MEB staffer Nick Niedzielski recently had the chance to catch up with Motion City Soundtrack vocalist/guitarist Justin Pierre on the band’s current tour with Relient K to discuss their new album, their label moves, their discography, and much more.
MEB: How is the tour going so far?
Justin Pierre: So far, so good. We’re like halfway through, it’s a pretty short tour. It’s been really good and really fun. I think a lot of it, for me, is about mental state, and I’m in a good mental state.
The last record, Go, has a lot of darker themes to it, like growing old and mortality. Where did that come from?
Yeah, I think it’s just wherever I’m at. There have been a couple people who had died recently during that time, so I guess I had just been thinking about that. Whatever I happen to be fixated on in the months that we’re writing stuff is usually what ends up going into the songs. But I don’t think it’s any more dark than any of our other songs. I feel like a lot of the songs are dark when you think about it and break them apart, but it’s like this record is a “less disguised as pop songs” kind of darkness.
You went from the first two records to something pretty different with Even If It Kills Me, then to something different with My Dinosaur Life, then to something different with Go. Is that something that y’all were consciously doing with each new record?
No. And I think I’ve sort of reconciled this too. I think people who are a fan of your music see changes better than you because you’re in it when you’re doing it, so you don’t really see what’s going on. I can kind of see that from a place of retrospection, like “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” And I feel like, I don’t know if I should be saying this or not, but, the new record that we’re working on right now seems like quite a switch from the last record. I’d say it lines up more with our sensibilities of the first couple records we did. I don’t know, everything’s just fun and rock. Um. Yeah. I don’t know. I know you didn’t really ask about the new stuff.
Actually I was just about to.
Yeah, it’s just really exciting. Claudio [Rivera] is in the band now, and he’s kind of a “Let’s just try anything” guy and there’s this weird sort of rebirth feeling. There’s just an excitement about the possibilities of it all. I love the last record that we made, but it was definitely a themed kind of thing. And I haven’t written half of the lyrics to the new record yet, so I have no idea, but it’s just very exciting and there’s a momentum and the songs feel like you’re traveling somewhere, you’re moving somewhere.
You talked about Claudio Rivera joining the band. This is going to be the first album y’all have done with him, right?
Yeah. Well, we did put out a single, “Inside Out”, just after Warped Tour. That was just one of the songs we had been writing for the new record that we decided to record and put it out and see.
Is it going to be on the record?
I have no idea. We kind of slammed it together, so I feel like if I wanted to put it on a record, I would want to re-record it. But then it’s like anybody who likes that version of it will probably hate the re-recorded version. So it’s weird, and then if you put it on a record with a bunch of songs you recorded with someone else, that gets weird. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I’d rather not confirm whether or not because I just don’t know. And there are four other people who need to make that decision as well.
How is the progress on the new record?
Good. We actually did pre-production a few months ago. So we’re ready to go, other than the lyrics. I’d say I’m about 50% there. But usually, under the gun, I tend to get things done. But yeah, like last night I went and saw Filmage, the story of Descendents and ALL, and I just got super excited about music again. Like, I’m not not excited, I just felt like I was a teenager again. I quickly ran into my bunk and started working on songs, and then six hours later it was like two in the morning and I finished like two or three songs for this new record that needed lyrics and I had destroyed two or three songs from this record that I thought were done, but then I realized they are not done.
Is that your usual writing process, where you bring lyrics to the already finished tracks?
It totally depends. Sometimes Josh [Cain] brings a full song of guitar parts, like “This is what I’m thinking.” And then if I can immediately come up with a melody, I will. Usually there are no words until the end, but I usually come up with a melody or a phrase and then we work on it. Or we’ll all just be sitting in a room and somebody will start playing and we all kind of jump in and if we all dig what we’re doing, then we just go from there. And sometimes I’m able to write simple guitar parts and melodies and words and bring that to the band and then we sort of figure out what the song is around that. But I’d say for the most part that the lyrics are the last thing to happen. And I’m always refining and changing them until the last minute.
So after putting out your first three records on Epitaph, you put out My Dinosaur Life on Columbia, then with Go you were back on Epitaph. What happened there?
We got dropped. [Laughs] It was like a couple months after we put out the record. It just wasn’t selling as many records as they needed for it to be deemed a success. Which is totally understandable. And it’s crazy because what they deemed as a failure was like 10 times more than any other success would be today. It’s just weird. The times are changing for sure, or have changed.
When you were writing and recording My Dinosaur Life, did you know that it was going to be released on a major label?
Yeah. We signed the Columbia deal before we even recorded Even If It Kills Me. So there was a brief moment where it was brought up that maybe both labels would work together on Even If It Kills Me. That did not end up happening, but I remember our A&R person came to Even If It Kills Me and was hanging out. It was just a weird, slow transition. So it was kind of like we were on the label for years before we put out My Dinosaur Life.
Did it affect the writing at all, knowing that it was going to be a major label release?
No. Anything that affects me is just personal, in my brain, just like “Oh I suck, I’m a failure, I’m never going to be able to write another song.” That’s usually what motivates me.
Did getting dropped affect the band at all?
I think it was just a bummer to have it happen so quick, but then we lucked out. They didn’t hold us in limbo, which is a big thing that we had heard of, and so we were just able to do what we wanted and we made a record and we had no idea what we were going to do once we made it. But we made Go and we recorded it in early 2011 and then we spent a year trying to figure out if anyone was interested in putting it out. We met with labels and Epitaph was one of those labels, and we decided to go with Epitaph.
Your next record will be your sixth. Some bands that have bigger discographies like that tend to distance themselves from their first few releases the farther they get from them. What are your feelings toward your first two records?
I really like all of the music that we’ve done. I think there was less thought that went into the first record, for sure. It was just, we wrote a bunch of songs and these are the 14 that we’re going to record, and we recorded them. And then with the second record it was like “Oh shoot, we’ve got to write some stuff.” And that was really the first record we had written with all the band members, because before it was just tons of different people coming in and out, borrowing from each other. But the second album was the first album that the five of us had sat in a room, beginning to end, and written. And then there’s like compromises on each thing. This person doesn’t like this song on the record and this person thinks this song should be on the record, and so with the last three records, there were just a lot of compromises.
So I feel like there’s things I love about each record and there’s things that I don’t love about each record, and I think feelings and sentiments change over time, as far as what the songs are about. There are songs about people that I just don’t feel the same way about that I’m singing about. So I’m basically lying to people every night. But I still think that the songs are good.
How do you balance growing as a band and staying with your sound and what the fans want?
I think you just do what you want to. What I’ve noticed, from a person who listens to music, maybe I’m crazy but, if you’re lucky, when you start listening to a band from their first record on, you grow in a similar way to the band and you’re going to dig everything that they do. But most people, like if you start listening to a band when you’re 15 or 16, by the time you’re 26 you’ve gone in a totally different direction. So you’re not going to relate and you’re not going to have the same connection to them that you did 10 years ago. Here’s an example. It’s a movie example, but Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out and everybody thought that movie sucked. And I’m going to call shenanigans and tell them that they’re stupid because that movie was just as dumb and just as amazing as all the other Indiana Jones movies, it’s just that they’re not 14 and watching it. That has nothing to do with our music and what we do, I’m just saying that you are not the center of the universe and you have to take into account a lot of other factors. I don’t know, I feel like I’m ranting and raving and I don’t mean to. Just do what you love. Nothing really matters other than what you’re doing in that moment. And then a week from then you might totally regret what you’ve done or you might think it’s the best thing ever still. But I think you just have to do what you like in that moment and forget everything else.
You guys are playing I Am the Movie in full on New Year’s Eve in Chicago, how did that come about?
I think there were plans of possibly doing an I Am the Movie tour, but I don’t know if we could physically figure out how to make that work. And then there was a possibility of making an album in December, which we may still do, [or] we may do it in January, I don’t know. So we basically were like “Well let’s do one show. That would be fun.” And Chicago is a good central Midwest location, and that’s where a lot of people found out about us at the time that we had written I Am the Movie. So I think that’s what made that decision. It’s going to be a good time. And then immediately the next morning, I’m getting on a plane and I’m going to Japan with my wife.
Is there a still a possibility of an I Am the Movie tour?
I don’t know. Probably not at this point since the year is almost over. I don’t know. Maybe we’ll do something for the 10-year of Commit This to Memory. I feel like that probably would make more sense. I notice like Weezer did a Pinkerton tour, and we’re not Weezer or anything, but maybe a handful of people would come out if we did a Commit This to Memory tour.
I think they definitely would. So is there a timetable for the release of the next record? Early next year?
Probably not early, but our goal is to have a record out in 2014.