Motion City Soundtrack were a staple for kids who forged their first musical tastes through Warped Tour. In the decade-plus since the Minneapolis rockers emerged with I Am the Movie, the roaming summer festival has featured the band 10 times.
Right from the band’s start in 1997, vocalist Justin Pierre won crowds over with his distinct, high-pitched croon and ear for catchy, self-deprecating pop-punk hooks. Throughout the years, he’s also proved to be an engaging songwriter, inhabiting the perspectives of exasperated lovers (“Hold Me Down”) and concerned parents (“Time Turned Fragile”). From rollicking sing-alongs like “The Future Freaks Me Out” and “Everything Is Alright” to introspective cuts like “Antonia” and “Skin and Bones”, the band’s songs gave thoughtful perspectives on mental health and self-doubt. And his deeply personal style of lyricism resonated with many bands who either toured with Motion City Soundtrack or who have emerged since.
Throughout the years, they’ve shared the stage with pop-punk titans like Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy, but perhaps even more importantly, they’ve helped foster the resurgence of emo/pop-punk as a genre that draws critical interest. With the emergence of contemporaries like Modern Baseball, Sorority Noise, and The Front Bottoms (the latter two of whom have toured with Motion City Soundtrack), the future of this style of music is bright, even as Motion City Soundtrack are finally calling it quits.
In honor of the influential pop-punk band kicking off their “So Long, Farewell” tour, Sorority Noise, Modern Baseball, The Matches, The Wonder Years, and P.O.S. all share memories of their experiences with Motion City Soundtrack to bid them a proper farewell.
Cameron Boucher, Guitarist/Singer
In middle school, Cameron Boucher’s musical taste revolved around classic rock, specifically Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Then one fateful day, the Sorority Noise singer/guitarist saw a friend wearing a Motion City Soundtrack t-shirt. Soon after, he listened to “Everything Is Alright” and “The Future Freaks Me Out”.
“It was an initial change in my fuckin’ life,” Boucher says. “It just started opening me up to an entire world of music I never heard before.”
The vocalist kept up with Motion City Soundtrack afterward, from Even If It Kills Me to My Dinosaur Life. (“‘Broken Heart’ was a single, and my brother and I watched that music video like a million times on Comcast on Demand,” Boucher remembers with a laugh.) Then last year, the vocalist’s music career came full circle when Motion City Soundtrack asked Sorority Noise to open for their 10th anniversary tour of Commit This to Memory. When Boucher read the email, he chucked his phone across the room and jumped on his bandmate Adam Ackerman’s bed. For Boucher, moments both small and big resonated with him while hanging out with musicians whom he grew up admiring. He remembers the two bands rolling through the Limelight Eventplex in Peoria on a penny skateboard before a show just as readily as the tour finale itself.
The last gig proved to be a special show for Sorority Noise when Motion City Soundtrack wrapped that leg of their tour at Deluxe in Indianapolis. Much to Motion City Soundtrack’s horror, Sorority Noise appeared onstage during “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” to perform the synchronized dance they taught themselves from the music video. Then for the second encore, Boucher took the lead as the two bands shared the stage to cover Nirvana’s “Breed”. The Sorority Noise singer also cites “Hold Me Down” as one of the tracks that impacted his lyricism most. But he could never quite bring himself to tell Justin Pierre just how influential he was.
“I wanted to tell [Justin] that whole tour how every night being able to see them play ‘Hold Me Down’ and how much of a vast impact that song had in my life,” Boucher says. “I’ve listened to it. I’ve cried to it. That song has meant so much to me.”
Jake Ewald, Guitarist/Singer
Even from their early days, Modern Baseball’s witty pop-punk has shared ties with Motion City Soundtrack. On their debut studio album, opening track “Re-Do” features the line: “So I’ll keep thinking, the future, the future freaks me out/ I won’t judge you if you think the same thing/ So let’s keep thinking/ Well, the future, the future freaks us out.”
The band’s guitarist/singer Jake Ewald says that the I Am the Movie reference was a “conscious, tongue-in-cheek” way to break the fourth wall and tip their hats to the bands who influenced them. Similar to Boucher, Ewald listened mostly to Led Zeppelin in high school. As he recalls, his initial exposure to Motion City Soundtrack was a YouTube channel of these “jock bro guys” who did acoustic covers of pop-punk songs. From there, he went to iTunes to listen to Commit This to Memory, which he says was one of the first records he learned to appreciate front to back as an entire piece of music.
“One of the biggest influences from that record specifically was ‘Time Turned Fragile’,” Ewald says. “That’s was one of the first songs that I must’ve heard that didn’t really have a chorus; it just had these really intense verses where he’s saying a lot of random things that have happened, which I totally jacked from them.”
In fact, Ewald also says that one the first real gigs that he attended with fellow Modern Baseball member Brendan Lukens was a 2010 show at Baltimore’s (now-closed) Sonar, whose bill that night featured Motion City Soundtrack and Say Anything. (Later on, Ewald and Lukens teamed up on an acoustic cover of “When You’re Around”.) Modern Baseball and Motion City Soundtrack never toured together, but they did on occasion perform at the same festivals, like Riot Fest and Slam Dunk.
“Every day we would play and then just kill time for three hours until Motion City Soundtrack played,” Ewald says of Slam Dunk. “So we were pretty big nerds about it.”
Shawn Harris, Singer/Guitarist
Historically, the home to punk bands like Pennywise and Rancid, Epitaph Records might not seem to be the natural fit for Motion City Soundtrack, but it fit snuggly in years to come. By signing on for I Am the Movie, Motion City Soundtrack gave The Matches confidence to join the label as well, even though neither were “the tattooed, mohawk punks when you thought of the Epitaph catalog.” In fact, The Matches singer/guitarist Shawn Harris said it was the band’s exact “anti-rock star” vibe that made them approachable and endearing — later inspiring him to pursue a similar persona.
“Motion City nailed something naïve,” Harris says, “while being really complex and getting their adult philosophy through to people of any age.”
With Epitaph pushing for its bands to tour together, Motion City Soundtrack shared a bill with The Matches through 2006. Harris remembers that during those gigs, the two bands’ camaraderie grew, but it wasn’t until The Matches went on hiatus that the singer learned to fully appreciate the band. He traveled to Australia when performing with a new outfit called Maniac. When he returned to the US, he tagged along with Justin Pierre right before My Dinosaur Life dropped. Pierre was playing a bunch of cities solo in public spaces, and Harris joined on the harmonica in Boston. Then in 2012, Motion City Soundtrack tapped Maniac to open at the House of Blues in New Orleans.
“Stepping away from the scene and just the whole jumble of bands – every band that’s gone bankrupt or burned out (myself included),” Harris says. “Seeing how devoted [Motion City Soundtrack’s] fans still were to them, to be honest, that was probably the first time I realized that there was a staying power, especially to the lyrics they were writing.”
He pauses to reflect. “While the sound of it may go down in the annals of being part of that 2000s Warped Tour pop-punk sound,” he says, “the songs last.”
The Wonder Years
Josh Martin, Bassist
Before The Wonder Years got started, bassist Josh Martin saw Motion City Soundtrack perform on Warped Tour in 2003. Enamored by their sound, he went to the mall, picked up a CD, and listened to all of their records quickly after.
“The song that I fell in love with Motion City over would have to be ‘My Favorite Accident’,” Martin says. “That was the song that inspired me to get guys together and be in a rock-and-roll band that sounded like them.”
And on an individual level, Martin says he learned a lot from their bassist, Matt Taylor, both in terms of backing-vocal harmonies and creating melody with his own bass lines.
“They’re a seminal band for a lot of punk bands,” Martin adds, “trying to play music with substance that’s insightful and passionate.”
So after sharing the Warped Tour bill in 2013, Martin was especially stoked that the two would embark on a co-headlining tour last fall. The tour routing led The Wonder Years to a gig at the Electric Factory in their native Pennsylvania, where Martin had also seen Motion City Soundtrack headline a decade prior.
“I already know the dates they’re gonna be at the Electric Factory,” Martin says with a laugh. “They’re gonna get a call from me, begging them to let me in on the guest list.”
Photo by Nate Ryan
Stefon Alexander, the rapper behind P.O.S., came up through the Minneapolis punk scene. For the Rhymesayers emcee, this ethos shines through on his music sampling choices, as well as his side projects like Marijuana Deathsquads and Gayngs. On his last LP, We Don’t Even Live Here, P.O.S tapped artists ranging from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Pierre for support. The connection came from a mutual manager and the fact that both P.O.S and Motion City Soundtrack played Warped Tour in 2009. When P.O.S was recording in California, Pierre happened to be in town, so they hit the studio together. Pierre wound up providing vocals for two of the album’s tracks.
“It depends on your chops of course, and how likeable you are,” P.O.S says, “but I feel like [Minneapolis] is a very, very collaborative city.”
Clearly that much it is, but even moreso, Pierre had the chops. Let’s just hope he continues to collaborate in years to come.