INTERVIEW: Motion City Soundtrack (SXSW 2012)

Back in the summer of 2005, Minnesota punk act MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK ruled high schools, headphones and Warped Tour. And all it really took was a discharge of pop punk chaos, flirting somewhere between love and self-evaluation that cauterized with hooks, tracing a historic third LP in Even If It Kills Me and a portrait for the bands of the future to mimic. To this day, the fivesome are still interacting with the general community, launching proverbial kickstarts, producing records and – thanks to a fifth album being released this June – are still writing genuine songs. In the thick of the first afternoon of music at South By Southwest, we sat down with guitarist Josh Cain and bassist Matt Taylor to chat about their Making Moves project, their upcoming Epitaph release and how through compromise and actually working together as a band, you can reincarnate that special feeling that makes music incredible.

Music is about more than albums and playing shows – it’s also about building communities. Do you agree?

JOSH CAIN: Yeah. We started out by talking to people who went to our shows and getting them to talk to others about us and that’s how it all began.
So I understand SXSW 2012 marks the one-year anniversary of your decision to develop the release series Making Moves. In what way does this project represent your dedication to the community?

MATT TAYLOR: As individuals in a band, we were able to reach out to our community or “little world” and take bands we wanted to work with and bring them all together. I think the main idea was to bring musicians together. Like I picked a band from my hometown that I thought was really good and the reason they were picked is because I wanted more people to hear them.

JOSH: It’s all about helping and helping people who are trying to find new music.

MATT: Yeah, helping people find music by helping a band share their music.
With Making Moves you guys were also involved with alumni and undergrads of Drexel University’s Music Industry Program and Film & Video program. How did that contribute to your ultimate goal with the project?

JOSH: I think it was just a learning experience for everyone. We went in thinking about helping out students who were getting into the scene and the business world and we thought they could help us too. We’ve been in the business for a while and these guys are coming fresh out of school and they may have ideas we have no clue about and it became… what’s the word…

MATT: A collaboration.

JOSH: Yeah, that’s it! We need them as much as they need us, and we get to meet a lot of talented, young people who are great at what they do. We’ve done symposiums and such and we told them that we were looking at them to fix the music industry and that they’re the solution. We do our best but they’re going to come up with some new idea that will help music communities survive.
In what ways does working with other bands and other people in the industry help with your own music?

JOSH: The thing for me is I work as a producer with other bands and you get to see what they’re doing and then understand more about how you’ve done things and you learn from each other. It’s a learning experience. You have discussions and you collaborate. When you’re making music, you don’t say, “You do this and you do that”. They do their thing and I get an idea from it and then we collaborate, and that helps me grow as a musician and an artist.

MATT: You kind of underestimate being in a band, and being on tour for almost ten years and going to the studio 15 times. You kind of don’t realize how much you’ve learned. I don’t ever think that I know a lot about what I do, but I think I do because if I sit with someone who’s just starting out and they ask me a question, they have the opportunity to learn from what I’ve learned. That’s just my experience/opinion but doing that seems to be helpful to people who are just starting out. Anyway you can help musicians take what they do and take it to the next level helps.

With your new material, should your listeners expect a blend of the enthusiasm and ideas you’ve been getting from younger bands along with the skill of already being established?

JOSH: Lots of skill. Very skillful (laughs).

MATT: It will have a lot of energy (laughs).

JOSH: This record was an interesting thing for us because we were out on a major and we knew we wouldn’t be on it anymore and we didn’t know what we would be doing in the future. So we decided to see what we could make without any pressure and without anyone telling us we need this and that. We just closed ourselves off from the world and made a record as a band that makes records and wanted to do this. That was our thing and soon as we drew the line, we kind of noticed our music was starting to become refined.
Has that freedom allowed you to make a record that’s completely different?

JOSH: Yes and no. It’s like and unlike some of our records. It’s so hard to describe.

MATT: It is too hard.

JOSH: There are songs on there that are going to make people say, “Oooh, that’s weird”, but it’s definitely mixed.

MATT: We definitely didn’t hold back. We had an idea and we went with it.

JOSH: Whatever felt right, we made it happen, and I think we’ve kind of always been that way. Before we would just work on material, make edits, add guitars and then finish. On this record, we kind of worked on a song and then decided to work on a new idea to come up with something. It was just a different experience. We had a lot of time and there was no stress. The only stress was we realized how hard it can be to actually make a record. But we powered through it and came out on the other side.
Having worked together for quite some time, is there a secret to keeping music fresh and exciting?

JOSH: I think one thing we try to do is not worry about what anyone’s going to think and just make music that has that special thing for you because that does it. And even if people don’t like it, screw it. Whatever. For us, if there’s a certain song that Justin’s writing or Matt is writing or there’s a guitar part that I come up with that makes me feel a certain way, the meaning to you is why you like music. It’s why we like music. As a band, we latch onto those special things that have that kind of feeling.

MATT: This may sound weird, but the cool thing about being in a band that people tend to take for granted is you are a group of individuals bringing what you do to a project. Sometimes you create something that doesn’t really make a lot of sense but when you bring it to the band, they do something with it and all of a sudden it changes.

JOSH: Another thing we’ve really gotten good at that we sort of don’t notice is being able to compromise. Bands that don’t do that decide to break up. For us, when we’re writing a song, I can jump up and say, “Oh my God, I have a great idea. Everybody’s going to love this! It’s the best thing!”, and when I present it to the guys, they hate it. You have to be able to make that better.

MATT: Exactly. Expanding on that, sometimes when we do tracking, someone will say they really don’t like a certain thing one of us does and then they’ll take two days to spend time with it and it comes out perfect. Compromising just works. I think a lot of people don’t know how to do that.

JOSH: I don’t think I know how to do that (laughs). But I think there’s two ways to do a band and if you don’t follow these strictly, your band will probably break up. Either you’re democratic, where you just let things happen, or one guy is in charge and everybody understands that and there’s no questioning. If you have a few certain guys in charge, it just gets weird and then no one wants to talk to each other.

Just to clarify – a band can exist when there’s one person in charge and everyone else just does what he says?

JOSH: Yeah, because they trust that person. If they don’t trust him, then it doesn’t work. Early on, we chose that we would have a democratic rule because if I felt one way about something in particular and everyone else in the band didn’t feel the same way, then I must be wrong.

MATT: It’s a bummer, but you just move on.
Is your approach to writing a record any different from when you wrote one ten years ago?

MATT: It’s a bit different because that first record was a bunch of songs they had over the years. Now, it’s become that when you’re not on tour or even when you are on tour and you have a free minute, you have to try to write some songs. With that, you’re in a different headspace. Not that we haven’t adapted to that because I think we have.

JOSH: Every record sounds slightly different and now I think we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve really adapted well to that type of writing. Now, Justin is adapting to the whole technology thing in terms of songwriting, which we’ve always kind of known, and that’s helped us a lot.

MATT: Like being able to record on your own and share ideas instantly – it’s helped.
Since change is inevitable, what’s one thing that will never change about your group?

MATT: Probably our overall personality. We are who we are and there’s no real big change… I don’t know! Everything’s changing (laughs). No, I take that back. You can always better yourself and learn how to deal with things differently. But in terms of us… I don’t know. I really don’t know.

JOSH: For us, I know we have a lot of work ahead of us and we need to learn how to play our new record properly. And I think with the next record, I would like to try something differently and mix it up a bit.

MATT: Or just do it the opposite way.

JOSH: Yeah (laughs). I guess… we’ll see.

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  • Tanya says:

    Great interview! This article reminded me of why I loved MCS so much a few years ago. I’m looking forward to the new album in June.

  • Brandon says:

    This is some great entertainment journalism. Wish I got to meet Matt and Josh, dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyum

  • Andrew says:

    I’ve always loved this band, and every interview I read (or rare conversation I have with one of them) only reinforces that love. Great music, better people. It doesn’t hurt that they put on a killer show.

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