The way it works, everyone likes the first record better. You're a music fan, presumably, so you probably understand the idea here that, when placed in historical context, a band's initial statement to the world is often seen as its most lasting. Motion City Soundtrack began in Minneapolis in 1999. Two years ago, they released their first album, I Am The Movie, crawled inside a van for seemingly the end of eternity and shot a video with their friends back home for "The Future Freaks Me Out," a loud and instantly enjoyable anthem that has become such an undeniable apex at the band's live shows that it is no longer sung by singer/guitarist Justin Pierre as much as it is sung back at him.
But as ubiquitous as it became, the song perfectly captured Motion City's allure. Irresistible and unhinged, "The Future Freaks Me Out" was a reference point for what was to come with Commit This To Memory, ironic considering they wrote the song in mere hours and it almost didn't even make it onto their debut. "Two weeks before we went in, [guitarist Joshua Cain] played the part and I sang those words and that's what came out," Pierre says now in amazement. "It was completely random. But that's how we work. It's funny when there's talk about how this record could 'make or break us.'" He laughs. "This band has always gone on its gut instinct."
Last year, by way of the unrelenting schedule they kept behind I Am The Movie, the band was asked to join Blink-182 on a tour of Europe and, then, Japan. Somewhere backstage and in between, bassist Mark Hoppus modestly mentioned to the group that he was interested in pursuing production work once Blink took a necessary pause later in the year. Though he didn't know it at the time, Hoppus had just found his first client. "We thought of it almost as a joke,'" Cain recalls. "But on our last day of tour I asked him, point blank, 'Do you want to produce our record?' When he said, "Fuck yeah" I was like, 'Okay… can I get your phone number then?'"
Stretching out in Los Angeles later that fall and occasionally propped up by some of their other famous friends, Commit This To Memory finds Motion City the sort of definitive record usually reserved for much later or—to really bring this full circle—slightly earlier in a band’s career. "Everything Is Alright," the album's first single (with Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stumph and Limbeck's Rob MacLean and Patrick Carrie there in the background), isn't about writing off their past as much as it is putting a fine point to it. With Hoppus' encouragement, Pierre, alongside Cain, bassist Matthew Taylor, moogist Jesse Johnson and drummer Tony Thaxton have begun stepping back from—and outside of—their roles when necessary.
"Any time we wanted to take a chance with Mark he would go for it," Cain recalls. "He was so supportive. He would always say, 'Your name is going to be a lot bigger on the front of the record than mine will be on the back.'"
The relationship that they developed with Hoppus may have helped hone Motion City's uniquely and cinematic sound of sound but, more importantly, it encouraged them to open the windows and allow themselves room to breathe. The space inevitably allowed Pierre's charismatic personality the room it has long since needed. A former film school student who has always likened himself to a director first, a musician second, and now some fascinating form of the two, is projecting his own life here. Songs like the plaintive, near-ballad "Hold Me Down" and the incredibly candid "Resolution" are among the most personal that he has ever written. "I think I tried to be as honest as possible on this record," he stresses. "I was less inhibited on this one from hiding. In the last two years this was what was going on."
While it's true that Commit This To Memory can trace itself incredibly close to Pierre's personal life, with repeated listens it's clearly more the work of five musicians, finding themselves and turning to one another. "We've learned the reality of what we were doing," Cain says humbly. "When we left [I Am The Movie producer] Ed Rose, we left with a record that was better than our band. So we went home and had to become that good." Which is otherwise what they've done. But really, it's also where all these rules about second records and inhuman expectations begin to reverse and turn in on themselves. Motion City should have been trying to outdo themselves this whole time with Commit This To Memory. They found themselves instead.
"I really think we've achieved everything we can as human beings playing music," Pierre says with a slight hint of laughter. "Really, we just played in our own city, selling out a show at [First Avenue], which is where we saw all our favorite shows. And that was something that I've wanted to do since I was 14." In a way, Commit This To Memory recalls the lost indie heroes Cain and Pierre spent those formative years in Minneapolis poring over, but there's also a slight irony in the fact that this is the one record that seems destined to lead to their own version of this. "I would love to say that I don't care what people think," Pierre stresses. "But you know, I am like most people. I do hope people like it."
Whatever you make of the second Motion City Soundtrack album is now left up to the songs you're currently holding onto. As for us? We couldn't possibly be any prouder.