Since their formation in 1997, Motion City Soundtrack has grown to become one of the most well-known acts within the ever-changing pop-rock genre. Although trends have come and gone, and many of the bands associated with the Minneapolis act have long fizzled out, the five-piece has remained static in the scene and consistently upped the ante on their high-energy, electro pop/rock sound. With their career accelerating in 2003 with the Epitaph release I Am The Movie, the band went into full-force, billed highly on several leading industry festivals like The Bamboozle and The Vans Warped Tour.
However, it was the release of 2005’s Commit This To Memory that really put the band on the map, with their top single “Everything Is Alright.” Although Justin Pierre (lead vocals/guitar), Josh Cain (guitar/backing vocals), Jesse Johnson (synth/keyboard), Matt Taylor (bass) and Tony Thaxton (drums/percussion) broke the stereotype of the “sophomore slump,” they far exceeded listener expectations with the release of 2007’s Even If It Kills Me, which reached number one on the Billboard Independent Albums chart and number 16 on the Billboard 200, and 2010’s My Dinosaur Life. Despite their recent departure from Columbia Records, the band is eagerly awaiting the release of their currently unnamed, fifth studio album, which is slated for a 2012 release. Until then the band is gearing up for their 4 Albums. 2 Nights. 7 Cities Tour, a nationwide retrospective of their career, where they will play all of their albums over a span of two nights. Taylor took time out of his rehearsal schedule to reveal new details on Motion City Soundtrack’s upcoming album, why they decided to embark on this ambitious tour and what fans can expect from the band in the coming year.
Motion City Soundtrack will be kicking off the 4 Albums. 2 Nights. 7 Cities Tour in California on Aug. 19. Are you guys eagerly preparing to hit the road again?
I currently have a guitar strapped around my neck (laughs).
How and when did you guys decide this was what you wanted to do?
Almost two years ago, we did three nights in Chicago, where we did a similar thing—at the time we only had three records—so we played each record in one night at the same venue. It went really well, we had a really good time and we got a lot of good feedback and whatnot. So we kind of figured, let’s do it again, but obviously this time we have another record now, and how can we do this where we actually do it in more than one place. We just thought this was the logical next move and we obviously didn’t want to jump into something we’ve never done on this scale and do it in too many cities or anything. It’s just a small run. We’ll see how it goes, but I can only imagine it’s going to be a really good time. We’re really excited about it.
Playing full albums live seems to be one of the latest trends. It’s a good way for artists to look back and re-explore their music.
Right. We have fans that have come to see us so many times. It sounds cheesy but it’s just a way to say thanks. Like, here’s something special and new, so when you come to see us you won’t be seeing us doing the same thing we’ve done before. And it’s fun for us and it’s good for us, too. It keeps us on our toes and really makes us dig in and revisit the songs. Hopefully we’ll find some songs on these records that we haven’t played much before that we enjoy playing live and we’ll continue to play those songs more in the future.
It also gives you guys time to reflect. In your opinion, over Motion City Soundtrack’s career, how have you all grown together as musicians and just as a group of guys that travel and live together?
It’s like hanging out with your family, ya know? You really just know people and you know how to respect how they are as people and not push their buttons. It’s hard to travel and not be home. We’ve really learned that if someone needs space, just let them do their thing. You really learn a lot about someone when you’re stuck together in a vehicle with them for a month or two on end. But I mean, musically too, I think the easiest way to put it is we’ve made five records together now. And we’re obviously five individuals that like five totally different things musically, and in our personal lives. We’re different people and we have different interests coming from everywhere. We also have similar interests where those differences meet.
It’s just interesting because you get these five different angles on every song. I think we’ve just learned to not really worry too much about, “Is this going to make sense for us.” It just makes it more fun. You can just kind of come up with an idea and say this is completely different for us but once you start playing it you’re still the same five guys, you’re still the same five musicians; once you play it together it becomes what you do. So I think we’ve stopped thinking too hard about that kind of stuff and we don’t let ourselves get scared about a track where we’re doing something that we’ve never done before. And fortunately, I feel like our fans have always been very accepting of when we’ve taken something and done something a little different than in the past.
You say you all bring something different and new to the table when writing songs. Are there general roles or items you each consistently contribute with each album?
It totally depends. I would say Justin brings the lyrics—that’s definitely his role. But he’s very open to suggestions and he takes it very well. If something just doesn’t sound right or it doesn’t make sense to us, he’ll either explain it or he’ll just say, “I actually don’t know what that means. Let’s let it sit and figure it out later.” He’s very open in that respect, but you kind of have to be. But it’s the same idea if people don’t like a bass part I’m playing. I’d rather them tell me than go record and six months later play it live and be like, “I don’t really like that.” So I think part of being in a band is being on a team and being open to suggestions. But I think everybody brings something to the table. Even if it’s something they want to play or a general idea. It becomes kind of their thing; it becomes how they play. Everyone has a style, you know? We all contribute. Sometimes the song is pretty much written by the time it comes to the table, too. It just depends.
I know you guys are preparing to release a new album in 2012. Can you give any insight on how far along you are in the process, a release date or title?
It’s recorded and the band’s been waiting to get it mixed. That’s the next step. We’ve already chosen the songs we want on the record. So we’re just waiting for mixing and mastering. We’re currently looking for a home for it, we don’t know who’s going to release it just yet, but hopefully we’ll be figuring that out soon and then we’ll get more of a timeline of the way things are going to happen with it.
How many songs did you have to choose from?
I would say we finished 16 to 17 songs total. So we pulled from that pile. We’ll probably use 10 or 11 and use the other ones for other things.
Yeah, you guys are big fans of extended releases and B-sides, right?
Yeah, with everything being digital you can release songs whenever you want.
That’s true. What can we expect for the new album as far as the sound goes?
Well, we definitely didn’t sit down and make any preconceived idea of what we wanted to do or what we wanted it to sound like. This time around we had a ton of time to sit down together in Minneapolis in the winter and write. There was no strict schedule that we had, no label, and we were all relaxed this time around with writing. It’s definitely Motion City. When you hear it, you’ll think Motion City. But I think there are times where we pushed it a little further. Which, I think we’ve done consistently with every record. We actually hired real, live string players to come in and play on this record, which was really exciting. They sounded so good. And we have songs that area very big and orchestral sounding at times. And then we’ve got great high-energy, quicker tracks. It’s all over the place. I feel like it’s a lot more eclectic than anything we’ve ever done in the past. I’m really excited for people to hear it.
And I know lyrically, Justin’s really big on themes and motifs. Commit This To Memory was largely based around winter and the concept of new beginnings with the New Year. Is that present at all this time around?
Absolutely. This time around there’s definitely a theme. It’s always a mix of fact and fiction—he never likes to pick out which is which because it’s more fun for the listener, I think. This time around there’s definitely a theme of just being aware of mortality, or getting older, and just realizing, “I’m not as young as I used to be, what am I going to do with myself? I don’t have eternity to stay here so I need to get up and do something and make it worthwhile”—whatever that means. But I noticed that popping up a few times.
After you finish this tour, you guys will be heading out with Jack’s Mannequin and Company Of Thieves. Jack’s Mannequin has been in the scene for a while, like Motion City Soundtrack. What do you enjoy most about connecting with bands that have been active in the same scene for the same amount of time, and in way, experienced similar things?
Yeah, actually right before I joined the band in 2002, Motion City Soundtrack played with Something Corporate [Jack’s Mannequin lead singer Andrew McMahon’s former band]. They’ve definitely been around longer than we have. We did a Weezer tour with them that unfortunately got cancelled when Rivers got in his bus accident [in 2009], so we only got to play a couple of shows with them. But it’ll be a great sort of closure to actually get to play with them. And we’ll actually get to play with Weezer again in Minneapolis, so that will be good, too.
Once the Jack’s tour is through, what can fans expect from Motion City Soundtrack?
Well, for us, promoting is touring, so I can only imagine something will pop up soon. Hopefully, by the end of the Jack’s tour we’ll have a label for the record, the machine will be working and the album will be out early next year so we can hit the road with it.
Check out Motion City Soundtrack when they hit the road for the 4 Albums. 2 Nights. 7 Cities Tour on Sept. 9 and 10 at Irving Plaza. For more information, go to motioncitysoundtrack.com.