In 2016, the Minneapolis quintet, known for their infectiously melodic, occasionally neurotic music and energetic live shows, announced they were splitting up and embarked on a farewell tour. They remained mostly silent after a 13-year run, but last summer they declared themselves “recharged,” and announced a tour with the stipulation that fans “don’t call it a comeback.” They return to Phoenix for the first time in nearly three years on Wednesday, January 22, when their reunion tour rolls through The Van Buren.
It’s hardly surprising that the band who declared that (to paraphrase one of their song titles) the future freaks them out are being noncommittal about their plans. We talked with frontman Justin Pierre about getting the band back together, imparting his 4-year-old daughter with good taste, going to Catholic school, finding spirituality later in life, and the uncertain future of Motion City Soundtrack.
Phoenix New Times: How have these first few shows in three years been for you guys?
Justin Pierre: I expect nothing, so, therefore, better than expected. I mean really, it's been obnoxiously wonderful, if I can say that. It feels really good, and I think it does no good to think about the past and things that you can't change. But when you get distance from a thing, then when you return to that thing, you have a new love for that thing — that's what's happening. Not that I didn't love it or appreciate it before, but it was a little more wrapped up the day to day, whereas now, it feels extra-special because we have no idea what happens after this, so we're kind of just doing one thing at a time. I'm trying not to think about anything beyond just this tour and doing these shows because I want to really be present and enjoy this while it's happening and hold on to the experience.
So there’s not really a solid plan for the future at the moment?
We don’t have a plan. Whatever we do next, if we do something next, I'm assuming it'll be a ways away. I think the time between things will be more and more, if I had to guess. But again, I'm just one person, and we haven't even talked about it, so I don't want to misspeak.
Is there new Motion City Soundtrack music in progress in any way?
We never stopped doing that. [Bassist Matt Taylor] would send me something, and then I'd work on some vocals and send it back, or [guitarist Josh Cain] would send some guitar part, and I'd slap some vocal ideas on it. But there was no pressure to do anything, whereas before I think it was like, "Okay, that record's done. We're going on tour and I gotta start writing the next record." It was very bam-bam-bam.
I think there are still songs to be written with all of us, but there's no time constraint on it. We're not feeling pressured to do anything. And a side note, personally, I don't want to write music just to write music. Not that I've ever done that before, but especially now I feel like I really want it to be something special if we all get together and decide to do that for real.
It seems like you have personally resolved a lot of things over the past decade or so and so much of your lyrics are about those conflicts, so what’s it like for you to write now being in a more peaceful place?
I had an upbringing that sort of marred the differences between religion and belief, and I'm still trying to undo all that. I don't even know what to call it, because I still cringe at words like spiritual and things of that sort. But I'm on a particular — if I can use the word — journey in that I've been reading about a lot of different things, doing therapy and stuff.
The thing that I dig is this idea of never fully achieving that thing that you're striving toward. The goal is to strive toward it, not necessarily achieve it. And so I think with writing songs I'm definitely a guy that sort of keeps coming back to different topics, but at different points in time, and sort of refining them and refining them. And so, I think that in a weird way it's gotten both easier and more difficult.
In the song “Timelines,” you say “Catholic school, my private hell.” How do you feel like that experience shaped you?
I came into this school just after the nuns weren't allowed to beat you anymore, so there wasn't any physical abuse per se, but it was a lot of emotional abuse, shame, guilt, and all that. I used to joke that I don't believe in God, but I fear Him. That basically sums up the experience for me.
The one thing that my wife and I are doing raising our kid is basically being honest and open about all of the things that were never talked to about, like sex and drugs and death. She knows more about human anatomy than I do.
Does she like Motion City Soundtrack?
Not so much. She listens to a lot of pop music, and so she's a big fan of Taylor Swift. I don't even know the names of some of these people. She likes Lana Del Rey, which I dig. But — this blows my mind — she loves Brainiac. She likes Guided by Voices, Pavement, Archers of Loaf, and Scenic Pastures. And then, she’s into all that Disney shit.
What was the preparation process like for this tour?
Not enough. We convened in Minneapolis twice as a full band for two weekends. But most of it was all on our own. We just had to kind of show up ready to go. It was just about fine-tuning things. Weird things too, like we just got rid of the drum track on “Even If It Kills Me.” Now [drummer Tony Thaxton’s] playing it live. He's doing all this weird glitchy drum and bass shit — it's really cool. So just stuff like that, we're just kind of fucking around.
How would you say this break has affected the band? How have people changed?
I feel like we're all a little more chilled out. We're not as immediately at each other's throats — not that we were before, but you just put any group of people together in a small, confined space, and people start getting on each other's nerves. So far, we're all getting along, and it's been really fun. We're all cordial, and I feel like something happened. I don't know what it was, but it's been real, dare I say, easy. There's no fear.
Motion City Soundtrack are scheduled to perform on Wednesday, January 22, at The Van Buren. Tickets are $32.50 to $35 and available through the venue's website.