Goodnight Hiroyuki: A Night with Justin Courtney Pierre

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“I went to the show last night. It was like shitty Beach Boys.” – Justin Pierre

Tonight was the first show of Justin Courtney Pierre’s first solo tour. Seeing Motion City Soundtrack live half a dozen times over the years, I am familiar with Pierre’s stage presence. Tonight was something new. Pushing through nerves, Pierre spoke at length with the crowd between songs and gave those in attendance a night just for them. His tour will undoubtedly get tighter by the end of its run. But on his first solo show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, Justin joked to the crowd the best summary of his entire solo venture.

“I’m incredibly nervous. I talked to my daughter before the show, and she said, ‘You’ll do great, dad!’ I said, ‘Shut up, idiot.’”

Opening the show was surprise darling, Pronoun. I had never heard of them before, but like many others tonight, I’m a fan for life. It says a lot about a band when, after the show, more people are holding their vinyls instead of the headliner. Surprisingly simple, their songs contain an insane amount of melody.

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Pronoun

Pronoun, headed by singer/ guitarist Alyse Vellturo, are what rock stars are made of. Watching them play, I couldn’t help but think of the manga Nana, and seeing character Nana Osaki bend rock music to her will. Each song swam with a full, rich sound that made it seem like twice as many musicians took the stage. Despite Vellturo nervously telling the crowd, “This song only uses two chords,” (or “This one uses three!”) Pronoun are remarkably talented.

If nothing else, Pronoun played a song that “they hoped to record some time.” I assume it will eventually be a single. Though unsure of what the title of it is, it’s the type of song that can instantly turn a small band into a sensation.

By contrast, Justin Courtney Pierre was loose. He warned the crowd before the first song, “Some of the melodies and words might change. That’s not on purpose.” Where Motion City maintained a tight, coordinated live show, Pierre allowed his solo work room to breathe. The band had only practiced a hand full of times before hitting the road. Music stands were placed front and center, with Pierre eyeing pages of lyrics and/or sheet music before and during songs.

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Justin Courtney Pierre

In The Drink was played in its entirety, broken up with a great mix of songs from Pierre’s career. An older song written for a gay youth site, “Everything That Hurts” was played alongside a new solo song, complete with surfer rock vibe (see the ‘Beach Boys’ quote above) that will be released on an upcoming EP, My Girl Margot.

More than anything, Pierre had the chance to talk to the audience and try something new. Between each song, he’d talk at length with the crowd, changing topics and regularly filling the room with laughter. After one interaction asking about asthma medications, when someone from the crowd shouted, “Doctor says yes!”, Pierre instantly shot back, “You’re not a doctor!”

This solo tour allowed Pierre a chance to play anything. Rushed to learn the songs, the band flew through three Farewell Continental songs, including one called “Tossing and Turning” that he hopes will be on FC’s next release. When it came time for Motion City Soundtrack, Pierre took the stage alone. He wanted to play “without feeling like he was cheating on MCS,” and only played songs that he brought to the band in the first place. Requesting the audience to help sing, he played through intimate versions of “It Had To Be You”, “When You’re Around” and “Let’s Get Fucked Up and Die”.

At this point, it’s impossible to tell if the rest of Justin Pierre’s solo tour will follow the same path, or if this truly is a chance for him play with his live shows and look for something new each night. But if this was him at the height of his insecurities on stage, Pierre is about to start something truly special.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just realized he was petting a toy Tyrannosaurus Rex instead of his cat. Boooooo.

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Review: Justin Courtney Pierre – In The Drink

Despite the mounting evidence, Justine Courtney Pierre is fun. His musical career has been a series of self deprecation and hapless attempts at romance set to the tune of upbeat synth pop. That’s why it makes sense that his first solo outing, In The Drink doesn’t stray too far from familiar territory. In fact, it feels reassuring to know that Motion City Soundtrack’s lyrical content came from a place so honest that it follows through to his own music.

You can buy or stream In the Drink on Apple Music.

It is going to be impossible not to compare Pierre’s first solo album to Motion City Soundtrack. The album is still a pop rock album filled with dreamy lyrical downers. However, this is the first time Pierre has allowed himself to truly experiment with sounds. Produced by former Motion City guitarist Joshua Allen Cain, Pierre adds more garage influences to an otherwise MCS styled album. Be it the faded drumming and horn section of “Undone”, the fuzzed guitar nightmare of “Goodnight Hiroyuki”, or adding influences from Weezer’s Pinkerton to Motion City’s My Dinosaur Life to create a pop rock chimera like “Anchor”, Pierre somehow surprises as much as he plays to his base.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that Pierre himself plays every instrument except for drumming duties, which are handled by David Jarnstrom (Gratitude, BNLX). Pierre’s lead and rhythm guitar sections are as hypnotic as anything he’s ever done. He truly finds a career-spanning range from the soft pop of Even If It Kills Me in “Moonbeam” to the raging guitars of My Dinosaur Life in “In The Drink”. Perhaps most surprising is how much his bass lines pop and stand on their own. At times, the bass threatens to overtake the lead guitar as the main instrument (“Ready Player One”, “Shoulder the Weight”) in surprisingly diverse ways.

Pierre himself remains as versatile as ever. While his vocal range doesn’t attempt anything new, he remains one of the most impressive singers in pop punk. Silky smooth, Pierre manages to sound both relatable and impressive as his imagery-filled lyrics slide off of his tongue. Subtle wavers of the voice (“I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away”) and confident bellows (“In The Drink”) fill the album. While he doesn’t sound like a choir boy, it’s absolutely impossible not to want to sing along because you feel like you can.

Thematically, In The Drink is on par for anything else Justin Pierre has written. On the opening track, “Undone”, Pierre admits, “Hey, I won’t leave the party today / I have nothing new to relate / There is only sadness, it always ends this way”.

“I Don’t Know Why She Ran Away” feels like a sister song to the Motion City Soundtrack staple “Her Words Destroyed My Planet”. Not quite as lively, the song still revolves around a man trying to put the pieces together about a broken relationship with Weezer-esque guitars raging behind the vocals. “Don’t stay. Baby please stay, you can’t stay / Every night of my life ends the same way / I want to. I don’t want to. It’s both true / Why can’t I figure this out?”

However, Pierre isn’t constantly in the ditch. “Ready Player One” sees him coming to terms with himself and finding balance with his demons, even in the midst of relationship turmoil. “Think what you will I was never as bad as they say / Okay maybe I was but back then I was outta my mind / And I’m all quips and chatter each quivering section of spine / And I’m here to it, here like I never could ever before cause I was afraid, but now I’m ready”.

In The Drink is the next logical step for Justin Pierre, even if it sounds like the next Motion City Soundtrack album. Aggressive, experimental and familiar, Justin Courtney Pierre delivers a hell of an album, even if it’s somewhat expected. What makes In The Drink so spectacular is the fact that it justifies every song Justin Pierre has written and shows not only how authentic Pierre has been throughout his career, but how close to the vest Motion City Soundtrack was through their lifetime. Whether you’re discovering Pierre for the first time, or coming for the nostalgia, In The Drink is an album that we’ve been waiting for.

4.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and accidentally let his apples go bad. Who does that? Has anyone ever bought TWO APPLES and gone, “No, I’ll hold onto these until they rot”? Literally no one until today.

Review: Motion City Soundtrack – Panic Stations

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Motion City Soundtrack is easily one of the most unique bands on the scene. Each new album is a fresh look at their unique take on pop punk, escalating guitars and weirdly memorable lyricism. The band’s new album, Panic Stations is, in a way, the first to buck this trend. It’s not a slight against the album; Panic Stations is a solid release that makes you keenly aware that MCS are the only band capable of making an album like this.

The difference between Panic Stations and the rest of Motion City’s discography is that it feels like the first time the band has tried to recreate its past rather than forge ahead into something new.

You can buy Panic Stations on iTunes.

You can buy Panic Stations on iTunes.

Panic Stations sounds like a brilliant mix of every past album from the band, most notably the stylistic similarities with Commit This to Memory and I Am the Movie. Others feel more alluded to, like the way that stand-out song “I Can Feel You” sounds like a sonically and lyrically-loose sequel to “Time Turned Fragile” from Commit This To Memory. It’s a wonderful, subtle nod to what the hardcore fans have always loved about the band.

The issue is that while this formula provides some great moments and ups the nostalgia factor in a way that almost any new album doesn’t, it feels like an older album. There is much more energy than in 2012’s Go, but it trades that new-found energy for songs that sound like they could have come off of Commit This To Memory or I Am the Movie at almost any point. It’s a weird trade off in that fans of the band’s older material will absolutely love it, while fans of their more recent albums may find some essential songs, but will be slightly disappointed with the whole.

Musically, this is Motion City through and through. It’s their past, their present and their future wrapped together. Justin Pierre and Joshua Cain sizzle through the guitar. The restraint and back-and-forth (“I Can Feel You”) and massive, ‘Weezer-esque’ choruses (“Over It Now”) are dominating machines, especially when they show a bit of both (“Heavy Boots”).

Matthew Taylor riots across the spectrum on bass and carries several songs (“Heavy Boots”). The bass is mixed perfectly to pop and stand out significantly from the steady wall of guitar without distracting. Jesse Johnson once again shows that he’s the best keyboardist in the scene. His synth weaves from the focus of the music to the background, almost acting as rhythm guitar (“Broken Arrow”). Newcomer Claudio Rivera bashes the shit out of his kit and maintains the intensity that has always been a staple of MCS’s sound.

The lyrical department is perhaps where Panic Stations disappoints the most. These are good songs, but few carry the weird and clever wordplay that has always been one of the highlighting charm of the band. Under any other circumstance, it probably wouldn’t be anything noticeable, but with years of experience with MCS, Panic Stations sounds slightly bland. Even my favorite song, “I Can Feel You”, sounds slightly bland when seeing the lyrics down on paper: “Lack of infrastructure, someone hear me out / I’m dying inside, There’s nowhere to hide / Where do I go? / Get back in the cage, just keep me away, I’m staggering / I can’t wait to find you, I really hate that I’m alone”.

That’s not to say that Panic Stations lacks its own charm. Each Motion City Soundtrack album seems to have a loose theme that holds it together (The new year in CTtM, or time and aging on Go), and Panic Stations is no different. The entire album has a loose thread of coming back from the brink of despair. Straight from the confident but exasperated opening line of “Let’s do this” at the start of the disc, there are several references to the end of the world (“I Can Feel You”) and refusing to give in. On “It’s a Pleasure To Meet You”, Pierre sings “At a distance, there’s a difference / Things will make sense, You are not alone / Got to hold on for the moment ‘til the next one / Everything is so damn tragic, time erodes the waves of panic / Get up, you are not alone”.

Panic Stations is an entertaining album, and is a fitting release for a band that has diehard fans of each album they release, even if they can’t agree which is their best one. It isn’t my favorite Motion City record, but it will be someone else’s. Panic Stations feels like a guided tour through Motion City’s history and gets their fanbase up to speed together.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and wants Justin Pierre’s hair, or at least the secrets to it. That amazing, scientifically impossible hair.