“There’s a sort of interconnected piece to this whole thing, like an intuitive kind of thing, that trickled into this as well.”
COVID-19 is still having an impact on touring for bands and musicians. It seems on at least a weekly basis a member of a touring party or the headlining act themselves comes down with it and a bunch of dates are postponed.
Few know this better than the Minneapolis alternative pop punk act Motion City Soundtrack. First off, the pandemic made them shift an anniversary tour for one of their most successful albums to the beginning of the year. Then someone got sick and they had to reschedule again, but fortunately they’re coming to House Of Blues on June 21 with South Carolina indie rockers All Get Out and comedian Neil Rubenstein rounding out the bill.
I spoke with guitarist and vocalist Justin Courtney Pierre last December ahead of the band’s originally-scheduled date at the same venue on January 14. We rapped about his getting back surgery, the significance of the album they’re celebrating, doing a project with the editor of a video game magazine, and hoping to make more music.
Motion City Soundtrack is finally embarking on a tour that was originally supposed to be celebrating 15 years since the release of the band’s sophomore album Commit This To Memory. COVID-19 screwed that up so how much postponing and rescheduling did you have to do to make this tour finally happen?
I don’t know fully because I kind of checked out during 2020. I had my own issues going on with my back and I had spine surgery. I was kind of doing my own thing but I think a lot of it simply came down to management and us all talking about how we didn’t think this thing was going away so we pushed it back further. We were noticing how well people responded to the last tour we did during the beginning of 2020 and at the time I don’t think we expected to do anything other than that. Then we were asking ourselves, Should we do another thing? I think there’s a sort of interconnected piece to this whole thing, like an intuitive kind of thing, that trickled into this as well.
How’s your back been doing since the surgery? Were you wearing one of those big casts that goes around your torso and you couldn’t really move around?
No cast, but I had some stitches in my back and I had a cane-type device. My daughter helped me walk around the house, we have a bunch of doors that were open so I could walk in a big circle around the kitchen, into another room and then into the living room. She would guide me through that and it eventually got to the point where I could walk outside, walk down the block, and then go walk around the block. It was a pretty slow way back to moving again but 85% more pain-free, so that was great. It is now more about doing the physical therapy, I actually hired Jon Devoto from the Matches who does that now and it’s been great.
I’m glad you’ve been able to recover from it and you’ve been getting the help that you need. Commit This To Memory was made during a tumultuous time in your life with you seeking treatment for alcohol abuse along with aiming to have stronger storytelling in the lyrics and having Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus being the producer. To reflect on all of this, how has your view of the album evolved since its release?
It’s kind of like a split personality story. There’s the alcohol-fueled fever dream and there’s also the searching for clarity sober travel log through memory. It’s a weird dichotomy being so far on different sides on this spectrum. Somebody recently mentioned something that totally resonated with me, I think it’s attributed to Marc Maron, that when you’re an anxious person all of your memories basically trigger dramatic responses. It really resonated with me, I don’t know who said it exactly, I’m gonna have to look it up, but it definitely speaks to this album in how there’s so much ugliness around it and so much beauty.
It’s really hard to hold both things in your hand at the same time, but I think that really comes through in the music. Whether the music is pretty and poppy or whatever you want to call it, the lyrics tend to be pretty dark but they start with a smile. I am and I’ve always said I’ve been a fan of the Carpenters and it’s similar how both their music and this album has a darkness lurking underneath it all.
I remember when the album first came out when I was in college and from listening to it, it definitely has that dynamic. After breaking up in 2016 and reuniting in 2019, what do you think has changed the most with Motion City Soundtrack when it comes to hashing out ideas for songs, operating as a band or anything else?
We get along much easier, I don’t think we see each other as much. We still talk but it’s just the little things, I don’t know if you are or have ever been married but you have these people you’ve chosen to spend a good portion of your life with. After a while, and I think this is in all relationships, there’s things that you first noticed about them that were interesting, quirky, wonderful, weird and celebrated and they begin to gnaw at you over time. These things are maybe not even there, so it was wonderful to take a giant break and to be able to come back and appreciate it more because you experienced what it was like for it to go away for a while. The thing I love about winter, and I love that we have all of the seasons where I’m at in Minnesota, but what’s wonderful about winter is that it’s so miserable and unbearable outside the feeling of being able to go inside again and feel the warmth of a home makes me appreciate it more. I guess what I’m trying to get to is that feeling with the band reuniting, it felt really good to be home again.
You’re also part of this video game influenced duo called the Rapture Twins with Andrew Reiner who is the executive editor of the video game magazine Game Informer with you putting out the singles “Would You Kindly?” and “Eternity” coming out back in 2017. What inspired this project and is there any future for it or is it just a one-time thing?
This dude is ridiculously busy, I don’t even know how he made time to hang out with me but we sort of became friendly. You can find it online, but I think this game called Rage came out and he had this show which is the first time I met him. His co-host on the show somehow ended up at a birthday party of mine and his roommate was friends with somebody who knew my wife or something. Anyway, we did that and literally on Twitter somebody suggested that we do something together, we both responded with “I’m game” and we started hanging out. Then we became friends, our daughters got to hang out and it was cool.
It was a fun experiment and I want to say that it was me who ran out of time, which is weird because he’s a bajillion times more prolific than me and he does so much more work, but he figured out how to focus his attention on his projects and I still have not. I haven’t figured that out yet but the goal was to keep on writing music and the next gap in my schedule is going to be somewhere in June of next year so I don’t know. I don’t want to speak for him but I think if I called him up to see if he wanted to make some more music he would be like, “Yeah, hell yeah.” The other thing too is that our friend Ed Ackerson who recorded us passed away and it’s been hard to return to any of the past projects I’ve done with him because he was such an integral part of them. I always went to Ed with all of my weird, arty, noisy projects and so I don’t know.
When Andrew and I have some time to get together hopefully we’ll work on some more music.
From the research I’ve done there seems to be a cool vision behind the project.
Yeah, I would love to do more. The original idea was to put a bunch of songs together and once we got 10 or 12 then we’d do another batch and put it all out on one thing but we kind of petered out after three. By we, I mean me, this guy runs a magazine, he does a weekly radio show and it’s crazy, I don’t know how he gets it all done.
It’s been a few years since Motion City Soundtrack released their last album Panic Stations in 2015. Can we expect a new record sometime soon?
I love remaining mysterious but I don’t know. We’ve talked a lot, I’d say Matt [Taylor], Josh [Cain], and I have thrown a lot of songs around each other but when a band takes a break, you have to fill that time with something whether it’s work, family or projects. Matt’s working on a TV show, we all have different things that we’re doing so to get together has become infinitely harder to schedule. I think if something like that is going to happen, we’re going to need to schedule it out and set a time. Between Matt, Josh, and I, we’ve sent a bunch of stuff to each other back and forth over the years. I would say there’s a handful of songs that are pretty good and the rest of them are trash but I do believe there’s still music to be made and I would really love to see it happen.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Brooklyn Rail, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New Noise Magazine, Flood Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.