Get Up Kids
Get Up Kids
The term “emo,” usually short for “emotional,” refers to punk-rock bands with a sensitive side, displayed either in the catchy lyrics and early-R.E.M.-inspired guitars or in the songwriters’ love-and-loss lyrics. These bands, including the Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional, and possibly Weezer, have had varying levels of commercial success and sometimes harshly criticize the term emo. (“If music is not emotional, then what is it, exactly?” wondered Get Up Kids singer Matt Pryor on the band’s website.) The Get Up Kids, a Kansas City, Missouri, quintet, began as a ferocious punk band but, in an abrupt reversal in mid-2002, entered the studio with a big-name producer and recorded the melodic, unaggressive album On a Wire.
The album title is adapted from the song “Walking on a Wire,” a gentle heartbreak ballad containing a muted electric-guitar solo and the lyrics “It’s never been your fault, you swear/Is the union based on fear?/Tenement of tears.” “We used to call that song ‘Career Killer,’” bassist Rob Pope sheepishly told Rolling Stone after the album came out. “I can’t believe we named the record after that.”
Even in their hardest days, the Get Up Kids, who formed in 1995, have always been soft on the inside. In a 1998 Punk Planet interview, singer Matt Pryor acknowledged a weakness for certain corny hair-metal records, ranking Mötley Crüe’s “Too Fast for Love” and Poison’s “Look What the Cat Dragged In” among Guns N’ Roses, Slayer, and Metallica in his list of top metal albums. “That’s right … Poison … shut up!” he wrote.
“Anyone who [says they] didn’t love this band at one point in their life is a [expletive] liar.” The Get Up Kids formed around 1995, almost naming themselves the Suburban Get Up Kids before deciding there were fewer “G” bands in record-store bins than “S” bands. Like all responsible punk-rock bands, they toured frequently, released local 7-inch singles, and hit their stride with perhaps their best album, 1999’s Something to Write Home About.
Initially, the Kids drew obvious inspiration from early-’90s Seattle bands. “I’m old-school grunge,” Pryor told Punk Planet. “I was wearing cut-off jeans and long underwear in ’83. When I got into that, I got rid of my metal records and when I got into punk, When I got rid of the stuff… Now I feel stupid because I’ve been on this hunt to back-stock my record collection because I regret getting rid of that stuff.”
In this context, the sharp turn of On a Wire into more romantic territory was no surprise at all. The Kids’ previous release, 2001’s Eudora, a collection of more traditional punk singles filled with ironic pop-culture references (“I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel” is a line from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and unexpected cover songs (David Bowie’s “Suffragette City,” the Pixies’ “Alec Eiffel”). It was funny and enthusiastic, of a piece with the Kids’ past touring partners, such as Rocket from the Crypt, MxPx, Green Day, and Superchunk. Then the Kids wrote 25 songs in a completely different style and entered the studio with former R.E.M., Nirvana, and Incubus producer Scott Litt. Thus the guitars, once big and jagged, toned down into a sort of mid-jangle, which left Pryor able to sing, rather than shout, in his high boy-next-door pitch. The exception was the ferocious “Grunge Pig.” The lyrics’ emotional impact arrived more clearly, too: “Waiting for you/to come back to me please/come over soon/no enemies/come over see/I’m begging you,” Pryor pleads in “High as the Moon.”
“Scott made us work really hard,” Pryor told Rolling Stone in the magazine’s first major feature on the band. “You’d have three or four days in a row where you realized you hadn’t left the building. We’d take Sundays off, go to New York and get really drunk.” Added keyboardist James Dewees, to the Detroit News: “We wanted to write a record that wasn’t a pop-punk record. We wanted to actually write some songs. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we actually can be musicians, instead of pop-punk kids.”
Unsurprisingly, hard-core fans dissed On a Wire as “selling out,” “going soft,” and a blatant attempt to reach MTV and rock radio. In fact, despite a stylishly depressive video designed by longtime friend and Spin contributor Travis Millard, the album went nowhere. Get Up Kids online message boards are so filled with bile spewed against On a Wire that the Punknews.org website opined, “Two types of people are going to read
Members include James Dewees , keyboards; Robert Pope , bass; Matthew Pryor , vocals, guitar; Jim Suptic , guitars.
Group formed in Kansas City, MO, c. 1995; released seven-inch single “A Newfound Interest in Massachusetts”/“Off the Wagon,” on Contrast Records, 1996; released debut album Four Minute Mile on Doghouse Records, 1997; released “I’m a Loner Dottie, a Rebel,” 1997; signed with Vagrant Records, released Something to Write Home About, 1999; released On a Wire, 2002.
Awards: Matthew Pryor: Pitch Weekly’s Klammie Awards, Best Male Vocalist, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Vagrant Records, PMB 361, 2118 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403. Management —Rich Egan, Hard 8 Management, PMB 361, 2118 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403. Website—Get Up Kids Official Website: http://www.thegetupkids.com.
this review: people who hate the Get Up Kids and want to see me bash them, and—well, actually, that’s probably the only type of person that’s reading this.” The article went on to praise “Grunge Pig” and a few other tracks but slam the rest of On a Wire: “It’s not so much of an evolution of the band’s sound as more of ‘Hey guys, I like REM, let’s work that in. Okay, I like the Beatles, let’s work that in. Dude, what about my wife’s band, the Anniversary? They’re pretty good too.’”
Get Up Kids responded in a dignified way. “We wanted to make a record that was more song-oriented and not like guitar-rock-oriented, and I think we did it,” Rob Pope told critic Jim DeRogatis in a band biography posted on their official website. “We’re not a punk-rock band and we never said we were; we never carried that flag. We’ve always just tried to do our own thing and do it different than any other band is doing it. I think if people are fans of music and they’ve been fans of us, it’s a departure, but it’s not that huge a thing. While we were making the record, we were asking ourselves, ‘Is the average 15-year-old kid who comes to our shows going to like this?’ Then we realized that we just can’t worry about that.”
Red Letter Day, Doghouse, 1999.
Something to Write Home About, Vagrant, 1999.
Eudora (compilation), Vagrant, 2001.
On a Wire Vagrant, 2002.
Detroit News, July 5, 2002, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2002.
Palm Beach Post (Florida), June 21, 2002, p. 31.
Punk Planet, November/December, 1998.
Rolling Stone, August 22, 2002.
“Get Up Kids,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 30, 2002).
Get Up Kids Official Website, http://www.thegetupkids.com (November 30, 2002).
“Get Up Kids—On a Wire,” Punknews.org, http://www.punknews.org/reviews.php?op=albumreview&id=961 (November 30, 2002).
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