MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK have finished work on their sixth album, recorded in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, at the venerable Pachyderm Studio, the facility where Nirvana crafted In Utero all those decades ago. The band teamed up with producer John Agnello (Jawbox, Manchester Orchestra) to create an album of songs frontman Justin Pierre describes as “fun to play.” Pierre and the rest of MCS—guitarist Josh Cain, bassist Matthew Taylor, synth op Jesse Johnson and new drummer Claudio Rivera—are taking the rest of 2014 off, but he spoke to Jason Pettigrew about the making of the record, how his summer was shaping up and whether he’s the same pop-tastic neurotic trainwreck he’s ever been.
Photo: Joe Lemke
Motion City have been doing some one-off shows this year, but no real solid tour, per sé.
JUSTIN PIERRE: We recorded our new record and the last show we played was like, four months prior to that. We had done a free show in Brooklyn at Music Hall Of Williamsburg, which was the first one we played in four months. A week later, we did the Thrival Festival in Pittsburgh and Riot Fest in Chicago. We totally winged it at the Brooklyn show, but it was free, so I felt like, “We can wing it!”
“You get what you pay for, peeps.”
[Laughs.] No, it was all in the name of fun. But it was the first time all of the members played together at the same time in four months. All the shows were pretty good, for not having played together.
When did you wrap up the new record?
Okay, I’m horrible with dates, but I’m pretty sure it was like mid- to late June. I think we spent two weeks in totality making the record, which is to date, the quickest we have ever made a record. We did something new at the urging of our producer, which was to track live. I think Chris Shaw—who mixed Go and engineered half of Even If It Kills Me—said we should track live five, six, seven years ago. And we went [incredulously], “Ugh! That’s a horrible idea, we’re terrible!” It’s something we had never really thought of, and then when we were talking to John Agnello, he brought that up and we were like, “Huh. You’re like the second or third person who told us to do that.” A lot of people tell us they like the band live a lot, and the energy is definitely there live. I’m not saying that it’s not there on the records, but sometimes it’s hard to capture. So he thought it was a great way to capture that.
How did this process change compared to how you made Go?
We had the songs written and we just rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed them a bunch before we went in. It was the weirdest thing coming from the last record, where we wrote most of it in the studio. This was the opposite, where we had a year’s worth of songs written, rehearsed them all and recorded 10 of them. A lot of these songs were done in a single take; we’d just pick the best ones. We’d do a take where the drums were great, but the guitar was not, then we’d just redo the guitar, as opposed to everything. It was a whole new approach, and I gotta say that I loved it, especially coming from making records where you’re sitting in the control booth by yourself playing your part over and over and everybody falling asleep. We recorded a ton of footage that I want to put together, little things for once the record comes out so people can see behind the scenes how we put [the album] together. The energy is there and I think you hear it on the record.
We were just focused on drums and worked our way back from that. A surprising number of takes we got through without mistakes, or if the mistakes were fun or cool, we definitely kept them. Slowly since My Dinosaur Life, somewhere in there, we had gotten back to having happy mistakes. On this record we thought, “Let’s turn up everything as loud as it’ll go, have fun and make noise.”
You recorded at Pachyderm, the facility where Nirvana recorded In Utero.
Yeah. John Kuker, the guy who owns Pachyderm, we recorded Commit This To Memory at his Seedy Underbelly studio in Los Angeles. He bought Pachyderm because it was in disarray: It was in horrible condition, and for the last two years, he’s been renovating it, making it livable and usable again. I think we were the first or second band to do a full-length there [since the renovation]. It’s just starting to be a studio you can use again. It was an hour away [from where we live], so the family came down both weekends and over Fathers Day. The five of us and John lived there while we did it.
MCS worked with producer John Agnello, who did the recent Manchester Orchestra album, but also the last album by Jawbox, one of your favorite bands.
Yeaaah. We talked about that! We were talking to some really cool producers: They were all fun and they were all great, but for some reason when we talked to him, it just seemed like he was our guy. In having a conversation with him, I felt like I was talking to a buddy. At the end of the day, some people would have a drink and relax, and that’s when I would ask him questions about cool things he had done. One of the first things he’d done, he was a studio assistant during a Miles Davis [project]. He was an assistant in the studio when Cyndi Lauper was making She’s So Unusual. One day, people left the studio and she had this nugget of an idea and someone was writing it with her and it ended up being “Time After Time.” I love hearing these stories about history, but being there in the moment was just a job—until it blew up.
Then we talked about the bands I was into, like Dinosaur Jr., Jawbox and a band nobody I know has ever heard of, but it’s one of my favorite records of all time: Fast Stories…From Kid Coma by Truly. [Truly featured founding Soundgarden member/bassist Hiro Yamamoto. The record is also one of AP creative director Christopher Benton’s desert island discs. —shinfo ed.] It’s bonkers: It’s what I assume being on heroin would sound like. It’s dark, trippy, weird and beautiful. When I brought that album up, he just started laughing. I didn’t get very much information out of him, but I’m sure it was an experience. Working with John was a big deal for me because he was a part of so many records that were genuinely a part of me growing up. I had a lot of fun. John worked like a maniac, but he also had fun like a maniac. I don’t know if other people appreciated his shenanigans as much as I did. I think he tackled Josh [Cain, guitarist] to the floor at one point.
Motion City have been around for a more than a decade now. Just like the bands Agnello worked on that left an imprint on you, do you think MCS have done that very thing to a different generation? Do you get that paying-it-forward acknowledgement from younger bands?
I have heard that—which is cool. I feel as far as music goes, I think like most people, you are stuck in a certain timeframe where nothing I hear is going to blow my mind as much as it did when I was 16. But outside of that, I do hear new things I’m into, but somehow it was connected to those things I was into when I was 16. A guy coming up to me who’s 20 telling me, “You’re the reason I play this music,” I hear his comment, but I don’t know if I’m going to hear how we had anything to do with [his music]. I do think it’s cool that it exists. Playing music is the one thing I can do and I have a good time doing it and I’m able to pay my rent doing it—which is just fuckin’ ridiculous! I feel incredibly lucky I can do this kind of work versus any other kind of work.
What’s the plan for the new record’s release?
That’s up in the air. We’ve heard talk about early and the middle [of next year]. I would definitely say before the summer. I hate to say something and have it not be true. My best guess is before summer.
Is the song you released last year, “Inside Out,” going to be on the album?
No. A bunch of people have asked us and I don’t know why we weren’t answering. There were things we liked about it, but I don’t think any of us wanted to take that and put it on the record. I think when you re-record something, I think you mess things up. We were excited because it was our first song with Claudio, so we were like, “Let’s record this and put it out.” At some point, we decided it would be a stand alone thing.
Does the new album have more hard-charging rock like “Inside Out?”
It’s not as violent and angry as “Inside Out.” I think in hindsight, we’re seeing a pattern. I think ever since Commit This To Memory, each record we’ve done has been a reaction to the previous one. I can safely say… I love the last record [2012’s Go], but I think I like it more as a record to listen to than a record to play [live]. A lot of things came together for this one: Claudio joined the band and three of us live in Minneapolis, so all we’d do is write and play like we used to before we made our first record. We sorted through a lot of songs to pick the 10 that are going to be on this record. The songs have an energy about them; not saying that they are all barnstorming fast or anything—there’s one ballad that I think is going to be the last one on the album. But most of it is fun.
I’m assuming the new album will couch your patented neurosis in perfect pop songs. What kinds of things have you been ruminating on these days?
I’ve always felt like I’ve been really guarded where I don’t want to talk about things. There’s no mystique—I’m not fucking David Lynch. When I was younger, my mom thought I wrote a song about something and when I told her what it was really about, she hated it. And I thought, “Well, that sucks. Don’t tell people what the songs are about.” I find that sometimes when I repeat words, phrases, things or themes in songs, I’ll think, “Oh, there are three songs that have this thing in it. I should probably change one of them. On this record, I went the other way. Three songs have a water reference to it, whether it’s an ocean, tide or some kind of water thing. I don’t know where the hell that came from, but I decided to chase it instead of erase it. I would say part of me thinks I’m writing the same song over and over and over again, trying to fine-tune it. Other times, I venture out into unknown territory. I think these new songs are very hopeful, but I don’t think the people listening to them would agree. There are love songs, a lot of loneliness, some fuckin’ mental health issues which I’ve dabbled in on every record. For anybody who thinks… [Pause.] For anybody who thinks! [Laughs.]
That’s the title of the record.
Yeah. It sounds like a Modest Mouse record. alt