Twenty years ago, so many things got called emo, or emo core, or second wave emo. Those are just words, and honestly they mean nothing when it comes to describing a band like Missouri's The Get Up Kids.
Since the mid '90s , these guys have been touring and releasing amazing records that ultimately defy any genre label. Multiple side projects, solo releases, and new projects have emerged from the band, and yet their legacy was always centered around their second release.
However, when the band announced they were dropping a new E.P.; the lead single "Maybe" proved that they were well beyond anything they'd done in the past, and that their future was just as bright as it was in 1998. The Houston Press talked with founding member Matt Pryor about the past, the present, and what fans of the band can expect from them when they perform in Houston on June 15.
It shouldn't be a shocker that a band like The Get Up Kids are still around and touring with new music more than 20 years from when they got their start. One of the best live bands from the "emo" era, these guys never disappointed in person or on record.
"Going back, the way we got started touring, Maximum Rock N' Roll magazine had made this book or manual called Book Your Own Life. So, if you wanted to play in Kansas City, you'd look up who booked shows there, and you'd call them up and say, "we're coming through on June 6, can we have a show?" We didn't have an agent for the first three years we were a band, so it was more like an adventure than a business," Pryor said.
"Nowadays, it's a different version of the same thing. I choose to be zen with the universe in how I see then versus today, as the music industry has always been somewhat corrupt. I don't wanna' get into the mindset of the old man who's telling kids to get off of my lawn. Seeing my kids playing music now, I think that the whole thing is still alive," says Pryor.
The band's first record, Four Minute Mile was done on a $4,000 budget by Bob Weston (Nirvana, Boys Life, Sebadoh). Their second release Something to Write Home About became the "emo" manual and launched them into the mainstream, even garnering fans like Dave Grohl. "We made the first record in two and a half days. Recorded and mixed in that time on pretty much no sleep, because that was a lot of money at the time," Pryor said. "The vocals aren't as good as I'd like, though the way those songs sound on our live album from '05 are closer to what I always wanted. The success all happened at a pace that felt comfortable. Things got better every time we played a city. When we signed to Vagrant, our music wasn't on the radio, we built everything off of word of mouth and hard work.
"When a band changes their sound, I think people take it personally. When songs mean so much to them, they have ownership of them, but where they were, not where they're going. So when you evolve they're upset. But it's not fun to be a nostalgia act, so we celebrate our past but we also do the new stuff. "
All of the members of the band have done other things than just The Get Up Kids. Rob Pope is now in Spoon, James Dewees has Reggie and The Full Effect, and Pryor has had a long running solo career as well as a solid band called The New Amsterdams, a favorite of many people that Pryor disbanded to focus on a solo career.
"I was doing that stuff solo anyway, and it was a business decision. I got to where I couldn't afford to take out a band on the road. That, and not being able to beat that last record, it was time to end it. It became a struggle between what I was doing for me and what I was doing for the fans. I think about this a lot, the balance between what's for me and what's for the fans." Pryor said."
After eight albums as The Get Up Kids, as well as his and Dewees' children's albums under The Terrible Twos, and seven solo records, Pryor said the industry hasn't really changed. "I see it this way, though I don't think everyone in the band sees it the same, that albums are promotional tools. It's art in that I get to make a record and you get to hear it. But it then gives me the excuse to travel and the tour is how I'll make a living."
After The Get Up Kids disbanded, they came back with a tour for the tenth anniversary of Something to Write Home About, as well as a new E.P. and the full length album There Are Rules. "We had gotten together after being broken up after three years, cause time heals all wounds. We thought, for the anniversary, 'let's do a show,'" Pryor said. "Then that became, 'let's do a tour.' At soundchecks, we'd start dicking around, and we just jammed stuff out. When the tour ended, we went to Black Lodge that Rob and Ryan own with Ed Rose who made our first record. The E.P. turned out well so we just kept going. I've found myself at one point saying, "the record is too weird." But going back now, I realize that it isn't weird at all."
The new album Kicker is just four songs long. Tracks like "Maybe" and "Better This Way" remind you of the past while sounding like they weren't ripping themselves off. Asked what made the band choose to release with Polyvinyl over another self-release, Pryor admitted, "We learned real fast with the last album that we aren't a good label. Our manager asked us what we wanted to do, and we decided that we needed a partner, so we said "well ask Polyvinyl," and we listed other labels. But they were the first we asked and they said yes.
"The title, Kicker, is what Germans call foosball," Pryor added. "When we first toured Europe, we got really into foosball, and Rob and Ryan have both gotten really competitive at it. They have their own table at the studio and everything."
The band is embarking on an ambitious string of 23 dates in support of Kicker. "It's two weeks on and two weeks off with five or six together. It's a cakewalk compared to how we used to tour," Pryor said. "For these dates we're breaking out stuff we haven't played in a while. We try to be realistic about what we know people wanna' hear. We saw Jawbreaker and we were like 'really, they didn't play Chesterfield King?' So it'll be the ten songs that everyone wants to hear as well as two off of There Are Rules, two or three off of the E.P. The flow of things with Jim singing a lot more, bringing an acoustic for those songs. It's definitely like we're playing a mix of the songs they already know and some we think they'll really love."
You can order Kicker from the band or from Polyvinyl, or stream it everywhere when it's released today June 8. You can catch the energy of The Get Up Kids when they perform live and in person at White Oak Music Hall on Friday June 15. The all ages show will have an opening set from The Casket Lottery. Doors at 8 p.m.; tickets $19.99.