Pop, by definition, implies an effort from the respective artist to more or less apply market-inspired restraints to his or her work, in an effort to present something a bit more palatable for average consumers. However, that assumed definition isn’t entirely fair, and it’s certainly not reasonably inclusive. When poring over Spotify for what “suits and ties” consider to be pop (lower case intentional), it’s easy to grow disillusioned with the very idea of Pop, capital or otherwise. One might ask, with one’s tongue actually planted nowhere near one’s cheek, “Where have all the (intellectual) merrymakers gone?”
To borrow terminology from Andy Warhol — and, eventually, Kanye West — this seemingly utopian sector of Pop could be considered Pop Art.
“I think you need both [lyrics and melody] to have a song worth paying attention to,” says Motion City Soundtrack songwriter Justin Pierre. Pierre has been in the “Pop Art” business for roughly 16 years now, having sold over half a million albums with MCS. “If I had to choose one without the other, I would have to choose words, whether you think [they] are worthy of a thumbs up or not. Given a pie chart for each song denoting time spent on lyrics vs. everything else, that lyric section takes up 95% of my time.”
Motion City Soundtrack have released 5 stellar albums in their 16-year career, including 2012′s Go, which the band released via their own label The Boombox Generation, with additional support from Epitaph. Two of their releases — 2005′s Commit This to Memory and 2010′s My Dinosaur Life, respectively — were produced by Blink 182′s Mark Hoppus, a sort of “public cheerleader” for the band. “I think that [Commit This to Memory] is a really great record,” Hoppus said in a 2009 Billboard interview. “For me, it encapsulates what Motion City Soundtrack is and can do.” Their second go-around with Hoppus, the aforementioned Dinosaur Life, garnered Motion City Soundtrack a plethora of nearly universal acclaim. Scott Heisel (Alternative Press) called Dinosaur “the best album of their career.”
Just last month, Motion City Soundtrack released a mysterious new single entitled “Inside Out.” The single marks a distinct effort from the band to balance old and new, resulting in a satisfying display of Pierre’s somewhat opposing influences. Pierre cites Sonic Youth as his “moment of epiphany,” specifically mentioning the band’s iconic 1990 album Goo. “It was kind of a light-bulb-turning-on-above-the-head experience for me,” says Pierre. “Most of the songs on that album are catchy as fuck, both in terms of music and melody, but there is also an element of chaos, dissonance, and nutsy noises going on, as well.”
“What Sonic Youth does better than anyone, hands down, is create incredible moments of tension that build to an eventual release,” gushes Pierre. “In fact, I can safely say [Goo] is the musical equivalent of a sex-fueled evening filled with multiple orgasms.”
As for more recent light bulb moments, Pierre speaks enthusiastically of Jenny Owen Youngs’ most recent album, 2012′s An Unwavering Band of Light. “I have been a fan of hers since I heard her first album, and with each subsequent one, she ventures into more interesting and diverse territory, while remaining entirely her lovely and amazing self.”
When discussing artists like Sonic Youth — second-wave pop re-definers, if you will — it’s almost impossible not to use words like history, legacy, and — yes — classic. “I think longevity is a better word for what we’ve tried to strive for,” says Pierre, astutely aware of his band’s position in the eyes of both fans and younger bands. “Our goal, from day one, was to be able to do this for a living. Through all the musical landscape changes, we have been able to continue to do that.”
So, where have all the (intellectual) merrymakers gone?
They’re still out there, singing your favorite songs.