by ALAN SCULLEY & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & otion City Soundtrack front man Justin Pierre can't say if the band's latest CD, Even If It Kills Me, is the group's best to date. It's sure as hell a milestone, though: It's the first Pierre has made sober. Or mostly sober.
He'd been making a go of sobriety for a while -- one of many throughout his life -- but didn't seek professional help until the album was essentially finished, when a breakup with a girlfriend threw him handily from the wagon.
"After the breakup occurred, and right near the end of the record, I went out and just got completely obliterated on margaritas and I woke up in a pool of vomit," Pierre said. "So yeah, that was really bad. Even after not drinking for a long time ... I just happen to be one of those people who can't stop."
Pierre's substance habits were nothing new, and it took him years before he decided he needed to change his ways. "It's kind of an up-and-down road," Pierre said. "But I've been drinking and doing various drugs since I was like 14. And I've had [dry periods] here and there." Other than the last minute fall-off, Even if it Kills Me was a sober record. "I'm pretty sure when it comes to everything we wrote, I wasn't under the influence of anything," he says. "Whereas on the last record, there are specific songs I know I wrote completely obliterated."
It was a hard road. "I would always use this one vice or this one thing to stop me from thinking," he said. "It was sort of a self-medicating thing. And without that, I didn't know how to feel." As much as Even If It Kills Me is a getting clean record, then, it's a learning to rely on others to record. The level of collaboration necessary to pull it off was high.
"I think in the earlier years, there was a bit of an ego battle, and now we've kind of gotten over that," Pierre said. "I think that's one thing that we've learned over the years that, based on a song, you can kind of dissect it. There's the album, which is on one level, and then beneath that there is each song and finding each part for each song, and then each part for each verse, chorus or bridge or whatever. You can go down the line, and it's like sometimes people don't need to play [at certain points]. Just as important as putting something in is taking something out.
"More and more, I think we're finding that it's about the songs and not necessarily the individuals," he says -- as key a realization in recovery as in music-making. The productivity of the band represented a new twist for Motion City Soundtrack. "It was really weird because we had kind of a slew of songs to choose from, which is unheard of," Pierre said. "We're usually struggling to get enough songs for a record."
Pierre has reason to be pleased with what he and his bandmates contributed to Even If It Kills Me. While the CD sticks close to the guitar pop blueprint of the first two CDs, and despite Pierre's reluctance to admit it, this is Motion City's strongest, most diverse set of songs yet. Crisp new-wavish tunes like "This Is for Real," "Broken Heart" and "Fell in Love With You," deliver smart pop hooks and plenty of bouncy energy. Meanwhile, appealing mid-tempo songs like "Last Night" and "Hello Helicopter" and the piano ballad "The Conversation" herald a growing sophistication in the band's songwriting.
"I never wanted to believe I was one of those people who relied on drugs to do something. But I think I had somehow become that person, and I hated that more than anything," Pierre says. Having cleaned up, he now believes his alcohol and drug use hampered his creativity. "I do still consider this record a sober record," he says, "and if this is like a half-assed sober record, and if I can remain on this track until the end of time and space, then I think I'll be able to go to even more places [creatively] I wasn't aware of."
Motion City Soundtrack with Sing It Loud and the Spill Canvas at the Knitting Factory on Thursday, July 17, at 6 pm. $20. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.