Music News

Interview: Motion City Soundtrack

Although the band originally about ten years ago in Minneapolis, Minnesota, things really started picking up for Motion City Soundtrack within the last few years. A booster: a big helping hand from Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, who fell for the band’s high-powered, punk-inflected, Superchunk-y rock. Hoppus later produced the band’s second album for Epitaph Records, Commit this To Memory.

Another leg up: The band’s signature viral music videos, like this one for “Broken Heart,” from 2003’s I am the Movie.

The band’s third album, Even If It Kills Me, dropped on Epitaph last month, and MCS is currently on a major national tour with Anberlin and mae. (They play tonight at Revolution.)

I caught up with guitarist and founding member Joshua Cain yesterday by phone, with the warning that there was a rush due to technical issues. After the jump, the interview. -- Arielle Castillo

Motion City Soundtrack performs with Anberlin, mae, and Metro Station Tuesday, October 30 at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale. The show starts at 5:30 p.m., and tickets are $19. Visit

How are you? Having a hectic day?

Well it’s always a hectic day. But today we have a limit for sound; we can’t make any noise until 5:00 p.m. and it just turned 5:00 p.m.

Where are you right now?

We’re in St. Petersburg right now.

Is there a city noise ordinance or something?

Yeah, it’s because the show’s outside, and there’s five businesses out around there.

So this tour’s been going on since September, October?

October more. In September we were in the UK.

But you did that Myspace secret show in New York in September. What was it like playing at a venue like Knitting Factory, which seems kind of small for you guys at this point?

Yeah, it was fun. It was definitely different compared to this tour, now that we’re doing Roseland [Ballroom]. The whole point was to do something interesting on that release day.

What was the turn out like? Was it crazy?

It was sold out, it was full. The way that Myspace does those shows, it’s not officially announced until that day, but I definitely saw a long line.

So you’re on the road constantly. When and where did you write most of Even If it Kills Me?

Well, we tried to write some on the Warped Tour the year before; we wrote a couple. Then right after we were touring we wrote some more. Then we went on tour with the [All-American] Rejects, then took the holidays off, and we got back together in New York in January and wrote the rest.

Where in New York?

It was in Manhattan, this small little rental rehearsal space.

So are you the kind of band that has almost everything done by preproduction?

We like to be. This time around, Justin [Pierre, guitarsvocals], had a lot of lyrics that weren’t quite finished this time, going into preproduction. But the last record, Commit this to Memory, was mostly done before preproduction. But this time there were a couple songs that were straggling.

Why do you think that is?

Well, Justin was in a different head space this time around. Before he was really angry and mad, and he was drunk, and when you’re drunk I guess a lot of it [writing] just happens [laughs]. But I guess when you’re drunk you’re also your own worst critic. So this [album] was written more deliberately, and he wasn’t drunk.

Does he usually just write his lyrics at the end of the songwriting process, then?

Sometimes it’s a full package done all at once; sometimes he writes a little bit. But usually with songs like “Last Night” [from Even If It Kills Me], I’ll have an idea at home, I’ll come down to practice, I’ll play it, and everyone spontaneously plays stuff. It that happens, it’s a good song. Those are usually our best songs.

How did you get Ric Ocasek for the new album?

Well it’s kind of weird, because we had reached out to him and a few other producers and he never got back to us. But Adam Schlesinger and Eli Janny got back to us and we like those people a lot.

And then Brett Gurewitz at Epitaph called Ric Ocasek’s manager and told him, “Look, you’re missing the boat here.” So finally we got a call from Rick, and and I guess he doesn’t listen to bands while he’s working on another project, so that’s why he hadn’t gotten back to us. So then we basically split the record up [among the producers].

How did you decide which producer got what song?

Well, Rick being the person he is, he got to choose his songs. Then we had the whole other batch for the other two guys.

What is he like to work with?

He’s very … weird [laughs]. I dunno. It was a great experience -- very weird though. I think it was very much what it was like to make a record in the past, like what I expected as a kid.

What do you mean?

Well, we’ve made a lot of records with our peers and fun people, and Rick was more of like the producer type. Not necessarily in what he did, but more in what he didn’t do. He was more just there for an overview feel and reinforcement. Most of the time he liked what we had already done.

Well, what’s something he didn’t do?

Some producers – like, Adam Schlesinger is insane as far as preproduction. He’s all about it, wants to go in, dig into the songs, change things around. Rick Ocasek didn’t do preproduction. He just said, “Oh, I like the demos.” And then he didn’t do the preproduction really. We just kind of went into the studios and did the songs.

What abour Eli Janney?

Well Eli and Adam would work together. I just think Adam is this guy who is 100% preproduction. It’s his world, everything he wants to do. Him and Eli have gotten together beforehand and worked out all that stuff. I think they both did a great job. I just think Adam, as it goes, is a really songwritng process guy where he’s gonna dig in the songs.

Whose idea was it to do the making-of series for the web?

That was mine. I just thought it would be a cool idea. But it got all fucked up.

How so?

It was supposed to be a weekly thing throughout the recording process and stuff leading up to the release of the record. But then the record got pushed back, and then it got weird.

When was it supposed to come out originally?

It was supposed to come out in July, I think. So we started the web thing and then we didn’t have enough footage to keep it going for the extra months. We had planned it all out to be like 10, 12 episodes. I think next time around I will probably do it again, but I think we’ll get it very, very plotted and planned out. My younger brother actually did all the editing and the filming. But once we left New York it was hard to get any additional footage.

So where are you guys based now on your down time?

Well, only two of us live in the same state. Me and Justin live in Minneapolis, and that’s where the band is based because that’s where it started. But Matt [Taylor, bass] lives in Richmond, Virgina; Jesse Johnson [Moog] lives in Brooklyn, New York; and Tony lives in L.A..

So it’s a matter of flying and meeting up somewhere when you’re ready to start working on something.

Honestly we’re usually around each other, because we’re always working. We only have like a month off, two months tops. Because when we’re making the record we’re not off, that’s three months right there. The longest I’ve ever had off in the last six years of my life was six weeks right before this record came out. And once the record came out things started rolling again.

You guys really first broke through because of your videos. What’s in the works for this album?

Well the first video we did, “Broken Heart,” we came up with the idea for it, and my younger brother Jeff did all the directing. We were originally all gonna be in it, but Justin was in rehab, so we couldn’t.

So then we did the video for “This is For Real,” which was a more real, MTV-style video.

But this next video we’re about to do is for “It Had to Be you.” The first version that’s going to happen – I’m not sure what the second version is going to be -- is actually a contest that MTVu is running right now for student filmmakers. Today I have to decide on one of the 14 treatments I’ve received.

Have you narrowed it down at all?

It isnt narrowed down at all, that’s the problem! We’re supposed to have a decision on this by tomorrow [Wednesday]. I like them all … but there are some kids that have great brains and tons of great humor, but their treatments aren’t really coming through.

Beyond that, what are your plans for the near future?

This tour goes all the way to December 17, and then right after that in February we’re doing Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, Australia.

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo