Q&A: Get Up Kids' Matt Pryor Talks Jumping Around, Playing Pop Music and the Emo Handbook

Any attempt on my part to play "rock critic" on this assignment would be complete bullshit. Few assignments have ever made me want to high five my inner fifteen-year-old more than a chance to interview Matt Pryor of The Get Up Kids, a band that dominated my Walkman in early high school. I'd spend my days cribbing all the songwriting ideas I could glean from the band's classic records, Four Minute Mile, On a Wire and the band's breakthrough sophomore record, Something to Write Home About.

The Get Up Kids have recently reunited to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the latter album, which catapulted the band to national attention, including tours with Weezer and Green Day and a headlining tour sponsored by Napster, suggesting a world in which an independent band could achieve significant sales without the assistance of commercial radio (though I remember Valley DJ Craven Moorehead spinning the single "Ten Minutes" often on The Edge 103.9's Ska Punk show).

Moreover, Something to Write Home About detailed the band's willingness to mature, one thing I've always respected about the group. While it still featured plenty of lyrics centered on romantic woes, the band took on a more nuanced sound than their rough and tumble debut. Electric pianos and synths shared equal footing with charging guitars, and the group seemed as adept at ballads like "Out of Reach" and "I'll Catch You" as they did playing smart-guitar pop like "Holiday" and "Action & Action."

And yeah, everyone called it "emo." But ten years ago the term described far more than Hot Topic approved mall-punk. The term was as amorphous as the label "indie-rock," covering everything from the power-pop of The Promise Ring to the shimmery rock of Arizona's own Jimmy Eat World. It may well be considered emo, but to my ears today, Something to Write Home About just sounds like literate, exciting rock music, the best elements of all-ages hardcore fused with pure pop melodies and markedly relatable sentiment.

Pryor took a few minutes out of his busy life in Lawrence, Kansas to chat with me. "It's crazy over here," he laughs, "The dog is barking, friends just stopped by and the kids are running around."

UP: So I wanted to talk to a little about the re-release of Something to Write Home About. I'm listening to it today actually, and it sounds great. Did it get remastered or anything?

MP: It didn't actually. We didn't really want to mess with it, we really liked the way it sounded the first time. We just wanted to add more content to it, to make it the anniversary edition.

UP: I haven't got the chance to watch the DVD, but I'm looking forward to it.

MP: Yeah, it's pretty cool.

UP: What prompted this specifically with this record, as opposed to Four Minute Mile (the band's debut), getting the deluxe treatment?

MP: We well talked about it for a second with Four Minute Mile, but we didn't have anything to really add to it, and honestly, Doghouse (the label that originally released the album) didn't seem that interested in the idea. They just re-released the vinyl. It had already been remastered once before and we didn't have anything to add to it. We could have just remastered it again, like, "Here's the second remastering of the record (laughs)."

UP: I really like the original sound on that record. But the remastering sounds nice, too.

MP: I don't think it sounds any different, to be honest. They were just like, we're going to remaster it and put it out, and I said, "Ok." You know, it was just polishing a turd.

UP: I really love the way that album sounds. All the little quirks in the sound quality really add to the overall character of the record.

MP: I know, I know. I always make fun of that one. Because from my perspective, I listen to it and I just sounds so bad. We just got the master tapes out of the storage closet the other day, actually. We just wanted to dump them into Pro Tools so we could store them, and the raw tracks sound really good. It was kinda surprising.

UP: Thinking about Something to Write Home About from a ten years on perspective, it really feels like a make or break record for the band. After your stint with (the new defunct) Mojo Records, you guys ended up going with Vagrant. What was going through your minds as you made the decision to sign with an indie after such a bad experience with a major?

MP: Well, the major label thing just took so much time and energy. It just wasn't going to work, and it was a bad fit and it took everyone a long time to realize it. It was just six months of negotiating and trying to put out a record. We were just sitting around with our thumbs up our asses. With Vagrant, we were already working with them through management, and we said, fine, just give us the money... It just didn't pan out.

UP: Did you guys feel a lot of pressure, with factors like (Vagrant co-owner) John Cohen's parents mortgaging their house to fund the record...

MP: (Interrupting) I didn't know that at the time. I didn't know that until last year. I knew he borrowed money from his parents to make the record, but I didn't know his parents fucking mortgaged their house. If I would have known that I probably would have taken less money to record the album, knowing that was the case.

UP: Well it worked out. It seems like the band was in the right place to make that record, and it was a big step forward. One thing I always admired about The Get Up Kids was your willingness to mature and progress. That was the first record where you really worked with keys. There were some synths on Four Minute Mile, but you really stepped it up then. Did you get any backlash from the "punk" community?

MP: We may have, but we didn't really care. We got thrust into this scene on accident, because we were on Doghouse and we ended up playing with a lot of hardcore bands. You know, I didn't really get it at all. We just wanted to play pop music and jump around. We were listening to a lot of Weezer at the time, and we wanted more "synthy" stuff, but James (Dewees, also known as Reggie and the Full Effect, who made his recorded debut with The Get Up Kids on Something to Write Home About) is such a talented piano player, he just sort of upped the ante. We may have gotten backlash, but I wasn't really aware of it.

UP: When the band ended, and I'm sure it's always different for us on the outside, it seemed like things ended kind of acrimoniously, and you all moved on immediately to other projects. What was it like reconnecting, and starting up The Get Up Kids again? Had you all spoke much?

MP: We had all spoke, but not very often. There was still some tension left over. It wasn't until we all got together last year that things evened out. Hindsight is 20/20, and in retrospect, we didn't need to break up, we just needed a long break. We weren't really mature enough to know that we needed to do that. Coming back wasn't weird, once we were past the point of being uncomfortable, it was just like, back to normal. Like, you're my friend, you know? (Long pause) It was good normal.

UP: You mentioned earlier that you were kind of thrust into a scene you didn't have any particular attachment to. You guys got a lot of praise and abuse under the "emo" banner.

MP: Uh, huh.

UP: I can't speak for you guys, but when I listen listening to The Get Up Kids now I don't think of emo, it just seems like smart indie rock, like Sunny Day Real Estate, Jimmy Eat World, or The Promise Ring, and none of that registers with what that term means today.

MP: Well, it's just a marketing term. It doesn't have any real meaning, especially now. It's just describing kids that are on the radio now. But back then, I think the whole idea of it being a scene or a sound came about from other people. I mean, we knew a lot those guys in the early days, we were friends and toured with them, but it wasn't like Andy Warhol's Factory. We weren't trying to like, "Bring up the scene, man!" It was just, I don't know. I like pop music.

UP: When you released Eudora (a collection of B-sides and covers), it turned me on to stuff like David Bowie, New Order and The Cure. I've always been baffled that the emo term got so latched onto your music.

MP: You can't really stop it, you know? You just gotta roll with it. People will call you whatever they want to call you.

UP: What do you think of the bands that get labeled "emo" today, a lot of the bands that claim you as an influence?

MP: I don't really think of them. Uh, honestly, the only time it ever comes up is in interviews.

UP: Sorry.

MP: No, no, it's a very logical thing to ask. I don't really listen to that stuff, it's not really my scene. I don't listen to the radio often. From what I've gathered, we're a name to drop. These bands show their credibility be 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.

UP: I haven't got a copy of that, yet.

MP: He says "sarcastically" (laughs).

UP: You mentioned that you guys were into Weezer, what other sounds were influencing you guys as you worked on the album?

MP: I remember buying Wilco's Summerteeth and Jimmy Eat World's Clarity on the same day, and really listening to those a lot. I remember talking about how we wanted to guitars to sound like The Foo Fighters, "The Colour and the Shape," just the really big guitar sounds on that record. I just wanted it to be well produced and not rushed like Four Minute Mile.

UP: What are some artists you're interested in today?

MP: A lot of singer/songwriters. I like A.A. Bondy. I can never pronounce this name right but Bon Iver. I really liked that record a lot. As far as rock music, I like the new Phoenix record, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Manchester Orchestra, stuff like that.

UP: I imagine playing these old songs feels pretty great. I'm sure you're getting sick of people asking, but is there gonna be a new album?

MP: Um, there's new material. We've written and recorded 9 songs, and they are being mixed right now. We're not really approaching it in the traditional "we're gonna put out a new record and do the touring cycle" way. We're gonna more fun stuff, like good vinyl and limited edition releases. Cool shit, not just "here's the new CD." Everyone has so much going on it really works better for us that way.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.