Pop-Punk Act Motion City Soundtrack Explores a Nautical Theme on New Album


Motion City Soundtrack will perform at the Pageant on Saturday, November 14. - PHOTO VIA EPITATH RECORDS
  • Photo via Epitath Records
  • Motion City Soundtrack will perform at the Pageant on Saturday, November 14.

Motion City Soundtrack started in Minneapolis, a city that has a long, strong music history. When it first formed, the band played the city’s smaller, underground clubs and partnered with acts such as Cadillac Blindside and Amp 176. Guitarist/singer Justin Pierre has described the band as “friends with bands who were way better than us and were doing really cool shit.” And that, rather than a connection to the Minneapolis sound, helped launch the group.

The guys frequented the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, a place that had “all ages” shows with national acts such as Jimmy Eat World and Ultimate Fakebook; they would record their first album with Ed Rose, who had done the Ultimate Fakebook records. 

Released in 2005, Commit This to Memory became the band’s highest-selling and most-streamed album to date. Earlier this year, Motion City Soundtrack played the Mark Hoppus-produced sophomore record in its entirety for a string of dates, as well as a selection of songs from its sixteen-year, five-album career. 

“The thing I liked about that tour is that the people who came to it knew what to expect,” says Pierre when reached by phone at his Minneapolis home. “If they liked the record, they would come to the show. Not that people have been like ‘fuck you’ and then left. But people were super positive, and they were very stoked. I would say most of the songs we have played over the years, but there were a handful we avoided for whatever reason. With each record that comes out, you have to avoid more and more songs. But looking back on all of our records, that one is the best flowing from start to finish. It was really nice to play it all the way through.” 

Upon that record's release, the band got airplay on MTV and Fuse. It was at the same time that other like-minded groups were becoming popular. 

“We never blew up, but we did get some attention after that album came out,” says Pierre. 

Motion City Soundtrack has been going strong for the decade that’s passed after its release, and two years ago, the guys started to write the songs for the just-released Panic Stations, which was recorded live in June of 2014 at Seedy Underbelly North (formerly known as Pachyderm Studios) in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth) produced the album. 

“We started fucking around and accumulated a mass of cool stuff,” says Pierre. “We were going to record in early 2014. We did preproduction with [producer] Mike Sapone, but it didn’t work out because we decided to keep writing and then he wasn’t available. Finally, we ended up recording in June of that year. That’s the way of our band. In all likelihood we’ll record a new album in a week and it won’t come out for two years.” 

Panic Stations was named after nautical structures that act as warning posts in the oceans. Many of the songs reference water and the ocean, and the idea of letting go and not being immobilized by your own thoughts. A track like the album opener “Anything At All” features the same mix of snarling guitars and swirling synths, suggesting the band’s pop-punk impulses.

“For some reason, I had water on the brain,” Pierre admits when asked about the album’s theme. “It wasn’t intentional. It was just there. I used to run away from anything that was too much of one thing but on this record I embraced it. I don’t want to use water-related words, but I want to say I went overboard with it. I chased after it. It’s about trying things and having fun.”

Pierre says the songs aren’t a reflection of anything that was happening in his personal life, though the track “It’s a Pleasure to Meet You” does stem from a time when he used to drive around aimlessly during the middle of the night. 

“The songs are about things I experienced during a different time,” he says. “It’s sort of a time-traveling album. It’s also about accepting that life is a constant struggle. As you get older, it gets easier to deal with problems. They’re still there. You still might not be great all the time, but the percentage of time you feel alright is a greater number as you get older and deal with these things. I don’t mean for that to sound depressing. If you can accept something like that at a younger age, you can skip over twenty years of thinking there’s a magical cure for everything.”

The band continues to use the Moog synthesizer to emphasize the pop dimensions of its tunes.

“We used a lot of Moog keyboards,” says Pierre. “The MG-1 only made an appearance in two or three songs. We also used a Bladerunner type of keyboard that’s buried in the outro of ‘I Can Feel You.’ I can’t remember the name of it, but it was so huge. We had a lot of keyboards on the album. A lot of it for me is wanting to sound like bands I like. It started with the Rentals and then turned into something else.”

And what’s been the key to the band’s longevity?

“I think we just have had a lot of hatred and utter disgust with one another,” laughs Pierre. “But I think we’ve had problems internally, and we overcame them instead of imploding. I don’t know how we did it, but we just decided to work through the issues instead of giving up. How we did it, I don’t know. Perseverance? We’re all stubborn people. That works to your advantage when you all want the same thing. Then, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to achieve that outcome.”

Motion City Soundtrack
6 p.m. Saturday, November 14. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $22.50. 314-726-6161.

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