Drummers, as Tony Thaxton of Motion City Soundtrack admits, are often the least focused on member of a band, so let’s get you up to speed. Tony has never touched a drug, doesn’t have any tattoos or piercings, confided his wrestler name would be Action Thaxton, and his favorite Star Wars quote is, “I have no need for a protocol droid.” Now that the essentials have been covered, here are a couple other minute details; Thaxton joined Motion City right before the recording of their first full-length I Am the Movie, and the band released their latest album Even if it Kills Me last September. The band is currently relaxing at home before they head out for a month’s worth of international shows. I talked to Tony via phone while MCS was getting ready for their show in Norfolk, Virginia.
Certainly nothing the band ever foresaw, Motion City Soundtrack certainly has a sect of super-fans who will travel any distance to see them and adorn them with gifts of cupcakes.
“It’s weird, we definitely have more fans than any of us necessarily expected. Being the drummer, who is usually the least recognizable person in the band, I don’t have it too bad; Justin definitely has it the worst of anybody. I don’t mean worst like it’s a bad thing,” Thaxton explains. “It’s very weird, you go back, and you think about when you were a teenager, and bands you were into and how cool they seemed then. Then we think of the fact that there are people that think of us like that, and it’s very strange. We’re not cool. We’re boring old guys. I think if people were to hang out with us they would be very full of disappointment.”
However, not all listeners are diehards. With rumors of going to a major label swirling around, the members of Motion City are wary of chants of “sellout” being hurled at the band.
“My entire life it’s driven me crazy when people freak out about a band moving to a bigger label by calling them sellouts. It’s like “You like the band. Why do you care what label they’re on? Why do you care that other people like the band as well? Shouldn’t you be happy for them because more people will hear them and they’re getting to live comfortably and not live with their parents?”
Tony continues, “We are people, you’re telling me that if you work whatever job you work, if you get a promotion are you going to turn it down because you’re friends are going to say, “You make more money now! You suck!” That’s bullshit. It’s really annoying. If you’re going to look at it that way, every record we’ve made we’ve become slightly more successful, so if you still like us now, the situation is going to be the same the next time. That whole thing just bugs me, even when I wasn’t in a band. When people stop liking bands for that reason it’s like if you don’t like the band for that reason, you don’t like the band.”
What people tend to not recognize is that even when you are selling 100,000 records, you aren’t living in a mansion.
“It doesn’t mean anything near that. It most likely means you’re living at your parents’ house because you can’t afford to live anywhere else. I’m not going to lie, I turned 29 this year, I moved out of my parent’s house for the first time this year.”
Although, he may have moved out sooner if their second album Commit this to Memory hadn’t leaked half a year early, causing Tony to feel agitated about the issue of file sharing.
“It literally leaked the day after it was mastered. The whole double edged sword thing. It sucks that it got out that early. The public got a hold of our record the same time we did. At the same time, it’s really cool that that many people were that excited about hearing it. If you look at it that way it’s really flattering. At the end of the day we’re trying to sell records; that’s part of how we make a living. When you’re stealing someone’s record, you’re stealing from them in the long run,” Thaxton asserts. “It’s definitely a weird business, it’s much harder to sell records now than it was years ago. I think Thriller is the number one selling record of all time? And I feel like no one is ever going to top that because no one buys records like they used to anymore. In the early days people downloading our music was great because no one knew who the hell we were then, so anyone we could get to hear us we would take that. And still to an extent that’s great, but at the end of the day when you probably could have sold more records if people hadn’t downloaded it’s kind of a bummer. But, you know, you can’t dwell over it.”
The Minneapolis based quintet then moved on to Even if it Kills Me, which was released this September , debuting at number 16 on the Billboard 200. However, MCS didn’t go into the studio shooting for commercial success.
“I think for the most part we are trying to write a record that we are going to be proud of. We want to please ourselves and do some things that we haven’t done yet, but not stray too far from what it is what we do. We don’t want to be that band where every record we make sounds like a completely different band.”
While listening, I noticed that Tony had toned it down a bit for this record, writing his parts to fit the song, not to be flashy.
“It wasn’t something I was necessarily setting out to do. Normally what I try to do is to play for the song, but wait for those moments where I can maybe do a little more, and that’s where I do a little more,” Tony explains. “Some of these songs I felt like, “I’m just playing this simple beat here I need to make it a little more interesting,” but I felt that a lot of the songs, if I were to try to do something it was just going to be a little too much. So some of it I just kept it simple, I just felt that was the smarter way to go. Those are my favorite kinds of drummers. The kind that can throw the cool fill in when they need to, but when it’s time to play for the song, they play for the song.”
At this point, I become a fan boy and gush about how his drum part starting at 2:25 in "Time Turned Fragile" is one of my favorite parts of any Motion City song.
“That part was actually just a thing I had come up with on my own just screwing around playing by myself. When we were doing that record, we were playing that song and the song originally ended right before that part. And then Mark Hoppus just turned to me and said, “What’s the craziest thing you can do?” I was like, “Well I have this thing I like, but I feel it’s inappropriate for anything basically.” He was like, “Let me hear it.” So I played it, and the guys had already played the part that there existed and we had nowhere to go with it. Mark was like, “Why don’t you just tack that on to the end of the song?” and it turned out really well. I think that’s one of our more favorite songs on that record.”
But back to the topic at hand; Even if it Kills Me was recorded at two separate times, with two different sets of producers: Adam Schlesinger and Eli Jamney for seven tracks, and five tracks with former frontman of The Cars, Ric Ocasek.
“It was weird for the recording process because we recorded in two different chunks instead of just one big. We recorded with Adam and Eli first, and we did those songs and when it was done, instead of being done with the record then it was like, “Okay, on to phase two now.” It was weird, it was like completely starting over again. It was different, they were definitely very different approaches to recording,” says Tony. “Adam and Eli were more involved than any producer that we worked with before. They were really hands on into trying different ideas, really just working with the songs, seeing what worked and what didn’t. Adam would have an idea, have us try it, and if that idea sucked he would be the first one to admit it. He was just into trying things and it was a lot of fun. The second part we did with Ric Ocasek and he was a lot more laid back. The songs that he chose to do, he pretty much liked the way the demos were so it’s like those songs were pretty much ready. “
With two separate recording sessions with different sets of producers, having a consistent vibe was certainly a concern.
“That’s something we definitely worried about. Our solution that we set was that it had to be all mixed by one guy, so Tom Lord-Alge mixed the whole record with the exception of “The Conversation”. That one is just piano and vocals and we didn’t want to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to have a song that’s just piano and vocals mixed by this big name guy,” explains Thaxton. “The rest of the record was all mixed by Tom Lord-Alge and I think that made it a lot more cohesive.”
With Even if it Kills Me released and their North American tour completed, the boys in Motion City Soundtrack are looking at 2008.
“We’re gonna do our thing for the holidays and I think we’ll have January off. I’m just going to enjoy being home. I’m actually having a really, really, really good time on this tour, not that I don’t usually, there is just something extra fun on this tour. I moved earlier this year so it will be nice to spend some time in my new place. Come February I think we’re going to be doing some overseas stuff, like Japan and Australia. After that, there is a lot of talk right now, but nothing set in stone. Eventually, I’m also hoping to start doing studio work on the rare occasion that I have off-time.”
If you haven’t checked out Motion City Soundtrack’s latest album Even if it Kills Me, I recommend you get checked out by a doctor, then hurry and pick the album up. Thank you to Tony for taking the time to do this, Gary Crump at Stunt Company for putting up with thousands of e-mails and setting this all up, and the MCS Boardies for their wealth of ideas.