By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
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By Tom Murphy
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By A.H. Goldstein
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."
Film, television and pop-culture allusions flow easily from Pierre, who put together Motion City Soundtrack during a mid-'90s period when he manned the register at Video Update, a suburban video-rental outlet. Back then, he'd take home six movies every night and transfer them to VHS tape. Nearly a decade later, he still hasn't watched everything he duped, and now he may never get the chance to do so, since technology continues to march forward. "I switched over to DVDs," he says, "and now I hear there's a new HD-DVD system that's coming out that's going to make old DVDs obsolete. Fucking assholes. I'd like to kick them in the throat."
Irritating as these electronic advances might be, Pierre has the coin to purchase such gear -- and a lot more. During MCS's early days, tours were low-budget endurance tests, but today, he notes, "We can afford to get hotel rooms, which is pretty sweet, and we've been flying a lot more, which may or may not be sweet. I've been watching the TV show Lost, and now flying freaks the shit out of me."
The performances he jets to are better attended than ever, though, even as audiences are more forgiving. "I try to put on a really good show, and most of the time I do terrible in comparison with what I want to do -- but people usually still think it's good," he admits. "Which is good on one level, but on another level, it's not. Like when I forget words to a song we've played over a thousand times, that's bad. And it happens a lot -- almost every other show. The name of Commit This to Memory is no joke. It's a way of telling myself: ŒLearn these words, bitch.'
"Whether we're opening for a band or we're headlining, we've got a half-hour to an hour and a half of work a day," he goes on. "Everything else is pretty simple. And it's enjoyable work. But that's the time we have, and we have to make the most of it. I don't mean this to sound pompous or strange, but to some of these kids, we're a band that some of them might wait two months to see, and if we just shit all over their parade, that would suck. That's why all any of us want to do is play well and put on good shows."
Actually, there's one other item on the agenda. "I'm not promoting anything," Pierre insists, "except I must promote Coke Zero, because that shit is awesome. Fuck, yeah! I know I should stop drinking it, but I was a Diet Coke fanatic, and then Coke Zero comes out and I'm like, ŒIt's better! It's better than Diet Coke!' The only problem with it is it goes flat really fast, so you have to drink it really fast -- so I pound that shit. I drink anywhere from four to eight cans a day. And then I crash."
At moments like that, Pierre doesn't need a pill to make him sit still. The rest of the time, it's a different story.