as a band, gradually emerged as purveyors of synth-inflected straightforward pop after the one-two punch of their sophomore record, Commit This To Memory, and then 2007’s Even If It Kills Me, and of course, steady touring. Now with the forthcoming My Dinosaur Life, their California harmonies and Moog coloration continue to echo bubblegum pop with a punk attitude.

Two weeks before the album’s release, bassist Matt Taylor paused Assassins Creed 2 while he talked about the new album and its curious title, as well as a trio of holiday shows the quintet performed in Chicago, performing one album each night.

How was the string of holiday shows you did in Chicago?

They were amazing. What we did was three nights, three different albums. So each night we did one of our records and then we came back and did an encore with other random songs, b-sides, and fun stuff that we never really get a chance to do. It was unbelievable. I’m still in awe of it and everywhere I’m reading comments online everybody seemed to have a really good time. We’re very, very pleased with the way it went.

Is it something you’re planning to continue?

I hope so. It’s not something we want to do too much because it wouldn’t be as special I guess. We played some tunes that we’ve literally never played live before. We had a really good time doing them and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it. The good thing was I think it motivated us to pull out some of the songs we never play. It was really fun.

Are there ever songs that you don’t want to play?

Oh yeah. Absolutely. There are songs that I’m just absolutely sick of playing. The good thing is when you’re on stage you’re never like, ‘Oh man, I gotta play this.’ You’re up there and you’re having fun and it doesn’t matter because the crowd is enjoying it. But when you’re sitting backstage, you’re like, ‘Really, we gotta play that tonight?’ That goes away for me once I get on stage.

Have you been in rehearsal for the new album?

No, we’re flying out tomorrow to Vegas to do a couple of acoustic shows and promo stuff out in L.A. and I believe on Jan. 14 we’re going to go to Minneapolis and practice for three days and play some of these songs we’ve never actually played.

You did all the writing in the studio?

We did a lot of the writing apart. This last year was pretty rough because Tony broke his arm, so we kind of had to take a lot of time off, and we were supposed to record and we had to push that back so that meant we were at home a lot of the time apart. So I was recording ideas, Josh [Cain, guitar] was recording ideas, Justin [Pierre, vocals/guitar] had ideas and we were kind of sending them to each other and building them and sending them back out to each other, so a good amount of songs on the new record we have never played, but a good amount of them we did play together before Tony [Thaxton, drums] broke his arm in November/December of 2008.

We had played them a few times—that’s the funny thing. You play a song enough to get it on a demo and then you don’t touch it until you get into the studio and then you track it and then you don’t touch it again for months. I’ve played these songs a few times in the last year, and I don’t remember them right now. I gotta get in and do my homework (laughs).

Is this the first time where you didn’t hash out your songs in a room?

Yeah. It was the first record we did this with. I loved it. I like to do both actually. I think we definitely all need to get in a room together, do as much as we can do until we feel like we’ve hit a spot where we’re happy with what we have, and then maybe take a few weeks apart or do any sort of pre-production.

The cool thing is, on this record, ‘Her Words Destroyed My Planet,’ which is the single we’re actually running with right now, that song wasn’t even a contender for the record. Justin brought that in as we were tracking the other songs. We were like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute.’ So at night, we went to the apartment, and I just put some fake drums in there and some bass, and we kind of built this song at the apartment and brought it in the next day to Mark and the rest of the band and were like, ‘We should consider tracking this.’ So we ended up doing that. It was cool, these things can make their way in late in the game.

You went back to using Mark from Blink on this release who had produced your second album. Any particular reason?

Yeah, we just kind of felt the whole session last time we worked with him was great. We really enjoyed his company, obviously his producing, his attitude, and we all see eye to eye on music. We listen to a lot of the same things, we grew up listening to a lot of the same things, and we just wanted to ‘go home.’ It felt like going home, feeling comfortable.

To me, the most important thing in the studio is to be comfortable. You don’t want some guy screaming at you, telling you what to do, telling you, ‘You messed up’ and, ‘Do it again.’ You want to be comfortable and experiment and have fun with it. That was the main thing for me, going back to Mark, the comfort factor.

Was it markedly different from working with Ric Ocasek?

Yes. Totally, 100 percent (laughs). And that’s about all I’ll say (laughs). It was a good thing, we got some good songs out of it. Some people just don’t really mesh as musicians or people. Ric was a super nice guy, don’t get me wrong, but certain styles work better than others with others (laughs).

Do you see yourself working with Mark indefinitely?

I don’t know. We generally don’t really think about this stuff until it’s time to record again. We haven’t talked about it as a band. Obviously, we have fun doing it, and it works well. We’re always excited with the outcome, so I’ll never say we’re not going to work with Mark again. That’s one of those things where we’ll decide when we get to it. It’s hard to say.

Tell me about the deluxe edition package. How did that idea come together?

That was Columbia’s idea. How cool is that? Your label comes up to you and goes, ‘Hey, we want to spend a bunch of money on vinyl and make something limited edition.’ (laughs). It’s crazy. We got our hands on it and it’s awesome. I’m really excited about it. I was excited when they pitched the idea, and then getting to hold it and see how well it’s made and how well it turned out, it just made us all really excited for it.

How is the Columbia switch?

It’s been awesome. It’s been a really, really smooth transition and in fact it doesn’t feel much different than Epitaph, because we signed to Epitaph years ago, we did three records with them, and we did that on purpose, because when we signed to Epitaph there was another major bidding against Epitaph and we decided to go with the indie because we didn’t really know anything about the music industry, and we wanted to work harder and build our fans ourselves. So that’s what we did, and now that we’re at Columbia, we learned a lot, and I think they understand that we’re not just a baby band. They respect us and we respect them, and so far it’s been absolutely amazing.

These people work so hard. I’ll get emails saying, ‘This is gonna happen.’ And then two hours later, we’ll get an email saying, ‘Alright, this is done, do you approve?’ People are just on it. I don’t mean to sound like I don’t appreciate everything Epitaph did. It’s kind of just the next level. There are more people, it’s just a larger scale. More people power.

How did the video for ‘Disappear’ come together?

That was something that we decided to do on our own out of our pockets. That was the original idea, we wanted to do something cheap, just for the Internet or whatever for the fans. Josh’s brother Jesse is a director so we utilized him and a bunch of friends. He actually runs a film department at a school in upstate New York near where Josh’s family has a cabin. We took a weekend, slept at the cabin and filmed a B horror movie thing. Something different.

Do you have a video set for ‘Her Words Destroyed My Planet’?

Mmhmm. Actually we just got the final cut of it a couple of days ago. It’s pretty sweet (laughs). It’s hard to describe. We’re basically, the five of us, are assholes who crash a fourth grader’s science fair. We just roll in and are a bunch of idiots who take over this thing. I can’t tell you too much. It’s got a very kind of Rushmore feel.

We come in and we have all these science experiments that we’ve made on our own, and we’re basically showing up all these kids who come in with all these great projects, but we have to one-up them and trash all their crap. They do get their revenge in the end, so it’s not all that bad. It was really really fun to shoot. We shot it in the gym where they shot Back To The Future as well. So of course, we were super nerdy about that all day, like, ‘Ohmygod.’

Do you play in the auditorium as well?

We don’t play. We decided not to play in this video but we do other things instead of play, and I’m not going to tell you what that is, because it’s absolutely ridiculous. Wait till you see for yourself (laughs).

I can’t figure out why it’s named My Dinosaur Life.

Well, why not? (laughs). I can’t either. It’s one of those things that just kind of happened. Justin thought he got it from a movie, and he actually misquoted the movie, it’s actually ‘My Dragon Life.’ (laughs). I don’t remember what movie it was. So we went with Dinosaur. At one point—this is kind of a personal opinion as to what it could mean—we were comparing it to feeling out of place or out of touch or extinct, if you will. Sometimes when you get older and there are all these young bands popping up and you’re these guys that have been kind of doing it for a while and you’re just saying, ‘Can we even relate to these guys anymore?’ That’s definitely something that we’ve all dealt with. That’s kind of what it means to me still.

I was thinking maybe I couldn’t figure it out without the art package.

The cool thing is, with the artwork, we’re huge fans of Joe Ledbetter. We got in touch with him—I don’t remember how it happened—but he said he would love to work with us and we said, ‘Okay, we got a job for you buddy.’ And he created a character for us, we own the character, which is awesome. He does a lot of vinyl toys, and we collect a lot of art toys. He’s such a rad dude. We’re so excited that he worked with us.

My Dinosaur Life is out Jan. 19. Motion City Soundtrack will make in-store appearances at Looney Tunes in West Babylon, NY, on Jan. 18 and at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, on Jan. 20. They perform at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza on Feb. 3.