There wasn’t one big thing that persuaded the members of Motion City Soundtrack to call it quits back in 2016. If anything, the primary culprit was actually three little things.
“Three daughters for three dudes in this band,” guitarist Joshua Cain said with an incredulous laugh. “Touring seven months out of the year just wasn’t an option anymore.”
Cain was already a doting dad going on four years when singer/guitarist Justin Courtney Pierre and keyboardist Jesse Johnson had girls of their own born in 2015. And while there was plenty more to the story, those were the foremost (and best!) reasons to call an end to the maniacal and mayhemic 15-year run of one of the hardest-working rock bands ever to come out of Minnesota.
After a 3½-year lull, though, Motion City is back. Sort of.
With a pre-hiatus career highlighted by numerous Warped Tour stints and five consistent albums for Epitaph Records — including LPs with recently deceased producers Ric Ocasek and Ed Ackerson — the pop-punky quintet turned an invite to play Chicago on New Year’s Eve into a monthlong, bicoastal tour. That turned into an offer to headline the grand-opening weekend in their hometown’s new Fillmore Minneapolis.
And that became a three-night run based on ticket demand.
Following Brandi Carlile’s trio of Fillmore kickoff gigs, Motion City will help inaugurate the fancy new North Loop venue with three shows of its own, Saturday through Monday. The first two nights were declared sold out months ago (though “verified resale” and “platinum” tickets are still available online).
Most of the shows on Motion City’s January tour of similar-sized venues also sold out, a fact that Pierre called “a very pleasant surprise for guys who’ve literally spent the past three or four years being dads.”
Said Cain, “We really didn’t know if people were even going to turn up. Once we saw that the tickets were selling, it just felt so reassuring. That was all we were worried about, and then it was like: OK, let’s go out and do what we do.”
So does that rabid response mean the band is back for good? Not exactly. Or more exactly: not sure.
It seemed like Pierre and Cain were still weighing their options when we talked to them via a conference call from their tour’s final stop in Seattle two weeks ago.
On the emotions that swirled around their first show back in Chicago on New Year’s Eve:
Pierre: It already feels like it was 10 years ago. But there were definitely a lot of nerves, especially for me. I hadn’t been singing these songs for so long, and your voice changes as you get older. So I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get through them again, when you go through the full adrenaline rush you really can only get on stage. Once I got through it, though, it was like, “Oh, hell, yeah. Let’s do this.”
On the band’s decision in 2016 to go on hiatus:
Pierre: I remember feeling a sense of relief just at the idea of stopping. I’d never really had that idea. When I heard it, I was like, “Oh [crap], that sounds great!” My daughter had just been born, and I had seen how hard it was for Josh to be away from his. I didn’t know if I could handle it as well as he did.
Cain: We would’ve been a much more broken-down group of humans if we had just kept going. We’re a lot more refreshed now. And I think it’s been good for the people who like our band to understand that we’re not going to always be around when you want us to be there, like we were around for so many years without a break. We lead different lives now, so it’s not going to be that way again. We love that we have people that care about our band, and we’re grateful to have that, but we spent a lot of time not really taking care of our own lives.
On what’s different now:
Cain: We’re in the position to take a little more production with us this time out. The show is a little bigger, a little pizazz, not just us showing up in a dark club. And weirdly, I feel like we’re a lot tighter as a band than we were a lot of nights toward the end.
Pierre: Speak for yourself! [Laughs.] I think the big difference is we find the experience of touring now a whole lot better than it would’ve been if we had just kept going.
Cain: A really weird thing none of us could’ve grasped four years ago: It seems like no matter how successful you are, you’re always worried about the next step, worried about how to keep moving, worried about failing. It’s hard to gain perspective on your success. It took us pumping the brakes to step back. For me, it’s not about what the next big thing for us is anymore. It’s like: We’re here, let’s just play music and see what happens.
On fan interaction being more intense this time out:
Cain: It’s been a blast. We’ve been doing these meet-and-greets with VIP packages. In those, people tell us all these stories about how our music has impacted their lives, how they met their loved ones through our music.
Pierre: I noticed that sort of stuff when I finally joined Twitter about four years ago or so. I had this influx of people suddenly telling me what our songs meant to them. I mean, I understand that sentiment, but in my case it’s Tom Waits and true legends like that. To have people say things like that to me is just mind-blowing and a little weird, but amazing.
On the prospects of making a new album:
Cain: We haven’t finished anything, but me, Justin and Matt have thrown ideas at each other all along, saying, “If we do another album, this might be good for it.” So if we do decide to do something, we’ll have plenty to pull from. There’s no official plan, though. Personally, I don’t think our group is done writing songs and making new music together. But nothing’s for certain.
On choosing the new Fillmore for their homecoming:
Cain: We’re proud to be a part of the opening. There are a lot of great venues in Minneapolis, and we kind of love them all. It’s fun to see another one open up. I hope it doesn’t change the dynamic of Minneapolis too heavily, but we’re excited to play it.
That beautiful black box [First Avenue] has been good to us. One of our managers has always had a good relationship with Live Nation, so that’s been good for us, too. We fought a long, hard battle to be accepted in Minneapolis in the early days. Nobody was really in our corner until later on.
Our first time playing First Avenue was a sold-out headliner show, and that felt great, but we had to play a lot of other venues to get there. So we don’t have any old-school loyalty to any venue except maybe the [long-defunct all-ages club] Foxfire Lounge, which helped us get our start.
As for their future tour plans (or lack thereof):
Pierre: I think we found that three weeks at a time might be perfect, if we can make that happen. I definitely don’t think we’ll do it like we used to do it, which was crazy.
Cain: We’re going to the U.K. in May. Nothing else is confirmed yet. Our people have been looking at stuff, but we really didn’t want to fully commit to anything else until we completed this tour, and until we saw how it went down. But yeah, it’s been great, so I guess we can look ahead now.