Although Motion City Soundtrack made its name with anthemic pop-punk—complemented by goofy videos and pop-culture shout-outs—the Twin Cities band took a darker turn on the new My Dinosaur Life, its fourth album and first for Columbia Records. While the massive hooks remain, the band looked to emo's pre-Hot Topic forebears for an edgier, more aggressive sound. Songs like "Disappear" and "Delirium," which lack Motion City Soundtrack's signature organ parts, make the change in course especially clear. But My Dinosaur Life is hardly a drag; songs like "Her Words Destroyed My Planet" have some of the stickiest choruses of Motion City Soundtrack's career—though they recently announced that their fifth album is just about wrapped up on the Doug Loves Movies podcast. Before the band plays the TLA this Friday, Sept. 16, guitarist Josh Cain and singer-guitarist Justin Pierre spoke to The A.V. Club about changing labels, recording with Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus, and how their Slumdog Millionaire turned into High School Musical.
The A.V. Club: Was it a conscious decision to go darker on this album?
Josh Cain: We come from dark, heavy roots, and we just got back to that idea—like Jawbox and Sunny Day Real Estate. There's just more of an aggressive, sad side to the music we grew up on. Nirvana isn't necessarily a huge influence on my life, but Nirvana too. Just a heavier, rockin'-er—
JC: Which is stuff we were all very influenced by.
JP: This record is more of an ADD child. It's kind of all over the place, but it has a lot of songs that are more angry. Or violent?
AVC: Then the video for "Disappear" is a good primer for the album. It's creepy.
JP: Our brainchild!
JC: We got a bunch of treatments that were goofy and funny and like "the Motion City thing"... and the song is just so not fitting for that at all. It's really serious, very dark, very creepy things in it. I wanted to do a horror film like Evil Dead, cabin-y, creepy. We didn't really show it in the video, but the idea was that this creepy thing that's coming to the house was supposed to be the lost people in the woods, and they're just trying to be helped. And then you end up lost in the woods
It was a guerilla-style small crew. We went out to this cabin, and there was no running water, and it was cold. It was in the middle of the woods, and you could only get there by boat. We had to load up the boat with all the equipment. It was definitely an adventure.
JC: But most videos nowadays—we just made a video [for "Her Words Destroyed My Planet"], and everything was taken care of.
JP: We just rolled in. We didn't have to do anything.
JC: Well, we had to do one thing, but other than that one thing we had to do, that was our responsibility—
AVC: We're not going to talk about the one thing?
JC: We had to learn how to dance... We didn't want to have a normal performance in the video, so we were like, "Why don't we just dance?" We wanted it to be like Slumdog Millionaire, but it's more like High School Musical.
JP: It's not even that good.
JC: No, it's not good. But we had little kids dancing with us.
JP: It was a good treatment.
JC: We just terrorize little kids at a science fair. And dance.
AVC: Why make the switch to a major at a time when some established bands are taking distribution into their own hands?
JC: I think if Motion City Soundtrack was a new band right now, I'd be giving my music away for free and going on tour to try to make ends meet and have fun. But we've gotten to a certain point where we have a fanbase, and we can succeed as a functioning band. But MTV and radio are drying up every day. It's always getting harder to get your stuff on there. Having the resources that the label has could benefit us.
I think the stigma of being on a major label isn't really there anymore. I think when I was a kid, if I'd ever known I'd sign to a major label I would've wanted to punch myself... When I was younger, Jawbox went from Dischord—the most punk-rock, no-sell-out label—to Atlantic, and that was a huge thing for me. But they talked about it later, like this is their job, and they want to succeed. It makes sense. I think a band can do it and not be gross and start wearing leather pants.
JP: Uh, I bought my first pair of leather pants yesterday.
AVC: This is the second album you've recorded with Mark Hoppus. How has your working relationship with him changed?
JP: He basically just sits around and plays on the computer, and we do all the work.
JC: Every time you record a record, you're taking a microscope to what you're doing and sending it to be critiqued by the worst critiquer ever. So we've learned how to deal with that better. Commit This To Memory was the first full-length Mark had produced, and he was super strict about every little detail. Everything had to be robotic almost. He wanted it perfect. This time around, he was a lot more relaxed. Plus, he was on Twitter 90 percent of the time.
AVC: Were there times when you wanted to say, "Why are you here when you could be writing new Blink-182 songs?"
JC: [Before we started recording] I was just talking to him online about producers and he said, "I wish I could do your record, but I have so much stuff going on." This was before Blink had announced they were getting back together. But I totally gathered what was happening and thought it would be great to capture him in this energy moment of his life where he has everything going on full-thrust.
AVC: Justin, you did a mini-tour called "On The Dino Trail" last year. What was it like being out there on your own?
JP: It was myself, a videographer and our tour manager. I played acoustic sets and used Twitter to tell people where I was going to be and that they should come out... It was great because I didn't have to worry about performing well, because people weren't paying. It was more about hanging out and talking to kids, whereas when we play full shows, I have to be quiet and sleep because if I'm around people I talk, and then my voice is gone for the rest of the tour.
AVC: You also had fans inviting you to play house parties.
JP: [One girl] lived in a house with a bunch of people, and she was the only one that liked our band, and I think these people were bummed out that there was this strange man and a video guy in their house. And then I played this other house party where people were just wasted drunk, and it was a lot of fun, but I was scared for them.