Though previously known for their punk sound, the Get Up Kids—Matt Pryor, lead vocals/guitar; Jim Suptic, vocals/guitar; Rob Pope, bass; Ryan Pope, drums; and James DeWees, keyboards— surprised everyone last May with the release of On a Wire, an album full of lush melodies, acoustic guitars, gentle piano, and a variety of influences.
When Kansas City’s the Get Up Kids played Mississippi Nights January 18, they did so to a very young, very enthusiastic sold-out crowd. Their set was heavily peppered with songs from their monumental 2002 Vagrant release, On a Wire, and also included healthy servings from their emo/punk-tinged prior releases, including 1999’s Something to Write Home About.
Though previously known for their punk sound, the Get Up Kids—Matt Pryor, lead vocals/guitar; Jim Suptic, vocals/guitar; Rob Pope, bass; Ryan Pope, drums; and James DeWees, keyboards— surprised everyone last May with the release of On a Wire, an album full of lush melodies, acoustic guitars, gentle piano, and a variety of influences. They were tired of writing four-chord songs, it seemed; they wanted to see what else they were capable of. For this album, they hired a producer, the legendary Scott Litt (R.E.M., Indigo Girls), which further evolved their sound. And all five had a hand in the songwriting, unlike previous efforts, behind which Pryor was largely the driving force.
But before you get too comfortable with TGUK’s new sound—as I, I’ll confess, already have—wait until you read what keyboardist James DeWees has to say. I spoke with DeWees backstage after the show.
Are you still in two other bands?
I’m in one other band at the moment. Coalesce broke up two weeks ago, which I heard about on the Internet. Kansas City’s weird; all the kids in the [indie] scene play with each other in different bands. It’s cool, because we all know each other so well, and we’re always at each other’s shows and stuff.
How’s the climate in KC in terms of music in general? Do the clubs work with the bands at all?
They did when I was a teenager. There were bands like Season to Risk and Molly McGuire and Shiner when I was a kid in Kansas City, and I would go down and watch them play in record stores. There was a lot of support for them then. After like three years of that, it died, and that’s when Coalesce and Get Up Kids started. There was no scene at all, no place for us to play. They’ve started to get a lot of shows now, but it’s taken them years.
You have quite a youthful audience.
Those kids are great. They’re really, really supportive, and they get into it and have a good time. It was weird at first, knowing that, as I’ve gotten older, the fans have stayed the same age. It’s kind of like that line in Dazed and Confused, when Matt Wiggins is like, “The cool thing about high school chicks is as I get older, they stay the same age.”
How many months in 2002 were you guys on the road?
We didn’t tour like we used to, but I guess because we space it out, it still feels like we’re gone a lot. Like ask my wife, and she’ll tell you that I’m gone all the time. But we used to be gone 280 days a year, and now it’s maybe six or seven months, but not consecutively. Matt and his wife had a baby, so we try to keep everything kind of close to home. He wants to be there for his daughter, which is understandable. And four of us are married now. It’s all right; it’s not like it’s a hard job to do.
I read originally that you guys had expected a year and a half gap between On a Wire and the new album [which would put the next one out in November]. Are you still on schedule?
Yeah, it’s going to be about a year and a half. We’re recording April, May, and June, and it’ll probably be out like September, October, or November. It depends on the label [Vagrant], because they’re doing the new Dashboard [Confessional], the new Saves the Day, the new Alkaline [Trio], the new Reggie and the Full Effect album comes out—yeah, that’s me. That’s actually the first one to come out on the list. I got lucky; I beat ’em all. So I get all the attention.
Are you on keyboards with them, too?
I sing, play guitar, keyboards, drum, bass for that band. I’m Reggie. Not live, but when I’m recording, I am. But this is a Get Up Kids interview; we’ll do Reggie later.
What can you tell us about the new album?
It’s not On a Wire. It’s more back to what we were doing. We just wanted to do a record that was different, to prove to ourselves that we weren’t just this “emo” band, in quotes. We’re more than that; we’re not just like four chords. We’ve been around for so long that “emo” is this corporate buzzword, and to us it’s like a dis. In Coalesce, we would use the word “emo” to make fun of those kids. It’s not a bad thing, but God—Air Supply’s an emo band. Freakin’ Neil Diamond’s like the king of emo. It’s kind of like alternative after it broke. The whole point of alternative is that it was what wasn’t the norm.
How did the experience of writing as a band change the band?
That’s a good question; nobody ever asked me anything like that. It took Something to Write Home About and turned it into On a Wire. They already had the songs written [for Something to Write Home About]; I just learned the accessory parts—like, piano would sound cool here, keyboard would sound cool there.
With On a Wire, it would be all five of us, sitting in Robby’s basement for like four hours a day, five days a week. “Use this idea; that idea sucks.” “OK, how about this one?” “OK, that idea’s cool; we’ll work with that idea.” We worked for a long time.