It's been exactly 10 years since Motion City Soundtrack gave us Commit This to Memory — an album that inspired the emo awakenings of prepubescent teens everywhere — so we asked the band to take us all the way back, and to explain the meaning and standout references behind some of their most memorable lyrics.
"I'm sick of the things I do when I'm nervous / like cleaning the oven or checking my tires / Or counting the number of tiles in the ceiling ... Head for the hills, the kitchen's on fire!" —"Everything Is Alright"
OCD — that's where that came from. (laughter) We weren't as imaginative as a young twentysomething-year-old man would be, so I just wrote out a list of things I did. I did accidentally set my bathroom on fire once. Well, it wasn't an accident as it was drunk and hysterical and craziness, but I changed the bathroom to kitchen cause I thought kitchen sounded better. I used to drive and think there was something wrong with my tires ... and I'd go nuts. I was very anxiety- and OCD-prone.
"Tiny hands, recycled cans, the metal bands, I could not stand / The time you cried and threw your crayons across the floor." —"Time Turned Fragile"
I was trying to write a song from the point of my dad saying "leave" but I didn't ask him. I just did it. My dad used to always tell me things through my life. He'd be like, "Hey J, it might not make sense to you now but take what I'm saying and put it in your back pocket. Pull it out later in life and it might make sense to you." For some reason, I did that. I don't know why but it's just crazy.. all the things he told me growing up became true. Time speeds up exponentially. When you're a kid, it takes forever. When you're an adult years go by like that. I was just writing from the point of view of a dad watching his kid growing up. Those were things he was thinking about. And I did listen to a lot of metal. (laughs)
"Betty won’t stop listening to modern rock / how she hates to be alone / I try to compensate her lack of love with coffee cake, ice cream, and a bottle of $10 wine / she says hey!" —"The Future Freaks Me Out"
Justin Pierre: I don't know who Betty is specifically...
Joshua Cain: She was a part of Justin's life when that song was written. It was a time when I didn't know how fucked up this guy really was [laughs]. A guy came up to me and he was like a cook at this restaurant. He's all "Oh yeah, Justin comes in all the time. He kinda creeps out the waitstaff and kinda passes out in the booth and sleeps here." And me being like WTF?
JP: That time in my life. I don't know, I really liked the phrase "modern rock." In Nirvana there's a song where it's said; it's just phrases and things said from that time in my life. To me, everything is little references to other things going on and I know that I had a guitar with a sticker of Betty from The Flinstones on it, but it wasn't the Betty. And then there's a woman whose house I was living at. She was in the band "Betty On Bad." So that name kept floating around, and there were other people I was referencing, so I just kind of put them all together. To me, I never thought about how I did things.
JC: He likes to take a bunch of people and make them one person.
"It’s like a bad dream / something from the back of a magazine." —"Pulp Fiction"
I was thinking of Twin Peaks in particular. There's a scene where Agent Cooper finds a safety deposit key in Laura Palmer's diary. They pull out a magazine and they're looking through it and they find a connection between her and this other guy and I was just thinking of Black Mask Magazine. That was kind of the image that came to mind with that.
"With our hands all tied to the blades of their design / we are armed and ready to commit this crime." —"Feels Like Rain"
I was thinking of things along the lines of suicide or cutting … For me, personally, this is what I understand: Oftentimes I would get so frustrated with something or upset or angry, I would rage and would want to hurt something. I think, to myself? I would grab something and break it. Instantly, I'd be like, Why the fuck did I break that, and it would upset me so much. I feel like as far as I know of that world, it's a better release of some sort. That was me investigating that.
"Frank fails to see the humor in my sad attempts at breakdancing in every bar along Lyndale Avenue." —"Better Open the Door"
JP: Frank was Donnie Darko. Haha, no, again, these names.. it was an alliteration device. Everyone has a name attached to it. The only person that was a real person was "Matt."
JC: I loved the movie Breakin' but couldn't break-dance.
"Cancel our dinner with Max and Coraline / feed Jacky's gerbil and try to stay clean." —"Hold Me Down"
My sister's name is Jacky and she had a hamster. My sister was living with me. For some reason, the hamster just showed up and we had to take care of it for a couple months. As for Max and Coraline, Coraline the book had just come out, and I really liked it, and I was trying to think of a couple, like, oh we have dinner plans with this couple, and Max was just one of my favorite names. I think of Where the Wild Things Are. Again, pulling from other things and putting them together. I'm a fraud!
"Make out kids never had a chance to be best friends." —"Make Out Kids"
"Make out kids" were what I always thought of meeting someone and making out and realizing Oh my gosh you have so much in common with the state of making out with that person, and it ruins everything. Like, this doesn't work and now that thing is ruined too, great. Just realizing that you're not compatible in this way but you can't go back from that.
"I never gave an honest answer, but I made a lot of angry organs / Are we copacetic? Are we behaving now?" —"A Life Less Ordinary"
I was just thinking of drinking and upsetting your liver and everything else.
And finally, "What’s up with Will & Grace?" —"The Future Freaks Me Out"
Well? What is up with Will & Grace?
Claudio Rivera: Have you ever watched an episode of Will & Grace?
JP: No. (laughs) At the time — this is great because it's so dated now — I was just trying to pick the most popular thing going on. At that time I kept hearing about Will & Grace, so what's up with that? Being the future, which is now the past, a lot of those things are of that time. Drum and bass and raves and stuff in the late to mid-'90s, so it was about not understanding modern culture.
What's the most popular series now?
JP: Big Bang Theory? What's up with Big Bang Theory? EDM? We should do an updated version of the song.