For all its hazy definitions, there was a time when "emo," maligned as the genre has always been, indicated the smart, melodic pop-punk of The Get Up Kids and their breakthrough 1999 sophomore record, Something to Write Home About, instead of conjuring up images of mopey girls in heavy eyeliner and photos of Pete Wentz's junk. Though the term has never carried with it respect, it was more or less the default term from the late '90s to early '00s when describing a variety of independent rock that married the sonic blueprint of the Dischord Records roster with introspective themes. It didn't matter what the band sounded like; everything from the jerky funk-punk of The Dismemberment Plan to the violent post-punk of Cursive earned a spot under the banner.
Don't misunderstand: At times Something to Write Home About is perfectly gushy and makes a fantastic soundtrack to teenage pathos: "Ten Minutes" is an undeniable break-up jam, "Valentine" and "I'm a Loner Dottie, a Rebel" are rife with typically lovable angst, and "I'll Catch You" remains a mix-tape standard. But musically, the record is the work of a band with little regard for any scene and has more in common with the literate pop-rock of Built to Spill and Weezer than any of the bands who prospered in their wake. "We got thrust into that scene on accident 'cause we were on Doghouse [Records] and we ended up playing with a lot of hardcore bands," says Get Up Kids singer-songwriter Matt Pryor. "I didn't really get it at all. We just wanted to play pop music and jump around."
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Despite Pryor and the Kids' humble intentions, Something to Write Home About became a banner record, defining a specific breed of melodic, emotionally charged pop-punk along with other genre classics like Jimmy Eat Word's Clarity and The Promise Ring's Nothing Feels Good. Moreover, it represented a paradigm shift in the music business; released by independent label Vagrant Records, its sales quickly established the label as one of the premier labels in the country and earned the band spots on tours with Weezer and Green Day. With little radio support, the band's 2000 tour was sponsored by Napster, suggesting a fundamental change in musical distribution.
The Get Up Kids officially disbanded in 2005, but the 10-year anniversary of Something to Write Home About, and its subsequent deluxe re-release by Vagrant, prompted the band to embark on tour for the first time in four years. "There was still some tension left over," Pryor says. "It wasn't until we all got together last year that things evened out. Coming back wasn't weird. Once we were past the point of being uncomfortable, it was just like, back to normal." He pauses: "But good normal."
The Get Up Kids
Marquee Theatre in Tempe
The Get Up Kids are scheduled to perform on Sunday, September 27.
In the 10 years since the album's release, it's become a touchstone for bands that don't balk at the emo tag, like The Get Up Kids used to. "These bands show their credibility by saying they are into us. I'm like, really? I don't hear it. You have to say you're into us if you're a successful emo band. It's in the handbook," Pryor jokes.
Pryor laughs off the idea of their place in history, preferring to focus on preparing new Get Up Kids material for "fun stuff, like good vinyl and limited-edition releases." Such nonchalance seems characteristically un-fussy, but that's precisely the point. There was a time when "emo" dudes used to populate their songs with shoulder-shrugging lines like, "Who would have thought we'd represent, when I can't take a compliment?"