Matt Pryor and the Get Up Kids are now on tour promoting their latest album, There are Rules (photo by Ben Goetting).
Critics often credit Kansas’s Get Up Kids as one of the originators of emo, that mixture of pop and punk rock that emerged from the Midwest during the middle ’90s that went on to rule the charts during the early 21st century. As its name suggests, emo combined sensitive and intelligent lyrics with power chords and messy melodies to express the thoughts and desires of those growing up absurd in a suburban America with conflicting values—where definitions of right and wrong often depended on what side one was on politically, socially, racially, ethnically, ad absurdum, rather than based on some higher criteria.
Emo valued chaos and individuality, but like all subcultures, soon developed its own set of contradictory rules. It became a style of guitar-heavy rock with a superior sneer and intellectual pretensions. The Get Up Kids began disavowing emo as the genre became commercialized. The band’s music changed into something indefinably different. This caused friction between the band members.
Eventually, internal dissent caused the group to break up after ten years and five albums. After four years apart with each person venturing down a different musical avenue, the group reunited in 2009 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their biggest record, Something to Write Home About. Earlier this year, the band released a new album, There Are Rules. It was recorded the old-fashioned way without any digital technology and put the group back on the U.S. Billboard charts.
The Get Up Kids are currently on an extended tour that will take them to Europe, Asia, and Australia. The band will perform at the Blue Moose Tavern in Iowa City on July 8, 2011. On a hot June afternoon, the group is in Long Island, NY. Singer-guitarist Matthew Pryor apologized for being out of breath as he answered the phone. “We are running late for our gig because we decided to take a detour and head to the beach first. That’s something we are unable to do back home, or in Iowa!” The temperature both in the central United States and in New York was in the 90s.
Pryor quickly adopted a serious tone. “We call our van the Kansas Embassy, because no matter where we play, either coast or any country, we see ourselves as sane representatives from the middle of the country.” While the tenor of his voice was staid and sober, there was also a lighthearted quality in the way Pryor expressed himself. His songwriting with the Get Up Kids has been alternately praised and criticized for its earnestness, and it is clear that he likes to play around with the persona.
“I’ve always written personal and dark lyrics, most of them about coming to terms with who I am and who I am not,” Pryor said. “Writing honest, private lyrics in cryptic ways so that others would not know that I am talking about them was fine when I was younger. But now I am a grown man with a loving wife and three loving kids. I have taken a cue from Elvis Costello. He said no one wants to hear about when someone’s happily in love. When that happened to him, he found inspiration in the unhappy lives of others and was not afraid to make things up to create better and more interesting songs.”
“Why would I want to write about the same things now that I did when I was 18?” Pryor said. “We are a constantly evolving creative entity who have never made the same record twice and never intend to, but no one will be disappointed who comes to see us live.”
He noted that the band will perform selections from its latest album as well as golden nuggets from the previous era because he believes in pleasing the audience. But if he were relegated to just playing the songs from the past, he would quit performing.
“As for Iowa City, I live in a college town, Lawrence, Kansas,” Pryor said. “I know that audiences are a bit younger and more exuberant than in bigger cities.” He noted that every show has its own personality and that he always kicks it up a notch when playing in a university city.
He said the Get Up Kids never thought of changing its name when it reformed, even though the members were no longer kids. “I figure if the Beach Boys could still be boys, and Sonic Youth still say they are young, well, then the precedent had been set. We would forever be kids!”
Now that Pryor has offspring, he has made two children’s records under the name The Terrible Twos. He has also released two solo albums, the latest of which, May Day, was recently created through fan contributions on Kickstarter .com, a website in which people promise money for artists to create specific works. It’s an all or nothing affair. If fans do not pledge to create the total amount needed, the project does not proceed. Pryor proudly admits he raised more than double the amount he requested for the acoustic project, over $23,000.
While the music industry has dramatically changed from when the Get Up Kids first started recording, Pryor says this has not affected the creative process. “We still come up with ideas and share them, see what works, and offer each other suggestions. We are all into making music first and foremost.” That was why the record was made using analog equipment.
The band also started its own label, Quality Hill Records, to release its new album because the role of record labels in terms of promotion and studio time seems unnecessary today. “We were always a band who embraced a do-it-yourself philosophy and that has become easier,” Pryor noted.
“After all, we are not kids any more,” he said without inflection. But of course they are the same Get Up Kids as before, doing things their own way.
Visit the index for more articles on music and musicians.