Interview: Matt Pryor (The Terrible Twos)

MattWithSon.jpgMatt Pryor leads a double life. Or is it a triple life? Matt's best known right now for being the leader of the band the New Amsterdams (the band he formed after his prior band the Get Up Kids dissolved), but right now he's also promoting his first solo album. That's not uncommon -- people do that all the time. But to be also be the ringleader of the kids' band The Terrible Twos, well, that's a third thing for Matt to keep track of.

Matt swung through Phoenix last month promoting not only his solo debut Confidence Man but also the Terrible Twos' second kids music CD, the excellent Jerzy the Giant (review). After his Terrible Twos show, but before his solo show for adults later that evening, we had a chance to chat briefly about Led Zeppelin's influence on their latest album, the best thing about playing for kids, and Pryor's plans for the next Terrible Twos album.

The funniest part of the entire interview? When I went into the tiny green room after the Terrible Twos show to interview him, mentioned that I was glad for the quiet, at which point one of the bands opening for Matt later that night let forth with an awesomely loud chord. It took us a good 15 seconds to stop laughing...

Zooglobble: What's it like writing songs with your kids?
Matt Pryor: My daughter Lily would walk around the house singing these melodies that would come into her head. All I would do is take those melodies and expand them and write a rhythm guitar part or a piano part. In the case of "Great Big Poop," I told my drummer, "Play like John Bonham -- it's duh, duh, duh, duh-de-duh-de-duh, and then you can do whatever you want." It's one take, and then built everything on top of it. We've haven't sat down much to collaborate -- it doesn't go as well as when I just steal one of the melodies.

Is Lily your oldest?
She's the oldest. My middle son Elliott is the one who tours with us most frequently. He plays maracas on stage... he'll be meeting up with us on Friday...

So I read somewhere -- and who knows how it was taken out of context -- where you said people take kids music too seriously. What's your feeling about kids music and why you do it?
I do it because it's fun. I did it initially because I wanted to do something so far removed from my normal thing and I had two kids at the time, three now. So to me it's a hobby, something I do because I enjoy it. If I didn't enjoy it, it wouldn't be worth doing, because I'm not paying my mortgage from it. And I find -- and this was true playing the Kidzapalooza stage -- that people take this stuff really seriously sometimes. The people on the media side, like the bloggers and whatnot, tend to be pretty down to earth -- "hey, this is fun!" -- but the people in some of the bands are like, "there's not enough vocal in my monitor!" rockstar-hissyfit stuff. And I'm like, "these are songs for children, right? To make them dance?" So I'm drawing the line in the sand.

MattWalkingWithSon.jpgIf it's ever not fun, you'll stop.
Yeah. I mean, I can't see myself doing this forever, anyway. I figure when my son, or maybe my niece -- she's five months old -- whenever she's seven I'll probably have to stop.

Because your audience won't care -- I mean, your primary, day-to-day audience.
Right. It's something to do for fun, and if I can make some records and make some people happy, that's cool.

So what's the most fun about it?
My favorite thing about writing songs and playing music is that moment you get that spark, that idea. You do a rough demo and then it gets stuck in your head and you're humming your own song and feeling like an arrogant jerk for singing your own song all the time. But it's that thrill of creating something. Everything else leads back to that.

You didn't write every song on Jerzy...
Yeah on Jerzy and the previous album Bill Belzer wrote a couple songs. And due to financial considerations I can't afford to fly him and a drum kit.

Are other members interested in writing, or is it mostly, "Eh, it's Matt's deal..."
Well, Eric doesn't really write songs per se, he's more of an idea man in the sense of taking something I do and making it better. He writes songs, just not for this. And Dustin is kind of the same way, they kind of have this mad scientist, "well, if we put a toy piano on it or put a banjo on it" way. And Bill, too, he's working on an (adult) solo record.

What's the best thing about playing for kids -- the show you just did -- as opposed to the show you'll play later tonight? The thing you really like about playing for kids that you don't always get playing for adults?
Well, for one thing, none of the kids ever ask you to play Get Up Kids songs. [Ed: hands down, the funniest interview line I've ever been given.] And, two, it's hard with younger kids because their attention span is so short, but when you have 'em -- like that song today where we had 'em all clap ("Pizza and Chocolate Milk") -- if we get 'em right there, it's awesome, it's such a good feeling to have them so engaged. Especially doing the quieter solo stuff, you're hoping they're paying attention, but you never get that same feeling.

Do you set aside time in the month where you say, "now I'm going to write kids music" or is pretty much, you're constantly writing songs, and sometimes those songs turn out to be about dinosaurs and sometimes they're about love affairs?
As far as whenever it's really deliberate. We have the whole balancing act. I have mornings off and then watch the kids in the afternoon and then in theory I have the evenings off though I never want to work in the evenings when my wife gets home. So if I'm going to work on a project I have to sit down as say, this is what I'm doing and this is what I'm writing towards.

As far as song ideas, I try to keep a mental back catalog of ideas for songs. Like there's one floating around, which is something my son Elliott said, which is, "One two three four five six seven eight nine ten, a lemon." And I was like, that's great, I can totally work with that and run with it. I don't know where it'll go, but I'll keep a list of that sort of stuff and plot it out. I'm trying to keep the stuff separate so if I write something dark, or a minor key, it'll be for a New Ams[terdams] or solo CD.

So will there be more Terrible Twos stuff at some point?
Yes. I'm actually going to start on that... This tour ends mid-September and I don't have a lot of touring commitments for next year. So my goal was to start working on the next Twos record. My goal is to finish the next Twos record and then give it to someone to hopefully to do some visual element -- a DVD or animation.

It takes forever those records to come out -- I finished them a year before they came out. And so I was like, if it's going to take that long, I may as well add something to it. So it'll come out in, like, 2010. Or maybe in 2009. I want to do more traditional instrumentation on it -- banjos and fiddles and mandolins. There's a really big bluegrass community in Kansas where I live because they all have kids -- at least some element.

And I think there still is a feeling in the kids music community of "I have kids, sounds like fun, so I'll pitch in..."
Oh, yeah, it's not hard to find people to play... You know, I don't feel like I'm writing "kids music." A friend of mine said I don't write songs for kids, I write songs about kids. And I kind of like that.

Or you write them -- and this is especially noticeable on the first album -- as a parent singing to a kid. Like "Caroline"...
And I'll probably go back to that more on the next album. But what I was trying to do on Jerzy... was when we were playing shows, to play songs that were upbeat. Like tonight, you'll note we didn't play anything slow, except for "We Can All Get Along with Dinosaurs." That's what that album was for...

Photos by Joe Montgomery.