A poet, essayist, critic, and native Oklahoman, T. Cole Rachel lives in Brooklyn in an apartment filled with ceramic cats. He is a frequent contributor to Interview, V, OUT, The New York Times Magazine, Dossier, Numero, and The Fader, is also a DJ, a part-time bartender, and is known to wear a highly-prized and often-photograhed horse sweater. As our new Progress Report correspondent he’s spoken with the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and the Feelies. Today he makes time with the Get Up Kids.
NAME: The Get-Up Kids
PROGRESS REPORT: Prepping their first new album in seven years, There Are Rules, for release in early 2011 on their own Quality Hill Records.
The Get Up Kids hold down a weird spot in musical culture. Rising to relative fame in the late ’90s on the strength of non-stop touring and a succession of super catchy pop-punk records (most notably 1999’s Something To Write Home About and 2002’s On A Wire), they were one of the few bands of the era who managed to pack large venues and sell sizable amounts of records with almost no mainstream press coverage. Between 1997 and 2004, the little band from Kansas single-handedly managed to put Vagrant records on the cultural map and subsequently open the door for a host of other scrappy, like-minded bands. Still, just at the time when the band might have been poised to take their high-energy guitar pop to even larger masses, the Get Up Kids abruptly ran out of steam. A Fleetwood Mac-styled band meltdown with then labelmates the Anniversary, mounting tensions within the band and general exhaustion from years of non-stop touring finally brought things to a halt. After releasing Guilt Show in 2004, the band embarked on a farewell tour and, in 2005, called it a day. Meanwhile, bands like Dashboard Confessional and Jimmy Eat World ushered in a new (and many would say, terrible) era of Alternative Press-approved emo guitar rock — the genre that would spawn a gazillion soundalike Warp Tour bands that, while undoubtedly indebted to acts like the Get Up Kids, actually sounded very little like them.
In January of 2011 the Get Up Kids will release There Are Rules, their first new album in seven years, and embark on a lengthy world tour. Judging by the success of reunion shows the band played in 2008 and 2009 to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Something To Write Home About, they clearly still command an audience, which makes a new album kind of a no-brainer. Still, a new Get Up Kids record in 2011 is a tricky proposition considering how radically the landscape of popular music has changed over the past decade. According to bassist Rob Pope (who now does double duty as a full-time member of Spoon), the decision to resurrect the Kids had more to do with fun than anything else.
“After we’d played a few of the reunion shows — and they seemed to be going well — me and my brother started talking about it,” says Pope, “None of us had written music together since 2003, so we thought it would be fun to at least attempt to write some music together. We were in Belgium at a festival when it was decided. We figured that we’d know pretty quickly whether or not it was going to work once we started. Luckily, it went really well … and very quickly.”
The bulk of Rules was originally hashed out in drummer Ryan Pope’s house back in Lawrence, Kansas. All the band’s gear was packed into one small room where band members would have no choice but to be “right in each other’s faces.” No one was allowed to bring in outside ideas, so songs sprang out of impromptu jams. The band wrote nine songs in eleven days, which seemed proof enough that things were moving in the right direction. The resulting final songs, which were eventually recorded in the band’s own Kansas studios, proved to be some of the most futuristic — and weirdest — of their career.
“It’s definitely the strangest record we’ve ever made,” says Pope, “I really wanted every single song to sound kind of bizarre and unlike anything we’d ever done before. Granted, it’s still us doing what we do, but I wanted all the instrumentation to sound weird. The general goal, at least for me, was to always make it sound weirder. The skeletons of these songs is what you would expect from us, but hopefully the “sound” is something that no one would ever expect from us. Our strength has always been to write short, high-energy, pop-punk songs. This time around we really tried to embrace that. Often your first idea is also your best idea, so we tried to stay in that mindset.”
So, what does it mean to be in The Get Up Kids in 2011? For a band often considered one of the progenitors of “emo,” how do you move forward after coming out of retirement?
“Who knows. It was just fun to make a record together and we’ll have a good time playing shows,” says Pope. “Back when we started, we truly had no idea what we were doing. ‘Emo’ wasn’t even a word when we started the band. We heard that term when we were on one of our first tours and people called us an emo band .. we had no idea what that really meant. It’s always been perplexing to us. Back then, we liked punk rock and we wanted to make 7″ singles and be in a band. That was the extent of our thinking. It wasn’t as if we were ever trying to be a part of any movement or be involved with what was ultimately a mostly shitty musical genre. We never sounded like Fallout Boy or Dashboard Confessional, which I think are the best examples of what “emotional rock” will be remembered as sounding like. If we happened to be an influence on those bands, that’s totally great … but we never really understood how we came to be lumped in with that. In the end, the “emo” label probably did us more harm than good. Even now, it’s hard to say.”
Here’s the premiere of a song from There Are Rules:
FUN FACT: For nerds following the politics and personal lives of emo bands in the late ’90s, some might remember the alleged beef between the Get Up Kids and fellow emo pioneers the Promise Ring. When asked of the alleged animosity between the two groups, Pope told me the following:
“No! People always wanted to make it out like our bands hated each other, but that was never the case. We played shows with them and they were always really nice guys. I liked them. Once we both had records come out on the same day and I remember people joking that it was like an emo Blur Vs Oasis thing — who will sell more records? — but honestly, did anyone care? The scene was so small then. The Promise Ring should also get back together and we could do a co-headlining tour. It would be perfect.”