The best things in life are free. Just ask Motion City Soundtrack. After all, it was some complimentary T-shirts that got them in touch with Blink-182, who took the Minnesota quartet on the road as the opening act on their European tour. And things just sort of snowballed from there.
"We had a relationship with Atticus clothing, and people there introduced our album to [Blink bassist/ Atticus co-founder] Mark Hoppus, and he wanted to take us on tour. Then there was a blurb in Rolling Stone where he dropped our name and it was mind-blowing," explained prodigious-haired Motion City frontman Justin Pierre. "And then we were over in Europe and he asked us if he could produce our next record. We were like, 'Um, yeah!' "
And Hoppus wasn't even kidding. So after the bands parted ways, he kept in touch with the guys in MCS, and while his own band began to wind down the touring cycle for its untitled 2003 album (deciding to go on "indefinite hiatus" shortly thereafter; see "Blink-182 Announce 'Indefinite Hiatus' As Breakup Rumors Swirl"), Hoppus booked time at Seedy Underbelly studios in Valley Village, California. There, in that house-turned-studio, is where Motion City Soundtrack would spend the next six weeks of their lives, recording their second album, the recently released Commit This to Memory.
"It was just a house, and it belonged to the drummer of Toto, Jeff Porcaro, so the drum room was really nice," MCS bassist Matt Taylor laughed. "It was in a neighborhood with a pool, and we were living there like a big happy family."
"The next-door neighbor was always calling the cops on us because we were too loud at night," Pierre said. "And one night Mark brought the 808 [drum machine] outside, trying to get this one sound for a song on the record. He just kept making this super-loud noise, like 'DOOOOOOOOSH!' 'DOOOOOOOOSH!' all night long. The neighbors were not happy."
Aside from wracking up the noise complaints, Hoppus was also extremely hands-on with much of Memory's finer details: small synth washes, shouted background vocals and touches of piano --- all of which will make them perfectly at home, yet strangely out of place, when they hit the Warped Tour this summer (see "Warped Tour Lineup, Itinerary Officially Announced").
"He was very hands-on. He would watch and listen all day long. But he would never interfere," Pierre said. "Mark kept telling us, 'Your name is going to be a lot bigger on the front than mine is on the back,' so he would throw suggestions out there but always say, 'Feel free to turn these down.' And we would."
And while Motion City turned down some of Hoppus' advice, it seems like most of the time they were scribbling his suggestions down with pen and paper, because plenty of Commit This to Memory sounds like later-period Blink: sad, sappy, half-serious lyrics ("I am wrecked, I am overblown/ I'm also fed up with the common cold"), vocal harmonies and spiky, chugging guitars.
The first single, "Everything Is Alright," starts out with a Travis-Barker-esque cadence, picks up with some power chords (which sound like a beefed-up version of Blink's "Adam's Song") and then rides to a climax atop some sweet two-part harmony. It's kind of like Motion City Soundtrack are trying to pick up where Blink-182 left off. Kind of.
"Our plan was to not ever have a plan," Pierre explained. "On this record, we had the time to do the things we wanted to do, to sound like the people we wanted to sound like --- bands like Braid, Superchunk, Jawbox or the Pixies. I don't know what it is they do, but that's what we try to do. All those bands have defining characteristics, and we do too. But who knows? Our next record could sound like Squarepusher."
--- James Montgomery