Emo veterans Motion City Soundtrack went on hiatus after a farewell tour in 2016, and then frontman Justin Courtney Pierre launched a solo career in 2018, but the hiatus (fortunately) didn't last, and Motion City Soundtrack embarked on a "don't call it a comeback" tour earlier this year. Then, of course, the pandemic happened, putting the band's future in jeopardy once again. "I’m not sure we’re not back on hiatus again given the current circumstances," Justin tells us. It at least seems like he hasn't closed the book on the band as tightly this time, though. He says "I still think there is more music to be made" with MCS, and he also says he would love for the band to do a livestream.
While MCS haven't made new music yet, they did recently unearth a "lost" song, "Crooked Ways," which was produced by Mark Hoppus around the time they made 2010's My Dinosaur Life. The song's release was partially inspired by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, who wanted to release a playlist with that song, which she was familiar because with she had a version of the song that was recorded for one of the Twilight films but didn't make the cut. So the release was, in Justin's words, "a really happy accident." It's a great song, and we're lucky to finally have it officially released.
We also spoke to Justin about the role of a band in a time of political unrest, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Motion City Soundtrack, working with Mark Hoppus (as well as Adam Schlesinger and Ric Ocasek, both of whom recently passed away), new bands Justin recommends, and more. Listen to "Crooked Ways" and read on for our chat...
Motion City Soundtrack called it quits in 2016, and then you did a solo career in 2018/2019, and then the band already got back together earlier this year. What changed your minds so quickly about ending the hiatus?
I’m not sure we’re not back on hiatus again given the current circumstances. We aren’t a band that does a lot of hardcore planning. At least not anymore. For a while we were on a hamster wheel of sorts, going from one thing to the next. That’s what we got off of in 2016. I just wanted to see if I could write whole songs instead of just my guitar parts, lyrics, and melodies (for the solo record) and it eventually ended up in the recording of a full record, and a subsequent tour. With MCS it started with an offer to do one New Year’s show, and snowballed into a full on tour from there. There was no intentionality to do or be anything other than what it was. At least this is my current mindset, having had time to meditate upon all things creative, during lockdown.
You were one of the lucky bands who managed to get their 2020 tour in before concerts could no longer happen, but did you have plans for later this year? How did the pandemic affect the band, and/or you personally?
Yeah, no kidding. We were going to play Slamdunk Festival, but I believe that was all we had on the books. Up to a point, quarantine for my wife and I felt like an excuse to be our true selves. Neither of us need to be around people much, we prefer indoors, and dig our routines. Go figure, we’d have a kid who enjoys social interaction, the outdoors, and trying new things. So that’s been a little harder. Also, I literally passed out one night in March (after flying back home to Minneapolis from Los Angeles, cutting solo album adventure #2 short) and ended up bedridden and in pain after hitting my head, neck, and back on the bathtub on the way down. Just had surgery in late July and have been learning how to do things again like walk, and not bend over, but instead lower myself to the ground, etc... luckily I’m up and running at 35% capacity now that the kid is back in school and I’m “teaching” her.
Do you or the band have any plans to do livestreamed performances of any kind?
I would love to if we could sort it all out. I’ve got a few more months of physical therapy before I’m allowed to wear a guitar, but I’m sure we could have someone else play. I also try to avoid sitting as that tends to exacerbate my underlying spine problems. But yes, I would LOVE to do something.
You've also done some cool fundraisers this year for the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. Obviously, we've seen so much widespread injustice this year - could you talk a bit about what role you believe a band with a platform like yours needs to play in a time like this?
I don’t think you have enough room for me to share all my thoughts on this subject. To keep it as simple as I can, I think if you do nothing with your reach and platform, then you are complicit in the continuation of the systemic racism our country was founded upon and still rewards. There is so much information out there, but most white people haven’t had to look for it because they benefit from the system. That doesn’t mean they are bad. Just ignorant. Like I was (and still am). So awareness is the first step, and action is the next. I was raised by white people who never had to look at any of this because it didn’t affect them. My wife and I feel it would be dangerous to continue the perpetuation of that, so we’ve been talking openly and in great detail about racism in this country and what it looks like today. Maybe we aren’t hanging people in the streets like we used to, but the police are killing them instead. We no longer use hateful and racist language, but we’ve found other words to supplement the hate. The prison industrial complex is the new slavery. I’ve spent most of 2020 in learning mode. It is important for people to know that making mistakes is good. How else do you learn unless you fall on your face a few times. Get out there and do the work. I am currently at a stage where I’m trying to center myself around BIPOC lives and figure out what that looks like and think of real tangible ways I can make differences from hiring BIPOC to record on records, tour with, work with and for, speaking out when I see shit even if it’s scary, not calling the police for any reason even though “they’ve always been fine to me“ (IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU). These are some thoughts.
You recently unearthed a previously-unreleased song, "Crooked Ways," recorded a decade ago. What kept this one in the vault for so long, and what inspired you to finally release it?
Ineptitude? I don’t have a good answer for this. As for releasing it, we were approached by Stephanie Meyer’s team about her recent book and that she wanted to release a playlist to go along with it. She had a version of the song from over a decade ago that we recorded for one of the Twilight films that didn’t make the cut. We had to find it and mix and master it. So a really happy accident.
"Crooked Ways" was produced by Mark Hoppus, who you've worked with multiple times in the past, and if I'm not mistaken, Commit This to Memory was the first album he produced in full. What was your relationship with Mark like? What kinds of things did you learn from him?
Mark is a beast. The first go around everything had to be perfect and meticulous. For My Dinosaur Life he was much more chill and allowed for more sloppiness, which is my forte. He’s one of these guys who understands how to get the sounds he wants out of amps and instruments. I do not. Aside from being a rad musician, and the funniest person in the room, he’s also the smartest person in the room. Gave me a lesson on past participles one day, so... there you go.
Speaking of producers you've worked with, we sadly lost Adam Schlesinger this year, and Ric Ocasek not long before that. Could you share any fond memories of working with either or both of them, or reflect on what made them so important to you?
With Ric I think we all worshiped at the altar of Weezer and loved the sound of The Blue Album. Working with him however proved to be confusing for me personally. In retrospect I liken him to Stanley Kubrick or David Fincher in that I think he was trying to break me down in order to make me not think about what I was doing. So I get it, I just didn’t enjoy the experience. The songs turned out amazing in the end.
Adam was someone we’d all loved for a variety of reasons as he had his hands in so many great music related things. He and Eli Janney worked on half of Even If It Kills Me together. Eli was definitely more chill than Adam. Adam would have an idea and before he could get it out of his mouth to present to us, he was already mocking it up on whatever instrument he was thinking about, and then before we could even listen fully, he’d scratch the whole idea and say, “yeah, that sucked. Let’s not do that.” He worked at lightning speed. He was always pushing us toward catchiness and never doing anything exactly the same way if certain parts repeated. It was cool that we had a mini reunion of sorts having Eli mix the FOW tune we did for Adam’s Covers comp. He worked wonders seeing as we all recorded our parts at home.
"Crooked Ways" was recorded a while ago, but can we expect any newly written MCS music?
I don’t know. A few of us have been sending ideas back and forth since 2016, but no real movement has been had on that. We live in 4 different states and 3 of us have kids. I think we all have different jobs too, so... undecided. But I still think there is more music to be made with these fools.
Lastly, when you did your solo tour, you took out cool newer bands like Thin Lips and Pronoun, so it seems like you've still got your ear to the ground for new music. What are some other newer artists you've been into?
It was the first time I could just make all the decisions I wanted. And my main concern has always been focused on art first. I’m a terrible business person. That said, Thin Lips and Pronoun are two of the dopest newish bands out there. Some others (either new or new to me) I’ve been digging on lately include but are not limited to: Beabadoobee, The Beths, Blanket Boys, Charly Bliss, Dilly Dally, Foxhall Stacks, Great Grandpa, Kim Gordon, Lydia Liza, Man On Man, Marvin Pontiac, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Rough Francis, RZA’s Guided Explorations, Snooze, Speedy Ortiz (or anything Sadie Dupuis does), Thick, Van Dale, WAAX.
Anything else you'd like to add beyond what I asked about, feel free. Thanks again for doing this!
Just want to say thanks for reading and I invite anyone who is fighting for social justice and racial equality to get in touch, as I’d love nothing more than to use my socials for the good of the people. Other than nothing, it’s literally the least I could do. Much love and be well!