Frontman Matt Thiessen chats about the band’s new collection The Bird and the Bee Sides, balancing the line between goofy and serious, remembering the first Relient K records, and always keeping the fans the priority.
I remember I saw you here a couple years ago on your first ever Warped Tour date.
Yeah, and today was our first this year. First is always the worst. It’s sad to say, especially for all the kids in Pomona, but you have to get through those bugs, you know? Honestly, most tours you don’t have a good show until the third show, for us at least. Some bands are probably incredible.
Last year on the first day at Warped a bunch of bands had tech problems.
Yeah, today all my microphones were going into the wrong things, so I didn’t have any vocals for a while.
Yeah, it was like one was high and then one was off.
Yeah, and the guitars were all missing stuff. But, you know, it’s a fun rock ‘n’ roll show. As long as the kids can hear us and sing along, it’s always a good time.
I love the title for this new record, The Bird and the Bee Sides. You always have really clever titles. How do you come up with those?
Well, The Bird and the Bee Sides, half of it is b-sides, so that kind of wrote itself. I don’t know. I like puns. I like wordplay, so I always sit and stew over stuff for a while. The Nashville Tennis EP, I like that one too. That’s what the first 13 songs are called. That’s a fun one, too.
Yeah, how is the record structured?
The Bird and the Bee Sides is a 26-song record. The first 13 are actually called The Nashville Tennis EP, and then the last 13 are called The Bird and the Bee Sides. All 26 are hopefully going to get sold for 10 bucks at most places.
I hear there’s some different vocalists on the Nashville Tennis stuff.
Yeah, everybody in our band writes, or can write, songs and sing it themselves. Everyone’s capable. I thought for fun, why don’t we all just try it? John Warne, our bass player, used to be the lead singer in this band called Ace Troubleshooter. It’s like, why doesn’t he write a song? Then Matt Hoopes has a cool voice, so why doesn’t he write a song? Ethan used to be in a band called My Red Hot Nightmare where he sang. Everybody’s sung before, so it’s cool.
Have you heard the new Weezer album where all the different guys sang on it?
Yeah, I’ve dabbled through the record, but I can never figure out who’s singing and stuff. I imagine it wasn’t Rivers the whole time, but I didn’t know if he was just trying different styles of vocals or what.
This is going to be released on Gotee. Is it going to be out on Capitol, too?
No, I think the whole Capitol thing is done. They still have Mmhmm, our fourth record, Five Score and Seven Years Ago, and the Christmas record that we just put out. They’re still taking care of those, but other than that.
Are you free agents after this then?
Yeah, we are actually. We got some plans. We got some ideas, but nothing signed yet. We’ll see what happens.
How do you think that whole mainstream thing treated you guys?
It was fine. I think that it’s cool because of the fact we were on Warped Tour three years ago. We were on Capitol Records. If you don’t share the same beliefs as us, people were realizing, “Oh, I can think differently but still like the music.” It’s not like listening to worship music, or anything like that. It’s completely different.
Then a lot of people just realized our music is neutral. It can be either way. It’s just positive. Over the years, I feel like that’s become the constant. Now, it doesn’t matter what label we sign with. I feel like the same people are going to be into the music, no matter who we’re with.
Yeah, it seems like with each album you’ve been able to gain a little bit more popularity but still keep that core fan base intact.
We love the kids that continually buy our records. They’re the reason that we’ve gotten to do this for 10 years so far. So, definitely, they’re our priority. If we can make new fans, if people still dig the stuff, awesome.
Another thing I’ve always liked about you is you’re able to be both really funny and serious at the same time. How are you able to make that work?
Well, I guess a lot of people can be funny and serious at the same time. You got to pick your punches. Back in the day, we used to be really goofy all the time. Then we would find out whenever we tried to be serious, people were like, “Why isn’t this a goofy song?” I’m 27 right now, so I tend to not be as goofy with the writing anymore. Still, at the same time on the Bee Sides record, there’s tons of little areas where we’re able to goof off. Who knows? Maybe we’ll do an entire joke record someday.
I know. You’ve done a bunch of EPs, a Christmas album, everything pretty much but a live album and a covers album.
Right, right. A covers album would be fun.
You played “Good Life” today, which was cool, and then I loved on the Switchfoot tour how you busted out The Office song. You should record those.
We should, yeah. That’d be fun.
So, “Deathbed.” Have you played it live yet?
No, we’re talking about maybe trying to do it in the fall on the headlining tour. We haven’t really headlined a tour since the album came out.
Yeah, the one with Mae.
Yeah. The last tour we were co-headlining with Switchfoot, so you only get 50 minutes to play. You’re not going to spend 11 of it on one song, you know?
Any plans to top that one or make another epic song like that?
I started writing an entire record around that song. That could be fun. Maybe that will come out someday. I did a bunch of different characters and stuff. I’d actually like to turn the song into an entire record but have it all be congruent. It’s a pipe dream, but we’ll see.
You got a new drummer a couple months ago, Ethan Luck. How’s that been working out?
Ethan’s great. He’s pretty gung-ho about being in the band. He’s excited about things. He’s good at the drums and is a great friend of ours. Honestly, those are the three things that you really need. We definitely chose him because he had a balance of all those things.
As a band and for you, how do you usually write your songs? What’s that process like?
I don’t live in the same town as any of the other guys.
Do you still live in Ohio?
Yeah, Ohio, and I spend a lot of time in Atlanta. I just got engaged to a girl out in Atlanta, so I’m seeing her all the time and stuff.
Thank you, I appreciate it. It was two days ago. I did it right before Warped Tour [laughs]. But yeah, I’ll start on my own usually with lyrics or whatever, if I have a good concept or something. Then I’ll try and figure out if I have riffs, or bits and pieces of progressions lying around, and you put it all together. I’ll make demos and stuff in my basement and play them for the guys. If they dig the song, we’ll go further with it. Everybody in the band will contribute and try and make it a better song.
Another thing I’ve noticed is you play guitar with your thumb. How did that get started? Is it difficult?
It got started with self-teaching. I got guitar lessons for Christmas that year I first started playing guitar. I think it was ’96 or ’97. The guitar instructor made me use a pick. I started using a pick and I couldn’t play any of the Nirvana songs I had already learned, or Collective Soul or any of the stuff that I knew. I was like, screw this. I threw the pick away and just decided to figure it all out on my own.
Did you play guitar before you picked up piano?
I’ve played piano actually since I was six. I’m not very good at it. I never liked piano because I always had to read everything. It was always so theory. There was no creativity to it, but now I can use all the stuff I learned as a kid. I might simplify everything, but I can make up my own stuff at the piano. That’s really fun.
As you said earlier, you’ve been around for 10 years now. Looking back at your first couple records, what do you think of those now?
They’re great. They’re pieces of our history. They’re where we were back then. We thought those records were good when we put them out. I won’t say that six months after those records were out, we weren’t ready to put out another one.
The first record was hard. We were 15 when we wrote a lot of those songs, or maybe 16, and the record came out when we were 19, so those were really old songs for us. That’s why Anatomy we wrote as soon as we did. I don’t know. They were really good learning experiences. I feel like we wouldn’t be making records that are as likeable and melodic as our new stuff without them. We definitely had to make those first few records first.
Didn’t you rerecord a bunch of that older stuff, too?
Yeah. If something wasn’t heard by a lot of people and it was a good song, we always rerecorded stuff to put it on something with maybe a little more spotlight.
On this Bee Sides album, is there a song now you wished would have made it on there?
No, not really. We could have made the Bee Sides record 40 songs long, but then it would have had to be a dual disc. Just so we can sell it for less than 10 bucks, we decided to squeeze 26 songs on one album. There’s no regrets about it. I think it’s cool.
Are you looking forward to anything particular on Warped this year?
Yeah, the hang is always good. Seeing all the kids come out and actually caring enough to come up and say hi. That’s the best. You’re connecting with the people that dig the stuff. That’s the whole reason why you tour, I suppose.
Do you have any good friends that are on the tour?
Yeah, the Anberlin guys. I know some of the Say Anything guys. We hang out a lot. I could go on for a little while. But yeah, it’s cool. There’s some interesting things, too, like my ex-girlfriend. Her name is Katy Perry. She’s out on the whole thing and we’re still good buddies, so that’s kind of fun. I haven’t seen her yet, though.
I also understand you have a couple side bands.
Always, kind of. Whenever I can find time to devote to a side project or whatever, I would love to do another record. We’ll see what happens. The next couple years are going to be interesting. We’re talking about maybe taking over an independent record label as a band and putting out our own stuff on the home label, and being able to sign other bands and stuff. I imagine if we have that kind of access to distribution and whatnot, then I’ll probably put out some side projects on the label. It’ll be fun. I got this hip-hop thing, Jehovah’s Witness Protection Program, that I started a long time ago.
So after Warped Tour, you said you’ll be going out on a headline tour?
Yeah, we’ll be going out with Ludo, This Providence and House of Heroes.
Oh, cool. You’re big into House of Heroes, right?
Yeah. We actually auditioned their drummer, because he was going to quit, but then he ended up going back to House of Heroes. It was funny, but they’re excellent and friends. It’s going to be a fun tour.
Are you thinking about the next record at all?
Yeah, we’ll start writing it before the headlining tour, and maybe have demos and stuff done by the winter. We’ll start recording next February, hopefully. We try to put something out every year.
And didn’t Five Score get pushed back like six months or something?
Yeah, and then it leaked eight weeks early [laughs].
On that record, it seemed like none of your faster-paced stuff got chosen as singles. Do you guys choose the singles or does the label?
Yeah, the label chooses the single. That was the thing with Capitol, was that it was always a trust thing. We always trusted what they said. They’re the major label. They know what to do, so we better listen.
But honestly, I think we had better ideas then them on a lot of things. They were just trying to churn us through maybe that Yellowcard machine that they had with “Ocean Ave.” That’s just not us, you know? Anyway, it’s been an adventure. I think we’ve realized that we’d much rather devote ourselves personally to our fans, and just try and build our careers that way.