Motion City Soundtrack—Present and In the Moment

Motion City Soundtrack had a busy year in 2015. They released and toured for their sixth studio album, Panic Stations, a tight, synth heavy record showcasing lead singer and guitarist Justin Courtney Pierre’s varied vocal range. So, when the beloved Minneapolis pop-punk stronghold announced their final tour in 2016, it was a shock to many.

 However, this past summer, the band announced that they would be performing together once again in 2020, on the aptly titled “Don’t Call it a Comeback” tour. While the future is uncertain beyond this tour, Motion City Soundtrack is focusing on living in the moment, on breathing through the hard parts, and being true to the growth they’ve had while away from the band.

It’s been a few years since you guys decided to take a break from the band. What have you been doing in the meantime? Justin, I know that you’ve also released a solo album in that time, and I’m curious what that experience was like?

Justin Courtney Pierre: Creatively, I think that album was the main thing that I did these last three years, but I got to work with my buddy Josh, and we spent way too long on it because there was no deadline, so again, Josh, I apologize for that, but I think the end product was amazing. I wrote the songs, but he is the one that captured them, so it was definitely a group effort. I guess other than that I’ve been writing, whether it’s stories or movie ideas or music, just putting things into the ether, and hopefully one day maybe one thing will pan out. That’s on the creative side for me. Other than it’s just been, you know, being a husband, being a dad. Trying to fix things around the house even though I’m not handy. It’s been a lot of calling other people who are more professional than I am to help me figure things out—I could probably just call Josh because he knows how to do things, like things that humans should know to how to do around the house. And I do not.

Joshua Cain: You know, I’ve been living life, hanging out with my family, making some music. You know, I made that record with Justin, but other than that I really have been focusing on being a human that has a family and has a normal lifestyle, compared to what we had been living. It’s been a lot of trying to reconnect and be a part of my family.

Have your other creative projects and your time away from Motion City Soundtrack affected how you’re approaching the catalogue of music that you have this time around? Is there anything that feels different as you rehearse?

JCP: The ability to step away from a thing, and then return to it at a later date, allows more time for seeing the thing for what it truly is, and I think that of anything, that has benefitted me the most. And I’m excited in a way, not that I wasn’t before, but I am excited in a new way to have the opportunity to be doing it again. 

So you’re kicking off this tour on New Year’s Eve, which is a pretty badass way to start off a decade—

JCP: Or we’re gonna taint it for a whole year!

JC: Oh, come on!

JCP: One or the other, either way—

JC: No in between there?

JCP: Black or white, you know. I’ve been working on it. You know, this is funny, because this actually ties into what I’ve been doing—I’ve been doing a lot of therapy. That’s the other thing that, you know, I’d never done for real. Back in the day I’d show up drunk to talk to a psychiatrist and that would never work. But you know, this time, I think three years I’ve been doing it. I guess that is the main thing I’ve been working on—trying to hold two opposing ideas in your hand at once and learn that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. That’s how I’ve been for 40 years and so it’s hard to rewire yourself. So Josh, you’re right—it’s gonna be great. 

So what can we expect from these shows? 

JC: I think that we’re just going to have a lot of fun playing again. It’s hard to pick a set—we picked a set and its definitely already too long and we have to adjust it. We’re like, ‘well, we have to play this song, and we have to play this song,’ and then it’s like, ‘we should pick some songs that we don’t have to play,’ and then we’re like, ‘okay, we have too many songs, how do we deal with this?’ (laughs).

JCP: It’s always been a dream of mine to kind of ad-lib, and to kind of wing it a little bit but I’m not sure if we’re the band that will ever get to that point. There’s like these songs that we just have to play, and it’s not like people are forcing us, but we just love to play these certain songs, and it doesn’t feel right not to play them. And there’s always this balance of playing these songs that we all love to play but everyone hates. I don’t know if that’s the right move or not. As I get older, its more about feeling it out in the moment, even if the moment is a few hours before we play. We’re like ‘Okay, lets swap this out for that, and this for that—oh we haven’t played that in a while, that might be fun.’ It would be great if there was a moment where someone were to yell out a song and we could just do it. It has to be the right song, of course.

Going off of that thought, I recall, Justin, that in a tweet you wrote not long ago that you mentioned treating the songs as they’re recorded as a blueprint and playing them live as going “off script.” Is this something we’ll see on stage?

JCP: Well, I think that for the most part I was referring to my solo stuff there. I think that with Motion City it was about sounding as close to the record as we could. Personally, that’s not something that I care about. If I can come up with something that adds something that wasn’t there when we recorded it, great. But in the past, I’ve noodled in places I shouldn’t, and returning to these songs and being like ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to be playing here,’ or it’s like I’m getting in the way of a really cool drum solo, or something like that. Everybody is finding their place in the songs.

JC: It’s not that we’re like you gotta play it this way or it’s no go, it’s just that there’s a lot more people doing things with each other in that situation. The band is all doing different things, and Justin chooses to go off script vocally, it can mess things up. 

JCP: And I think that there’s also a precedent that we set early on that we try to sound as close to the record as possible. To totally disregard that at this point—I don’t think that would be a good thing. But don’t worry, I will fuck up good and proper.

JC: In a unique and mind-blowingly different way. 

JCP: Yep, yep—whoops, I’m playing the wrong verse!

JC: We do find this funny thing, that like, if I start thinking about what I’m doing at all, it’s guaranteed that I will mess up. There is no way I’m going to remember the next part if I’m thinking about what the next part will be. It’s best if I’m just daydreaming while I play. 

JCP: I wish I had some of that, because I think in real life that’s what I’m trying to get to, is being present and in the moment at all times and not let outside factors affect that. But I think in performing I’ve utilized a lifetime’s worth of neuroses and anxiety, and then I funnel that through me, in order to get that out of me—I’m sorry—onto everyone who’s there, and to relearn a new way of doing things has been hard. I’ve been trying to learn how to have a calm state of mind and perform, and I’m finding this difficult. I hope that I get there but I don’t know that I’ll get there in time for this tour. I think it’ll be just the same sort of frenetic panic.

JC: I have this feeling that Justin will come to his enlightened state moments before the end. 

JCP: By the time the tours winding down it’ll be like ‘EUREKA!’ But you know, I think the goal is that you never get there. You always try to [be] better in some way. I will say that when I’m playing, I’ll be doing one thing, and then I’ll also be doing another thing, which is critiquing what I’m doing in the moment that I’m doing it and planning out what’s to come. There’s a lot of internal monologue going while I’m playing which sucks because then I can’t be a part of the experience. But I guess that I don’t know how much we can ever be a part of our own experience but let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Let’s just say that I’m learning a lot.

As you were mentioning, you play your emotions off of the audience, putting your anxiety onto them. Clearly, your music reflects that sort of intensity. Since you’ve had time away from your discography, do you find yourself responding to the emotionality of the music, and what it is to perform it? 

JCP: I remember doing one show at a Warped Tour where I was having a panic attack, and I didn’t know what to do, and so after that song, I just told everyone that I was having one—and I felt better. I definitely made it weird for everyone else, but I felt better, and then I could move on. And I think I learned something from that. I remember there was a show in Scotland where I was just crying on stage, I think I was just—I’m so bad at beating myself up when I screw up, and after that point I feel like I learned how to start over. A lot of the things I’ve discovered on my own kind of fall into like, Buddhist philosophies of sorts. I think that this idea of being about to start over every moment allows you to not have hang ups floating over you.