After trying the majors, Motion City Soundtrack returns to its roots

After trying the majors, Motion City Soundtrack returns to its roots
Motion City Soundtrack performs at The Ottobar. (Anthony Saint James, Handout photo)

The passing of time is impossible to ignore, but Motion City Soundtrack's Justin Pierre tried his hardest for more than a decade.

"I spent a good, long chunk of my life — 15 years, I'd say — not really living in the moment but rather avoiding the moment," Pierre said.

A couple of years ago, the lead singer, now 36, looked at his family and suddenly knew he had to change his perspective.

"My brother has a kid. Some of my siblings are married. My parents are grandparents," he said. "There are a lot more gray hairs than there used to be. It's something I started to notice, and I'm just trying to be more here."

The newfound need to live in the moment is a central theme in "Go," the Minneapolis pop-punk quintet's fifth album released this month. The unflinchingly autobiographical "Timelines" touches on Pierre's early stuttering in Catholic school and losing his virginity at 17, but it focuses on a question about fate and, appropriately, time.

"It's not a matter of time, it's just a matter of timing," Pierre sings. "Do you ever wonder how you got to here?"

It's a question worth asking Motion City Soundtrack, a band that plays the Ottobar on Sunday and has been together since 1997 — a lifetime in pop-punk and emo circles.

After releasing three full-length albums on the independent label Epitaph, Motion City Soundtrack signed with Columbia Records in 2008. The group's major-label debut, 2010's "My Dinosaur Life," was produced by Blink-182's Mark Hoppus and earned the band the strongest reviews of its career.

"It was really weird. It felt like we were doing really good, but it wasn't good enough," Pierre said. Columbia dropped the band in late 2010.

Unlike other artists let go from major labels, Pierre has nothing bad to say about Columbia.

"Growing up, all I heard were horror stories about majors, and I was so cautious going into it," Pierre said. "But we did the music we wanted to. It was a brief romance, but it was fun."

At the start of 2011, the band found itself in a new position: free to do whatever it wanted without having to answer to a label. With the help of longtime friend and seasoned producer Ed Ackerson, Pierre said, the band took "50 ideas" for songs into a Minneapolis studio and, one by one, "figured things out in an organic, experimental way." In spring 2011, the band emerged with "Go."

"We proved to ourselves, and anyone really, that we can do this on our own," Pierre said.

With a finished record in hand, the band took meetings with a number of label heads, including Epitaph's Brett Gurewitz, the former Bad Religion guitarist. From that first meeting, it was clear to Pierre that Motion City Soundtrack needed to return to its first home.

"We had always enjoyed working with [Epitaph] and we loved the people there," he said. "We were taking meetings, but once we were hanging out with Brett, we got right back into the swing of things."

For Motion City Soundtrack, that means hitting the road, a familiar place for the veteran act. After this U.S. tour, it heads to Asia, visiting countries such as Malaysia and South Korea for the first time. Beyond that, Pierre said, there are no definite plans, but the band is constantly writing new material.

"A lot of people have the plan figured out ahead of time, and we thought it made more sense to keep moving without a plan," Pierre said. "It's worked out in our favor."

If you go

Motion City Soundtrack performs Sunday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. The Henry Clay People and the Front Bottoms will also perform. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20. Call 410-662-0069 or go to