The Classic Crime has the DIY spirit in them, and that’s led them to self produce their two most recent albums, in addition to budgeting smaller tours to keep them in the game at an older age. For the first time in years, they took the Midwest by storm. Before the band played to a small, fiery crowd at The Granada in Lawrence, Kansas, frontman Matt MacDonald spoke with staffer Tim Dodderidge about the quartet’s recent whereabouts. They speak about working with Bad Christian, moving forward as musicians and as people over the past decade, and living in Seattle, a.k.a. the best city on Earth.
MEB: So I was in Seattle a few weeks ago for the first time, and I’ve got to say, you guys have it good up there. It was awesome.
MATT: Yeah, yeah. We love it. We travel all over the country and I feel like that is the place I want to live, the place I want to come home to.
Yeah, and it’s almost like your own world, you know, signing with the nearby Tooth and Nail. But I mean, I’m sure you all grew up listening to those Pacific Northwest bands. When I was at the EMP Museum, I pretty much freaked getting to see all the Nirvana stuff.
Yeah, the grunge stuff. I mean, I was 12 when Kurt Cobain died, so I would say it was before…music as a teenager is really powerful. But the radio stations still played a ton of their stuff, a ton of grunge. I remember learning how to play “Heart-Shaped Box” on my guitar. But it wasn’t really an influence by the time I was 18-19 starting a band. That was a whole different wave of music that really influenced us.
Would you say then that it was some of the more Tooth & Nail sound, like MxPx and some of their bands of the early 2000s?
When I was a teenager, it was pop-punk, man, and MxPx was huge. And then we toured with them, which was crazy. Like yeah, it was pop-punk, and then it became more melodic rock, post-hardcore stuff and, like, the emo rock scene with Brand New and Taking Back Sunday. Then I was into more edgier stuff like Thrice, and of course, right around 2001-2002 it was Finch.
Yeah, Finch is great.
Yeah, so I mean we all listened to Jimmy Eat World…stuff like that.
You recently released music on Bad Christian alongside Emery and Abandon Kansas, and you originally planned to go out with Abandon Kansas as well. It seems like you have pretty close ties with those groups, not in region, but in label, sound, and faith. What’s it been like getting to work with them?
It’s been good. The Emery guys, namely Matt and Toby, have very much always had the DIY spirit, even when they were a bigger band and toured on a bus and stuff. They always had ideas and went out of their way to do things differently, and I always respected that. My band became independent in, like, 2011, and then we released Phoenix, which was our first independent release off of Tooth & Nail, and we did all of that ourselves. So it was a bit of a learning curve, like a lot of different business stuff I had to learn about — how to get distribution and how to market a record properly, and the art and manufacturing I had never done before. I learned a lot and it was a great success to our surprise. So when Emery were thinking about going independent and doing it more, I had a lot of talks with Matt, who lives in Seattle and we had toured before. He was like, “Well, we want to release our own record, so why don’t we make a label under the Bad Christian umbrella?” because they’d been doing this blog and starting a podcast. So I was like, “Sure,” so I basically came on board then, and said, “Yeah, my bands are in. If we can get a team of people, it would be better than doing everything myself.” And that’s how it kind of started.
Anyways, getting to the tour side of things. How’s it been so far out on the road? This isn’t a super long tour, but I feel like you guys don’t hit the Midwest super often either.
No, we don’t, and that’s the reason why. We booked a festival in Texas and we booked another festival a week later in North Dakota, so instead of flying out to both of them for two full weekends, we figured, “Why don’t we just fly into one, then just drive up and hit all of those markets we don’t get to?” because do these two-week tours now and not these six-week tours anymore. It was a good chance to get to places in the middle of the country we haven’t really hit before. It’s kind of an experiment because we flew out, so we’re not driving. We have another band [Least of These] driving us and we’re using all of their gear. And this is something that Emery’s done a few times, so they kind of inspired me to go, “Well, if they can do it I can do it.” We don’t have to be too stickler about needing our gear or needing to have control or whatever.
I was going to say, because I didn’t see a bus out there and I was like, “Wait…The Classic Crime’s big”.
No, no, we’re not bus big (laughs). Buses are expensive. We’ve had a few buses in our day, but the whole DIY spirit is cutting out the middleman, cutting out the expenses so we can all go home thinking, “Well, that was a time worth spending.” Basically what I want everyone to be able to do is take as much money as they would on their day job at home, so it doesn’t feel like they’re taking time off working and then losing for the experience. And we’ve been blessed so far to be able to do that.
So then did it hurt a lot to have Abandon Kansas drop off? It’s one of those things where when I first saw the announcement I was like, “Oh sweet, The Classic Crime.” Then it was, “Oh sweet, Abandon Kansas is also playing.” Now, it’s back to just you guys with support.
Yeah, I wouldn’t say it hurt, but I think it was a good reason for Jeremy to take some time and take care of himself. I was more stressed about the logistics because we were flying in and we didn’t have a ride and didn’t have gear and were like, “Who’s going to fill the spot?” We were still going to do it regardless. We just felt like we needed to do it. And it all worked out, so we’re happy.
I saw his Facebook post and he said he was embarrassed, and I was thinking, “No, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. It just sucks is all.”
It does, and it’s actually pretty bold of him to do that. I feel like a lot of people would shy away from making a statement like that. I’m stoked he’s going to be healthier and better on the other side of it. And then that means more music…
So it works out.
….so all the better.
Yeah, so in regards to the setlists you’ve been playing, how have you been picking songs now that you’re not promoting a new album or anything? Is it a pretty even mix of new and old?
Well, for years we didn’t want to play old songs because we were tired of playing them. We toured a lot in 2006, ‘07, and ‘08, and we played these songs a lot — these same songs from Albatross. And for a while there we were like, “We’re just not going to do that stuff. We’ll do one or two, but we want to mostly focus on what we’re doing now.” And now I think we’ve come full circle to where we’re like, “Nah, let’s play the old ones again.” So a lot of our set is old songs, at least right now, just for fun’s sake. Let’s pretend we’re 22 again and we have a lot more energy than we do (laughs).
How’s that been working out then (laughs)?
It’s been good, you know. It’s been sweaty.
From what I remember, you did an acoustic tour recently and then you have the revisited recordings. What prompted the idea to strip things down, or at least rethink them?
We put on an EP in 2007 called The Seattle Sessions EP and it was acoustic, and it was between Albatross and The Silver Cord. Not a ton of people heard it, but the people who heard it really, really liked it. And they were always saying, “More acoustic, more acoustic, more acoustic.” And I didn’t know if I wanted to do another totally original acoustic album, but our 10-year anniversary was coming up. Instead of doing, like, a “greatest hits” because none of them were hits or just compiling old recordings, why don’t we do all the recordings differently and change all the songs around — strings, piano, acoustic — and see if that would be fun. To see if people were into it, we did the Kickstarter and were like, “Hey, if you guys want to [essentially] preorder this, here’s some packages.”
And they were interested, for sure.
Yeah, we got like 300% more than we needed to make the record. Then we started addings songs to it and I was like, “Man, we need to add strings. We need to make this good,” because there was a lot of pressure. People wanted it. So we were happy with what it was. I think it was a good kind of look back at the songs we’ve written and also sort of reflecting on what we are now and what we’ve kind of developed into as not just a straight-ahead kind of rock band, but with other instruments and other ways to do music.
Do you think making an album like that was also a reflection of your age, or more so where you’re at right now? I mean, especially with your side project, Vocal Few, and stuff like that.
Yeah, I mean, I guess it did really parallel that. I recorded a few Vocal Few albums, so I was comfortable with acoustic arrangements and mixes and stuff like that. I think that definitely paved the way to do a Classic Crime acoustic album myself.
Being older now with families, what’s changed about being in a touring band and how have you had to adapt?
Well, we don’t tour all the time anymore. We do two-weekers or we do festivals. We kind of pick and choose and do it the way that we want to do it, and we don’t feel the pressure from a label or the industry to be like anybody else. We kind of paid our dues in a sense, putting 100,000 miles on the van in a single year. Now the guys take time off work and we just go out. It’s more fun again, it’s not like we’re slaving away and grinding it out and living on the road missing home. It’s better for family life, it’s better for health to have just short segments.
Now at an older age, too, does it feel nostalgic revisiting all of that old material? Like, with The Silver Cord, it came out when I was in high school and tends to bring back memories of that for me.
Yeah, yeah, I mean it is nostalgic. We always kind of favored The Silver Cord as an album that we were all proud of, and we were so tired of Albatross for a long time because we had written those songs two or three years before we even recorded that album. So they were super old. We were already tired of them by the time we recorded them. But now going back and playing Albatross songs is like a whole new take on it. It’s a whole new vibe. We like it.
Along those same lines, too, how have you approached your faith differently than in the past, and how has it evolved?
It’s interesting. I guess for me, well one, just the idea that faith does and should evolve is, like, kind of reflecting back over the years and seeing how it has evolved. You question yourself in that, “Am I just conforming, or anti-conforming, or am I just reacting to culture?” Now I’m more like, “Faith should evolve.” Just your idea of the world gets bigger and bigger — well, hopefully it gets bigger and bigger and not smaller and smaller. Then your perspective on just crazy stuff like God and who God is and what does it mean to be connected just changes. I think initially it was pretty two-dimensional, just binary for me. When we started, we had these ideals and this is what we were all about, and those change over time. Some things we had a pretty tight grip on, and over time, we loosened that grip up. I think overall, it’s more and more becoming less and less of a closed-fist approach to faith. It’s more of, like, open palms. We don’t have all the answers. We don’t know. We hope (laughs)…
Yeah, that’s what it means to have “faith.”
…as opposed to being like, “No, this is our doctrine, this is what we believe” and making statement of faith. Now we make more statements of doubt, and hope. I think that’s the thing that’s changed most over time, just my idea of who can tap into the spiritual life or “who’s invited to the table” has broadened dramatically. And it’s less exclusive I think overall, just because of the interactions we have with people day-in and day-out on the road and the different cultures we meet and the different ideas we hear. It’s just hard to maintain a narrow-minded view on faith.
How does that come into play on a social level then? Obviously Bad Christian talks a lot about social issues, so is there a correlation there for you?
Yeah, I mean, I think I would probably have been more outspokenly against things that society says is okay nowadays. I’m not anymore. I just don’t care. It’s like a non-issue for me. I’m just like, “Love people.” That’s where it’s kind of at, so if you’re doing something that’s hurtful, that’s not truth. Of people who are, like, outsiders to the faith in general, if you’re throwing stones at them, then, you know, “You who is without sin go ahead and cast the first stone.” That’s kind of where I’m at now. I just want to be more inclusive of people who are different than me and people who make me uncomfortable. It goes both ways. It goes to my super staunch conservative fundamentalist friends, I want to be inclusive of them, too. They’re just a product of their own environment. I could be like, “Well, you’re just an asshole, I’m not going to listen to you,” or I could be like, “No, you’re made in the image of God. You have a voice. Maybe I’m wrong on some parts or principles and you’re wrong on others, but maybe we could meet in the middle somewhere?” I don’t want to be dualistic with it, like “screw those people but these people are cool.” Everybody is worthy of love.
Yeah, and that’s where the Vocal Few name came from too, right? The whole ability for the lowest and few to have a voice.
Sure. Yeah, yeah, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” (laughs).
I guess to kind of wrap things up, where do you think The Classic Crime’s going to go next and what do you see for the future?
Geez, I don’t know. I live in the present moment a lot and I don’t make a ton of plans. I’m open to whatever. And I know when the time comes to write a new record, whatever I have to do will be right before me and I’ll do it. I’m thinking about it, but I don’t really know. I’m willing to do anything. I know that we’re not done making music, or at least I’m not. So we’ll probably keep doing that in some form. Just figuring out how and what the best method is are just decisions we have to make when they arrive.
Well that’s good to hear. Anything else you have say to your fans, besides thank you for overfunding the band by 300% (laughs)?
Yeah, absolutely (laughs). Thank you for supporting us all these years and hopefully we can continue making music.