Getting Down With Matt Pryor Of The Get Up Kids

Back in 2018, everyone witnessed the release of the Kicker E.P. (Polyvinyl), a four-song explosion left to whet the appetite of listeners; dare I say worldwide? Of course, and that’s because The Get Up Kids have toured incessantly throughout the years of its extended existence. I say that because The Get Up Kids is the band that one either loves or hates, but haters usually find solace in listening to their music in secret (That IS, in fact, a true story although, it’s a story for another time.) Fast forward one year later and the band is now set to drop its latest offering Problems (Polyvinyl), the new full-length release and first album in 8 years. It brings together so many different aspects of the band in all its glory. While the E.P. is a full-frontal assault with glorified punk anthems that are unrelenting at just about every turn, the new album shares some of the same assaults, yet there’s a diversity that far removes the band from being categorized as a one-trick pony.

It’s been some time since Matt Pryor sat down to record songs and write lyrics for The Get Up Kids, or even for the New Amsterdam for that matter, which originated as his solo project that morphed into a full-fledged band. That project ran concurrently alongside The Get Up Kids until the band first planned on calling it quits. But Matt isn’t the only one to stretch his wings outside of The Get Up Kids, although his work also includes the children’s project The Terrible Twos as well as a budding solo career already six albums deep. Keyboardist James Dewees shined on his own with Reggie and the Full Effect, releasing seven albums since 1999. While he’s had assistance from some of his Get Up Kids partners, Pryor and Rob Pope in particular, as well as an assortment of musicians, Dewees has remained the only constant member.

The band later reformed in 2008 but took its time to release 2011’s There Are Rules, the band’s first studio release since 2004’s Guilt Show. With the band’s new release, it’s obvious they’re no strangers to taking their time. But is Problems worth the wait? You’re damn right it is. The album is full of twists and turns throughout it. The band hasn’t lost its knack for putting melody in all the right places and while the melody is sometimes offset by melancholy, there’s a humorous side to the band as well which may allow the band to sit back and let everyone know not to take them so seriously.

I sat down with Matt Pryor, the band’s vocalist/guitarist, and spoke about the band’s focus and where they’re heading. When I tell him that it seems the band is back, and back with a vengeance, he pauses for a split second and offers, “You can use that phrase but, we’re not really revenging anything.” He laughs heartily as do I. “We haven’t been done a disservice necessarily.” Thinking back, it’s possible I chose my words incorrectly but it’s the moment here that feels right to say whatever it is we both want. Speaking about the E.P as well, musically, the band is sonically so explosive. I mention this to Matt, he thanks me and adds, “It’s supposed to come out swinging. That’s how we’ve been describing it. The title kind of goes along with that too which is sort of like fast, punk rock, pop rock vibe.”

The great thing about having music at your fingertips is you can do with it as you will. I actually went backward, beginning with Four Minute Mile and from that point on, anyone can hear the growth, the progression in the band’s music and style. Where the band is at now, I guess this is the pinnacle where they’ve matured throughout the years. I tell Matt what I’m thinking, not really posing any direct question. He simply says, “Thank you very much for saying that, I appreciate it very much. I especially like that this is what you heard first, and you went backward from it. That to me isn’t an intentional goal but something that I hoped would happen, whether it was with someone who has never heard of us before or someone who was a fan of the early stuff but didn’t dig the kind of weirder later stuff we did. I feel like this has a little bit of something for them too.” This is something the band has captured and no matter who listens to it, at this point, both young and um, the more matured individual are able to find solace within the music the band has recently shared. It took the band a while to get back though. “We decided to do an E.P. back in 2010 called Simple Science and then we self-released the album Their Rules in 2011. After that, scattered like cockroaches,” Matt laughs.

But the questions still lingered as to why after an extended hiatus…

“Well we never really pulled the plug on it,” he says, pausing only to add, “Our guitar player Jim (Suptic) went back to school, our drummer, Ryan Pope, moved to Paris with his wife because she was in school, our bass player, Rob Pope, and keyboardist James Dewees, were doing other touring bands and I was doing my own solo stuff. It was kind of like we kind of made the decision to maybe we’ll be just kind of a weekend warrior and play the occasional festival. We never really stopped but at that particular stage, it didn’t feel like it was a sustainable thing. To a certain degree, being a mid-level touring band is a lot like pounding your head against the wall. Touring is hard on your body and hard on your mental health. We had a nice break there but what we found was that it was hard to start the engine again once we had had that long of a break.”

It took us a good 2 and a half years of writing these songs, recording them, figuring out what we wanted to do with them, and hooking up with the label. We had been sitting on these songs for at least a year and we weren’t even sure what we wanted to do with them. Once we were coming to the decision that we were going to do an E.P. and then we were going to do an album, it all kind of all just fell into place. We put it out into the universe and let the universe take over from there.”

The band began recording the new album in September of 2018 and was able to take a few months off before its release. Logistically, band members aren’t close by one another, and only recording/touring would have the band together. Matt tells me that they are still scattered, “Physically.” In other respects they’re not. “Our bass player lives in Massachusetts and our keyboard player lives in Buffalo but I think that we’re creatively and emotionally kind of on the same page as far as this is what we want to do. But then we’re also, this is what we want to do, within reason. We all have families, wives and significant others. And we’re also grown-ass men. I don’t want to be sleeping on the floor of the van and I don’t want to be out for 6 weeks at a time. I’d miss my kids too much.”

There are no current plans to revitalize any other projects like the New Amsterdams which ran concurrently along The Get Up Kids for a time. “During our break, Jim and I started a fun punk rock band called Radar State,” Matt tells me, continuing, “We did a record we put out called Strays. The songs are really good. We can’t really tour, it was just a fun side project to do. But other than The Get Up Kids and being a dad, that’s all I’m doing right now.” Having a family is a lifestyle change and a balancing act that needs constant attention because it’s always shifting. It’s one of Matt’s priorities, in being a dad. As his kids are growing up, one has to wonder if they’ve become proponents of his band’s music or not. He tells me, “They enjoy it. We don’t really like to listen to my music around the house. We listen to what they want to listen to. My daughter is 16 and she’s gotten me into some bands that I may not have heard of.” This is the turning point where we find out what a young teenager listens to these days. I ask and Matt answers. “Diet Cig, The Spook School, Julien Baker…”

And that’s the point where I stop and fanboy for a moment with my own, “Julien Baker is really good,” and has me feeling, again, like a fanboy. “She was really cool,” he offers, “ And I got to take my daughter to meet her. My daughter was so shaky and Julien was really cool. I had never met her before, but we have mutual friends. She was great and hospitable.”

As we share our praises of other musicians, I do come to the realization that this is in fact, a Get Up Kids interview. I refer back to the band’s music. The band’s new album Problems, is a realization of the band’s sound as I mentioned previously. The Get Up Kids have been in the industry for many years now and as Matt jokes about the band’s intentions with the new album as “strategic world domination,” he may not be far off. But with so many years releasing music, there have been many changes and challenges. “Our first two records were on cassette. For me the biggest change, and the thing I’ve had to come to terms with is on the one hand you put out albums, it’s kind of like separating the art and commerce of it all. On the one hand you have the opportunity to make an album, to do something creative and artistic. In order to make any money off of that art, you kind of have to just give it away. You use that as a catalyst to then go on tour, sell merchandise, license songs or make money in other arenas. I think our generation of bands is probably the last generation, outside of like Ed Sheeran types, who used to make money off of album sales. We sell vinyl and people download it and that’s fine but I feel where most people are listening are through social media and Spotify. The first show of (last year’s) tour people were singing along to the EP and it had only been out for 6 days. I see that as a positive but you kind of have to retrain your brain when you’re in that dinosaur mode of thinking.”

For musicians, social media is impactful in many ways. Matt knows one must think of creative things to do to be part of the social media cycle because “On the one hand content is king. Content! Content! Content! But on the other hand, shitty content is still shitty content!” We laugh. His way of thinking, as many should follow suit, doing “less but good content.”

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