Maybe the 'Problem' Is Balance
The Get Up Kids release first new LP in eight years and set out on a world tour
“Almost 20 years listening to this Perfect Album...” reads one YouTube comment on The Get Up Kids’ “Something To Write Home About” full album video. The Kansas City emo band’s beloved sophomore record (its first with now-longtime keyboardist James Dewees) turns two decades old this coming September, and as guitarist/vocalist Matt Pryor revealed over lunch at Lawrence Beer Company, things have sort of come full circle with the release of their new album “Problems.”
“Lyrically, we were throwing around this idea of the ‘emo themes,’ but as interpreted by someone who is not in their 20s,” Pryor said. “Which tend to be more talking about love, fear, longing, loss -- these sorts of things. But when you get older, those things can be more about divorce or death or family than about your girlfriend who moved away.”
“I wanted to make the record that the guys who made ‘Something To Write Home About’ would make with 20 more years of life experience,” Pryor said. “Not like, ‘Something To Write Home About Part Two,’ but something that encompasses that and everything that has happened since that point.”
The new album’s second single— the peppy but dread-soaked “The Problem Is Me” — sees the Kids’ adolescent longing exchanged for the complexities of adult relationships. On the solemn album closer, “Your Ghost Is Gone,” the loss of a parent becomes more impactful than the loss of the proverbial girlfriend. Elsewhere, the vague fears of what lies ahead have morphed into the pressure of holding it all together for your family.
Who says emo can’t age gracefully?
Part of that aging for Pryor has meant seeing his kids begin to pick up instruments themselves. His eldest son has moved the family’s piano into his room and started composing some songs, and his daughter Lily’s band, LK Ultra, practices in the family’s semi-soundproofed garage most weekends.
LK Ultra has been gigging frequently over the last year and just released a three-song demo. Aside from the occasional piece of business advice, Pryor says he’s largely stayed out of their business. “I think they’re very — I relate to this — independent-minded. I mean, they’re teenagers,” Pryor said of the band. “They hand-make their own merch. I was like, ‘I could call Blue Collar [Press], I could get you t-shirts in a day! You wanna block print these things? Okay!’”
A theme (one that’s debatably emo) that came up a couple times as we talked was balance. Many successful groups with a decade or two under their belts come to the crossroads of making their fans happy and finding artistic fulfillment. Pryor says he’s found the key to celebrating the past without lingering in it for too long.
He likens the band’s situation to that of Uncle Rico from the 2004 cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite.” “All he’s doing is talking about what he did when he was younger, but I don’t wanna be that,” Pryor said. “At the same time I don’t wanna be one of those douchebags that’s just like, ‘We don’t play songs from that record anymore, ‘cause we’re so sick of it.’”
Scattered throughout “Problems,” listeners can find moments from whichever previous Get Up Kids’ record is their favorite, fluidly co-mingling with sounds pulled from other eras. There’s the heavy synth experimentation of “There Are Rules,” the acoustic earnestness of “On A Wire,” and punchy pop-punk rhythms of “Something To Write Home About.”
“Instead of trying to say ‘The Get Up Kids are this one thing in any one particular record,’ it’s kinda like, The Get Up Kids are actually all of these things,” Pryor said. He credits producer Peter Katis with helping them make these textures work in the same setting and pushing them to think more about the big picture.
Another thing the band is working on balancing is time with family. By the end of the year, The Get Up Kids will have played shows in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. “Worldwide at a reasonable pace,” Pryor called the tour schedule.
Are they excited? “Excited is a strong word for me,” he said, half joking.
Guitarist Jim Suptic adds that touring was easier when it was just him and his wife, but the addition of their children complicates things. “It’s never that easy,” Suptic said.
“I mean, we’re going to Europe to play rock music,” Suptic said, making sure the pair doesn’t come across as too jaded. “It’s gonna be fun.”
“Problems” is out now via Polyvinyl Records.