Motion City sings the soundtrack for generations X and Y

Calling via cell phone from Connecticut, Jesse Johnson was smacking his lips as he talked with Soundings.

"I'm sorry. I'm eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," the rocker said. "It's all we eat on tour ... water, beer and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

After a few minutes of "Hmmpppmm" when asked questions, and the sounds of peanut butter making his mouth sticky and his tongue slow, the hand bell player for Minneapolis, Minn.-based rock group Motion City Soundtrack was ready to talk. He was waiting for his turn at a sound check before a concert later that night.

His band will open for Story of the Year when they perform at The Norva April 30. By then, the bands on this tour would have gotten better acquainted than they were last week.

"We've been with Story of the Year for two days," he said. "We're still very new on the tour."

He said it takes a few days to get comfortable with other bands. Having just come off a tour with Sugar Cult and Letter Kills, Johnson isn't too worried about the bands clashing.

"They're all super nice bands," he said.

Like many bands, Motion City Soundtrack's members have an eclectic taste in music. Joshua Cain (guitar, backing vocals), Tony Thaxton (drums, percussion), Justin Pierre (vocals, guitar, piano), Matthew Taylor (bass, backing vocals, piano) and Johnson (moog, bells) listen to a combination of punk, rock, metal, '80s and techno music.

Originally from Los Angeles, Johnson said when he began listening to and buying his own music as a youngster, he opted for The Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols and Bad Religion. He also admits to listening to The Who, The Jam and Elvis Costello.

This diversity in music taste adds to the band's mix of sounds. Motion City Soundtrack has a base of rock, with pieces of punk and pop for flavor. Their debut album, I Am The Movie, has a raw, live sound to it. It's not overly polished, if polished at all, and gives off the air that what is being heard is what the band truly sounds like during shows.

The smile in Johnson's voice can be heard when he relects on this description. He thinks it's one of the better descriptions about the band's music.

"Once, Justin's voice got compared to Rod Stewart," he laughed.

That comparison is a stretch considering Pierre's vocals don't even have a hint of the husky, scratchiness of the aging Rod Stewart. Pierre's voice is more like that of any punk rocker --- a little higher pitched and emotionally driven at times --- with his lyrics definitely grabbing more attention than just his voice.

He sings of Crystal Light, "Will and Grace" and other cultural ideas children of the '80s and '90s should recognize.

"Justin puts a lot in there," Johnson said about the lyrics. "It's half truth and half embellishment. It's whatever he's thinking of at the moment."

With a mischievous sound to his voice, Johnson added that he goes along with whatever lyrics Pierre picks "as long as they sound good" with the tunes they crank out.

Despite the '80s and '90s references, the T-shirt, jeans and sneakers-clad quintet fit in fairly well with the teeny bopper crowds they draw. Johnson said everyone in the group is between 25 and 27, but they look young. Soon to celebrate his next birthday, he thinks he still looks 17.

"I got carded buying a video game last week," he said, adding that most of the time the people carding him look younger than he is.

Still, having teenaged girls pursue him gets a little weird.

"Most are from 15 to 25 years old. It's kind of weird trying to be friendly and nice to everyone, but some are weird," he said. "I wasn't like that, though," when he went to shows at that age.

"You can gain so much more personal information about a band these days. Back then, the Internet didn't exist ... well, it did, but only rich people could afford it and it wasn't very good. People will somehow get my instant messenger name, e-mail address and ask me questions that get kind of ... weird," he added.

Although he admits that's the one drawback to an all-age show, he said he's glad they have all-age shows.

"In Minneapolis, there's a big group of bands, and most get recognized locally. But they only do bar shows. All-age shows, it takes them a while to get recognized."

Their band was no exception. Since forming in the late 1990s, with the current lineup together since 2000, Johnson said they still don't get much press in their hometown.

"Our shows are getting better and better. People know words to songs, and that's really cool. It happened without antics. It happened through word of mouth," Johnson said.

Motion City Soundtrack will continue their all-age show attitude this summer on the Warped Tour. They played a few shows on the tour the last two years, but are looking forward to the month-long play they'll get this year.

In the end, it all boils down to the rockers being as much fans of music as they are musicians.
"It's fun because you get to hang out with and make friends with bands that you never see because you're always out on tour. But (on the Warped Tour), you watch friends' bands play. You get to pick which ones you want to see," he said.

By Angelique Moon
Soundings Staff
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