It’s rather an odd feeling interviewing the band who set the soundtrack for my early teenage years. Arriving into my world during an appropriate phase of adolescent angst , my first encounter with The Get Up Kids came about when a select group of taste-making friends at my school discovered the Missouri quintet and decided that they were simply ‘too awesome’ to share with the rest of us (as kids do...). Overhearing the huddled group murmuring about the cunningly-codenamed ‘The Stand Up Children’ raised my interest and a few days later I somehow managed to acquire the real name of the band from one of the tastemakers- much to my enthusiastically immature delight. From that point on I listened to their early releases Four Minute Mile and Red Letter Day and of course their most notorious album, Something To Write Home About, on an almost daily basis. Not only was I fully hooked on their repertoire at the tender age of 15, but even today The Get Up Kids’ songs are fully embedded in my memory of that carefree time of my life- a time when earning a living and paying the rent wasn’t the issue it seems it is today. Summers memories of leaning back with an acoustic and hazily strumming TGUK riffs on a grassy hill alongside the familiar entourage of drunken chums, some mumbling the words and others tapping their mini-bongos were sheer bliss, not to forget spending hours perfecting kick flips in the car park beside a boombox blasting out ‘Central Standard Time’ and ‘Holiday’ (much to the older folks’ disgust ) are also memories I will quite simply never forget. Looking back it on it now, I realise it is a time I wish I had cherished more. That was nine years ago and in all honesty by the time TGUK had released their follow up albums, I had moved on to a different stage in my life and was absorbed in a hardcore/ post-rock phase. And so it became that our once almost-inseparable relationship gradually withered away and eventually perished, our last known moment being when their CDs were shuffled away to the back of the top shelf- a true sign the digital era had arrived and it was my PC that was now the jukebox. Yet when the opportunity arose to interview the band who was such an important part of my youth, I was quick to get in contact.
Now, sitting across from a confident, cool (and perhaps slightly intrigued with my sheet of questions) Matt Pryor of The Get Up Kids in the sweaty back end of the Camden Underworld, it’s time to ask him some questions-some of which have been on my mind for some time. You sold out your London show last year. You’ve done it again this time and added another date straight after. How does it feel to return to the UK to such strong fan support again and again? Oh it’s great. Last time we were coming back for the first time since our split, so it’s nice to know that people are still interested and coming to see us, even though we’re not promoting a new album or anything- except the EP. Yeah it’s good, we like it here. Having split up for a few years, what prompted you to re-release Something To Write Home About last year and have you found it attracting a younger or older audience than when it was first released in 1999? I don’t know the answer to the audience question of it- as I haven’t really been paying attention to who’s been buying it. We decided to get together and play again just because we were getting along again and we were enjoying each other’s company. And the only real reason we did the STWHA reissue is because we needed an excuse to get back together, but really, yeah...it was just a bit of a marketing ploy (laughs)... another reason to come back and play shows! How many songs do you play in your live set from your older material compared to your newer songs- with this new EP just being released, will you be playing all four of them? We’re gonna play 3 of them, and then one brand new song. With an encore, we normally play around 20-22 songs, so it’s like really heavy on STWHA- something like 6 songs off that record, and 2-3 songs off the first record, and like two songs from Off A Wire, and then 2 from The Guilt Show. This is the most new songs we’ve been playing live. Are you nervous about it? No If you look at your albums and EPs, they’re quite different when you compare Four Minute Mile and Red letter day to Simple Science and The Guilt Show - they’re got very different styles. Do you feel like your songs have matured as you have matured as well? I think the overall sound of the band just kind of evolved. I mean Four Minute Mile sounds like a bunch of little kids to me, and STWHA sounds like... college age kids (laughs), but I don’t think we’ve ever made the same record twice, so I like the balance. We try to keep the set pretty up-tempo, with the occasional slow song just so we can take a break. But I think there are some songs that work well from each of the records and some that don’t. I think it flows pretty well when we combine them. Does it feel weird to play your older stuff live these days, as your records and sound is changing and evolving? Do you ever feel like, “well, the fans want to hear what they want to hear”, as opposed to “we actually really enjoy playing these songs ourselves”? Well you find a balance with it. On the one hand you love playing to people who are singing along- and we have fans who like our whole career- our whole cannon of work, so, I don’t know. We cater a little bit in the sense that we play more songs from STWHA than any of our other records but if you gonna like our band, you’re gonna have to go along with all of our twists and turns. If you’re open to it, you’ll have a good time at our shows- it’s a pretty high energy rock show, and pretty fun! You’ve got a lot of fans all over the world. At the time when you released through (your then own label) Heroes and Villains via Vagrant Records, did you expect to be in the unusual and quite fortunate position of not only gaining but then keeping such a large and loyal following, even after a decade? Oh god, at the time I had no idea. I mean we were just trying to get from day-to-day, the next goal was to make the next record or book the next tour- we didn’t think about things in a big, grand, sweeping world view. It was more like, this is what we do- we write songs, we make records and we put them out. I’m amazed that people still come to see us; I mean people seem to really connect with the band- it’s awesome. So it’s not something I expected at all. Can you tell us about Heroes & Villains Records- how and why you started it, instead of going down a more traditional let-the-label-do-the-work route? Well Heroes & Villains was more.....well, it was an imprint, but it was more that we were the A&R people and then Vagrant did all the database stuff of it. So would you say you were signed to Vagrant and you had your own mini label from Vagrant as well? Initially, that whole thing started because we had a partnership. We had the Reggie record and the first Anniversary record that we also wanted to bring to the table and so it was really Vagrant’s idea to do an imprint. But it kind of got to the point where it was too much- like if Koufax was unhappy with Vagrant then I would have to step in. I’ve got too much shit of my own to worry about than someone else’s band. So was that almost like being employed by Vagrant, as well as being an artist on the label? No, it wasn’t really like being employed......it was more like ....err. I don’t really know why they did it! Honestly, they didn’t seem to gain a whole lot other than that they got some good bands out of it. And I think they were just trying to sweeten the deal, because we were on the fence about whether to sign with them, so I think they were just trying to sweeten it, you know? They were like “We’ll give you guys your own labe!!!” ... “Allright!” You turned down quite a few majors. Was that because you prefer the indie ethos, or did you feel like you just didn’t want to be part of a major in any way? Well initially we always intended to do that- to sign with a major label. When we didn’t in the first place, I think we developed a very much punk-rock work ethic and we booked all our own tours. It’s totally accidental that we never did it because even when we signed to Vagrant we thought, “ok, we’re gonna do one record with Vagrant, then sign to a major”. And that relationship happened to work out really, really well so we stayed with them. It was nice, because...they never told us what to do. (laughs) It was like they would go with whatever we did. We never had to turn in a record to have them say “There's no single on it!” or anything like that. We just did our thing! Music discovery on the internet wasn’t as developed as when Something To Write Home About was first released. How much do you feel the internet has kept attention on your previous releases when you stopped working together a few years ago? I’m kind of surprised our first two records... actually all of our records, still sell or are played consistently even when we’re not working. Which I assume has something to do with people sharing that information with others online. I don’t really know- the internet as a marketing tool kinda baffles me to a certain degree just because I come from that old-school way of life, but I mean this is the new platform for that. You can be an independent band using all the tools of the internet at it’s disposal. Do you think it’s harder to be a band now, as opposed to when you first started out, because there are so many bands that anyone with an internet connection can easily find? I dunno, I think the cream always rises to the top, or....sometimes the shit (laughs). But I think for the most part, if the bands good, then people are gonna tell their friends about it. But I think there has always been too many bands, like forever! With the internet still making your releases get attention, even when you had broken up, was the continuing love from fans one of the reasons you decided to carry on? No, we’re all kinda oblivious to a lot of that sort of stuff. I mean, we only got together because....well we shouldn’t have actually broken up in the traditional sense, because really we just needed a break from each other. We’d been touring solid for ten years together and you know... we were sick of each other! So we got back together again because we were starting to enjoy....well, enough time had passed, you know, so that we could be friends again. We’re terrible at “faking” this band- if we’re not having a good time it shows really, really bad, so we had to get ourselves to a point where we were having a good time again. But now we are!
You’ve now got three kids, one of which sometimes plays onstage with you. I do, yeah. If he said “Dad, would you recommend I become a musician- and can I earn a living off it?” would you say go for it, be very careful, or don’t do it? I would say go for it except , the only thing that I would say is that it’s a lot more work than you think it’s going to be. And you’re gonna work way harder for something, whilst everyone around you will think you’re just loafing around being a bum. So you really need to have drive and hustle and you have to want to do this in order to make it work. My advice to my son, or to anybody, is that if you’re going to go into business with someone, whether it’s a friend, a major label or it’s a booking agent- make sure there’s a level of trust there. Because that’s the thing about the music industry- people will stab you in the back without thinking twice about it. You gotta make sure you surround yourself with people that you can trust and people that care about you....and make sure your band doesn’t suck! If your band sucks, there’s nothing you can do about it! What are your own personal thoughts to music piracy? I don’t really mind it. I mean, I’d be a hypercritic if I said I’d be against it- I do that sort of thing myself. I guess I kind of think of it as that like, you have to treat record sales as part of the puzzle, and understand that way of thinking of records as more of a promotional thing, where for us it’s like “OK, we make records and if nobody buys them then maybe that means people still might be hearing them. So when we play shows, maybe more people may come and see us- and that’s how we really make a living”. I think it’s a hard thing for people to get their heads around.
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You’re often referred to as an emo band and Something To Write Home About is seen by many the perfect emo album. Yet the emo genre has changed so dramatically over the past decade, as have your releases. Are you, or were you ever, happy to be associated with that genre? Well, as far as I can tell... we’ve been called emo since day one. It was always a derogatory term, it was always like “fucking emo band!” and was like calling someone a pussy, basically. And you know, a lot of the bands that we started touring with in the 90’s like Braid and Jimmy Eat World... we were all getting called emo, and we were kinda like “what does that even mean???” I mean I love a lot of those bands, they’re my friends and I own their records and I like them, but it got to a point when we decided to make On A Wire, that we were like “we can’t keep pretending to be this band that...you know....” I mean that’s just one part of us. I like it now that we get the second wave of emo that can distinguish us from bands like Paramore, and whoever else is out there. A lot of the bigger bands have said that they’ve been really influenced by us, which is cool. But you know, we’ve always thought of ourselves as an indie rock and roll band and we just kinda do what we do. I don’t know, for some reason early on we did really well, but I mean it’s not fun to just play the old stuff over and over again. Everyone in those bigger bands are really nice though, they’ve all treated us really well (laughs) ! Your latest EP, Simple Science, was recently released as a first of a series of new EP releases. What made you decide to release a series of EPs, instead of an album? Yeeaaaah, I think that whole series of EPs thing is going out the window, I think it’s just gonna be an album now....because we keep writing more songs! We’re up to 15 songs now, and they keep getting better. The original idea of doing a series of EPs instead of an album though, was to drag it out over the year because we didn’t know if were gonna be touring or not. Currently the plan is, which is always subject to change, is that we’re gonna do a single release in the late fall and an album in late January or February. There's a very old video on Youtube of you playing an acoustic rendition of Shorty from the Four Minute Mile EP at a college. How do you feel your approach to songwriting has changed since those days? Well actually, our song-writing is currently more in line than that Four Minute Mile era- not in the style of the songs, but as far as how we’re writing them. Back then, we’d get together in a room, jam out an idea and somehow build a song out of that. It wasn’t until we started writing STWHA where the style was that I’d come in with a complete song, and the band would build around that. So this time, we have no ideas, just you know, making something up... and its fun- doing stuff because it’s weird and because it’s interesting. What’s next for The Get Up Kids? Probably a new album in the Spring and then a tour. We’re coming back to play Reading and Leeds Festival in August, and then I don’t know after that. Everything is kinda on hold until we finished the record. We’ve exhausted our reunion capitol, and now we need to put out a new record. Interview conducted by Chris Foster You can visit The Get Up Kids by heading to http://www.myspace.com/thegetupkids