When the Midwest emo scene exploded into popularity in the 1990s, Kansas City’s The Get Up Kids were one of the bands leading the pack. Now, 20 years after their formation, TGUK are hitting the road again to celebrate their almost two decades of music.
The quintet’s storied career began with the biting Four Minute Mile and the seminal Something To Write Home About. Emerging from these albums came classic tracks such as “Don’t Hate Me” and the sweet, pop-driven “Holiday.” The release of those records through Doghouse Records launched the Midwesterners into the spotlight and made them a fundamental part of emo’s history. However, the relationship with Doghouse fizzled, leading the band to sign with the growing Vagrant Records.
While on Vagrant, the group founded Heroes & Villains Records as a subset of their parent label and members began to form their own side projects. Keyboardist James Dewees formed Reggie And The Full Effect, which featured frontman Matt Pryor on guitar. Pryor also went on to create another band entitled The New Amsterdams for a more acoustic sound than his usual brash TGUK vocal style. This cleaner, softer style also revealed itself in On A Wire, causing a bit of a riff between fans on its sharp stylistic changes.
However, ultimately in 2005, internal conflict forced the band to call it quits. After just three short years, however, in time for the 10-year anniversary of Something To Write Home About, the band returned to touring and even released a short EP and eventually 2008’s There Are Rules.
I chatted with the Pryor before the band’s upcoming short East Coast run about label changes and some of the stigma behind being classified as emo.
With everyone having so many musical projects like DownWrite, Spoon, and just playing in various bands, is it tough to practice and prepare for touring as The Get Up Kids?
No, it’s tough to lock everyone’s schedules down but once the tour is on the books or sometimes on sale then we usually, well we don’t need to rehearse that often, but we usually just all meet up a day before the tour starts and run the set and then we’re pretty good to go.
Do you think playing in Reggie and New Amsterdams affected how you wrote Get Up Kids records?
It depends on what record you’re talking about. The last Get Up Kids record we wrote like as a collective sort of, which is kind of how we wrote our first album. The other records it was more I would write a song, bring it to the band and in that sense it’s similar to New Amsterdams at least. With Reggie I just sing backups and play guitar.
Do you think The Guilt Show would’ve turned out differently if everyone in the band had been in sync?
Well, it would’ve been a different record if we’d all been getting along at the time, but I mean we didn’t promote it at all and Vagrant didn’t promote it at all so it’s hard to promote a band who hate each other, you know. And I don’t fault them for that, they knew it was a sinking ship (laughs). “If you guys aren’t going to give a shit about it, we’re not going to give a shit about it.” But yeah, I think… who knows if we’d all been getting along then it wouldn’t have been the record that it was, it may have been all sunshine and roses and shit.
Was making the jump from Doghouse to Vagrant Records the right move in retrospect?
Yeah, absolutely yes.
Why is that?
Because we desperately hated being on Doghouse.
How did Heroes & Villains end up tapering off?
They [Vagrant] bought us out. They said they wanted the titles 100 percent and so they made us an offer and we took it. I did notice that logo is still on a bunch of stuff. We just got some vinyl in the mail, like repressings, and it still has the Heroes & Villians logo on it and I’m like, “You guys could’ve taken that off, it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Did you guys decide to repress Something To Write Home About?
That’s Doghouse, that’s part of our deal with Doghouse to get out of the contract; they got the vinyl rights to that record. And so, consequently, I had to learn, as did everybody else, that they were doing a bunch of repressings from the Internet. We were not informed by the label or consulted. Nor did we give approval.
In the past you’ve been fairly outspoken about the stigma behind the term “emo.” Do you think that still exists as much as it did back in that 2007-neon-MySpace era?
Well, you know, I’ve come to learn over the years that the term means something different to a lot of different people. So to some people it means ironed hair and eyeliner and neck tattoos and to some people it means big neon shirts and that Warped Tour thing and to some people it means Sunny Day Real Estate, it means us and Braid and Promise Ring, and so I just never liked the term because it sounds like you’re calling somebody a pussy.
But there’s no escaping it and I don’t know. The bands that we tour with now are kind of like new generation like Modern Baseball, Into It. Over It., PUP, they’re awesome, The Hotelier. I mean, they’re like the kind of bands that we were when we were their age.
I think the thing we didn’t like about what you were describing is that all those people wanted to be rockstars and didn’t want to just make music, and that’s never been our agenda. We just want to make music. If we happened to become rockstars, that’d be fine.
People talk about Something To Write Home About and Four Minute Mile as some of the best albums to come out of the “emo” scene, do you think those are your best records?
What would be then?
My favorite current Get Up Kids record is Guilt Show, but I mean I would hate to think that you’ve hit your creative peak when you were 20. So, hopefully, there’s still good stuff. I think I’ve become a better songwriter since then. I don’t know, it was just lightning in a bottle—right place, right time, right record.
After 20 years of TGUK is it hard to find an emotional connection to the songs you wrote when you were in high school and college?
I don’t really think about it, what you do, it’s kind of an interesting thing because when you’re performing and people are singing along with you, you’re having an emotional connection with the crowd so I’m not really thinking about what the song’s about, I’m just trying to execute it well. But I’m just having a party with four of my best friends and however many hundreds of strangers and we’re just kind of united in this thing, and there’s a very big connection there.
What’s your take on bands from your original scene coming back in this “emo revival”?
I mean, these are all my friends so I’m like, “Good for them.” Like Mineral just went to Australia for the first time and that’s fantastic. I’m going to see a Boy’s Life reunion that I never thought I would’ve seen 17 years ago. So it makes me happy. And if you want to be cold about it, if there’s money on the table, do it. If people are interested in coming to their shows then that’s great.
The Get Up Kids will be performing in New York at Irving Plaza on Dec. 9 and at The Bell House on Dec. 10. They will also appear in Philadelphia at the Trocadero Theatre on Dec. 11 and in New Jersey at Starland Ballroom on Dec. 12. For more information go to facebook.com/TheGetUpKids.