An Interview with Matt Watts from The Starting Line: Mean What You Say

1999 was the year that Philadelphia-based pop punk outfit The Starting Line formed. Originally, as almost an experiment, members came together to play for the sake of playing, with no intention of attaining the success and longevity that the band maintains today. Their fans are incredibly loyal, as the group continues to sell out tours even though the guys of The Starting Line haven’t released a new full-length in years. Essentially on hiatus, the individuals in the band have utilized their time off to the fullest by creating side-projects, managing other artists, taking some personal time and more. Guitarist Matt Watts, who’s put down roots in the city over the past few years, took a phone call from me to discuss the band, their plans, and the goings-on of music today. Here is our conversation:

In your time off from the band, what has been keeping you busy?

So, I have been living in New York for the past four or five years, managing bands. Currently, I work at a company called AAM. I co-run the U.S. part of Communion Records, which is a UK label owned by one of the guys from Mumford & Sons. It’s a bunch of stuff that keeps me busy. It’s been good.

You’re about to embark on the 10th anniversary tour for your debut album, Say It Like You Mean It. What prompted you guys to get up and do a full-blown tour?

We’ve been playing one-off shows every once in a while, whether it be something international or just a holiday show in the Philly area. This is a record that is really special to us, that our fans care about. We just felt like it was an appropriate time to play some markets that we haven’t in a while. It just kind of all worked with our schedules. We picked some markets where we felt like we could make some weekends trips out of it and make it work.

Is there any possibility of another live DVD coming out of this?

I doubt it. I mean, we’ve talked about it, I just don’t think we’re going to be able to pull it off in time, unfortunately. Hopefully those coming to the shows will have fond memories of it and we won’t need to put out the DVD so people can remember it.

Which bands are you bringing out with you for support?

It’s going to be different on every leg. We’re bringing Fake Problems out on some dates, which I’m really excited about. Red, Gold, Green [RDGLDRN] are opening some dates. Wonder years are playing with us in Philly, which I am really excited about. Vinnie Caruana, which will be awesome. Weatherbox are on some of the West Coast shows. This band Mora Mora will also be on some West Coast shows. We figured that it was a good opportunity to play with some friends and bands that we really love and respect.

What kind of preparation do you undertake in order to get ready for another tour cycle?

I’ve been going out to Philly every couple weekends, and we have rehearsal in our old practice space, which is Kenny [Visoli’s] mom’s basement. She made us fantastic lunch each practice, some bruschetta, homemade guacamole—she goes all out.

Normally, we get together, probably four or five times before we start a tour, and just kind of make up the setlist and run through it a few times. It’s like riding a bike, you know? The first practice is definitely a little bit rough; we practiced this weekend and everything sounded great. We’re all really happy with how the show is shaping up.

How did you first get into music? Was there a particular album or song that solidified music as a lifestyle for you?

Yeah, yeah there is. I went through a few phases. When I was in the fourth grade, I had a friend in elementary school that played guitar and I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. My parents got me a guitar, I took lessons and I hated lessons ‘cause I had some old music teacher who was trying to teach me music theory. All I wanted to do was rock. I quickly gave it up.

When I was in high school, I heard Nirvana and I just immediately connected with the songs, like everyone else. I started figuring out those songs by ear and that is really what sparked my love of music and wanting to play guitar more so. Then, I got really into bands like Lagwagon and Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World. I just wanted to play one show and kind of started Starting Line with the intention of thinking it would be cool to have a band and play a show. Somehow, luckily, things kind of took off from there.

What has been one of your favorite experiences throughout the years while being a part of the music industry?

In terms of working in the music industry or being a band in the industry?

Either or, I suppose.

I mean, just be able to create music. I think making music is so important and is such a great and amazing thing. I think working on both sides of it is a truly amazing thing. For me being a manager now, it’s nice to be able to understand the business component a little bit more, but it is also nice to be able to see things from an artist’s perspective. From being in a band, it’s so great to tour the world and plays songs that you create with your friends, to see those songs take shape and get to go play shows for people who connect with the music.

Any new music that you have recently been into?

Yeah, there is a lot of new stuff that I have been really into. Port St. Willow just put out a really great record, I’ve been listening to that a lot. I love the [latest] Frank Ocean record, St. Lucia, Niki & The Dove—I’ve been really into them lately. That’s what is currently on my playlist.

Can we expect to hear new material in the near future?

We have one new song that we will be playing live; we played it at the holiday show [last] year, too. It’s called “Luck.” It kind of has like a Pixies sort of vibe to it. As of now, that’s the only kind of new song that we have worked on. We have all talked about getting together and creating new material.

Kenny is so busy touring with Vacationer; all of us have so much stuff going on like work and personal stuff and some families and all that. We really haven’t had time to sit down and focus, but I know we want to get together and create new music. I don’t know what those plans would be to release it. It’s definitely something that we are talking about or, at least, thinking about.

What is the next evolutionary step for The Starting Line?

That’s actually a really good question. It’s interesting, like, I really don’t know. I feel like we always made a conscious effort to challenge ourselves and our fans to grow and evolve with each record. I’d say Say It Like You Mean It was definitely one of those emo pop punk records that were really happening in the early 2000s. I feel like the next records evolved in terms of arrangements and composition and all that stuff.

I feel like if we were to write a record now it would still be an evolution from where that last record took off or left off, but I don’t know exactly where it would go. I feel like Kenny has evolved a ton as a writer, especially with the Vacationer record. I think it would be really exciting to hear what he could come up with for a Starting Line record.

Where do you see the future of bands like yours headed?

In all honesty, I feel like there’s two ways of it. There are other bands that we toured with in the early 2000s that are coming back and doing these reunion tours, being able to play to their core audience. In terms of new bands coming out in that sort of genre and really pushing the envelope, I don’t know if that really exists right now or I’m, at least, not hearing it. I really don’t know. I feel like there needs to be a couple of bands to rise up in that genre to kind of carry the flag and create some music that will kind of challenge audiences, but also wave the flag for that genre.


The Starting Line will be performing at Philly’s The Electric Factory on Dec. 26 and 30, NYC’s Irving Plaza on Dec. 28, and the Asbury Park Convention Hall on Dec. 29. For more information, go to