Motion City Soundtrack
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Life is complex but we’ve got plenty of tries to get it right–which is why when Motion City Soundtrack frontman Justin Pierre sings, “All the destruction will one day end and you’ll finally know exactly who you are”—it’s a sentiment of self-discovery filled with optimism instead of regret. Correspondingly after putting out one album on Columbia, Motion City Soundtrack are in the midst of a career renaissance as they return to their longtime label Epitaph to release Go, the most mature and developed album of their fourteen-year career.
Having previously worked with Ric Ocasek, Adam Schlesinger and Eli Janney, as well as Mark Hoppus, Go saw the band—which is also composed of guitarist Josh Cain, bassist Matt Taylor, drummer Tony Thaxton and keyboardist Jesse Johnson—reconvening in their hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to spend an extended stretch of time with producer Ed Ackerson (who the band worked with on their acoustic singles collection). The result is a cerebral collection of sounds that confronts big questions without sacrificing any of the energy or raw emotion that has endeared Motion City Soundtrack to fans worldwide.
“I think honestly I was really obsessed with death,” Pierre explains when asked about his mental space during the writing of Go. In addition to entering his mid-30s his obsession with mortality was also provoked by the passing of his grandmother who he spontaneously visited the night before she passed away. “That’s where it started and I don’t necessarily think of it in terms of life or death but more as love and death as two sides of the same coin,” he explains. “There are choices you can make as far as holding back or embracing your existence and choosing life and that ties into the album title for me.”
While this might seem like heady subject matter for a band who burst on the scene more than a decade ago with their pop-culture-heavy single “The Future Freaks Me Out,” in reality Motion City Soundtrack have always maintained a striking dichotomy between upbeat music and darker lyricism—and Go sees the band entering the next stage of their career in a flash of brilliance. “I feel like this album is a choose your own adventure book in the sense that you can look at these songs from different angles depending on your mental state,” Pierre explains, “my hope is that they will make sense to you no matter where you’re at.”
From the expansive-sounding, intricately arranged ballad “Everyone Will Die” to the sweetly syncopated, falsetto-fueled rager “Boxelder,” Go sees Motion City Soundtrack stretching out sonically to push the limits of their sound without altering the solidly constructed foundation that it’s built upon. “We’re not trying to be anything, we just write songs and the best ones float to the top and this time around it was clear which songs made the cut,” Cain explains. “I think this was one of the hardest records we ever made because it was so emotionally draining and we recorded it in the middle of winter but in the end I think that frustration helped us make a better record.”
Like all classic albums Go is teeming with happy accidents such as the guitar solo on “Son Of A Gun,” which Cain originally played as a joke that the band fell in love with. “We did a lot of stuff like that,” he explains, “when we had a unique moment happen we kept it and that’s really what I love about this album.” Ackerson also had a huge influence on the final product, which features many firsts for Motion City Soundtrack including a string quartet on “Everyone Will Die.” “We probably wrote 30 songs for this album but nothing was written in stone and we really had the freedom to make up some of the moments as we went along, which we had never done before and was a really exciting experience for us,” Pierre adds.
Equally thrilling is the fact that Go sees Motion City Soundtrack returning to their first label Epitaph Records. “We've done it all and we're going home to Epitaph and it still feels like our home because Brett Gurewitz has always made us feel so welcome at the label,” Cain explains. Additionally the band have started their own label The Boombox Generation which released the Motion City Soundtrack/Trampled By Turtles 7-inch last year and they’ve also partnered with Drexel University’s student-run label Mad Dragon Records to curate and produce a series of vinyl and digital releases called Making Moves that will continue throughout the year.
Despite the full-circle musical evolution they’ve undergone with Go, the band members agree that in some ways they feel like the same way they did when Motion City Soundtrack was starting to make their mark in the early 2000s. “We weren’t on a record label when we recorded this album so we didn’t have to answer to anyone, which was exactly how we worked when we were first starting out,” Pierre explains. “We’ve never tried to consciously write a certain kind of song which is why we’ve never fit into some specific category, but I do think that from start to finish this album has a very cohesive narrative that ties it together.”
The band are also quick to point out that their fans have been open to the evolution, a fact that was evidenced by the series of full album shows the band played last year. “That experience was great because it closed a chapter of our career and it was incredible to see how enthusiastic people were about each record in different ways,” Cain explains. “Most people that listen to a band from their first record go in a completely opposite direction as the band progresses and it’s very rare you grow with a band but that seems to be a common thread with our fans,” Pierre astutely adds. “There are certain bands where every record they put out speaks to me in the moment and hopefully Go can be one of those albums for the people who love our band.”
“Do you ever wonder how you got to here?” Pierre wonders aloud on the infectious pop tune “Timelines” and ultimately that’s a sentiment that resonates with anyone who thinks about life’s big questions. “A song like ‘Happy Anniversary’ may seem bleak on the surface but I feel like there’s a lot of love in that song and this album, you just have to know where to look,” Pierre summarizes, likening the album’s arc to the film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. “You know how it’s all going to end but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself in the moment and love the process of it.”