- by Christophe Vanheygen
Everyone has ‘Problems’. Or at least: everybody should have ‘Problems’, the excellent new Get Up Kids album. We sat down with singer/guitarist Matt Pryor for lengthy chat a few hours before their recent gig in Belgium. And we sure talked about ‘Problems’.
PRT: It’s been a while since you last been on tour… Are you experiencing any - ha ha - ‘Problems’ adjusting to tour life?
Matt Pryor: Still getting rid of the jet lag, really. Two nights in a row of about five hours of sleep isn’t all that. You kind of operate in a fog for a couple a days before you find your routine again.
PRT: There’s more ‘pun-questions’ coming, but let’s talk about the new record first. Can we call it, dare I say, a comeback record?
Matt: Well, we’re trying to not say that because we don’t want to sound self-important. But we definitely feel like it’s the start of a new phase for us, more so than maybe any other record release was. It feels like it’s a … rebirth sounds arrogant too… You know what: I can’t think of a way to phrase it without sounding like a jackass, so you just go ahead and call it a comeback record. Haha.
PRT: Last year’s EP ‘Kicker’ already felt like a return to form. The album sure solidifies that idea. It’s bursting with a sort of youthful energy.
Matt: Well I think that energy has always been there. We’ve always considered ourselves a rock band. Or a punk band … Or something. The big difference is, I think, we didn’t get in our own way.
PRT: How so?
Matt: I think that over the years, we wanted to challenge ourselves creatively and kind of differentiate ourselves from other bands. So, we tried different styles of music, electronic and acoustic stuff. However, in doing so we kind of put handcuffs on ourselves. We’d say things like “We can’t do this because that’s how we did it on our first record”. This time around we’d rather say: “We don’t have anything to fucking prove here. If it works, it works”. It’s not like we’re trying to sound like we used to, but we’re not afraid to and we’re not fighting against it.
PRT: You kind of stopped trying to re-invent yourself?
Matt: In a way. We just try to be inventive within all of our known parameters instead of having to take big swings at different genres.
PRT: Yet somehow that leads to a song like ‘Satellites’, which somehow sounds like a wonderful throwback to ‘4 Minute Mile’.
Matt: Well, funny thing is that we initially had our concerns about that song in particular. We didn’t want it to sound too much like “Oh, dad’s starting up the band again”. Now, I don’t know if it ever really felt that way, but it kinda came up because it does in fact sound like an older Get Up Kids song.
However, there are small differences. Peter (Katis, the producer) certainly gave it a different feel. And there are way more dynamics in it. The quiet start, the outburst, bridge without vocals to let it breathe … Technical details, I guess. I don’t know. I like it.
PRT: It sure is a big departure from what you did on ‘There are rules’.
Matt: I think we kinda made that record out of a need to experiment. We had just gotten the band back together, and we had this studio with all this gear in it. So we thought: “let’s play with it”.
For me the big difference on ‘Rules’ were the lyrics. Besides textural stuff like songs that didn’t even have a guitar on it. You see, I was writing lyrics that weren’t as emotional, but rather more abstract and weirder. That was a very distinct choice: I challenged myself to not write a bunch of love songs for this weird-ass record. Well it’s not that weird. I keep calling it that just for frame of reference. It’s just synth and drum machine heavy.
PRT: How do you like that record now, in hindsight?
Matt: I still think it’s a really cool record. If you can get over your “idea” of how weird it is and listen to the songs, you will notice it’s a good album. Jim likes to say that people would’ve liked that record if it hadn’t been called The Get Up Kids, if we hadn’t had our legacy or baggage or whatever. If it was a new band and this was the first thing you heard, you’d be smitten. Or not… We’ll never know.
PRT: You sort of laid low for quite a while after that album…
Matt: Yeah … I guess you could say I got pretty burnt. I followed up ‘Rules’ with a solo record and another tour. I got sick of being gone all the time, so I quit music entirely for a while. The whole band really needed that break. So we all went our own way. Jim got his degree in Geology. Ryan moved to Paris with his wife. James did his thing with My Chemical Romance and some Reggie & The Full Effect. Rob was playing in Spoon and I went to work on a friend’s farm, started a podcast, got involved into community stuff and spent time with my family.”
PRT: Yet suddenly, that Get Up Kids-itch came back?
Matt: Something like that. I remember Jim was looking for a job in geology and not finding one. And at one point, we were at a festival and he said: “I want to be an artist”. So I said: “Okay, you’re an artist”. And here ware, two years later. For me, I came to realize that no matter what I do for the rest of my life, how many solo record or other bands, it’ll always say “of The get up kids” in parentheses. This really is my career now. Something we built.
PRT: Do you see the band as a legacy, something you will carry around for the rest of your life?
Matt: Funny you should say that. The working title for ‘Common Grounds’ was ‘Legacy Anthems’ because we were being called “Legacy band” all the time. It’s an industry term, but it just means we’re old. Haha.
Seriously though, I struggle to call it a “legacy” because it sounds so self-aggrandizing. I prefer to think that my kids are my legacy. There’ a bigger body of work out there that we’ve all done. But when our eulogy comes up on the radio someday, they’ll probably play ‘Holiday’. And that’s fine. That “legacy” allows us to be able to create new music. It’s a blessing.
PRT: Do you still have ambitions? Like, get back to the point of popularity where you were in the ‘Something to Write Home About’-days?
Matt: I don’t know man. We don’t want to be famous. I’m already happy that a band like PUP loves us. Or that the guys from Modern Baseball tell us that opening for us was on their bucket list. And even more so: that my daughter’s band likes us. They’re jaded teens who basically hate everything. Haha.
Now, I would love it if we could get back to playing theatres again in the States, just because the dressing rooms are so much nicer. They have showers and stuff. I’m half-kidding there, but we’re at a place now where we all make a living doing this. We want to keep doing that, write what we want to write and be able to say “no” to things we don’t want to do even though they pay really well. You see, I love to be in a position where we don’t have to make those compromises. I want to play in the right rooms with the right people and bands we like. Without any pressure. And still make a living. So far it works.
PRT: Would you have made compromises earlier in your career, things you could’ve done better after ‘Something to write …’?
Matt: Creatively, no. Maybe marketing-wise or from a business perspective. Like, we didn’t realize that ‘On A Wire’ was such a drastic shift. If we had had a little more experience and if we had listened to other people’s opinions more, we could’ve rolled it out differently. You know, like don’t use the slow, sad acoustic song as lead single. It’s a great song and people like it now, but back then it was kind of drastic. ‘On A Wire’ is not an amazing record from start to finish, but the good songs on it are some of the best ones we ever wrote. It’s everybody’s favourite record that nobody liked when it came out.
PRT: Final question: Are there any ‘Problems’, or issues you don’t like, that you’d like to solve?
Matt: Oh man … I guess, on an intimate level, I would like to be better at communicating with my kids when I’m on tour. I easily get into this “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. And I don’t think it’s good for me. Or for them. That’s a problem I really want to fix.
Other than that; keep my fellow country man and women from starting a civil war. I sometimes worry about that. I once heard a podcast from a journalist who covered the civil war in Syria and Ukraine. And he says America is starting to feel eerily similar to those places. I hope I’m overreacting. But it does scare me. The vitriol is bad. On the left and the right. Everybody just hates each other and their political opponents. It’s more than just an ideological difference. And our president’s a crazy person.
PRT: Where would you go live if the shit hits the fan? Or would you take up arms and fight for the good guys?
Matt: I don’t know, man. I have a whole family to uproot. However, we have a friend in Vancouver we could probably stay with. It’s beautiful there. It’s expensive, but it sure beats living in a warzone.