Monday, March 9, 2009
Rock and roll break-ups are often tumultuous, emotionally charged affairs.
And so it was for The Get Up Kids, probably the best-known band to come out of Lawrence in the last decade.
But time heals all wounds, and gone are any traces of the exhaustion and distemper that characterized the band’s vehement dissolution nearly four years ago.
After the breakup, frontman Matt Pryor has been splitting his time between The New Amsterdams and his kid-friendly combo, The Terrible Twos—not to mention with his growing family. Bassist Rob Pope is now a full-time member of Spoon. Reggie and the Full Effect—the raucous alter ego of keyboardist James Dewees—kept Dewees in New York City until a few months ago. Guitarist Jim Suptic formed the well-received but short-lived Blackpool Lights, and is family man working at Home Depot. Drummer Ryan Pope has devoted much of his attention to running businesses that he co-owns—Black Lodge Recording and the Bourgeois Pig.
These days, The Get Up Kids are all in Lawrence. Maybe that had something to do with the surprise reunion gig in November. In any case, that spark led to offers to perform elsewhere.
Tom King interviews The Get Up Kids about their breakup, reunion, and upcoming shows.
After their March 13th show at Liberty Hall, the Kids will head to Alaska, Los Angeles, Belgium, New York, and beyond—all in conjunction with the release of their 10th anniversary edition of “Something To Write Home About.” The commemorative disc features a DVD and photo book.
On an anomalous warm and sunny February day, in Matt Pryor’s tidy bungalow on Lawrence’s east side, the band gathers for a leisurely lunch, bantering like grown-up brothers at a family gathering, dishing out fond reminiscence and good natured needling in equal measure. We were there, too, and took these notes.
- Friday, March 13, 2009, 8 p.m.
- Liberty Hall Cinema, 644 Massachussets Street, Lawrence
- All ages / $20
No-fi highlights from the podcast
lawrence.com: Lawrence is a rowdy college party town.
Suptic: Manhattan is definitely a crazier party town than Lawrence. After a K-State football game, there’s 12-year-old kids in the street drinking. That’s all there is to do there.
[Pryor brings a heaping platter of sandwiches to the table.]
Suptic: What are those?
Pryor: These are sammies.
Suptic: Is that Wheatfield’s bread?
Pryor: Yup, baguette. These are goat cheese, portobello mushrooms and arugula.
This is the way to do an interview.
Suptic: Don’t mind if I do.
”Jim Suptic is best known for being the guitarist and sometime lead singer for the Kansas City emo band...”
Suptic: That’s from a Wikipedia page? That’s kind of weird. ... I wonder who put that up there?
Pryor: It’s probably your mom.
Here it says: “After the Get Up Kids broke up in the summer of 2005, Blackpool Lights drew his full focus. ...The band was named Spin magazine’s Artist of the Day...”
Pryor: [laughs] Artist of the Day?
Suptic: Well, smell me!
”Blackpool Lights were also chosen by Major League Soccer to write and perform the official theme song for the Kansas City Wizards, entitled “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Stop Us Now.”
Suptic: I did. Yeah, I did.
Pryor: You did?
Suptic: Don’t you know that song? It’s hilarious.
[Ryan Pope, James Dewees and Rob Pope enter. Pryor sets a platter of salad on the table, everyone sits.]
Suptic: Artist of the Day. That’s the most useless, random honor ever. That’s my claim to fame: “You know, we were Spin.com’s Artist of the Day.”
Based on repeated phrases, I think the same person is writing all your Wiki pages.
Ryan Pope: It’s that kid Dusty.
Dewees: Dusty? The same Dusty, Superfan?
Ryan Pope: That’s him.
Rob Pope: The kid who used to let me in the movies, remember?
Dewees: Yeah. The kid who faked being in a wheelchair so he could get in the front row of the Get Up Kids show that one day.
Pryor: I don’t know that story.
Dewees: This was at the Granada. His girlfriend came up to me and said: “Dusty fell and cracked his ribs, and he’s in a wheelchair. Can you make sure he gets onstage or around there?”
Pryor: So you don’t know for sure he was faking it...
Dewees: He was standing up! He showed up at five o’clock at the Granada to be sure he got a good seat. Five o’clock! Then, in the show, he was standing up in front of the stage. And he stopped Rob at “Lord of the Rings” and asked for an autograph in the middle of the movie.
How often does that happen?
Rob Pope: Not that often. Not that often in Lawrence.
More facts from Wiki: “Graduated from Liberty High School in Liberty, Missouri, in 1994.”
Dewees: You know it.
”Has a degree in music composition from the University of Missouri.”
Dewees: That’s not true. I got kicked out of MU for going on tour with Coalesce.
Suptic: Ha! You got kicked out of music school for trying to be a professional musician.
Dewees: My composition instructor was also the chair of the music department. I’d been going back and forth from Columbia to Kansas City to work with Coalesce. So I’d miss a day here and there. In the Music Department at MU, you could only miss three days without losing a letter grade. I was up to my limit when Coalesce had an offer to play CMJ in New York. It was a big deal for us, so we went up. When I got back, all my other teachers were cool and excited, except for my music instructor. He said, “This is not music. If you want to be in this program, you need to be dedicated. Choose one or the other.” So I left.
Have you gone back to talk to him?
Dewees: We played a show in Columbia and I yelled about him onstage.
Pryor: Was that the same place you got drunk and were yelling at the hotel?
Dewees: No, no, no! That was when I was doing merch for The Get Up Kids.
More from Wiki: "In 1997, Coalesce played a festival in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania [groans and laughter], with fellow Kansas Citians the Get Up Kids who had just released their first album, 'Four Minute Mile'. At the end of Coalesce's set, they began smashing all of their equipment."
Dewees: It was like the sixth song in. It was kind of planned because we were playing a day where the lineup was The Get Up Kids, Hot Water Music—and there was Coalesce in the middle of all these bands that weren't hardcore. We weren't too stoked about it.
Pryor: What are you saying?
Dewees: I just remember that Jess said that we were going to break stuff when we got to that part. I don't know what made me do it but I picked up a floor tom and just threw it as hard as I could. It made it all the way back to the merch tables. It hit a girl in the head who was looking at merchandise. Her boyfriend thought it was awesome. I went and found her—she had an ice-bag on her head—and I was like "I'm so sorry. I didn't throw it at you."
Pryor: Didn't you get a bunch of other bands' merch to give to her?
Dewees: Yeah. And I offered to go to the hospital with her to take care of any medical business.
Rob Pope: The story is that you killed someone.
Dewees: No! The promoter came up to me and said, "I'm gonna have you arrested for assault," and I said, "I didn't hit you with anything."
Pryor: I remember that was one of the first times I had really hung out with you. We were outside smoking afterwards and the promoter came up and was yelling at you and you went, "What? Haven't you ever seen us play?"
Dewees: And he said, "This is the last time blah blah blah," and I said "I'm sure it is." We had people returning the CD—I felt really bad.
Suptic: Do you remember when the punk rock scene was that pretentious, where people would return the CD over something like that?
Pryor: I'm sure it still is.
Dewees: I don't know how you'd return iTunes.
The Get Up Kids disbanded—vehemently. You reunited. Tell the story.
Pryor: That’s about it. You got it right there.
Rob Pope: I think it all goes back to a missing accountant.
Pryor: It does. That’s actually why we all got together that day. We entrusted all of our money to somebody—all of our money, all our millions and millions and millions of dollars...
Ryan Pope: Make sure you write that.
Everybody thinks you’re rich.
Ryan Pope: It’s hilarious [laughter].
Suptic: I’ll tell that to the boys down at Home Depot [more laughter].
Pryor: We basically had a $1000 royalty check sitting at Vagrant that we couldn’t cash because we didn’t have a bank account. The company had gone into default because we had this bookkeeper who I think is at the bottom of a lake somewhere—she just completely disappeared.
Dewees: Not only that, her whole company dropped off the face of the earth.
Pryor: Right. So when Spoon played Liberty Hall last April, the four of us got together—James was in New York—to open a bank account. We just started hanging out and had a really good time.
The Get Up Kids company was in default, you mean? Were you incorporated?
Ryan Pope: Oh, yeah. We were lots of things—mainly delinquent.
Pryor: Everything came to a screeching halt back then.
Rob Pope: But then we thought, “Now that we have this bank account, maybe we ought to do something with it.”
Dewees: Fill it with money! [laughter]
Had there been a lot of calls for a Get Up Kids reunion?
Suptic: I think we were getting some offers from festivals.
Ryan Pope: We put out an exploratory committee, to see if anyone was interested in seeing us play.
Rob Pope: We put the feelers out, without telling people that we were actually planning on doing anything, to see if it would generate enough interest.
Are you writing new material?
Suptic: I’ve got tons of songs.
So this will be a retrospective?
Rob Pope: So far, yes.
Pryor: We’re having a hard enough time remembering our old songs without trying to think up new ones.
Suptic: Some songs are easy because we’ve played them so many times. Some of the newer songs, like “Guilt Show,” we just haven’t played enough live. For one song, “Valentine,” I had to go Ultimate Guitar Tab to find out what some kid figured out from what I was playing. So I’m probably not playing what I played on the record—I’m playing some kid’s interpretation of what I was playing.
Dewees: That’s awesome.
Are you doing straight renditions or allowing variation?
Pryor: “Ish.” They’re in the spirit.
Ryan Pope: Straighter than before, probably. We used to mess around a lot more, I think.
Pryor: We’re like the world’s greatest Get Up Kids cover band. We’re just going back and re-learning a bunch of old shit that we knew how to play.
Suptic: It was funny at the first practice. Immediately people were being mean to each other and being smart-asses.
So you slipped right back into it.
Suptic: I fell into the abusive wife role, and Matt was right back into the dictator role.
Suptic: I’m kidding.
Pryor: I think that’s enough talking from you now.
Looking back to the first Get Up Kids go-round: Were you all equally sick of it towards the end?
Suptic: I think the biggest mistake we made was that we kept forcing ourselves to tour. I think we were all sick of each other. We just needed a break. When you’re around each other for 10 years... I’ve hung around these guys more than my wife during that period, Rob and I were in first grade together. You probably start to know people too well. You know exactly what pisses people off.
Rob Pope: You learn how to push everyone’s buttons.
Dewees: We all knew what button to push, and then it’s on.
Pryor: It got pretty negative at the end. Everybody’s in a better head space now.
How many months per year were you on the road together?
Rob Pope: Six or seven.
Suptic: I feel like one year we were on the road almost 10 months?
Pryor: The most we ever did was 250 shows in a year, in ‘99.
Suptic: But that’s one of the reasons our band was successful, because we did work our butts off.
Dewees: There was no Myspace back then. There were just basements.
Ryan Pope: Scary basements.
Suptic: We played a lot of squats.
From the inside view, how has the music business changed in the past 10 years?
Suptic: I don’t know how bands can even make it. It’s so hard. Gas is expensive...
Pryor: It’s cheap now.
Suptic: It is at the moment, but its going to go back up. When gas was $3.50, it was impossible. Pryor: Dude, we didn’t make money off of records until 2002.
Suptic: All I’m saying is that it used to be that if you sold a few CDs, you made gas money. Kids don’t buy CDs at the show anymore.
Pryor: Now, putting out a record is just one component of the business.
Suptic: Record companies now are more like publicists. I haven’t seen a new contract in a long time, but I know for a lot of bands the record company gets a part of the touring, they get a piece of the merch—which was unheard of before! I guess a record now is just a promotional tool.
But it promotes the tour where the money is made.
Pryor: Until we can figure out how to bootleg tours. I’m working on that—I have a laboratory in the basement.
Dewees: When tours go digital it’ll be great.
Rob Pope: More than anything, the music business has become saturated. There’s so many bands.
Pryor: But cream always rises to the top, right?
Rob Pope: Do you think so? I don’t know.
Dewees: There’s a lot of sour cream up on top, then. [laughter]
Pryor: I think that there are a lot of bands out there, yes, but there’s also a lot of good bands.
Suptic: It’s the MySpace thing—which I’ve complained about forever.
Ryan Pope: Jim, the band you play in is one of the most famous bands in the world. We’re the good cream. [wild laughter]
Dewees: There’s cases of bands that have risen above and have gotten successful, whether they’re good or not.
Ryan Pope: Panic?
Pryor: I mean, Spoon was on Saturday Night Live and they do well. TV on the Radio was just on Saturday Night Live. Those are good bands that have come out of the indie scene.
Dewees: But now, everybody looks to the indie scene for the next big thing...
Pryor: That’s not any different from when Nirvana broke and everybody was looking to the grunge thing.
Rob Pope: There’s so many f*cking bands now. When our band started, the way you found out about stuff was so different. You were still going to record stores to discover new bands.
Ryan Pope: Now you can go to MySpace and listen to it.
Pryor: There is a lot of crap, and it’s a lot easier for bad bands to get noticed. But at the same time, it’s also easier to get attention for your good band, which might never have gotten noticed otherwise.
Suptic: With digital recording, any kid can make an album at home now.
Ryan Pope: And the bar is getting lower and lower and lower.
All these kids on their MySpace pages, they dream of being like you, of being a famous rock and roll band.
Pryor: The truth is, the highest level you can achieve is to play a hockey arena. That’s the cream of the crop. That’s the glamor.
Ryan Pope: That’s not a very nice thing to say. [laughter]
Pryor: It’s true, though! It’s as big a venue as it gets, and you’re still in the locker room of a hockey arena.
Suptic: Being in a band is like the highest of highs when things are going great, and can be the lowest of lows. You’re like a drug addict to the music—it’s so good sometimes that you forget about how crappy it can be. Sleeping on floors...
Dewees: Coming down is a bitch.
Pryor: We slept on floors when we were 18, 20. No big deal.
Ryan Pope: I did it last year.
Suptic: People forget how hard we worked.
What are the shining moments?
Dewees: Playing music for a living is just awesome. Even with the hard times, it’s still so cool that you’re writing and performing your own music, getting to play it for people and getting paid.
Suptic: I remember the first time we went to Europe. I was so cold sleeping on floors in Europe but you just don’t care. I’m 19, I’m in Europe, playing music. I was living the dream then.
Ryan Pope: It’s all about traveling for me.
Pryor: I think I definitely lost perspective. This band became such a machine that I felt like it wasn’t fun anymore. But now, it feels like the ‘90s again. I’m having more fun doing this now than in the last five years we were a band.
Suptic: There’s no pressure. And we can go, “Hey, let’s go play shows for a week.” Then we’re home for two weeks. We can do whatever we want. The record label’s not getting on our ass anymore.
Pryor: Everybody’s got other things going on too, which means that this project can be maybe a bit like an escape. There’s other bands, there’s businesses, there’s families... shit to do.
What are the other things going on with you?
Pryor: I have three kids. I’m writing stuff now, probably doing more solo acoustic stuff for a little while.
Dewees: I moved back to Lawrence from New York. It’s good to be back. I’m still kind of doing Reggie and the Full Effect, and was the touring keyboard player for My Chemical Romance in May of last year. It’s just nice to be back with all my friends, hanging out, and not being in New York.
Ryan Pope: If Reggie goes back on tour, people are really going to call bullshit on all of us for “farewell tours.” Pryor: Who cares?
Dewees: Yeah, I’m 33. I don’t really care anymore.
Pryor: Of all the people I’ve heard saying anything about us getting back together, there’s only one in 99 who says, “Well, you guys have only been broken up for a couple of years.” The other 98 say, “That’s awesome.”
Suptic: To us, we’ve been broken up way longer than when people think we broke up.
Rob Pope: Say that again.
Ryan Pope: Say that again. [wild laughter —evidently an inside-band joke]
Suptic: Our band knew internally we were breaking up a year before the announcement.
Rob Pope: We broke up on tour in Australia.
What were the circumstances?
Ryan Pope: Japan was awful, Matt was freaked out...
Pryor: I was miserable, having kind of a nervous breakdown...
Rob Pope: We were going from Japan to Australia...
Pryor: It was in Melbourne. We had a talk and they asked, “What’s wrong?” And I said I was burnt and miserable. And that was it.
How did your parents feel about all this when it was happening?
Suptic: I have a quote from my father. I told him I was dropping out of college—I had a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute—and I was going to go on tour in Europe. And he said, “Well, I want to go to Europe, too.”
Pryor: My mom didn’t like it until we went to Europe. Then she thought it was a real job.
Ryan Pope: It took a while with our parents.
How are you all feeling about America these days?
Ryan Pope: A lot better than I was a couple of months ago.
Suptic: I wonder if people will be nicer overseas.
Rob Pope: I’ve heard some snide remarks here and there [touring abroad with Spoon], but nothing major.
Dewees: In Europe, the people really want to tell you what they think. They say, “No, I do not like your country,” and I say, “But I’m here to play a show.”
Rob Pope: But they say it really sexy. ... If you’re over there playing music in a band, I think people understand that you’re part of the counter-culture….