Interview: Relient K.
I had the chance to have a phone conversation with Matt Thiessen of Relient K, to talk about the new record, the old records, and everything inbetween.
PPJ: To start, can you tell us your name and what you do in the band?
Matt: My name is Matt, and I sing, play guitar, and play piano.
PPJ: How did Relient K get started?
Matt: Um, well, the one guy in the band, Matt, who I’ve known him forever, since second grade, and I guess we both started playing guitar around the same time in high school, and we were both into the same bands like MxPx and Slick Shoes and Ghoti Hook and bands like that, and so we just decided that we’d start to play our own stuff. So we did that, we had a bass player come from our hometown as well, but he only lasted two years in the band.
PPJ: What was the first album you ever bought?
Matt: The first album I ever bought was Counting Crows’ August And Everything After. Or at least on CD. I probably bought Aerosmith’s greatest hits on tape like back in sixth grade or something.
PPJ: How do you think Relient K has progressed between your albums? Why did you start to move away from all the pop culture references you had in your older songs?
Matt: Well, I mean, um, honestly it’s not necessarily an effort to move away as much as it is an effort to just make sure we’re not repeating ourselves all the time, you know? Like, we didn’t want to just get pigeonholed into being like, “Oh, it’s the band that, you know, tells jokes in their songs all the time.” I mean, I look at like, Bowling For Soup, for instance, and like, those guys are way cool or whatever, but you know everybody just kinda associates them with, “Oh, they’re gonna be silly all the time” and stuff. And whenever they wanna do a song that’s not totally dripping in pop culture references and humor, then nobody really gets it. Same with the Barenaked Ladies. It gets tough for those kind of bands to do serious songs and stuff. We just try to make sure we balance it enough that we don’t get put in that box.
PPJ: Is that why there’s no more bonus tracks on the CDs like “Skittles And Combos?”
Matt: There’s technically like a little bit of a bonus on the fourth album, it’s before the album started and you had to rewind. And then on the last one, the last song is eleven minutes long, and honestly, I really liked the way it ended the record and I didn’t want to put anything else after that. We’ll probably…we basically try to do the funnier sort of stuff in other ways like podcasts or tour journals. Or we’re still working on these episodes of this cartoon that we’ve been trying to do. There’s only the pilot out there, but we’ve got like three other episodes in the works, like flash animation cartoons.
PPJ: The furry woodland creatures episodes?
Matt: Yeah, yeah, the forest stuff. I’ll actually be working on that in a couple of hours here, probably.
PPJ: What kind of progression do you think will happen towards your next album? I know that’s kind of early to think about that, but is there anything you hope to see happen?
Matt: I don’t really know. I’ve been working on stuff already. We’re actually…we might do the next album, we might try and put it out really quick, and kind of make it completely different, as far as…well, I don’t really know if I should talk about this before I know for sure, but I’ve been working on kind of like a story or something to do instead of an album, and we’re trying to think of different ways to present it. I’ve got some really fun ideas and I think it would be kind of cool. We might treat it like an EP even though it’ll probably have like fifteen or twenty songs on it. But we just like to put music out there, and I think if we put out something that is a little bit different, I think that we’ll be able to put it out sooner than later.
PPJ: How did you get signed to Gotee Records in the first place?
Matt: We got signed to a developmental record deal, I think in the summer of 1998, and then we were on that developmental deal for two years until they finally put out our record. So we were kind of sitting around and waiting a whole lot in the beginning of this whole thing.
PPJ: And why did you choose to move up to Capitol?
Matt: It wasn’t our choice, really. I guess it ultimately was, but basically what happened is that Capitol Records and Gotee are under the same distribution company, so basically Capitol just decided to kind of Big Brother the band and say, “Okay well, ultimately all the money is going to the same place, so Gotee, we want to help the band promote this fourth record and then we’ll work something out.” So Capitol just kind of came in and basically started doing stuff that Gotee didn’t have the ability to do, and then that just kind of continued. We actually never signed a deal.
PPJ: Have you seen a change in the crowds at your shows since you started getting played on the radio?
Matt: Not really. It’s not like when we’re playing a show, I can’t really look down and kind of judge who’s watching you based on what they look like. I mean, obviously our crowd is a lot different on this tour than it was when we were opening for Simple Plan or Good Charlotte, you know? There’s at least guys coming to our shows now, which is always good, not just all the young girls. But yeah, I dunno. I mean, I got a bra thrown at me the other day, that used to never happen, maybe that’s the radio thing, I dunno.
PPJ: What does the title Five Score And Seven Years Ago mean?
Matt: Yeah, it’s not much of anything, it’s just that this is our fifth album and our first one came out seven years ago, and you know, the whole Abe Lincoln reference and whatnot.
PPJ: Your single “Must Have Done Something Right” was released online without DRM protection. What are your views on downloading music?
Matt: On downloading music?
Matt: I dunno, I mean, I honestly don’t appreciate it when people just download complete records and don’t buy them and accept what I do for a living. It’s like an artist saying, “I don’t really appreciate the burglars breaking into the museum and stealing all my paintings without paying for them.” It’s kind of similar, I guess. You know, other than that, I like buying albums on iTunes, obviously I download it, but I pay for it. And I think at least being able to go to a website and stream it or whatnot is a very good indication of whether or not you’re going to like the record. I think the more preview you can get of something, the better. It’s just marketing, you know?
PPJ: Why did you choose not to have Mark Lee Townsend produce your new album when he’s produced all your previous ones?
Matt: It wasn’t really a choice like that. He did all our other four records, but it wasn’t like every time we were like, “Oh, we’re gonna use Mark no matter what.” Every time it came time to do a record, we thought of who we wanted to choose, then we weighed options and we talked to other producers. For the first four albums, it just made the most sense to have Mark do it because we really liked working with him and it was really easy. So when it came time to do the fifth one, it was the same thing. You sit down and you’re like, “Okay well, are we gonna use Mark or are we gonna use someone else?” You toss around ideas and I thought about calling Howard Benson, and seeing if I could get a hold of him to see if he’d wanna do it. So we did that and he ended up wanting to do it so it worked out really well as far as that goes. Mark still did two songs on the album so we still worked with him a little bit.
PPJ: Can you tell us a little bit about Relient K’s writing process?
Matt: It’s kind of changed over the years because we all used to live in the same town, and due to member changes, nobody lived in my town anymore that’s in the band, so I usually have to start writing and demoing on my own. Then I’ll email the demos to the guys and they’ll listen to them and tell me if they think they’re crap or not, and then if they like the songs we’ll get together and we’ll kind of work on them and take them to the next level. And then we just keep working at them from that point on. We’ll have to all get together and fly somewhere to practice for a couple weeks, so the songs have to be kind of started. You can’t just show up and not have anything to rehearse.
PPJ: How did Jon Foreman get involved with singing on the song “Deathbed?”
Matt: He’s just a good friend of mine. Actually, it’s funny, the song was only about seven and a half or eight minutes long and I knew I wanted him to sing on the record and I hadn’t decided where yet. I just started thinking about that song like, “You know, I could really use a better conclusion,” so I added like three minutes to the end of the song, kind of almost based around the fact that I wanted Jon to sing this part, and then when I started thinking about what he was going to sing like, it kind of became evident how the song should end. Even me having the idea to ask Jon to sing on the record probably helped the writing process quite a bit as well. I just sent him out some tracks and I sang the part that I wanted him to sing, and he sang it in his living room, I think. [laughs] He did it on his computer and sent it back to us, so I didn’t even get to see him while he did it. We have very mutual appreciation, and he’s kind of like a big brother to me, so I was really happy to have him involved in the record.
PPJ: You have a side project, Matthew Thiessen And The Earthquakes, and Dave Douglas has a side project called Agnes, are we going to be seeing anything out of either of those bands anytime soon?
Matt: Probably not anytime soon just because we’re just so busy right now, it’s really hard. When we do get a week off, sometimes we don’t want to just start working on other things, we want to take a break from music. Next week we’ve got all these acoustic shows and stuff in addition to playing actual shows. It’s funny, we’re playing Leno, then we have to play Anaheim that night, then we have to wake up at like five in the morning the next day to do like an eight hour video shoot, then we have to play in L.A. that night. It’s pretty crazy how busy we are. It’s a little bit tiring, but we get by.
PPJ: So, Jon Schneck collects comics, John Warne plays World Of Warcraft, and you all play Nintendo – what other hobbies do you guys have?
Matt: Well, I don’t actually play my DS that much, my girlfriend actually uses it [laughs]. Let’s see, we all play poker. I played poker last night with some of the guys. I won, which I’m happy about. We’ve actually been playing a lot of bocce ball on this tour. Sherwood bought us a bocce ball set and we’ve been playing with them. It’s been a slight obsession as of late. Matt Hoopes golfs, Dave is probably actually probably the biggest music guy, when he goes home he just works on music the whole time. I’m a big Cleveland Cavs fan and Ohio State Buckeyes fan, so I’m following sports and stuff like that. Those are some of our hobbies, I guess.
PPJ: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Matt: For me it’s just been drinking a can of Red Bull, sugar-free Red Bull. I think Jon Schneck will stick out his fist and give a little pound and say “Have a good show,” and that’s about the only thing that we do before every show.
PPJ: Do you have any plans for after the Mae/Sherwood tour is over?
Matt: A couple little things like doing some festivals, like radio type things. We’ve got a couple of those mapped out. Other gigs, like a show with The All-American Rejects, a show with Switchfoot, stuff like that all scattered about. Then a bunch of festivals, like Cornerstone, which is in Illinois and one of my favorites.
PPJ: Whatever happened to Dermike? He’s never onstage anymore.
Matt: Oh, he’s in my garage, yeah. We just kind of put him out to pasture for a little bit, and we’ll probably bring him back out at some point and have a resurgence of that good old guy.
PPJ: What are your favorite cities to play in?
Matt: That’s like a threefold question. My favorite city to actually walk around in and be in, and not even play in, is Seattle. My favorite city to play in because the crowd is so awesome is probably like Chicago or Minneapolis. And then the best city to play in because of the venue is probably Norfolk, Virginia, at the Norva. The venue’s just awesome, every time you’re there you just feel really comfortable and taken care of.
PPJ: Who are your favorite bands to tour with? Who’s the most fun to be out on tour with?
Matt: They’ve all been pretty great. We definitely love the guys we’re out with right now, Mae and Sherwood, they’re some of our best buds so we’re extremely happy to be on tour with those guys and having some fun.
PPJ: My last question for you is what are three up and coming bands you think we should be listening to?
Matt: One is Deas Vail, their record just came out like a month ago. That’s D-E-A-S V-A-I-L. Another good one is…well, I don’t know if they’re “up and coming,” but my roommate’s band Lovedrug, I love those guys. They just put out a new record. Hmm, who are up and coming bands? Well, they’re definitely not up and coming, but I heard the new Silverchair record and it’s just awesome.
PPJ: Yeah, it’s good, I’ve heard it.
Matt: Yeah, do you like it?
PPJ: I do, I like it a lot.
Matt: Yeah it’s good, but they’re definitely not up and coming.
PPJ: [laughs] No, but that’s okay. Well, that’s all I’ve got to ask you. Thanks so much.
Matt: Okay, thanks a lot – have a good one!
Thanks again to Matt for taking the time to do this interview, and to Bobbie Gale at Capitol for setting things up.
Relient K's new album, Five Score And Seven Years Ago, is now available in stores, and you can read my review of it here.