“You always think every record you make should make all the other records you’ve made obsolete,” says The Get Up Kids’ Matt Pryor, as he dodges construction traffic while walking his dogs around the neighbourhood.
We’re talking about ‘Problems’, the Kansas City indie-rockers sixth album, and follow-up to last year’s rapturously-received four-song ripper of an EP, ‘Kicker’. It was a release that put The Get Up Kids back on the map, following the mixed response to 2011’s challenging ‘There Are Rules’, which saw the group drift through the following seven years in a state of partial cyrogenesis.
This time, however, with the buzz around the band firmly back, ‘Problems’ is a confident return that marries the best of The Get Up Kids’ trademark indie-rock sound with the sharpest and most intelligent songwriting the quintet has produced. Indeed, seeing ‘Kicker’ as an appropriate jumping off point serves to contextualize just what The Get Up Kids are – and where they’re going – in 2019.
“The thing we took from ‘Kicker’ was to go, ‘OK, we need to have that same energy – but it needs to be better’,” considers Pryor. “We needed to have it all more thought out. ‘Kicker’ was very much like ‘four-songs-real-fast’ – and it’s all very base emotions.
“So we said we need to have something that was going to sound bigger and that would have more dynamics to it.
“I guess it similar to going from our first record [‘Four Minute Mile’] to our second record [breakout ‘Something To Write Home About’], where it was like, ‘We need to do that again, but more so – and it needs to be smarter’.”
This idea of being smarter can be seen in ‘Problems’, where the songwriting displays subtlety and allegory rarely associated with bands that emerge from the emo scene. One such instance is the up-tempo pop blast of ‘Lou Barlow’, where the premise of the song is about seeing the indie-rock legend Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh), but him not acknowledging you.
Superficially, it’s a throw-away pop-punk number, inspired by keyboardist James Dewees’ assertion at band practice that they once met a guy who wouldn’t stop asking them about Lou Barlow – even though Pryor has no recollection of the incident. Dig deeper, however, and it proves to be a song of subtle depths.
“The song is loosely based on a friend of mine’s divorce – or pending divorce, I’m not entirely sure,” Pryor explains. “It’s when you realise the relationship is doomed – like when ‘you ordered me red wine, but you know I like white wine’ – it’s that moment when you realise someone’s not even paying attention anymore.”
It’s insight like this which helps to build a world inside ‘Problems’. Sure, these are the same guys who sang optimistically about falling in love on the Massachusetts Turnpike, but when you’re at a different point in life, it would be somewhat contrived to keep revisiting these long since passed emotions just to please fans.
Instead ‘Problems’ is reflective of the headspace The Get Up Kids (completed by guitarist/vocalist Jim Suptic, bassist Rob Pope and drummer Ryan Pope) find themselves in at this moment in time. It means there are some remarkably powerful and poignant moments on an album that meditates heavily on issues of family, life, death, legacy, and divorce. There’s even a moment where they reflect the lens back on themselves and the old trope of the emo break-up song.
“So, ‘The Problem Is Me’ – you can write break-up songs for as long as you want, but eventually you’re gonna have to talk to your therapist about why you keep having these failed relationships,” says Pryor. “It can’t always be the other person. It’s a two-way street. It feels like a grown-up take on the traditional break-up song.”
Musically, however, ‘Problems’ is unmistakably a Get Up Kids album – even if it’s lineage can be traced back to moments of every previous Get Up Kids album, rather than simply trying to recreate the success of ‘Something To Write Home About’ or ‘Four Minute Mile’.
In that sense, ‘Problems’ feels much more like the hugely underrated ‘Guilt Show’, rather than their lauded early records, which were products of and reactions to the DIY emo/indie rock world around them at the time.
Pryor acknowledges that up until the new album, ‘Guilt Show’ was his favourite Get Up Kids record, and 15 years after its initial release it still stands up as a moment when the group were able to really draw out their love of classic pop and rock and marry it to their indie-rock aesthetic. Here, they’ve managed to recapture this essence, but also hark back to their roots to make the most cohesive and rounded record of their career.
“I always think of ‘Guilt Show’ as our version of a rock’n’roll record, as opposed to a punk record, and there are definitely elements of that on this record,” says Pryor. “Like, say ‘The Problem Is Me’ – you can definitely say that sounds like a ‘Guilt Show’ song, or that ‘Satellites’ sounds more like a ‘Something To Write Home About’ song. The thing is, they all work together. It doesn’t sound scatterbrained.”
What is clear while talking to Pryor is just how passionate he is – not only for ‘Problems’, and how eager he is for people to hear it – but also about the general state of music in 2019.
Much of this can be attributed to his children – his daughter’s band practices in his garage – and Pryor comments that it “warms his heart” to see them doing the same things he and his friends did as teenagers – starting bands and writing fanzines and such like.
He’ll mention that seeing The Spook School inspired him to write the buzzing pop-punk of ‘Lou Barlow’, or how, when he now sees the list of bands put forward for tour, he can’t wait to hit the stage and play with acts he’s excited to see night after night.
“For a while, I got pretty jaded towards music in general,” he says. “In fact, I still see this with a lot of my peer group, who are frustrated with the status of things – whether that’s being fans of music or being in the industry itself.
“Then I look at my kids, and their friends, and all these younger bands that are only a couple of years older than them, and I’m like ‘Oh no, this is fine – this isn’t our generation anymore’.”
It might seem like a dour way to end the interview, but it’s also fitting; The Get Up Kids have grown up, and in ‘Problems’ they’ve delivered an indie-rock album that considers the challenges their generation is now facing. It’s to their testament that by addressing these issues in universal ways – through narrative, allegory, and storytelling – they’ve achieved their aim of doing the same as they’ve always done, only smarter…
Taken from the June issue of Upset, out now. Order a copy below. The Get Up Kids’ album ‘Problems’ is out now.