Long before ‘guyliner’ and skin-tight black jeans, emo was a far different type of dirty word. Centred on evolution of indie rock and punk across the U.S., the early days of emo were far scrappier, with groups like Rites Of Spring and Dag Nasty laying the groundwork. And it was The Get Up Kids that really took the genre supernova.
The Missouri group’s second full-length ‘Something To Write Home About’ was emo’s first true mainstream breakthrough, with The Get Up Kids emerging at just the right time to ride the MTV era to full effect. Remarkably, they’ve barely stopped since, with a brief three-year hiatus the only hiccup in their longtime legacy building. To date, they’re one of the most iconic and well-revered bands of that early, emergent emo scene – one that has inspired countless others to pick up guitars and open up their hearts.
As they release a brand new ‘Kicker’ EP, and with ‘Something To Write Home About’ approaching its 20th anniversary, we caught up with the band’s frontman – and punk-rock songwriting superstar – Matt Pryor.
This record’s been in the works for quite some time, right?
“Uh yeah, because our schedules are crazy. Over the last couple of years, an opportunity to actually get together and write is becoming increasingly rare, so it took us a long time to focus and get this thing recorded! But we’re trying to counteract that moving forward by planning things really far in advance, so I’m currently planning for a big new album world tour about this time next year.”
How else has growing up affected how you approach the band?
“It’s really more of an organisational thing.- it’s not really changed the songwriting of any band I’m in. Well no, that’s not true – the dynamic is probably a little bit more adult than it was. I mean, you still fuck with each other, but you don’t go completely over the line anymore. It’s just better if we get along.”
Has it changed the songs at all? Back when you were teenagers, you presumably had different priorities.
“You know what, the big difference is that we have a kind of shorthand – we can communicate with each other and kinda speak in a weird sort of code that I don’t think we necessarily knew how to do when we were younger.”
Am I right in thinking you’re a big foosball band? Is this where the name of the EP came from?
“Yeah, we all got into it on our first European tour in 1998 – it’s the Pope brothers who have really excelled at it. When we were making our record ‘On A Wire’ we were in Connecticut for six weeks, so we bought a foosball table to keep in the basement and have something to do. It’s just kind of a constant – and then there’s the kinda double meaning of like, ‘is this a sport or a game?’“
I’m not sure you can get away with calling table football a sport…
“[laughs] We like that it also has a double meaning of kicking off the next chapter of what we’re doing, that kind of thing.”
Does ‘Kicker’ feel a bit of a like fresh start then?
“Uh… yeah. I really think it does. It feels like we’re entering in to some sort of… second wave of our career. That sounds corny. [laughs] I mean, I think it’s probably actually not even the second wave that’s coming – it’s like the third or fourth, if you really think about it. But I don’t know – something feels kinda different this time. It just feels a little bit more on point; less like we’re making it up as we go along and more like we’re making it up and then finding a way to execute it correctly.”
It’s coming up to 20 years since ‘Something To Write Home About’ – that’s obviously such a milestone record for you guys. How do you look back on that now? Do you still hold it as dear as you did then?
“Yeah! We’re really proud of that record. I mean, if I never have to hear ‘Holiday’ again, that’d be fine, you know… I hope you can make sure that [comes across as] a joke [laughs]. The big difference is the songs on the first record [‘Four Minute Mile’] are really good, but I didn’t sing it very well. I wasn’t a very experienced singer and so I have a hard time listening to it – the vocals are flat, and when I listen to ‘Something To Write Home About’ I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that just sounds like younger me’ – it’s two years of touring under our belts, and playing the songs a thousand times, I think you can hear that in there. So, in that sense… yeah, I was proud of that record when I made it, and I’m proud of it now. It’s not the only record of ours I like, or even the only record of any other band I’ve put out. I am glad that people like it.”
It was such a moment for you guys and for the ‘emo’ scene in general, How does it feel to have this album that gets talked about as a ‘legendary record’? Is it a nice feeling or is it a bit of an albatross?
“Uhhhhh, it’s not an albatross. I mean, it’s the reason I think I can still make a living! So I would never call it an albatross, it’s a positive feeling and it’s also kind of not something I would really ever think about at all. The only time, in honesty, it ever comes up is in interviews – no offence! We don’t really sit around band practice like ‘Man, isn’t it so cool we made such a ‘legendary’ album?’ you know what I mean? We just kinda go, like, ‘You’re playing it wrong.’”
Do you have any plans for the anniversary next year?
“No, our plan for next year is to put out a new album – we’re writing new songs right now, we’re gonna record it in September, and then it’ll come out next year. We have kicked around the idea of, at some point, doing full album shows – doing multiple nights in the same city, doing all of our albums back-to-back. That’s… that’s kind of in the distance though, cause that’s gonna be a lot of fucking work. [laughs]”
“Emo used to be a derogatory term, like calling someone a pussy” – Matt Pryor
When you guys came around, you were heralded as one of the figureheads of the emergent ‘emo’ scene. How do you look at that scene’s evolution now?
“I mean, my thing is, if you’re gonna talk about it from a linguistic perspective then it’s interesting that the word ‘emo’ – kinda similar to the word ‘punk’ – means something totally different to every single person. Like, does ‘emo’ mean Sunny Day Real Estate and Rites of Spring? Does ‘emo’ mean My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy? And the reason is: yes, it means all of those things, it just depends on where you’re coming from. It was never a moniker that we sought, you know, and I would say in the beginning it was a derogatory term – it was kind of like calling people a ‘pussy’, saying they were emo. It kind of still is a little bit. But it’s just something that’s kinda unavoidable. Honestly, I think that whenever you’re labelling music into these like sub-genres of rock ’n’ roll or punk rock or whatever, it’s really more for marketing than anything, so I don’t really take offence to that. I do like the way it’s evolved to this point where like they’re calling it ‘fourth wave’ – bands like Modern Baseball, The Front Bottoms, Into It. Over It, I’m like ‘OK, I can get behind this.’ Like, if this is what comes out of being influenced by us, then I’m down.”
Is that quite nice, to still be performing music while this new wave of people that are presumably influenced by you guys are out there performing?
“The term is ‘legacy band’ – that’s what I’ve been told, that’s what people keep telling me… [laughs] it’s not what I use to describe myself. It’s kind of nice just being able to do it at all. It’s very rare that you can make a living being a musician, and even rarer than you can do it for over twenty years. I saw these bands coming around the same time that my kids started playing in bands. It gives me like this, I don’t know, this warm, fuzzy, hopeful feeling – it sounds corny, but I remember when I was 22 and would sleep on the floor of the van and would do anything just to play the show, to nobody. That makes me happy, that that still exists.”
Even if you’ve have to get the hotel room now, it’s nice that someone else is on the floor.
“Oh yeah, I’m a grown ass man, I need a bed!”
Where do you see the genre going?
“It makes me excited that there’s younger people who are making interesting music and saying what they’re thinking about. I haven’t really thought about it. I just get kinda stoked on it, I love it when I hear a younger band that is just awesome – I’m a fan of music, so… I’m trying very hard not to get into this, cause something’s coming up now with these emo things where it’s like people being like, ‘Oh no this is the only time period where it was good’. I think of it as being a baby boomer thing, where you only like the stuff you listened to when you were in high school or college, and I don’t wanna do that. I really wanna be like ‘I dig music’, so I wanna hear new music. I wanna hear old music too, but I don’t wanna be like, ‘Oh the only good demo was from the ’90s’, you know? Dumb shit like that.”
What do you think inspires that territorial mindset?
“I think it’s very much tied to feeling alienated when you’re younger, but then you find something that really speaks to you and helps you through that. Being a teenager is rough. I’m experiencing it now on the parental side of things, I have teenagers and, you’re always gonna have an emotional… I’m always gonna lov Cap’n Jazz. I loved Cap’n Jazz in high school and my early twenties, and I don’t even know if I would like Cap’n Jazz if I heard them for the first time today. But it really meant a lot to me at the time, and there’s a special place in my heart for that. We get that from time to time when people say that about us and I’ll always respect that, I completely relate to it. Things can be very much tied into that pivotal point in your life, where you figure out where you are. And so, I think the music that you get into when you’re in your teens and early 20s when you’re still trying to find yourself as a person is always gonna mean something to you.”
“Middle age is a real thing and it’s weird – it hits you sometimes, like, ‘Oh god what am I doing?!’” – Matt Pryor
Do you still find the time to dredge up that teenage mindset from time to time?
“Well, now it’s being open about what’s going on in life, but coming at it from more of an adult perspective. If I was gonna try and write a song about how “I miss my girlfriend because she’s in Boston” it’s like, well that’s stupid – she’s my wife and she’s asleep right now. [laughs] But, if I wanna sing something about being scared about death or something, or losing people… The example I’ve been using lately is, there’s a song on the EP called ‘Sorry’ and you can’t really tell that Jim’s singing about his wife, or about his kid. I like that because it’s the same feeling either way, but you’re not writing about something that doesn’t relate to where you’re at in life right now.”
Is it nice to be able to express where you are emotionally now, rather than relying on that teenage stuff?
“Yeah – in the last batch of stuff we’ve been writing for the EP and for the record, for a long time I didn’t really have anything to write about myself. Like, ‘I love my life, I love my kids, life is good’ doesn’t make for good songs. [laughs] So I try to find other people’s stories and other people’s trauma and tell that. This is kind of a new phase thematically of just like ‘Oh wait, there is shit going on that I can talk about in my own life that isn’t, you know, dishonest’. It’s an interesting avenue to explore, so we’ll see. I think we did it pretty well on the EP, so we’ll see. The first batch of songs follow that thematic line and I honestly think – in the same way that I was saying the music you really get into as a teenager or in your early twenties, it felt like your life at that point – there’s still stories to tell. Middle ages are a real thing and it’s weird, – it hits you sometimes, like, ‘Oh god what am I doing?!’ [laughs]”
The Get Up Kids’ new ‘Kicker’ EP is out now via Big Scary Monsters.