How was Motion City Soundtrack born?
One day, Josh Cain (current Motion City Soundtrack guitarist) sought me out and asked me to be in a band called Saddest Girl Story. I filled in as the guitarist and singer. Over time, Josh and I evolved into our own band, Motion City Soundtrack, and played as many gigs as we could, opening for all of our friends’ bands. In 1999 we tried our first tour—we would quit our jobs, go on tour for a week or two, find new jobs, rinse and repeat. It was a vicious cycle with a very narrow window for success. When a windfall of $1,000 appeared one day in 2002, Josh and I recruited Tony Paxton to play drums.
When did you start taking music seriously?
I used to bust the diamond needles on my dad’s record player from my excessive usage, spinning rock-and-roll records from the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Doors. Then, for my birthday one year, he bought me a couple of cassette tapes: one was Night Ranger’s Greatest Hits, the other Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys’ record was a real turning point for me in a personal way. Throughout my childhood, I went through years of speech therapy to work through a stuttering problem. I remember my speech therapist recounting this story of a well-known country singer who overcame his stutter by “singing” through it. She suggested I follow his lead. I wasn’t one of those kids who did their homework, but this time was an exception—I was determined to take this advice home and give it my best. In a matter of weeks—days, maybe—I memorized every song from Licensed to Ill and experienced a real breakthrough, rattling off the words without missing a beat.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received during your career?
It’s not something someone’s said, but it’s what I’ve come to learn: Don’t take yourself too seriously, but take what you do seriously. My songs are all tongue-in-cheek, and I can’t fake being “cool,” so I sing songs about having asthma or rearranging the food in my kitchen so all the labels face the right way. It’s not very exciting, but hearing the phrase “write what you know” was a revelation for me. When I realized our lyrics were resonating with people, whether it was about the day-to-day minutiae or real life problems, it moved me to keep writing about personal experiences.
Thinking back to when you first started the band in 1997, does it feel like a different band that made those early records?
The music was interesting and it had potential, but it was poorly executed because we were so broke. A lot of those songs were written before we had rotating drummers and keyboardists, so our second record basically served as our first record that we collectively wrote from scratch.
Ten years ago, I wrote a song based on how I imagined myself from my dad’s point of view, called “Time Turned Fragile.” Now, when I sing that song through the lens of being a father, it’s a totally different experience. When I touch the material from our early years, I’m able to tap into my feelings better than I did before. The beginning of my career was riddled with alcoholism. For so long, I thought something was wrong with me, but I’ve come to realize that I’m a perfectly acceptable imperfect person.
After 15 years, Motion City Soundtrack is bidding farewell. How do you feel about that?
I can’t speak for everyone, but we’re all in agreement at the end of the day. We’ve been touring machines for the better part of our career, and now that many of us have growing families, we’re ready for what the future holds. I was convinced I had a heart of stone up until our last tour, when I left my wife and child at home and missed them more than ever.
We’ve been able to stay a band for all these years without dwindling into oblivion, so while the going is still good, we thought now is the time for one last hurrah.