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In "Everything Is Alright," the latest single from Motion City Soundtrack, vocalist/guitarist Justin Pierre declares, "I'm through with these pills that make me sit still" -- and as he talks about the inspiration behind that line, it's clear he isn't on a prescription to quiet his tongue, either.
"I'm not sure if Ritalin came out after my time -- I'm 29 -- or if it just wasn't very popular when I was a kid," he jabbers from his room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, spitting out syllables so quickly that they practically ricochet off each other. "And I don't know if there were actual things going on with me, like OCD or ADD or whatever. But I've taken medicine before, and I've done things because they seemed like the easy way. Like, 'Fix something! Give me the pill! Give me the shot! Give me the cure!' And sometimes it's worked, and sometimes it hasn't. So now I look at a lot of the things I do as just quirks or eccentricities. To me, as long as something doesn't get in the way or doesn't stop you from doing what you want to do, there's nothing wrong with it."
Maybe not -- but plenty of reviewers believe that something's amiss with Motion City Soundtrack in general. Pierre and company (guitarist Josh Cain, keyboardist Jesse Johnson, bassist Matt Taylor and drummer Tony Thaxton) are frequently characterized as the sort of ultra-commercial punk poseurs who water down the genre to the point of drowning it.
Nevertheless, even the act's most vociferous detractors might have a hard time hating Pierre personally. In conversation, he's relentlessly cheerful, consistently self-deprecating and apparently oblivious to any of the insults that have been hurled at the Soundtrackers to date. Consider his response to MCS being pigeonholed as pop punk, a term that grows more pejorative with each passing year: "Really, it doesn't matter," he burbles. "People can call us house-country-dance-thrash-metal-hardcore-post-nasal drip, and it's okay by me. Actually, I'm kind of waiting for something to bother me. I think if we become special enough, people may start writing really mean and awful things. And if that's what happens, so be it."
Of course, it's easy to be blasé about criticism when everything else is going so well. MCS's 2003 debut, I Am the Movie, earned the Minneapolis group buzz-band status, and last year's Commit This to Memory, produced by Blink-182 alum Mark Hoppus, only increased the volume with its radio-baiting sheen and melodic ditties like "Attractive Today," "Make Out Kids" and "Hangman" -- in which Pierre sings "I'm just a stupid fuck with brilliant luck." The act turns up regularly on music-video channels such as MTV2 -- which flew the combo and a huge entourage to Park City as part of a recent contest -- and has earned bookings on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and other wee-hours programs. Moreover, Epitaph Records, its imprint, remains so committed to the group that when Pierre arrived in Los Angeles for a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live a few days ahead of his mates, label head Brett Gurewitz, of Bad Religion fame, invited him to crash at his home.
"I got to stay in a nice bed with, like, pillows designed for astronauts," Pierre enthuses. "You know, the ones that fit to your head or your body or whatever? Oh, my God, it was amazing!" He would have stayed longer if not for Gurewitz's dogs. "I don't even know what kind they were, because I don't know anything about anything," he concedes. "They were named Buster and Penny, or something like that, and one of them was white and pointy, and the other one wasn't a boxer, but -- well, maybe it was a boxer. It looked like it would box you, anyway. And I was allergic to them, so I had to leave."
That's how he landed at the Roosevelt, the venerable establishment where the first Academy Awards ceremony was staged back in 1929. "It's a pretty nice place," Pierre confirms, "and I don't know if it's on purpose or a joke, but my room has these prescription bottles filled with M&Ms. I didn't want to try them, because I don't know where they came from, but they look great."
Pierre doesn't take such amenities for granted, and he continues to work a gig outside the band, albeit for an especially understanding employer. "I'm a digitizer for my dad's embroidery company," he says. "People give me artwork, and I plot points with a mouse using this really easy program made by an Australia-based company. It's all really technical, and I don't really know how it works, but I trace the artwork other people make and put it into a language these sewing machines can read, and they make magic with thread. It's kind of like those two guys in that movie Chasing Amy, where one guy creates everything and the other one traces it." In a comment sure to strike a chord with those who feel that MCS lacks originality, he adds, "I'm pretty much the tracer. That's my station in life."