The Get Up Kids now have kids of their own. Where the band’s name was once a rallying cry hurled off stage into a sweaty mosh-pit, these days, it’s a phrase bellowed sternly at silent bunk beds. And though the Kansas City, Mo. fivesome’s seminal 1999 album Something to Write Home About, will forever be preserved in a snowglobe of adolescent angst and heartbreak, like their fans, the band inevitably had to grow up.
On Jan. 25, two years after the band's surprise Kansas City reunion show and seven years after their last full-length release, The Get Up Kids came out with their synth-heavy fifth album, There Are Rules.
“When we got the band back together, we decided it was sort of like a rebirth,” lead singer Matthew Pryor explained. “We kind of had a second chance. We tried to take it back to the beginning.”
And though the new album is a departure from the band’s previous work—as all of their releases thus far have been—TGUK still can’t escape three scarlet letters that were sewn to their hoodies in the late-nineties: Emo. Frequently cited as trailblazers of second- or third-wave emo, TGUK have inspired countless kids to wield guitars and wear their hearts around their throats.
But while TGUK disbanded in 2005 after tumultuous in-fighting, emo proliferated. Soon, the genre—originally a softer, more-melodic sub-category of hardcore punk—spawned Hot Topic-approved guyliner groups like Fallout Boy. In an interview with music blog Drowned In Sound after the 10th anniversary reissue of Something to Write Home About, Get Up Kids guitarist Jim Suptic lamented what the band unintentionally wrought.
“The punk scene we came out of and the punk scene now are completely different. It's like glam rock now ... If this is the world we helped create, then I apologize,” Suptic said.
But that’s not to say the TGUK didn’t follow in the footsteps of their own musical forefathers. Before Pryor was performing to the tune of 10,000 lisps, he had to find his own inspiration.
“When I was younger, I got into music because of Motley Crue and Guns ’n’ Roses and then that eventually led me to like Metallica, which then because of garage bands, led me to the Misfits, which then also led me to Fugazi, and that completely changed my life,” Pryor said.
That post-hardcore, Fugazi influence is particularly evident in the TGUK’s first album, Four Minute Mile. On tracks like “Stay Gold, Ponyboy,” Pryor’s signature wail paddles through a flood of distortion-heavy guitars and thrashing drums, clawing up for air with lines like, “I'll cry / until I can't see the whites of your eyes.” Other tracks like “Shorty” tread into screamo territory, with Pryor’s raw yelp pleading, “I’ll bet you / you’ll never find a / another friend like me”
“I think if you’re a fan of music, you inevitably end up working backwards,” said Pryor. “And then you get to the point where you get to the Beatles—everybody has to go through a Beatles phase.”
And while TGUK’s second full-length album, Something to Write Home About, has little discernable Beatles influence, it did mark a turning point in the band’s career. With the addition of poppy hooks and James Dewees (Reggie and the Full Effect) on synthesizer, the album found a much wider audience. Newly signed to Vagrant Records, TGUK quickly became the young indie label’s golden child.
But years of touring with bands like Green Day, Weezer and Dashboard Confessional began to take their toll. After releasing two more albums—2002’s fan-panned, alt-country LP On a Wire and 2004’s more widely embraced Guilt Show—the band decided to call it quits. Pryor threw his energy behind his singer/songwriter side project The New Amsterdams and his young family.
“I started getting into [folk] about a year or so before the New Amsterdams project took shape,” Pryor said. “I got really into Steve Earle for a while, it was just so simple; you don’t need a whole lot to make it work. I love loud rock music, but I think, for me, it’s just as powerful with one person with one guitar as with the whole band.”
Though the New Amsterdams made waves in the indie folk world, Pryor’s band for kids, The Terrible Twos, survived only two releases—If You Ever See an Owl ... and Jerzey the Giant.
“I’m not doing kids shows anymore; I didn’t particularly like it that much,” said Pryor. “I realize now that I like my children, I don’t necessarily like all children. I’m not willing to become a cartoon character just to make a living. It’s just not me.”
But making a living in the Internet era has also required TGUK to take a new approach to the music production and dissemination process. After a long relationship with Vagrant, the band decided to release There Are Rules on their own newly formed label, Quality Hill Records.
“There’s plenty of people who just want to be in bands and don’t want to do all this boring executive type shit, but for us it seems to work,” said Pryor.
“This is the first time we’ve put out a record in the era of the blogosphere. I’m just like, ‘Man, there are 10,000 music blogs out there in the world.’ You don’t just get one review in Rolling Stone or something, you get 10,000 little reviews. It’s interesting, it’s not good or bad.”
While many of those reviews have been positive—prefixmag.com decreed, “The Get Up Kids have produced the first truly surprising album of 2011,” and washingtontimes.com said the album “feels refreshing and recharged despite an almost sinister tone”—others have been less kind. Paste Magazine lamented that the album sounds “a bit confused and rusty, making There Are Rules a late career footnote of limited urgency.”
But despite the mixed buzz, The Get Up Kids are amped to be back on the road. According to Pryor, fans can expect a healthy mix of new and old material at the band’s Knitting Factory performance in Boise on Thursday, Feb. 3.
“There are certain songs you get sick of playing, but at the same time I’m a fan of music and if I go see my favorite band, I want to hear my favorite song while I’m there, so I totally understand that,” said Pryor. “I think the trick is to just find a balance between what you want to play.”
And balance—both musically and internally—seems to be something else the Get Up Kids have gotten the hang of over the last 16 years.
“It’s like any relationship; we all have our baggage. We get sick of each other. I think the difference is we try to be healthier about it and not let things bottle up inside until they explode. We’re [loyal] like brothers, basically.”