The Get Up Kids Interview

Clash speaks to Matt Pryor from the returning emo champions...
The Get Up Kids
What is and what isn’t ‘emo’ is the subject of much debate on playgrounds across the country, and far further beyond; what’s a fact is that the genre has mutated, developed into something completely different to what it meant to this writer a decade ago.

Now, I was no ‘emo’ – there was no noun application for the term when its second wave took hold of alternative DJ playlists, discerning music critics and early blog users – but I had a lot of appreciation for acts like Weezer, Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids.

The Kansas City five-piece – Matthew Pryor, Jim Suptic, Ryan Pope and Rob Pope (now joined by James Dewees) – formed in 1995. Their Doghouse-released debut album, ‘Four Minute Mile’, followed two years later – it was recorded in just two days with Shellac’s Bob Weston. The album stirred a great deal of industry interest – snappy, to-the-point indie-rock with emotive overtones, it was post-hardcore with a pure pop edge, and ticked boxes of cool and commercial viability. Offers from major labels followed, but the group eventually released their second album on another indie, Vagrant.

1999’s ‘Something To Write Home About’ remains the band’s most-loved long-player, even though they released two further albums before disbanding in 2005, and is to receive the tenth anniversary release treatment later this year. More focused than its predecessor, it showcased The Get Up Kids’ natural ability to pen radio-friendly anthems which were as welcomed at a huge festival as they were on the dance floor of a tiny rock club. Its singles – ‘Ten Minutes’, ‘Action & Action’ and ‘I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel…’ (the latter appearing on a split with the similarly influential Braid) – are perfectly formed examples of their kind: punchy indie-pop with sing-along choruses and just the right amount of heart-on-sleeve lyricism.

The new version of ‘Something To Write Home About’ is due for release in early September, coinciding with a lengthy touring schedule that will see the reformed Get Up Kids hit the UK first, in the middle of August. With fans already ensuring that two of their four British shows are sold out, and anticipation growing for a set drawn largely from their second LP – although we’re sure there’ll be room for material from the debut, plus 2002’s ‘On a Wire’ and 2004’s ‘Guilt Show’ – Clash called Pryor at his home for a pre-tour chatter.

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The Get Up Kids – ‘Action & Action’ (1999)


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I just took a look at your touring schedule, once you’re done in the UK… it’s pretty hard-going, to say the least. It seems like a big ask for a reformation tour.
Y’know, it’s not like it’s nothing we’ve never done before. It’s been five years since we’ve done a tour that’s so long, but I think it’ll be fine. We’ve had to work around everyone’s schedules a lot, so we’ve had to cram things in, things that we’d otherwise like more time to do. But I think we’ll have a long break afterwards.

And then maybe some more shows?
Well, Tthe way we’ve been treating it is that we didn’t really break up, we just sort of took a break. We should have just said we were taking a hiatus, and been adults and said: ‘Look, let’s take a break, and get away from each other’. We all get along ridiculously well now.

But there was friction in 2005, when you did split.
I think it was a variety of things that led to us taking a break. It had become our job – that was quite a significant factor, as it’d started as a hobby for us. And it was quite a dark stage for some people – there were personal things going on. I wanted to have a family, too.

You reach a point where life takes over…
Right. And it’s a matter of finding a balance – like, ‘Okay, I can continue to do this for a living, but do I want to if I’m not enjoying it?’ Because if something’s not fun, I’m not sure it’s worth doing… even if it is a way to make money.

You’ve been busy since, though, releasing music with The New Amsterdams, and as a solo artist in your own right. Has it been weird, snapping back into a Get Up Kids mindset?
It wasn’t weird… not when we’re together. What is weird is having to remember that this isn’t all that I do – when the questions come up along the lines of where we go next, I have to consider that I have other concerns, other projects to write for. I need to make time for those. Now, though, it’s almost like this is allowing me to have a bit of a breather from my other projects.

It’s fair to say that The Get Up Kids is what most people know you for.
It’s been the most successful project, for sure; but it’s also been the one that took ten years to achieve.

And now you’re seen as this hugely influential band…
I dunno, it’s a lightning in a bottle kind of thing. There are people telling me right now how influential we were, but at the time it was just us playing gigs and putting out records – that’s just what we did. It’s a hard one to get perspective on. My Midwestern sensibilities won’t let me refer to us as being any more than just a band that wrote songs. But we’re pleased that a lot of people liked it!

And the response to the reformation shows suggests there’s fan demand there, rather than this being a money-grabbing deal for you guys?
I think a lot of bands do reform for the wrong reasons – purely for money, mainly – but I think after having three years off to handle ‘real life’ shit, it’s really made me appreciate that this really isn’t that bad of a job. It certainly beats flipping burgers.

Sure does. And the re-issue of ‘Something To Get Home About’, with the bonus material, was that a package that was fun to piece together?
No… it’s drudgery! This is the most painful musical project, as I have no interest in going back and revisiting those demos. Like, I enjoy playing the songs, but listening back to the demos it’s like: ‘Man, this is so bad!’ Like, there’s so much we would have changed, and now when we’re rehearsing for the tour we’re wondering whether to keep the songs as they were, or change them to be what we’d like them to be now. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that stuff anymore, as we’re always about the newest thing – we should just play new songs.

I’m not sure that’d go down so well…
No, no, we wouldn’t play all new songs. But I learned a long time ago that it’s a case of balance – you’ve got to give the people what they want, but you’ve got to get something out of it, too.

When you got together to rehearse, was there a spark in the room, an energy you’d missed?
The thing that was recognisable, to me, is that although we were tentative at first, after one or two songs we were right back into the swing of things. It’s like we’ve just had a really long nap – now everybody’s refreshed, and it’s like nothing ever happened. The only weird thing was the build up to it, because when we said we were coming back again expectations began to build. And now we’re nearly there.

Is it a little ominous, having all these live dates on the horizon?
It’s a bit ominous for me, actually, as it’s a long time to be away from home. It’ll be fun, and we’re going to places that I like, but it’s really easy for me to get lonely and down when I’m on the road. I’m preparing myself to combat that somehow.

Tours always have highs and lows, though.
Yeah, it’s like with any job – some days you love it, some days you don’t.

And it’s not like you can blame it on getting out of the wrong side of the bed, when a tour-bus bunk only has one side…
(Laughs) Right, yeah – you’ve only got one side, so you’d better choose right at the start of the tour. I think that, hopefully, we’ll be able to wake up and see places – I want to get on my bike and explore the places we’re in, rather than jut seeing the inside of a bus.

Are you allowing yourself more time off on this tour, than perhaps you would have on previous treks?
No, not really. The reason we wanted to go to Europe first is because we wanted to stick a toe in – we wanted to get in and get out, and then we’d see if anyone still gave a shit about us over there. If they didn’t, it was a short tour at least. If it went really well, then we could go back in six months or something. And so far it’s going great – I think the London show is sold out. (It is – Ed.)

And The Electric Ballroom is hardly a small venue. That must be really pleasing for you guys.
Oh, it’s great. Now we’re thinking: when can we next go back? We talked about doing a second show, but we want to leave ‘em wanting more.

Have you managed to catch any reformed greats, since we’ve recently experienced a glut of them?
I didn’t get to see Pixies, which is a shame as they’re one of my all-time favourite bands – we were on a tribute album for them. I’ve seen a video of them playing, and they seemed good – they’ve never been a particularly energetic band, jumping around or anything. He’s a big boy.

What about Jane’s Addiction, or The Smashing Pumpkins? I don’t think either of those acts are doing it for the ‘right’ reasons…
We actually played a festival in Japan with Jane’s Addiction the first, or maybe the second time they came back, around 2002 I think. They were one of the headliners, so we got to stand in the photographers’ pit in front of them, and I just thought they were the most arrogant, pompous douchebags I’d seen in my life. Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro were just strutting around in the spotlight. It was so weird. I’ve not seen the Smashing Pumpkins, but I don’t even know if that’s technically the Pumpkins anymore. Why doesn’t he just say it’s The Billy Corgan Show, and then he can play whatever the fuck he wants?! It’s like Guns N’ Roses: that’s not a Guns N’ Roses record, ‘Chinese Democracy’, it’s Axl’s first solo record! If he’d done a record that sounded like ‘Appetite For Destruction’, then at least that was their sound, and it could be seen as a continuation. The record was so comical. It’s sad when people get so wrapped up in themselves – they sell themselves to yes men, and then they can’t get any perspective. I only ever wanted people around us who could say no, who’d tell us when we were screwing up.

Had you looked to sign a major label deal at any point?
Yeah, that was actually always the intention. We were really into bands like Fugazi, and their ethics to an extent, but if you’re going to be a band then getting on a major label helps you to get onto the radio and stuff, so we were looking to get such a deal. We still have several rejection letters, from labels like Warner Bros. and Geffen, and after ‘Four Minute Mile’ we contacted one major label. But the negotiations took ages, and we wanted to get a record out – we were already working with Vagrant on a management level, so we were like: ‘Just put it out!’ And it worked out pretty well for both parties. The label we nearly signed to went bankrupt later that year, so things could have been very different. We could have just disappeared.

When a band like Fall Out Boy, or Blink-182, says how important The get Up Kids were to their musical horizons, how does that make you feel?
It’s… it’s tricky. I don’t want to say that I don’t appreciate the compliment, but I’d probably put Fall Out Boy, on an interesting musical level, somewhere lower than some other people who’ve said stuff like that. It’s not what I listen to, so… I wonder if you’re supposed to say that you’re influenced by us, if you’re a band like that? Like, it’s how hardcore bands say they’re influenced by Fugazi, or The Replacements…

…Yet I wonder how many of them own a record by said bands.
Exactly. The polite way to say this is that I’m not into the whole new, commercial emo-rock scene, at all – it makes me feel really old.

But you’re attracting new faces to your gigs, via those associations with contemporary emo bands?
We are, a little, and that’s great. The festival we’ve played – while awkward – was a lot like that, with a lot of younger people at the front. At the headline shows, it’s like a cool combination of guys whose older brother got them into us, and people who are our age, who’ve followed us since the start. It’s sort of nostalgic for them, and it reminds them of their time at college. So it’s a cool mix, and we have a drinking crowd now! It’s weird… the venues are astonished at how many drinks they sell when we play, because they’re expecting all these kids, but our fans like to hang out at the bar. But hell, that’s what we’re doing!

And the moments when the crowd sings your own words back at you, is that not a little… well, cool I suppose?
That’s pretty cool! There are certain parts that everyone sings along to anyway, so sometimes I’ll back off a little and let them have it – but I never do it in one of those ‘Oh, I don’t remember the words’ kind of ways, when you’re phoning it in: ‘C’mon guys, SING IT’. (Laughs) I’m a little bit more engaged in it than that.

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The Get Up Kids - 'Overdue' (2002)


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‘Something To Write Home About’ is re-issued on September 7, with bonus material and a DVD. The band (MySpace) plays the following UK shows:

August
16 Kingston Peel (sold out)
17 Birmingham Academy 2
18 Manchester Academy 2
19 London Electric Ballroom (sold out)

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If you're new to the classic emo sounds of The Get Up Kids, do try also these brilliant LPs from the second wave of a genre so many like to write off as a teenage distraction, but that once shone brilliantly from a sea of mediocre indie. (Okay, so I'll concede Burning Airlines aren't your 'typical' emo band of the period, but check them out anyway.)

Burning Airlines – ‘Mission: Control!’ (1999, DeSoto)
Jimmy Eat World – ‘Clarity’ (1999, Capitol)
Braid – ‘Frame & Canvas’ (1998, Polyvinyl)
The Promise Ring – ‘Nothing Feels Good’ (1997, Jade Tree)
Saves The Day – ‘Through Being Cool’ (1999, Equal Vision)


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