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It's about noon in Lawrence, Kansas, on a recent Monday — the day before the Get Up Kids release their first new album in three years, On a Wire. Get Up drummer Ryan Pope is not long out of bed, tousling his hair, bumping Dre's Chronic 2001 and casually blabbing about the band's plans to inaugurate the album. The guys have rented a huge tepee outside of town, where they'll don cowboy gear and rock through the 12 new tracks from Wire.
"Tomorrow's the big day, yeah," Pope says. "We're having a little celebration this weekend, just, like, our friends. We're just gonna have a party, I guess."
The Get Up Kids have a plethora of reasons to party — a new album, an impending tour, four-fifths of the band either recently married or engaged, singer/guitarist Matt Pryor's new baby... life is good in Lawrence.
The last original material from the band was 1999's Something to Write Home About on Vagrant Records, the indie powerhouse that's catapulted Dashboard Confessional and its childishly obtuse emo hit "Screaming Infidelities" onto MTV every five minutes. Something,the Kids' second album, sold upward of 150,000 copies, and this before Vagrant drew up schematics for getting its bands all over MTV and alternative radio. The album's bratty, infectious cast of schoolboy love-and-loss songs was too good to ignore.
After Something, the Get Up Kids attacked the tour circuit like it had dissed their mommas, opening for Weezer and then Green Day, with jaunts on their own in between. "We'd been meaning to try to get this record made for the past year," Pope says of On a Wire. "It's been kind of, I don't know, timing issues. We stayed pretty busy."
Between tours, the Kids kept occupied by signing acts such as the Anniversary and Reggie and the Full Effect to the Heroes & Villains imprint they founded under the Vagrant umbrella. These bands earned considerable popularity with Vagrant's established audience, and the string of successful releases cemented the Get Up Kids' dynasty. "It's just our friends, basically, to be honest with you," Pope explains. "A lot of the bands that are on Vagrant are also associated with us and on our label. As far as how Vagrant looks at it, for them it's just putting out another record. Our responsibilities are pretty minimal. All we really do is find the bands that we want to have on the roster, and from that point, Vagrant takes over."
It sounds tough being a mogul and a rock star all at once, but Pope has no complaints about his youth spent rocking. This is all he knows; he's been in the band since before age 18. "The day I graduated high school, a few days went by, and we were on the road, that was it. Like, all right, that's it, we're done, let's go. We're a band, we're gonna go be a band."
By 2000, the band members had scattered geographically. Pope was living in Los Angeles, Pryor in Boston, and the others — brother/bassist Rob Pope, guitarist/vocalist Jim Suptic and keyboardist James DeWees — were still in Kansas, on paper at least. In reality, those places were refuges they crawled back to during breaks from touring.
When time came to set sights on the next album, the band reconvened in Kansas and spent countless hours banging out new material, building a collection of 25 songs, then cutting that to 12. "We had a lot of time to really get some focus," Pope says, "as opposed to Something to Write Home About, where we wrote as many songs that are on the record. Another huge difference was this is the first record we've ever worked with a producer, so that opened up a whole new world, as far as bringing in someone else's opinion, someone who was actually going to say, 'Uh, you know what? What you're doing there doesn't really work with the song and, uh, maybe we should think about something else.'"
The Kids took their 12 songs to Connecticut, where they holed up in a house with über-producer Scott Litt, of Nirvana, R.E.M. and Incubus fame. Litt's expertise proved priceless. "He was as hands-on as he needed to be," Pope says. "He was definitely not overbearing. He was a very pleasant, very fun person to work with. He gave our band more direction. He made us . . . more, I guess 'fluid' would be the word I would use — better structured material. He kind of opened our eyes, I would say."
The result is an album miles away from the material on Something to Write Home About. On a Wire is not as immediately catchy, not simmering with the same post-punk angst and emphatic riffs, but not crammed with radio hits, either. The first track, "Overdue," and the last, "Hannah Hold On," are the nearest to typical Get Up Kids fare, mellow acoustic endearments akin to Something's "I'll Catch You." Elsewhere, the band proves that it has escaped the steel jaws of the emo trap, settling instead for complex dual-guitar melodies, as on "Fall From Grace" and "Grunge Pig," and exploring Beatles-esque pop on tracks like "High As the Moon" and "All That I Know." Pryor still enjoys the same subject matter — girls and the contradictory feelings they arouse — but the perspective is more suburban-domestic, less high school. It looks like the Get Up Kids are becoming the Get Up Men.