Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Spotlight - The Motion Sick

Welcome to the second post in my new Sunday Spotlight series. Last week, we took a peek into Marco Mahler's mind as he revealed the inner trappings of his song Fields. In case you weren't around for it, the purpose of the series is to pry open artists mind to see what makes them really tick. I'll be asking artists whose music I'm particularly enjoying to open up about a track from their latest effort.

This week, the kind lads from The Motion Sick have agreed to bandy together to talk about a track from their latest album, The Truth Will Catch You, Just Wait..., which is scheduled to be released at the turn of next year (January 1st). And because I haven't gotten you anything yet, accept these tracks as my gifts to you. Enjoy them while reading the absolutely, positively true story behind 30 Lives, the second track from the album, a love song that could be straight from a nerd's heart (or Michael Epstein's). Text in red is from the band, text in black is mine.


Michael Epstein (Vocals/Guitar):

30 Lives came together quite differently from a lot of other songs that we've worked on. I wanted to write a love song for my wife for a long time, but I find it really difficult to write songs without all of the characters contorting and twisting into something at least mildly grotesque. So one day, when I was painting our bedroom pomegranate red, it dawned on me that I do enjoy some very light-hearted music, but that most of that music was made in the '50s. That was the trick, I'd write a '50s love song for her.

I was a little worried still about coming up with a concept for the song. It seemed like most of the basic "love" ideas have been done to death. I love you, you're beautiful, you make me happy, angels sing when you walk by, etc. I don't know why I was simultaneously thinking about video games. Maybe I am always simultaneously thinking about video games. Either way, it came to me that in video games, you get multiple lives. I couldn't think of any songs at all about reincarnation, except maybe Pet Sematary by The Ramones, but that is a very negative discourse. So, maybe a song about reincarnation to relive love together was original enough and suitable to keep the lovely lady happy.

The Ramones - Pet Sematary : Weird Tales of the Ramones

Of course, those video games kept sneaking in and I realized that this was a perfect opportunity to intertwine love and video games. The Konami Code (or sometimes the Contra Code) - Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A - is probably the most famous video game cheat and it gives you thirty lives. Note that Select-Start, although not truly part of the code, sets the game on two player mode and begins.

My wife complains that the song is really about video games more than it is about her, but it will probably be a while before I squeeze out another love song, so she'll have to live with this for now. In her defense, we have sometimes introduced the song live as a love song about two men who set off into the jungle together to fight a rebel army controlled by an alien race determined to take over the planet.

The music video is kind of a tribute to the '70s and '80s tributes to the '50s. I guess it's post-post-ironic anachronism or something. It was a ton of work making the video, but we really had a great time and met a lot of awesome people. It really reminded me that although you see list of 4 guys in this band, we really only exist and accomplish anything at all via the generosity and support of dozens, if not hundreds, of talented friends and acquaintances.

Matthew Girard (Bass):

I heard a quote once about the band, saying that listening to us is like putting on a Mix Tape. I've always found that both flattering and frustrating... While the listener is hopefully pleasantly surprised by the variety, I also wonder if they are left with a disconnect; wondering how this band could possibly make a cohesive collection of songs. Take 30 Lives for example. On its own, its a slightly quirky ode to the '80s that also has roots in the '50s. To me; it is in essence a love song, with (stealing a common phrase from Dick Clark's American Bandstand) a good beat and you can dance to it. I suppose if I was to think a little more; potentially I could come up with some more significant personal or fatalistic meaning to a lyrics like: "as my mood ring turns dark blue", but maybe we as listeners and critics over think music. However, within the context of a rather lyrically deep collection of songs maybe we need that three and a half minute mental break and just think about the girl/boy of our dreams..

Travis Richter (Drums):

I enjoyed the recording process of 30 Lives. It was pretty rad to see the song develop from its conception, to the final product. Tracking drums for the song was a huge amount of fun (mostly because I did it in a few takes), I love the sound of the toms and the overall feel. It was really cool to hear all of the guitar, bass, horns and keys bringing the song to life. It's a fun song and I think we convey that in the recording.

I was also able to ask Michael a few questions:

1.) So when she first heard the song 30 Lives, was your wife flattered or did she toss your game system out the window?
She actually doesn't like the song very much. She thinks it's too silly and she always says that it's really about video games and not about her. She is a tough one.
2.) Your album, as well as seeming musical outlook, and the third track on the album specifically for example (Walk On Water) instantly made me think of the Violent Femmes (and their track Jesus Walking On the Water). Any influence there?
I am a fan of the Violent Femmes and we do get that comparison a lot. Interestingly, I've never thought of them as an influence and never directly attempted to do the kind of thing they are doing, but it seems that it's just naturally turned out that way a bit. I also never really connected the two water-walking songs. "Walk On Water" actually used to be a totally different song with different chorus, but I rearranged it and wrote a new chorus, which recontextualized all of the content and meaning. It was the case of a slow, mopey histrionic number transforming into a bouncy alt-countryish tune.
3.) You've been asked to write a brand new score for a video game (new or old). Which one would it be?
The greatest video game of all time, which also happens to have the greatest game theme song of all time, is M.U.L.E. If they ever make a new version of the game (I used to play it on the Commodore 64), I'd kill, or at least cut a line, to have a chance to update the theme music for the hipster kids of today. (I COMPLETELY remember both the Commodore 64 and this game and LOVED it as much as it sounds like Mike did!)


The track is easily my favorite on the album. Give it a listen and you'll see why. As Michael points out, there are so many love cliches that you can fall into - but not with this song. Looking for some off-kilter music that doesn't take itself too seriously? Look no further than The Motion Sick. It's witty without being pretentious. Entertaining without being inane. For another taste of what they're dishing out, try Losing Altitude below. It's another love song (call me a sap) with a slightly different take on the whole thing.

The Motion Sick - 30 Lives : The Truth Will Catch You, Just Wait...
(watch the video)

The Motion Sick - Losing Altitude : The Truth Will Catch You, Just Wait...

and one from their debut:

The Motion Sick - Dead-Letter Officer : Her Brilliant Fifteen

Visit their website and become their friend on MySpace.

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