Reeling in the Years

A decade after the crackerjack 'Commit This to Memory', Motion City Soundtrack revisits its sophomore record

click to enlarge Motion City Soundtrack’s breakthrough Commit This to Memory marked a pivotal time in Justin Pierre’s (center) life
Motion City Soundtrack’s breakthrough Commit This to Memory marked a pivotal time in Justin Pierre’s (center) life

I

f you want to get an inkling of just how long ago 2005 was, point your friendly neighborhood browser to the “Interviews” page at motioncitymemories.com. That portion of the fan site chronicling the plucky, long-running Minneapolis Pop Punk outfit Motion City Soundtrack houses direct links to Q-and-As with the group conducted by assorted zines and small to mid-size outlets, cataloging the conversations by year.

Of the 21 items from 2005, the vast majority lead to dead ends, like non-existent sites, expired GoDaddy domains and revamped sites that don’t house the original content or have placed the interviews elsewhere. The same thing happens when trying to catch up on interviews conducted in the years before that.

It’s a short but telling story that isn’t so much a criticism of Motion City as it is a reflection on contemporary culture — lives have been lived, fans have moved on from onetime passions (or at least not kept up their sites) and certain scenes don’t stimulate the zeitgeist as they once did. The year 2005 was — apologies if this sounds dense — 10 years ago, especially for young people of that time.

While Motion City’s origins date back to the late 1990s, 2005 was important one for the band, with the release of Commit This to Memory — its second album — on June 7. To commemorate its tin anniversary, the five-piece is heading out on a special two-month (and, in time, likely extended) tour across the country, performing Commit from start to finish with a follow-up set featuring material from other sources. The band is also marking the occasion with a tie-in contest. Armed with the hashtag #CTTM10, with free tickets and VIP passes to be won every Thursday until the tour is over, the group is encouraging fans to post captioned photos on their Instagram accounts reflecting on where — and who — they were a decade ago. One winner posted a photograph of her working on Lego robots; another got wistful about hockey and an old flame.

“It’s just neat — if I can use that word — to see how people have grown up and changed, or how that record in particular or our music as a whole has had an effect on them, whether or not they’ve grown up with us or weaved in and out here and there,” Motion City vocalist/guitarist Justin Pierre says.

Pierre is equally game to look back on his own status circa 2004/2005, too, even if its circumstances weren’t the most pleasant.

“It was a weird time in my life where I was trying to sober up [and] put my life together. It was the first time that I had ever actually taken a real in-depth look [at myself]. Half of [Commit This to Memory] was written, and then I was supposed to go to L.A. to write some more and I ended up going early and staying in the guest room of our label owner Brett Gurewitz,” Pierre, 38, says, referring to the head of Epitaph Records.

Aside from providing him a spot to work on Commit This to Memory’s lyrics, Gurewitz helped him get clean, even if the rehab didn’t entirely take. (In his conversation with CityBeat, he mentions being five years sober now.)

“It was just a really interesting way to put together a record,” Pierre says, “especially when your lead singer suddenly disappears and has to go to L.A. and clean up his act.”

That detail aside, there isn’t a profound arc (or at least any spoken of) sketched out for Commit. In this album’s case, context isn’t really what makes it special; it’s the music. Following up I Am the Movie, Motion City Soundtrack’s 2002 debut, Commit is a rich, smart record that really hasn’t shown its age. Standing in contrast to the ultra-earnest and stoic sensibilities of so many of its Warped Tour-playing Pop Punk peers, Motion City displayed a charming self-awareness and wit. Even with all the dire thematic matter Pierre’s lyrics covered — drinking, drugs, anger, self-loathing, social anxiety — the band framed the words with music that sparkled, owing to spunky, inspired hooks, full-sounding record production and ample doses of Moog, a deliciously distinct synthesizer.

Pierre’s also been blessed with two complementary talents. He has a big, airy voice that’s charismatic enough to fit the music, and he has a hell of a knack for writing lyrics that sketch snappy observations and memorable vignettes. “L.G. Fuad (Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die)” — a song obsessed with the (figurative) subject — speaks of “riding hard on the last lines of every lie/And the BMX bike of my life is about to explode.” Commit absolutely bleeds charm.

In the decade since Commit This to Memory first landed, Motion City has seen more ups and downs — the band signed to major label Columbia, then left the label (reportedly due to poor album sales), lost a member, gained a member and returned to working with Gurewitz — but by sticking together and constantly performing material from Commit, the group hasn’t come close to leaving it behind. This makes it tricky to discuss time with Pierre.

“That was both an incredibly special moment in time for me as a person growing, but it was also not any different than any other record in terms of every few years we would get together and write something and then make it and get apart,” the frontman says, calling his old self a “grade-A fuckup.” “Most of us lived in different cities, so we would only get together when we were touring or writing or recording. It both felt like a lifetime ago and it didn’t, because we were just doing our thing and then suddenly, you turn around and it’s, like, 10 years ago.”

Still, befitting of someone who writes the lyrics he does, he also throws in a quote from the 1995 Noah Baumbach movie Kicking and Screaming: “I’m nostalgic for conversations I had yesterday.” ©


MOTION CITY SOUNDTRACK plays Bogart’s Wednesday, Jan. 21, with Hawthorne Heights and Team Spirit. More: bogarts.com.


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