2015 is a notable year for The Get Up Kids. It marks the 20th anniversary of the band’s 1995 formation in Kansas City, Missouri. It also marks the 10-year anniversary of the band’s 2005 breakup following their ascent to (and subsequent self-propelled descent from) the forefront of the early-’00s emo explosion.
It seems, however, that time has healed all wounds, not just between frontman Matt Pryor and the rest of the Kids—guitarist Jim Suptic, drummer Ryan Pope, bass player Rob Pope and keyboard player James Dewees—but also between the band and their role in shaping what became one of the decade’s most enduring musical styles. The band’s second album, 1999’s Something to Write Home About, is arguably the genre-defining album for what became known, for better or worse, as “emo,” a term borrowed from from the ‘90s hardcore underground and repurposed to describe the earnest, melodic, guitar-driven rock music that bubbled out of the turn-of-the-millennium indie rock scene.
But The Get Up Kids never seemed comfortable in the role of torchbearer. The band followed up Something to Write Home About with a markedly different sound on 2002’s On a Wire, trading in the upbeat, bombastic sound of the band’s first two full-lengths for a more subdued, introspective approach that, both literally and figuratively for many fans, wasn’t exactly something to write home about. The band continued to explore new territory on 2004’s Guilt Show, but were again unable to shake the expectations generated by their past success, going on hiatus shortly following the album’s release before calling it quits officially in early 2005.
In 2008, the band announced a reunion tour to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Something to Write Home About the following year. That tour in turn spawned an EP and, eventually, a new full-length, 2011’s There Are Rules. The band is now preparing for a spate of both domestic and European tour dates to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary, including a stop through Sacramento, Sept. 6, 2015, at Ace of Spades. Although The Get Up Kids have worked through their past difficulties, as frontman Matt Pryor explained during a recent interview, these upcoming shows could be the band’s last for awhile.
When you were first starting the band in 1995, did you ever imagine that you guys would make it 20 years?
Oh god no! [Laughs] I don’t think anybody thinks about that.
Was there a certain point, though, where you thought, “Maybe I will be doing this for a long time?”
Well I remember a point on our very first tour; we were originally just gonna go on tour then go back to school. Just take the summer off and go on tour. But we were like, “We can do this.” And then we kind of just kept going from there.
Twenty years later, do you ever wonder what would have happened if you had said screw it and went back to school instead, or do you still think it was the right choice?
Well it’s still my job and I still like it, so you can’t really ask for much more than that. I’m not really qualified to do anything else at this point.
Do you think that it would be possible to do what you’ve done if you were starting now, or have things in the music industry changed as far as what bands can and can’t do?
I think it’s changed, but I don’t think that that’s a bad thing necessarily. I think that there’s a lot more connectivity between bands and their audience now; it’s a lot more like the small scene that we came out of in the ‘90s where everybody knew everybody and there wasn’t a difference between the band and the crowd necessarily, we were all part of the same show. And I think that that’s kind of similar to how it is now, where you do have to have a personal connection with each of your fans and answer questions on Twitter and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know about starting a band now. It seems like, like anything, you have to learn how to adapt to the changing landscape.
Has that changed what you guys do with the band, as far as the format of putting out a record and touring to support that record? It seems like touring has sort of become more of the end itself rather than the means.
Well, I think that that’s evolving, but the players in the game, they don’t treat it like that. Like our booking agent, or promoters of different shows, want there to be some sort of angle. Whether it’s you put out a new record and you’re promoting that, or it’s a reunion tour or you’re doing a full-album show or something like that. We’ve always just kind of toured when we’re available because we have such busy schedules. But I think that that system is still in place, as far as promoters and agents go. I think don’t think people give a shit. People are just excited that you came to their town.
It’s a been a few years since you guys have put out anything new. Does that make it strange to tour? Do you have new stuff, or is it just “here’s our catalog?”
We’re treating this as more of a nostalgia show. We’re playing a lot of old songs; I mean, they’re all old songs. The last time we did a record was 2011, so even the new songs are old now.
Does that make the shows more fun, or less fun, or just the same, but in a different way?
It’s just a different way; it’s a lot less stressful. You don’t really have to make any creative decisions, you just have to pick which songs you want to play.
Was there a certain point where you, as a band, just sort of accepted that a lot of people want to hear the old stuff?
Ahhh … I guess that’s just kind of how it is. There really wasn’t any sort of “aha” moment.
Is that a bummer?
Well, you want to think that your best work is in front of you and not behind you. So in that sense, I wish that more people would give newer stuff a chance. But at the same time, I’m just stoked that they’re there at all. And if going out and playing our first records front to back will then make us enough money that we can then go do something else that’s more artistically rewarding, then I think that’s a fair trade.
You all have other projects going on, so has this become something that you do just for fun, or maybe just whenever the opportunity presents itself?
Well, and we’ve been talking about this for a couple years now, there happens to be break in people’s schedules that coincides with the 20-year thing. So it’s really more of just, it’s our 20th birthday, and we have sort of this window of opportunity before people turn back into a pumpkin, so it’s really more a matter of scheduling than anything else.
It’s also been almost exactly 10 years since the band split up. Did you think, at the time, that it was going to be something you were going to come back to?
Oh no, I quit. I never wanted to play with these shitheads again.
We got away from each other for three years. I mean, bands don’t really ever break up. It’s always there somewhere, in the back of your mind. When you’ve been living in a van with four other dudes for 10 years, you should take a break, and I didn’t know how to do that. We didn’t know how to do that. The only thing we knew how to do is call it quits.
So has this sort of reset the dynamic of the band? Given you all a fresh start?
We still fight about the same shit. But now we’re mature enough to say, “OK, you’re pissing me off, I’m gonna go for a walk.” Where in the past, we’d just get drunk and fight, now we just get drunk and say we won’t talk about it any more.
What’s next for the band?
Our window of opportunity is through the end of next summer, and then Jim’s going back to school. We’re gonna go back to Europe again in the spring, and then we’re trying to figure out what we’re gonna do next summer. And then that’ll be it.
Is it sort of a “make hay while the sun’s shining” type thing, where this may be the last chance?
It’s probably one of the last times we’re gonna do a proper tour, I would guess.
Ride that nostalgia train and wish The Get Up Kids a happy 20th birthday at Ace of Spades on Sept. 6, 2015. The Hotelier and Josh Berwanger Band will also perform. Tickets are $19.99 and can be purchased through Aceofspadessac.com.