Twin Peaks and Rock n Roll - Our Q&A with The Motion Sick

Editor's Note: The Motion Sick (a Best of Pick for 2008) are easily one of the city's best bands right now and are standouts on the national level based on their talent, intelligence and the unique nature of their music.

The interview you are about to read was conducted with The Motion Sick this summer. Our research included listening to a lot of the band's sensational 2008 record: The Truth Will Catch You, Just Wait. We also attended a handful of Motion Sick shows and I am proud to count the guys as friends now. Music does help bring people together.

Special thanks to Jen P for her transcription work and undying dedication.


photo by Tanit Sakakini

I am driving east like a maniac... I zig-zag through back streets and cross bridges, leaving beyond snared intersections as I approach Cambridge and my interview with the Motion Sick’s Michael Epstein.

The band has a set with Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yelstin later that same evening at TT the Bears and Epstein has agreed to fit me in before hand. I look at my watch... Damn.

Hopefully we still enough time to get some good quotes and a little insight. Traffic is growing ugly. I definitely didn’t want to miss this interview. In preparation for the meeting, I’ve been listening to the Motion Sick’s 2008 album, “The Truth Will Catch You Just Wait” a lot recently. Sometime during my second listen through, the record really reached out to me. Now not only is the band really good – they are exciting. (One set is all you need to realize their huge potential.)

I quickly make my way to the 1369 Coffee House where I begin to look for the lone wiry singer. (Epstein makes me look like a mountain.) There are none to be found.

The singer waves me over. I missed him because he was sitting with drummer Travis Richter. I learn bassist Matthew Girard is on his way. I am now, unexpectedly, doing a group interview.

We pull a couple of tables together in the back of the coffee house and trade pleasantries. I make note of our beverage selections to make some small talk. I blow steam from the top of my muddy cappuchino, Epstein drinks green tea and the drummer (Richter) sips on a Red Bull . Just then the song changes and it’s the new one from the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I know it instantly and suddenly, I feel right about this interview and just now I’m going to get something brilliant from these guys.

RYAN (RSL): The first time I wrote about you guys I wrote that you had a kind of time traveler quality, like your music is a little bit all over the place artistically. So where do your influences come from? Do all of you have the same taste in music?

TRAVIS RICHTER: When it comes to music, I’m more of a pop-orientated person. My style of music is much more on the melodic, poppy side. I’m not so necessarily so concerned or so into the lyrics as I am with the melodies and the harmony.

MICHAEL EPSTEIN: One thing that is really important to us in the band is that no one’s going to come to a show or listen to our album, and say, ‘All these songs sound like the same thing. This band has only one song and they’re doing it over and over again...’

RYAN: What would we find you guys listening to on your own time, when you’re not playing music with the band?

TRAVIS: I’m listening to a lot of more mainstream indie rock. Manchester Orchestra, Dead Confederate. Most lately, I’ve been into Modest Mouse (RSL Top 15 Albums of 2007) … it took me a while for those guys, I guess you could say I kind of missed...

Michael and I both spontaneously interrupt Travis, “Missed the Boat?” And then there’s a few seconds of laughter and it’s all you can hear in the coffee shop.

TRAVIS: I didn’t know too much about them until Mike shared some of their music with me. The thing about Modest Mouse is that they’re an amazing band and amazing musicians.

RYAN: And now they’ve added Johnny Marr.

TRAVIS: And Johnny Marr’s friggin' incredible.

MICHAEL: I like Cloud Cult and actually, I’ve been listening to the Velvet Underground a lot recently.

That’s when Girard arrives and pulls up a seat, smiling widely. We could have had a Motion Sick performance right in the coffee shop except for the missing guitarist PATRICK MUSSARI. (I later learn that Patrick drew the short straw and was left to begin loading the gear for the show by himself.)

I repeat the same question to Girard, about his influences.

MATTHEW GIRARD: I like much the same music... Recently, I have been into Television. I’m a Wilco fan and Neil Young is always good for me

RYAN: And what have you been listening to most recently?

MATTHEW: There’s a band we played with in Detroit called The Silent Years. The first three songs on their album are awesome. ”

RYAN: Well now that we’ve talked about your influences, let’s talk about your music. The songs have that great pop sound, but some of those lyrics – if you read those straight through, are about theology, philosophy, politics. You are comparing things that don’t naturally match up to the music in those songs. You are talking about each major pillar of society but it’s in sing-song fashion... It’s easy to read the lyrics as what they are or you can break them out into a manifesto kind of thing…

MICHAEL: Uh oh, he’s on to me! (laughs)

MATTHEW: That tone in those songs allows us to kind of talk about world and media issues without being pretentious and overbearing. I think it makes it a little more digestible. Hopefully.

MICHAEL: And political music with a specific agenda is very hard to make good. I never felt good about doing that. So instead, I just try to write about things that interesting. My goal is to take you in a direction that’s unexpected.

RYAN: Let’s take Walk on Water. It’s a very sunny day song... Let me read some of these lyrics... "I can walk on water like I’m one of the chosen; I can walk on water as long as it’s frozen.' There you have the double-barbed whip. There's theological references, imagery of birth and allusion to being born... But you're having fun too. It's very clever.

MATTHEW: Oh, thank you. I mean, there are a lot of things that we can’t avoid in our existences. A lot of social things, a lot of philosophical … religion, I guess is too specific a word, but philosophical ideas. And so, again, it’s hard to address those things directly without being silly or didactic.

RYAN: This takes us in a new direction, then.... What does the title of the album mean?

MICHAEL: The owls... "The owls are not what they seem” is actually a phrase comes from the show the TV show Twin Peaks.

RYAN: Wild. I watched that show, I should have know that!

MICHAEL: It’s actually kind of cryptic. They never explain it in the show, but they keep getting this transmission. It comes up in a bunch of different areas. He has a dream where the giant says it to him; they receive a satellite message that says it; all these different things, saying, “The owls are not what they seem.” It’s never quite addressed, but I really like the image of the wise owl, the ancient forest creature. In the show, they kind of imply it’s like a carrier for spirits. And so, I really liked that image, so I wanted to try and work with that and see what I could come up with. The song’s kind of about Twin Peaks. It’s kind of about the struggles in the show. Maybe I’m getting off topic…

RYAN: No, no. This is perfect!

MICHAEL: It’s a funny show. Well actually, it’s a little bit off the track for a second, I liked Twin Peaks because it was the perfect blend of intense, frightening stuff and ridiculous humor.

RYAN: The non sequitur.

MICHAEL: Totally! It was great. Twin Peaks had a really great mood and tone, all the time. And they were able to tie together things I’ve never seen tied together in any other positive way. I really liked that so I wanted to try and write a song about some of the ideas and the themes in Twin Peaks. To me, the main theme – I don’t want to ruin it if you guys haven’t seen it – but the main theme is actually not that Laura Palmer was killed, really, but she eventually decided to accept that her life had to end. So it’s a journey about her accepting that her life was at its end. And so the song is kind of about that. That’s my interpretation of the show.

RYAN: This is great.

MATTHEW: I think it takes fate to a different level. And then all the other characters, at least from my Wikipedia reading – I’ve seen a couple episodes – but just exploring and kind of learning a little bit about it for themselves. But also taking fate and making it an entity. Not a physical person, but something that actively influences people’s lives.

It’s like a literary device in the show. And that’s where the album title comes from. So The Truth Will Catch You Just Wait the idea is that there’s some fatalist, immutable truth that’s after you.

RYAN: You can’t go against the oracle, right? Eventually it’ll come true.

MICHAEL: Right. And I don’t want to say that I’m necessarily a fatalist, but I wanted to explore that idea. I don’t want to say that I believe all the things I’m exploring, but I like to see what I can find.

RYAN: Now what happens if (director) David Lynch calls you up and says, “I need a movie!”

MICHAEL: (laughing) I sent him a copy of the album, but I don’t know if he got it. Yeah, I told him the show had influenced some of the writing.

RYAN: You’re band is just so different - and that’s a good thing today. Everything’s so homogenized. But you have an identity, something a little bit special and different and it’s really cool. I think your fans are the type to be really devoted because of that fact.

MICHAEL: Yeah, we’ve basically made friends with the people who come to see us. We’ve toured a bit nationally, but not a huge amount so they’re been a lot of times where people come out to shows and they love us and then we continue communicating with them.

RYAN: Do you see yourselves doing more touring or another album in the next year?

MATTHEW: Probably not another record this year. We finished this one last fall. It was a slightly arduous process. I think we’d like to maybe push off for a little bit. Each record has been very different in our approach, so I think it would be useful for us to kind of take stock of what we’ve done and maybe try a different approach. Certainly touring, we like to do it. We all are at jobs, as you know, so it’s tough to actually find the time.

At this point, the interview breaks down into simple, friendly conversation. The band needed to leave soon to take the stage. Patrick needs help setting up. We stand to go, then the strangest things that has ever happened to me during an interview happens.... One of the Motion Sick's own songs begins to play from the speakers of the coffeehouse. We stood there for a moment, listening to, "The Most Beautiful Dead Girl," from the band's debut album Her Brilliant Fifteen. It's a harbinger of good things for the band. They have a huge set that night and have gone on to play for some large local audiences - including a recent scorcher of a night with Dead Confederate.

Most recently, The Motion Sick learned that their video game romance song "30 Lives" was tapped to be used in Dance Dance Revolution X, a video game on the Playstation 2 and XBox 360 platforms. A song in a video game is the perfect compliment to this fun band - clearly one of Boston's favorites right now!

VIDEO: 30 Lives (Dance Edit)
for Dance Dance Revolution X

UPCOMING: The Motion Sick returns to Church (where they performed a theme residency this summer... Our favorite night was when the band dressed up and performed on stage as super heroes!) The Motion Sick return to open for a tribute to Television’s “Marquee Moon” by The Cult of Point Break Society on Thursday, November 6, 2008 as part of a benefit for the Coalition of the Willing.

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