(Author’s Note: So, a little over a year ago, the following is a story I wrote for a magazine that never ended up getting published. This weekend, Motion City Soundtrack makes their final trip to Boston before breaking up at the conclusion of this current tour.
They might not have had some of the biggest chart-topping hits that other bands from their same heyday had, but they were an incredibly important band to me as a 17-year-old kid. Coming off of those pesky high school breakups, MCS’s landmark album Commit This Memory was musical medicine for mending broken adolescent hearts.
It’s a complex album. It’s has many layers to it, and ten years after its release, the band played the entire album in entirety all tour long.
So, a toast: to a band that never got the adoration they deserved from the masses, and to the memories made by a small, but loyal few.)
By Greg Cameron
That can’t be quite right, can it? It’s been a full decade?
It feels odd to say it, because it doesn’t feel like it was really all that long ago, but Motion City Soundtrack’s Commit This to Memory is about to hit double digits in age. This was a special album, even if it didn’t go triple platinum or land the Minneapolis-hailing band on the top of the charts.
It was one of those albums that strikes a chord in the hearts of people, including myself, that had it as a soundtrack for nights out on the town, house parties, and messy high school heartbreaks.
Commit This to Memory was the perfect auditory complement for the 17-year-old fresh off a semester reading Fitzgerald and Hemingway and looking for that perfect album to play the role that the entire Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World records to date had played so perfectly in previous summers.
Upon first listen of the album, I was hooked. And I wasn’t alone, as the album’s music videos were on MTV (and MTV2) and all over my favorite alternative rock stations across the country.
Then, all of a sudden, you blink, and you’re in your mid-to-late twenties asking yourself where the time went. But all the while, you still had the records like this one that you held dear, playing on CD players, iPods, and Spotify playlists the entire time.
To get the full story of Commit This to Memory, you first have to revisit the band’s 2003 debut disc, I Am the Movie. A truly DIY effort, before being under the influence of an Epitaph Records imprint, it was mostly written separate from a full band atmosphere, except for, as frontman and guitar player Justin Pierre recalls, “Autographs and Apologies”, “Modern Chemistry”, and “Perfect Teeth”.
That entire songwriting process changed when the band started to work on their follow-up to their freshman effort. Hangman was the first song written for the record and played on pre-2005 tours according to Pierre.
Playing a huge role in the creation of the album was the frontman’s state of sobriety or lack thereof. A decade later, a now clean and sober Pierre can delineate which songs were written under the influence and which ones weren’t.
“I remember one afternoon I wrote all of the words and melody over just very simple guitar parts to both “Attractive Today”, and “L.G. FUAD”. I know for a fact that I was either hungover or very drunk, and I was just full of the feels, and wrote stream of consciousness and the things that came into my head,” Pierre said. “Eventually those were given to the band, and the band did not know what to do with “Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die,” and that was sort of put together in California. It was kind of interesting how that was put together where it keeps building on each thing and there was more elements added until you get to the end.”
“So a lot of these songs were written under the influence, when I was just super messed up. And the other half of them were written when I got to California and kind of sobered up. Songs like, at least the words to, “Hold Me Down,” “Resolution,” “Time Turned Fragile,” those were sober songs, versus “Attractive Today” and “L.G. FUAD” were drunk songs. Everything is Alright was a sober song too,” Pierre said. “I don’t mean to talk about it in terms of drunk or sober, but it was interesting because half the record I was one way, and the other half I was another way looking at how I was the first half of the record. It’s just a weird thing. And I really hadn’t thought about it until I started doing interviews for this [tour]. And I kind of like looking back on it now,” he added.
One of the biggest early breaks Motion City Soundtrack received was a snagging an opening slot on Blink-182’s 2004 European tour. Like most significant big breaks in the course of events for any band, this one was not without its fair share of serendipitous fortune.
A friend of the band had worked for Atticus, Mark Hoppus’s apparel company, and had slipped the Blink bass player a copy of I Am the Movie shortly after its release. That disc however, seemingly got lost in the shuffle.
”Mark had it in his car for a year or something, and was like, ‘Oh, I had this, I’ll listen to it,” recalled Pierre. “He listened to it and he really liked it, he fell in love with it. He, through Blink, asked us to play with them in Europe, and we did. It was amazing.”
Off the band went to play nearly a dozen dates across the pond gracing stages in front of sizeable crowds in some of the largest arenas on the continent. The band’s first show on that tour took place on February 6, 2004 at London’s famed Wembley Arena.
“We were so jet-lagged, we had had no idea what was going on, we had been up for thirty-some hours and we jump up on stage, it’s all pitch black and we can’t see anything,” Pierre said. “At the end of the show, and we still have video of this, we just, we were insane. We threw our shit all over the place and things were broken and then the lights came on and the place was just huge. At the moment I just felt panic, and thought, ‘Thank fuck I didn’t see this many people!’ I had no idea how big it was,” he added.
Throughout the course of that jaunt, the band got to bond with Hoppus through a shared love of influences like Dinosaur Jr., and Fugazi. Throughout the tour, guitarist Josh Cain would pop into the Blink-182 dressing room and ask Hoppus about the process his band goes through in making an album and the types of producers they had worked with up to that point.
By the end of the tour, Cain had popped the question to Hoppus if he’d want to produce their second album.
“We were on tour with them, we had similar influences, and Mark liked our music,” Pierre said. “He pretty much signed on to do it before hearing any demos we had. That was really cool. He just believed in us.”
In the studio, Hoppus’s approach came from a very collaborative place and mostly let the band work how they saw fit. However, in listens to the album, Hoppus’s fingerprints on more than just the bridge he sings on Hangman.
“What I remember, and this is what I think Mark is really good at as a producer, he’s not as concerned with the projects he works on being ‘Mark Hoppus productions of a band,’” Pierre said. “He’s more interested in them being the band with a little asterisk that says ‘Mark Hoppus produced this.’ It’s not that he’s hands off, it’s that he trusts the band and allows the band to do their thing.”
One song that gave the band a bit of trouble in the studio was “Time Turned Fragile.” Eventually, Hoppus looked at two parts the band had at the ready and convinced them to combine them into one composition.
The band gave the suggestion a try and put the finishing touches on a song that even a decade later remains a fan favorite during each and every set the band plays.
“He was more of a mastermind in the studio of like, if one thing was off, or flat, or sharp, he could hear it, Pierre said of Hoppus. “He’s just a genius that way. I think most people think of him as like, a funny weirdo, but he’s like the smartest person in any room that you go into.”
After the album was mixed and mastered, Commit This to Memory fell victim to an early leak to the internet. But for a band looking to make its mark and presence felt, the leak seemed to bolster the album and get it in front of more people than it would have in normal circumstances.
Pierre believes this helped propel the record that put the band on the map. To that end, Commit This to Memory peaked at number 2 on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart in 2005.
Ten years later, the album’s staying power is pretty evident in the capacity crowds at venues all across America during the band’s tenth anniversary tour commemorating Commit This to Memory. On January 30, Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, a legendary clubroom situated in the shadows of Boston University, was filled to the brim with a crowd who at one point or another—past or present, felt akin to the make out kids who never really had their chance to be best friends.
But something was electric in the air upon walking into the venue on that blustery Friday night as the house music was blaring Taking Back Sunday’s “A Decade Under The Influence.” Maybe it was nostalgia from the halcyon days of the genre’s scene a decade previous, or some kind of delirium brought on by the bitter cold, but whatever explanation there could ever be for it, it was a palpable feeling.
Each and every person in the venue sang every lyric from that moment for the entire night. It felt as if every person’s connection to these songs, and this band was worth each and every molecule of air being expelled from their lungs with each note.
Seeing the band ten years later felt simply like time travel. All of a sudden I felt like I was back in high school hearing “Hold Me Down” for the very first time.
They sounded as tight as ever, and full of the same energy that drew many to the band in the first place. The road to this point has not been easy for Pierre and his bandmates, but seeing them (and hearing them) with a vibrant energy hints that perhaps the best is yet to come for Motion City Soundtrack.
The band played a set of all of Commit This to Memory in order from beginning to end, before retreating backstage for a brief few moments before re-emerging with a set of fan favorites including “The Future Freaks Me Out,” “Capital H,” and “Her Words Destroyed My Planet.”
Their second encore featured the very deep cut, “Throw Down,” brought by a request from an eager member of the crowd, who I could’ve sworn was in his late teens or early 20’s, who had written it on the notes section of his iPhone which he passed up to the stage.
The only song that didn’t get the simultaneous serenade treatment is a new track called “Anything At All,” an up-tempo tune with driving, megawatt guitars that will almost assuredly be on the band’s next album. Pierre has no idea when this new material will be hitting record stores, but assures fans that it will be released in 2015.
Even the band’s new material is nodding towards the approach the band took with Commit This to Memory.
“Josh had an interesting idea when working on this new record that we finished last June,” Pierre said. “Back then we were crammed into a space where we couldn’t really hear each other. And we weren’t really exactly sure what we were writing to. So, when we made this new record we kind of did the same thing.”
Even ten years later, the kinship that fans have with the album is evident away from the venues and stages that the band has played on the anniversary tour. Just look at the photo-centric social network, Instagram, and you can see the bond between fans, band, and landmark album.
The hashtag #CTTM10 has been seen on over 2,000 posts since the topic was announced and has served as a bridge between Motion City Soundtrack and their legion of fans throughout the country. Pierre has even taken an affinity to like and comment on many of the Instagram posts with the hashtag strewn somewhere in the description of the photo.
The crux of these photos are from past shows and fans standing outside of venues with the marquee proudly displaying the name, ‘Motion City Soundtrack’, but many others take you to other places without lights and a stage. Tales of summer vacations, tight-knit groups of friends, and even marriages tell the story of why fans of the band have held on to the dozen songs that comprise Commit This to Memory for the last ten years.
Discovering a band, an album, or single serves as a bookmark lodged within chapters of your life. For fans, this album serves that purpose—and there is photographic evidence to prove it.
In the course of human events during a ten year period, many things can change. People you music with and for, addresses, and phone numbers can find ways in and out of the revolving door of your life.
But some things simply don’t change, like the passion with which you go about each note of each day. In the ten years since Commit This to Memory was released, for band and fans that fire still burns bright even as time has passed.