Featured Music: Wednesday May 23, 2002
Maturity Leave

The Get Up Kids shelve emo for their rock roots.


It only seems appropriate that as The Get Up Kids prepare to hit the road in support of On A Wire, the band’s latest and easily most mature release to date, scheduling an interview can be extremely difficult. It’s not like the band has a rigorous rehearsal schedule or a slew of photo shoots and personal appearances or meetings with record label honchos to tend to. Its priorities are elsewhere for the time being. Vocalist/guitarist Jim Suptic, for one, needs to get those engagement pictures done and buy a house.

“I am really trying to find a house right now, and I think I finally found the one I want,” Suptic said from his cell phone after leaving dinner with the future in-laws. “Now I just hope I can get it.”

While Suptic’s house hunt may seem to be just a sign of the band’s financial success, the purchase is actually far more important. First, it re-solidifies the band’s decision to continue to make its birthplace — the Lawrence/Kansas City area of Kansas — its home. Second, it signifies that the icons of the late-1990s emo movement have become adults.

“We’re not 18 anymore. [Singer/guitarist] Matt [Pryor] had a kid in April; I’ll be married soon,” Suptic said. “Our drummer is the only one still single.”

But is maturity really what anyone expects from a band that helped emo, the favorite musical genre of late-1990s teenagers, gain some national spotlight? Common sense says no. The Get Up Kids say of course.

As each member (Suptic, Pryor, drummer Ryan Pope, bassist Rob Pope, and keyboardist James DeWees) exits his twenties and begins to push the big 3-0, the band’s emotion-driven songs of the past are changing into mature depictions of real-life experiences. Suptic said it has a lot to do with growing up. The lesson is clichéd — but still novel to anyone who experiences it for a first time. “We are becoming adults now,” he said. “Our priorities are different. When you have a wife and kid, you have to be more mature and responsible. Things are just different now.”

In On A Wire, The Get Up Kids have decided to do away almost completely with the emo thing, including songs drenched in high-school heartache or those that reference Pee Wee Herman (e.g., “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel”) in favor of a credible indie rock sound (think Uncle Tupelo). With non-emo discs in each member’s personal c.d. player, Suptic said, another inspiration to tweak with the band’s sound came from finally learning to appreciate their roots.

“When we put out [the first disc] Four Minute Mile, we were listening to Fugazi and other punk rock bands,” he said. “But even when we were making [the second disc] Something to Write Home About, we were all listening to Wilco and Tom Petty and stuff like that. We knew we liked them; we just didn’t quite know how to be influenced by them yet. Now we do.”

Despite their deliberate push to distinguish themselves as a rock band rather than as an emo band, The Get Up Kids are not ashamed of their past. “[On a Wire] is not a ‘fuck you’ to anyone in the emo world,” he says. “We remember where we have come from. [But] emo is not what we listen to. The roots-rock thing is what inspires us now.”

With a new understanding of influences and with the beginning of a new chapter, a change in genre should seem obvious. Suptic, though, admitted that the thought of putting out another emo album did cross band members’ minds. “For a second, we thought about what 15-year-olds wanted to hear,” he said. “But then we said, ‘Screw that!’ We just wanted to do what is honest for us, and emo wasn’t it. I am sure some people will find a way to call the album emo, but we didn’t put out a punk rock album. End of story.”

While critics are already lining up to get on the “this is the beginning of the end of The Get Up Kids” bandwagon, the change may not be as destructive as it seems; other bands are also leaving emo behind. Frankly, it’s played out. In the late ’90s, the emo revolution was sparked by the “Big Three”: The Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, and The Promise Ring. Each band’s grassroots success helped put emo on the map — and emo records on store shelves. But, as Jimmy Eat World move closer and closer to pop stardom, and as The Promise Ring refocuses their music after a series of near-tragic events, including a severe van accident, and as The Kids’ new, refined sound begins to wow a totally new crowd, critics may want to consider the “emo is dying” tag. No matter which bandwagon you’re on, Suptic hopes people can stay focused on the band and its music rather than on the genre.

“I’m tired of people asking us about emo,” Suptic said. “Ask us about our band. Ask us about our music. Don’t ask us about emo. We were not afraid to try something a little bit new with this album. We really want people to like it no matter what you are used to. The fact is, when you hear it, you can still tell it is a Get Up Kids song — just a little different.”

Everyone grows up. Eventually, kids leave their foolish and immature ways, and slowly adopt the responsibilities of young adulthood. Hopefully, the foolish, young kids that originally put The Get Up Kids on the map by buying tons of Get Up Kids records are mature enough to embrace On A Wire as the band’s strongest release to date.

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