By Emily Eveland
By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
By CP Staff
By Zach McCormick
By Jack Spencer
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By Rob van Alstyne
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Motion City Soundtrack singer Justin Pierre is both charismatic and long-winded — which translates into brilliant storytelling, both in narrative and in song.
The Minneapolis pop-punk band just filmed the music video for their new single "True Romance," in which they had to learn to play and sing backward. The song originates from their fifth studio release, Go, which involves a fair amount of Pierre thinking backward about his life and comes out June 12.
"I can't give anything away, but it involves us cutting off the roof of a Town Car and driving through the streets of Philly," he says. "I hope this ends up on the list of second-best backwards music videos. I like to keep people's expectations low, then they're like, 'Oh, this isn't so bad.' That's my theory anyways."
MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK play River's Edge Festival on Saturday, June 23, at Harriet Island, St. Paul; 800.745.3000
Expectations were anything but low for this new album, though. Motion City Soundtrack's previous album, My Dinosaur Life, was released to near-universal acclaim in 2010 via Columbia Records. In spite of their widespread success in the larger U.S. punk community, it's often said that Motion City was the band that had to leave the Cities and hit the road to make it.
"I have known [guitarist] Josh Cain for 20 years, and we had a lot of friends around here who always helped us out by putting us on their bill," Pierre says. "We were really sloppy and weird, and I don't think people liked us. We basically were forced to tour. I don't feel underappreciated, but you always want to be liked in your hometown."
Duluth bluegrass revisionists Trampled by Turtles proved to be an ally, and the bands covered each other's hit singles — TBT did "Disappear" and MCS remade "Wait So Long" — for a split EP last year. Pierre and co. also spent early last year in Minneapolis with producer Ed Ackerson to flesh out Go. After parting ways with Columbia Records, the band decided to enter the studio with plenty of ideas, but no real goal to have an end game in sight.
"We didn't even send a demo to our management," Pierre admits. "The pieces were written, and we approached Ed with them — on some songs, we had one guitar line, on others, we had fully fleshed-out songs. The five of us would pick and choose from whatever piece we felt like working on, and we worked on it until it sucked or until it was good, and then we would move on to the next one. If we got tired of something, we'd come back to it. It almost felt like the first time we ever wrote a record."
Following the lead of several musician friends, MCS initially looked into distributing and packaging Go independently via their own label, the Boombox Generation. "One in particular was OK Go, and we said, 'If they're doing it, we can figure it out,'" Pierre says. Around that time, a couple of labels showed interest, including their old label home between 2003 and 2008, Epitaph. "We had spent so much time with Epitaph. They are really family, so it just made so much sense to partner up with them again."
This time around, a new sense of maturity and introspection played out in the music. Pierre attributes the tone to his increasing age. "For a while I was focused on what was right in front of me, and I was scared," he says. "There's an awesome line in Annie Hall where they compare a relationship to being a shark. I see life as being a shark. You have to keep moving — otherwise you die. Every day is shark week [laughs]."
On "Happy Anniversary," the 10th track on Go, Pierre remembers the passing of his grandmother, who was slowly dying of cancer. Based on a premonition, he decided to skip school, leave everything, and hop on a plane to California. "She was a shell of the woman she once was and couldn't communicate her ideas," he recalls. "I sat and spoke to her, but it was strange and weird. I stayed with her a few hours, then went to bed. The next morning, my cousin told me she had died that night. It was completely strange and eerie. Had I not got on that plane to see her, I never would have been able to experience this sad and beautiful thing."
"Floating Down the River" is Pierre putting his experiences into perspective, and wishing he had known how to do so 20 years ago. "My dad said something to me when I was a six-year-old, learning how to ride a bike. He said, 'J, life goes by like that [snaps his fingers], and it speeds up exponentially.' I had no idea what the hell the man was talking about then, but I've noticed it as I get older and older.... Death finds you in the end. If anything, it makes me want to live even more. I spent a portion of my life drinking, using drugs, and checking out — just scared of living. I have even more to make up for now; I try to keep that in mind."