Ryan Pope recounted events from earlier in the day: he went to the Wharf and ate clam chowder out of a bread bowl, like any SF tourist might. Except he wasn’t just any other tourist. He was on tour as the drummer for 90’s rock band The Get Up Kids and on the evening of Nov. 19, he rested in the green room of San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall post show. It was almost midnight and we sat across from each other at a table and talked about pink flamingos.
“Do you know what a group of flamingos is called?” Pope said. “A flock?” I said. “No. A flamboyance,” he laughed. I wondered about the band’s latest cover art and how a flamboyance standing peacefully near water seemed contradictory to the album’s sullen title: “Problems.” But as it turns out, Pope said there was really no meaning or inspiration behind the album art at all.
“That was just a weird picture my brother took in a diorama in a museum in Massachusetts,” Pope said. “And we were like ‘OK, that works.’”
While the cover art may have been arbitrary or uninspired, Pope said “Problems” was The Get Up Kids’ most thoughtful album yet. He said it was more focused than previous albums and he attributes this focus to age.
During the show, the band announced to the crowd that it had been 20 years since the release of their sophomore album “Something to Write Home About” which popularized them — a crew of gangly kids in their 20s — in the 1999 Emo scene. It had also been eight years since the band’s last album. The band performed with the same umph and grit as if they were still in their 20s and starting out. Pope’s brother, and Get Up Kids bassist Robert Pope lunged back and forth on stage with his fretting hand decisively sliding. His whole body swooped down in one motion in time with the other Pope’s drum beat. Ryan Pope’s hair flipped into his eyes as his drumsticks flew furiously while Jim Suptic’s locks left him a faceless man in a wildly patterned shirt shredding on guitar. The audience was immersed, singing along and surfing the crowd. As for lead singer Matt Pryor, he couldn’t seem to wipe the massive grin off his face.
“I think [with “Problems] we were trying to make a record that we would want to listen to a little bit — more like setting a tone as opposed to like racing to the finish line which a lot of times with previous records, we’ve been pumping it out, doing things just to do them,” Pope said.
Pope said “Problems,” took about one month to make and was produced by Grammy award-winner Peter Katis who became a prominent figure in rock production, working with names like Interpol, The National and Kurt Vile.
“We did it all really fast like even the writing and the arrangements and the recording so it felt pretty natural which was cool … we also had a lot of fun making it which has not always been the case when we try and record music.” Pope said on past records, there was a lot of stress and butting heads, but with “Problems,” it felt like everyone was on the same team. “Maybe when you get a little older and you’ve done it a little bit, it’s less about like tearing into the little details and just enjoying the moment,” he said.
The album kicks off with “Satellite” which carries the Get Up Kids’ signature pop punk punch, but has a softness that wasn’t always present in the album’s angsty lovesick predecessors. The lyrics throughout “Problems”, like the band members, have grown up. The album is still lovesick, but for love that seems to already be founded (asking “is this house a home?” in “Your Ghost is Gone”). “The Problem Is Me” and “Salina,” are self aware in realizing that maybe relationship problems are internally brewed and drinking away problems is not the healthiest solution. In some moments, the album feels bittered like in “Now or Never”: “I used to be outgoin’ and carefree, but not today, not today.”
Pope said one of his favorite tracks is “Advocate,” which began as a “feel” rather than a concept. “Maybe that’s why I like it, being the drummer and all, it’s about feel and groove,” Pope said.
“Fairweather Friend” was another success, according to Pope, an homage to the sounds the band grew up on and inspired by 90s riffs from Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk.
“There’s not a lot of tricks involved. Just like great guitar lick, good feel, bass drums and that it. And we did it like three different ways when we first recorded it with different singers, different instrumentation and we ended up on this and it was the most stripped down version that we attempted and it felt the best,” Pope said.
“Lou Barlow,” received a lot of attention for the accompanying video which features the indie rock figure himself. But the idea that the song was about Barlow was a joke, according to Pope.
Diving into the first few lines of the song, (“I saw Lou Barlow on the street … I started humming all his songs, you refused to sing along”) listeners can tell the track is really about discovering an incompatibility or a loss of a spark in a relationship. But ultimately, through any gloomy reality this album might discuss, Pope says to him the album has a carefree sound of people having fun playing music without getting too analytical or deep.
“There are some sad songs and some more introspective songs on the record but as a whole I think it’s like ‘hey we’re still alive,’ Pope said. “There’s like a little bit of that to it which I think is fun. Being an older band at this point, it’s fun to be like ‘oh yeah we can still do all those same things!’ just maybe through a different lens.”
The Get Up Kids will continue their U.S. tour for “Problems” until Saturday March 28. Tickets are available at: https://www.thegetupkids.com.