Interview: Midtown

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In the summer of 2007 I was a fresh-faced freelance music journalist interviewing artists for a local newspaper as they came to the Central Jersey area. On one such occasion I interviewed Rob Hitt, drummer for pop punk stalwarts Midtown. At the time the band had been broken up for two years and Hitt was now managing bands and running his own label I Surrender Records — a label that includes the likes of Four Year Strong and I Am the Avalanche. His bandmates stayed busy too especially frontman Gabe Saporta who went onto form dance pop group Cobra Starship. Yet, despite new and successful endeavors, the desire to see the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based band reunite over the last decade has remained strong and at times ravenous.

Fast forward; it’s April 2014 and I am on the phone once more with one of my first interviews — this time talking about Midtown’s reunion shows this weekend at the Skate and Surf Music Festival in Asbury Park this weekend. We had initially planned to conduct business during half time of a recent Nets/Heat Playoff game but communication issues initially plagued this. When we finally made contact it was a joyful exchange about growing older, how music taste changes over time and just how after almost a decade apart this band found their way back together if only for a moment.

Photo Credit: Victoria Asher
Photo Credit: Victoria Asher

Rob Hitt: You may have been one of the last interviews I did until recently.

Pop-Break: You haven’t done any since then?

RH: Well no, I mean we broke up in 2005, and I guess that was what 2007? Yeah, I mean we have been pretty selective on the interviews we have done up till now cause we only officially decided on this at the beginning of the year and we are still very much in the early half of 2014. Like, this came about really quick. I think late December or at least the first week in January we talked about it and all of a sudden come January 11th we were meeting up at a rehearsal to decide “can we still play?” “Do we want to do this?” We had this one quick two hour rehearsal where we practiced 8 songs then after that we decided we liked what we were doing but what we wanted to be really good if we were to go through with it. So we put ourselves on a schedule of just practicing every Sunday from 1pm to 7pm. First, we put four or five songs down then it became eight to nine then 11 to 12 and now we have 19 songs that we could potentially play off the three albums over the two Skate and Surf shows and the secret show at the Knitting Factory.

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PB: Was there any point in the rehearsals considering what you have been doing the in past decade that you put your manager hat on instead of just being the drummer?

RH: I wouldn’t say that cause…well actually I will say that (laughs) cause I know how to get things done a lot faster. On top of that just getting it done efficiently so that did come in where we were doing things and I would say “listen let’s do it this way, maybe” so in that the manager mentality was present.

PB: What sparked this reunion? I saw the Skate and Surf announcement and normally that is where a reunion comes out of is an opportunity but had you guys been talking about this for a while?

RH: I think it was a few things. Tyler in our band always had a funny thing he would say and I totally agree with it which was “we better do a reunion show now or soon cause if we don’t we will probably be pretty old.” It’s sometimes sad to go to see your favorite bands reunite and they are in their fifties and don’t get me wrong it’s awesome but we should do it while we are still young or younger. I always wanted to do one for a while because we never quite closed the chapter on Midtown. We played our last show in May 2005 and never got to say “hey this will be our last show and we want you guys to come out so we can thank you”. I wish we had done that so it was important to do that now. The difference was between the three of us and Gabe is he was so busy musically that he has just never stopped. He has been doing XYZ with Cobra (Starship) over the last decade that he hasn’t stopped so he had down time or chose down time so we thought maybe this is when it should be done when all of us have no commitments.

PB: It’s crazy that this finally came about. I use to listen to you guys in high school and when you guys broke up the last album hadn’t done as well and was kind of a low for the band. In the decade since the album has become very well respected and the desire to see you guys reform has been so great.

RH: It is nice to once every year or every other year to see somebody cares whether its 100 people or 100,000 its just cool to see someone still cares just as much about what we did. Maybe much like how I feel about my old NOFX records someone feels the same way about those Midtown records and at 36 years old I guess I still feel the same way about those old NOFX records (laughs). Sometimes that just never changes and it’s based on an age bracket at the time I guess cause its really cool to see people 10 years on still love that music like somewhere it means something even if they have changed.

I think in general for the era we grew up in it’s a little different for the current one. It may be more about a song versus the band and the artist. This is how I put it into perspective. I have a friend who has two kids he is telling me they are in the car and he is trying to put on whatever band from the 80s or 90s and his two daughters are like 8 or 12 going “Dad we don’t care about your old music. We don’t care about the band we care about the song” That blew my mind and maybe that is the way it’s going for good or for worse.

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PB: I think for me it comes down to the overall quality of the bands and the albums being released. I mean it somehow has always been about the singles but I think back to when I was in high school between 2002 and 2005 there was a great helping of bands like you guys, Saves the Day, and Taking Back Sunday. That music I guess still means a lot to me now compared to music now where it’s all about how good the single is versus the album.

RH: OR are you just getting older? Maybe there is something to be said between the age of 16 and 24 that you become so involved with the music and the people you are around so when you get older priorities change; music taste either of your own or your friends change, people get married, have jobs, have kids. But who knows. This a very un Midtown topic but it’s funny to think will you and I have The Color and the Shape at 30 years old that means that much to us?

PB: This is very true. Okay back to the band (laughs) Was there an air of awkwardness over the initial rehearsal? If so how did you guys get over it?

RH: Well we actually thought we would be much worse (laughs) but we decided show or not we were having a lot of fun playing together. The awkwardness came not from playing together for so long but if we would actually be good. SO if we are doing these shows we better be pretty damn good (laughs). The fun of rehearsing went into us making that awkwardness into something really positive for potential shows.

PB: I assume that what you have practiced is a solid helping from all three records?

RH: Exactly.

PB: I read in an interview with Gabe that you weren’t too keen on doing a full album front to back show since it’s the 10th anniversary of Forget What You Know.

RH: I think that may have been twisted. What my feelings were is if we are going to a do a show for the first time reuniting it should just be a mixture of all three albums. I would love to do that album in full. That album was the most fun for me to play on.

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PB: What are you feelings about that album now compared to when you recorded it a decade ago?

RH: We knew pretty much going in that if we are going make another album we want to feel happy and comfortable with it or we will regret it the rest of our lives. I feel and I think we all feel that those songs are still great now as we did when we wrote them 10 years ago. I think our instincts were correct in we wrote an album for ourselves that is a little more timeless than the other two. And that’s how we feel about it and it still feels good. No regrets whatsoever. It’s hard for a band to think about changing their style because you know your fans are expecting a certain thing that if it doesn’t mesh with them musically or resonate that it’s a letdown.

PB: Where do you guys stand now? We are a week out from the shows. Are you guys more inclined to consider not necessarily writing new music but more shows or because you guys have stayed so busy it’s kind of hard to get back into the swing of that?

RH: We definitely have no shows booked at all but if the opportunity arises we might consider it since we have had so much fun so far. Like if someone was like “Hey, want to go to Japan?” I might be like “You know, I’m 36 and I don’t know if I will ever get the chance to go there again so why not” That might be kind of cool. You never know though. I think if went to these rehearsals and weren’t having fun that would be an obvious answer but since we have been having fun that’s more in the cards.

PB: Any chance of pursuing new material? I know for many bands it comes down to how the shows end up going.

RH: I think we all probably have the same mentality in that if we were to write new material, you know, pick 12 songs out of a potential 50 I think it would be at this age a bit easier for us to be like “let’s make sure these songs are great. There is no pressure for us to do something new but if we were inclined to do it than we want to make sure that those potential 12 tracks for a record are awesome and make us happy. It’s possible but much like the shows we just have to see how we feel. For now it’s been just a great experience that as friends and as a band has made us very happy over these past few months.

Midtown's secret show in NYC on Wednesday night. Photo by the Skate & Surf staff.
Midtown’s secret show in NYC on Wednesday night. Photo by the Skate & Surf staff.

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