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Twenty-two years since the release of their first album, The Get Up Kids return with their sixth album, Problems. Starting with a quiet strumming acoustic guitar on the first track, the album explodes into what could be the band’s best album in years. The Lawrence, Kansas group brings back their sound from their Something to Write Home About and On a Wire era, choosing to rely more on guitars and catchy pop punk hooks. Despite a familiar sound, the band’s songwriting continues to grow keeping old fans entertained and opening the door to invite a new generation to their shows.
I spoke with singer and guitarist, Matt Pryor, about their new album and how the dynamic of the band has changed over more than two decades.
This is the band’s first full length album in eight years. How did it feel to get back together to put together the new album?
Matt Pryor: Really good. You go through these kind of different stages, and we’re now in the stage of kind of the last two weeks before the record comes out, and so we’re leaving for tour in a little over a week and it’s kind of like the calm before the storm. Which I don’t particularly love, but I mean we got back together and started writing some songs under the assumption that if we weren’t 100% about it we just weren’t going to do it, because we didn’t need to. Know what I mean?
Is there a relaxing factor that now you can keep putting out albums if you want, but you don’t have to? Especially in comparison to the pressure you felt early on around the time Something to Write Home About or On a Wire? came out?
The thing with at that time, I think we were kind of two young and arrogant to know that we were under any pressure. We were just kind of like, “well this has worked so far, so everything we do people are totally going to get it.” And that hasn’t really been the case. So, we recognize that we’re lucky that we get to do this so we refuse on a certain level to take it too seriously, in that like I have up until the last four or five years have had a hard time referring to myself as an artist. And it’s only been when I’ve been in situations where I had to like describe what I do around other visual artists that I’m like, okay yeah I’m in a punk band. We’re not artists. We don’t go to concerts, we go to shows. In that regard, we’ve always kind of been like, we take what we do and what we create very seriously, but with like a very big grain of salt. More like a mountain of it.
Has the writing process changed for the band with this new album compared to how you would have written something 15 to 20 years ago? Especially with how busy your lives are now compared to when the Get Up Kids were the sole focus.
Not really. Of the 12 songs on the record, Jim (Suptic, guitarist and vocalist) has three songs and then two of my songs and kind of Lou Barlow, so I would say about half of the songs were kind of already songs when we brought them to the table. Jim’s songs are a lot more true to the way that he wrote it. Whereas mine are kind of more, like “Salina” was a song that was totally written start to finish but just as an acoustic demo. So, it’s kind of like here’s this dopey little acoustic demo I did, and now it’s like this epic song. I was just like yeah let’s make it what it’s supposed to be.
We would get together and we would kind of split the day. Like we would get together before lunch like 10 or 11 and then go alright first idea, who’s got something? And then we would kind of see, like “The Problem is Me” started off as a guitar riff that Rob (Pope, bass) had written. And then we go okay let’s build on that. It wasn’t anything more than a riff. And then we would get that to a point and we would demo it and then we would go and get lunch, and have a beer or two at lunch, and be like okay let’s work on one of the ones that’s in the Dropbox demos folder. So, it’s kind of like this, first idea/best idea in the morning and then sort of working on songs with more of a foundation in the afternoon.
How have you been dividing the songs? You still sing most of the tracks on this album like you always have.
This has the most Jim songs. This has three. And the Kicker EP was 50/50, and that wasn’t really by design. We did Kicker in two sessions. The thing with that EP is we really didn’t know we were making an EP. We just wanted to get together and write some stuff. I don’t really feel any competition with it at all. One of the songs “Fairweather Friends” was a thing that Jim had written that I ended up writing new lyrics and melody to mainly because I didn’t know he had something written. I just thought he had the guitar part and so I did like a demo of it and he was like, “oh I like yours better.” So, I said do you want to sing it and he said no you should sing it. Which is a very Jim answer.How have your influences changed when it comes to writing new lyrics?
I don’t know if they’ve changed as much as they’ve evolved. it’s still similar themes. Whether their relationships or more realistically other people’s relationships, but now that this whole other dynamic of being a parent and people getting divorced, people dying, just the state of the world in general. Just being more aware of things. I mean, I barely knew who was the president when we made Four Minute Mile. It was just like who cares, get in the van! That’s a joke. I knew who the president was but still.
One of my favorite tracks on the new album, is “Lou Barlow.” Where did that story come from? Does it have anything to do with the guy from Dinosaur Jr.?
It actually has nothing to do with Lou Barlow. I’ve never met Lou Barlow. He basically makes a cameo in the song. The song is about the end of the relationship, and that revelation could be kind of a really tiny thing. Like something as simple as, what do you mean you don’t like this? And we had been taking about Lou Barlow and I just had this opening line kind of came out and me and the song kind of wrote itself from there. But it’s not about him, but once you put Lou Barlow in a song, you can’t really take him out. Once you play that for people, they’re like well this is funny.
What sucks is that I had an interview with this German newspaper and they were like is that song about the relationship between Lou Barlow and J Masicas? And I was like, oh god no. I don’t know those guys at all. Please don’t let that get back to them. That would make me feel horrible.
One thing I love about the opening track, Satellite, is that it starts off so quiet and acoustic and it just builds into a song that sounds like it could have been on Something to Write Home About. Is there something in particular that influenced that?
The one thing we did start off saying was we want to make a rock record, and that kind of evolved into what we really want to do is not get into our own way. I think some of the things that we’ve done on our last three records, Wire, Guilt Show and Rules are maybe kind of cutting off our nose to spite our face. Even though I don’t think those songs are bad. I just think that sometimes they’re just different for the sake of being different in more of stylistic kind of stuff. Like oh there’s a song with no guitars in it at all, and it’s just like well that’s weird. It’s cool, but I don’t know if that’s what people want from us. And so, Satellite has notes, I mean notes in like a flavor profile like wine kind of way, of like “Holiday” in it. And I think even like ten years ago we would be like no that songs cut just because it has that, and we didn’t this time. We did talk about it. We didn’t want it to be like, “oh remember the old days when we use to sound like this?”
I think what really made it work for us was Peter Katis, who produced the record, is the one who came up with starting acoustic just like that. Because it didn’t originally and it was that kind of dynamic. Just the opening line of the record being one person saying, “by myself,” I thought was kind of cool because it’s a lie. It’s obvious that the person is not by themselves because the whole fucking band is loud as hell when it comes in in about a minute. It was just like, that sounds like something you would have done in the 90s. Well it fucking worked so leave it there. But then again at the same time when you have a chance to throw in something that’s a little off-kilter, like at the start of “Waking Up Alone” and the synth stuff, we’ve had synths for forever but let’s just like tuck it in there. We get it and the people who get it, get it, but it’s not like we’re asking you to listen to a synth pop record.
Is there something that now made you feel comfortable to just write what you wanted to write?
Yeah. In doing that I think we allowed ourselves to kind of experiment within those parameters. It’s the first time we ever had established parameters, know what I mean? And it wasn’t like it was that calculated, it was just make a Get Up Kids record and don’t get in your own way. Play to your strengths.
With most bands, the question is always what’s next, a tour another album, etc., but when it comes to the Get Up Kids, it seems like you can all do whatever you want. So, what REALLY is next for the Get Up Kids?
At this point, it’s like worldwide tour with Problems. We’re leaving for Europe in a week. The first leg of the US tour is in July. The second leg of it is in September, but that hasn’t been announced yet and then we’re going to Japan and Australia. And then we’re hopefully going back to England before the end of the year. And then we know we need to do something for the 20 year anniversary for Something to Write Home About. We don’t really want to do a Something to Write world tour in the middle of an album cycle, but we’re not going to be dicks and be like we’re not talking about that right now. It’s such an arrogant musician thing to do. But maybe we’ll do a handful of shows or some weekends or something. We just started talking about that now.
After that I think we’re all kind of cool with the way we’ve been doing things the last few years where we’re enjoying writing together let’s see how the next year goes with being able to tolerate each other on tour. But I think we’re actually much more mature and in much better headspaces than we were 10-15 years ago or whatever. There’s a lot of “hey, you you’re pissing me off, I’m going to go for a walk” as opposed to “hey, you’re pissing me off, I’m going to punch you in the stomach.” But also, the kind of thing is that this will take us two years to go everywhere we want to go for this record because we’re not going to go out for nine months straight. We’ve got families and it’s harsh.
PROBLEMS will be released on May 10.
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