With over 20 years of songwriting experience as the vocalist of the Get Up Kids and a solo artist, Matt Pryor knows what it takes to make a record. For that reason, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone that his latest effort, Memento Mori, is as well-constructed of a somber memorial album as it gets.
PureVolume caught up with Pryor as he set out on a solo tour with Daniel Andriano of Alkaline Trio to talk about the new album, festivals, and the future of the Get Up Kids.
PUREVOLUME: What was the inspiration behind Memento Mori?
Matt Pryor: A couple of years ago now, a bunch of people I knew and cared about all passed away within six months of each other. I knew I wanted to write a new record, so that kind of tone is what established this record. It was like “Well, this is what I’m doing. I’m going to write something sad.” It’s something to remember those people and ponder life, death, you know, fun stuff.
PV: How is making a record different for you now compared to when you started
MP: over 20 years ago? From 20 years ago, it’s pretty different. Everything we wrote when we were really young was pretty collaborative. You’d just come to band practice with a guitar riff and we’d all write songs collectively around it. Later – the last 15 years or so – it hasn’t been that different. I usually write with my acoustic guitar at my house, and then what changes it is what project that song goes to. I could take the same song and just play it acoustic by myself, or take it to the band and it could end up being some epic rock and roll extravaganza.
PV: So then how does your approach to writing a solo record differ from doing something with the Get Up Kids?
MP: It’s not that different. I don’t know that I would’ve brought this whole “I’m writing a record about death” thing to the band. That seems like me putting that on them. I try to be somewhat respectful with them to make sure the songs are at least somewhat about things they’d be interested in.
PV: With the Get Up Kids pretty much only playing festivals for the last couple of years, every time your name shows up on a lineup it seems like it might be the last chance for fans to see the band play.
MP: Unless one of us dies, I don’t think you have to worry about it being the last time [the Get Up Kids play]. But everyone’s got so many different things going on, that it’s just tough for us to get together and do more than a weekend of stuff. We got together and took a couple of months to do our 20th anniversary tour in 2015, but since then we’ve really only done festivals. It’s the only thing our schedules will allow. It’s like getting the planets to align.
PV: On that 2015 tour, you said it was probably the last time the Get Up Kids would tour. Is that still true?
MP: It’s always on the table. At the time, there was this whole thing about how Jim [Suptic, guitarist of the Get Up Kids] went back to school and got a degree in geology, and he was like “I’m going to get a real job so I can take care of my family.” We were like “OK, then we’ll just do the occasional festival for fun. That’s fine.” Now he’s like “I don’t want to get a real job,” so we said “OK, then let’s write a new record.” So now we’ve been writing, but it’s hard to schedule that. Things change, but you never know. Saying we might not do an actual tour again doesn’t mean we’ll never play. It’s a lot to leave your family for six weeks to hang out with a bunch of dudes.
PV: With the resurgence of so many bands from the ‘90s and 2000s, what’s it like to have many of them back together for these big festivals?
MP: It’s nice to get to go hang out with your friends. There’s really no such thing as a band breaking up unless somebody dies – and even then, it’s not always the case. People talk about reunion tours and that kind of thing, and I’m like “Yeah, well, it is what it is.” It’s like “Do you want to see this band play or not?” Honestly, all festivals are just like “Oh, who’s here? Oh, the Alkaline Trio guys are here? Well then let’s go hang out in their dressing room and steal their beer.” It’s always just a good hang.
PV: When you look back on those earlier albums you wrote, what do you think of them?
MP: It’s kind of like tattoos, where you might go get a tattoo that you think is cool when you’re 18, but at 40 you think “Well, that’s stupid.” But it reminds me of that time I was 18, and that was a happy time. Some of those songs, I listen to as a songwriter and think “Why didn’t we repeat the chorus in that song?” or “Why is there a minute-and-a-half-long instrumental intro for this song for no reason?” and things like that. But I think they’re documents. That’s what we’re wrote when we were little.
PV: How different is it now touring as both a solo artist and with a band as a dad as opposed to when you were the kids?
MP: It’s not that much different. Someone’s got to be the responsible one in the band. My daughter is actually on tour with me right now. She’s an aspiring singer-songwriter, and she’s going to be performing with me on this tour with Dan. In that regard, it’s the same thing.
PV: According to [Get Up Kids keyboardist] James Dewees, you were pretty much the dad of the band before you ever had kids...
MP: I’ve been told that. I think it just means that I’m not very much fun in his mind. He’s more of the dad guy in the band now. He’s been a tour manager for the last handful of shows, and it’s like “Really? James as a tour manager?” But he gets the job done and he’s good at it. I think it keeps him out of trouble.
PV: Outside of your solo work and the Get Up Kids, are you working on anything else these days?
MP: We don’t have a name for it yet, but as a fun thing to do in the offseason, Jim from the Get Up Kids, Josh [Berwanger] from the Anniversary, and Adam from this band the Architects in Kansas City and I started a pop-punk band. We haven’t named it yet, but we wrote three songs. It just got off the ground before I left. It’s fun. I’m playing bass. I don’t know how to bass. I’m not that good of a guitar player either, so it’s really not that big of a transition. I just went from playing rhythm guitar to playing bass.