Published Jan 24, 2011A decade is always a significant milestone. In late 2008, when the only-three-year retired Get Up Kids were ready to return, they did so, opportunely, under the ruse of a ten-year re-release of their landmark 1999 album, Something to Write Home About. Considered heavyweights of emo's second wave — when indie and punk were colliding in the mid-'90s and transitioning from the underground up — the Get Up Kids were always reticent (as most stuck with the label were) to accept it; 2002's sound-shifting On A Wire saw a surge in maturity but a dip in established-fan appeal. They went out at the top of their game with follow-up Guilt Show, but the high point was only musical, as the band dissolved into their tensions and called it a day shortly after.
Now, the Kids may only have been apart a short time, but their return sounds far advanced; on the heels of a reunion-prompted, self-released EP, the Kansas City quintet are back with There Are Rules, a scrappy power pop/post-punk experimentation in sound that both embraces and eclipses everything prior. It's as familiar as a comeback should be and no less inspired. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Pryor recently stepped out of the band's tour preparations to speak with Exclaim! about the road to Rules.
How are things?
Matt Pryor, vocals/guitar: Good! We're actually getting set up for rehearsal right now. Planning everything out. Figuring out which cables are bad, and making a list of strings and picks and stuff that we need to buy.
You're taking care of everything on the label side too. Is that very different this time around?
Honestly, it's not a ton different, because it's just a lot more details. I've never had to worry about the size and shape of the sticker that goes on the outside of the record. Or marketing campaigns and stuff like that. It's stuff that we understand, though. It's just more details to be added on.
Was there ever any talk of going back with Vagrant?
I don't know that we knew we were going to put it out ourselves, but I think we knew we needed to do something different. It was a new day, you know? We weren't entirely sure what we were going to do, but this seems to be a good fit so far.
Well even since you guys last put out a record as the Get Up Kids, the way labels work has changed.
The big part of it is that it's just a business decision. The only reason we have for being on a record label is if we don't want to mess with all this detail-oriented crap. But that's kind of a silly reason not to do it. I think this is more the direction that things are going to start going for a lot of people, and a lot of bands. It's working for us, so far.
So you got back together to do the tour for the Something to Write Home About reissue. Going into that tour, I'm curious what the expectations were then, as opposed to where you are now.
By the time we had started that tour we had already recorded the first batch of songs that were going to be on the new record. So we already knew we were moving forward from that point. It was initially just like, "Hey let's play a show," then it was "Let's play a couple of festivals," and that would be it. Then it was "Okay let's do this one tour." Everything just kind of progressed really naturally from there. This was the next natural step. It wasn't calculated at all. It was one thing at a time.
Oh—so when you got back together was it always in preparation for a tour? I understood it as you guys getting back together for the purpose of the reissue and one show.
No, it was the opposite! We got together and we wanted to maybe play some festivals, and we wanted to kind of get the first thing out of the way; we didn't want our first show to be a festival. So we played a secret show in Kansas City, in our hometown, over Thanksgiving when everybody was home. It was kind of like, we'll try this one show. If we suck, that'll be it. If it goes well and we're having a good time, we'll play these festivals next year. When we said we wanted to do a tour, we decided we needed an excuse to do the tour. And that's where the reissue came from.
The reissue thing is kind of a stupid idea, I'd say (laughs).
Why do you think?
I didn't think it was necessary. We could have just done a tour! We didn't have to spend a bunch of money putting that sort of thing together. I prefer to move forward whenever we're dealing with releases and stuff. It gets really boring re-listening to things, you know?
And playing them I'm sure.
Yeah, digging through old crap. Like, I'd just like to move forward.
There's been a pretty big resurgence of reissues, or one-off reunion shows, or reunion tours, or festival appearances recently. I'm curious what it's like from the band's perspective to revisit that work in a current context. Personally and culturally.
Outside of doing it live, I don't particularly care for it. As a fan of music, when something gets reissued that I've already owned, even if it's a new format or something like that, it's got to be something really amazing for me to have any interest in it at all. But from our perspective, we do plenty of revisiting everything live. We play a lot of diversity in our set of different songs from different points. We feel like that's sort of how we revisit that. If the record is a document of a time, that's how we revisit it to celebrate it, and not necessarily repackaging it as a product. It's kind of like taking an existing piece of art and repackaging it as an event, as an experience, in a concert. I understand reissuing something that maybe never came out on vinyl. [But] it's just not that much fun for me to compile.
So that being said, did you feel positive about the reception and your return? People get excited about that stuff. It's a nostalgic time.
Yeah, I think so! I think that was — I'm not trying to sound like I'm negative about the whole reissue process. If I can only put out one album a year, it's much more enjoyable for me as an artist to put out something that is fresh than to rehash old stuff. But people really like that record. I think it was a positive thing. I wish we could have done more with it. I think the DVD was pretty cool. It's like an "I wish I took more pictures" sort of thing. I wish we could have given the super ultra deluxe reissue. But maybe we'll save that for the 20th anniversary.
People would buy that again.
Oh, I don't know. I want to do — and I don't know if I can get the rest of the guys to go along with it — but next year will be the 15-year [anniversary] of our first record, and I want to do a tour of just playing that record. As much as people love that record, for me, I think the vocal takes on it are really awful. And I like the way we play the songs live.
Maybe give it the full re-record?
Yeah, or maybe we'll do the Four Minute Mile live record or something. I just don't know if I can get everyone to go along with it. They're just as weird about rehashing old crap as I am (laughs). But we'll see!
It must also be interesting to re-transition your lives that you sort of transitioned away from this band, back to it, full time. Or mostly full-time.
We don't really think of things in those terms anymore, I've noticed. We don't really bring up the concept of anything being full-time. This is my primary source of income right now, so in that sense it's full time, but everybody does other stuff. When we can do it, and we want to do it, we will. And if we can't do it, or don't want to do it, then we'll take a break.
That's a good place to be in.
Yeah, it's a lot less stressful this way. That was one of the things that led to the break up in the first place, how, like, tense and strict the rules were, as far as it being full time.
What was the period between the last record and tour, and the new record like? Were you guys actively in contact?
No, not really. We were really sick of each other! Me especially.
You were sick of everyone or they were sick of you?
Probably both! The closest thing I can liken it to is if you're in a long relationship with someone, and they break up with you, and you're like "I can never see that person again for the rest of my life," and then three years later you run into them at a party and realize, "Oh, I'm actually not mad at you anymore." It's that same sort of thing. We had to talk on occasion because we still have to be business partners, and there are still taxes that need to get filed and all that kind of shit, but we didn't do it anymore than was absolutely necessary.
And then, getting back together, was the dynamic good? Or were any of those old tensions present?
They still come up from time to time, but I think you have to step back and think if you're mad about this, or because you used to do this annoying crap all the time? I just think we're healthier about it now. If someone gets pissed off now, we fight about it, and then it's done, as opposed to letting it stew. And we get away from each other. We haven't really seen each other for like, six months. So now we're all happy to see each other!
So when Simple Science came out, it was going to be the first of a few EPs.
Yes. Rob [Pope, bass] was touring with Spoon last year, because they put out a new record. So we couldn't do a proper record cycle. So we did the first one, and it really got to be kind of cost-prohibitive. Because it was just as expensive to make an EP as it is to make an album, but you can't charge as much for them, and you wouldn't want to anyway. And people just don't take it as seriously. It's still the way the industry works. An album is still an important event, whereas an EP is still just a side note, sort of. There's still a lot of the older mentality of the music industry. You do think no one buys albums anymore, and only do singles, and only do them online, because that's all anybody's doing. But there still is a really strong foundation that works on an album cycle, and selling CDs, and all that stuff. So you do have to play the game to that degree.
So what are the plans beyond touring? More writing?
We don't have plans, but I think the experience has been positive enough for us, that I don't see why we wouldn't. If this all goes terribly awry and everybody hates the record and we're terrible business managers of a record label, maybe not (laughs). Maybe we'll all go back to school. But for the time being, things are going really well. We had a really good time making the record, so for that reason alone I would say we'll continue to move forward.
Not having had any expectations, is this the album you wanted to make?
Yeah. I'd say every album we've made has been the album that we wanted to make at that time. It's not really a calculated thing.
I'm curious if anything surprised you about it?
The things that surprise me in the recording process are when I'll go home at night, put my kids to bed, and come back to the studio the next morning and like, Rob and Ed [Rose, producer] and James [Dewees, keyboards, vocals] have been staying up just tracking all night. And a song that was kind of "meh" is now "whoa." That's always a fun moment.
Can you think of one where that happened?
"Regent's Court" we wrote [fast]; like, "I have to leave in 30 minutes to go pick my son up from school." And it was our last day. And it was like, "Let's try to write a song in 30 minutes. If it doesn't work, whatever." So Ed fires up the tape machine, everybody get set up, we're going to do a live scratch track of the structure of the song with me singing gibberish over it. And we did that start to finish in like, 26 minutes, and I was like "Alright, later!" And I came back the next day and everything had been laid down, and it sounded fantastic. I just needed to take it home and write lyrics to it (laughs).
It's definitely a different sounding record for you guys.
Yeah. My buddy Chris Conley from Saves the Day, I was just on tour with him doing an acoustic thing. And I played him the record and he has my favourite quote about it, he said, "Dude, it sounds like you guys, from the future."
The future is now!
Yeah! It's definitely the sound of a band that is very comfortable playing what we like and we really don't give a shit if anyone likes it or not. Like, what do you mean you want to have a 16-bar instrumental in the middle of the song where the vocals are backwards? What, are we trying to get on the radio or some shit?
I feel like that's kind of the way you guys have always approached things, though.
I think there may have been times that we've lost sight of that, for sure. And there were times when other people expected us to be something that we weren't and maybe we started acting into that a little bit. The real thing is, we're not very good at this if we're not enjoying ourselves. For whatever reason, we're really bad at pretending to have a good time for the sake of entertaining other people. When it's not fun and we don't like it, we're just not very good. And I think that's just… our handicap, I guess. Not a bad one to have. Except we alienate people every record cycle! But then hopefully we gain new people.