Interview: The Starting Line

joe zorzi speaks with one of pop-punk’s best bands …

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I grew up on pop-punk. Ever since I bought All Killer, No Filler by Sum 41, I just couldn’t get enough. Then, the scene slowly started getting more and more filled with garbage, but there were always those staple pop-punk bands that just did it right. The Starting Line is definitely in the latter category. Through the years they matured tremendously, but still managed to stay true to their sound.

Their hiatus in 2008 left a huge gap in the scene, but thankfully the guys are back and sounding just as great as ever. I was lucky enough to chat with guitarist Matt Watts about their return, their upcoming shows, The Dangerous Summer, and much more.

[Editorial Note: This interview was conducted right before The Starting Line’s East Coast Tour that concluded last weekend.]

Pop-Break.com: So, you guys excited a lot of people by announcing the end of your … well … quote-unquote break, because I know it wasn’t like a definitive split or anything. But, you guys are about to play a few shows now on the East Coast. I’m assuming there’s a lot of anticipation for you guys.

Matt Watts: We’re really excited. We practiced last week, everything feels really good. So yeah, we’re all really excited and were definitely hitting markets that we love playing.

PB: So what can people expect to see from you guys at these shows?

MW: We’re going to be playing a new song and just, you know, just us. Straight-up nostalgia, I guess. We’re definitely playing a little bit from each record. So yeah, it’s gonna be a good mix of everything.

PB: Very cool. You had a statement earlier this summer where you were kind of clearing up that even though you guys were back to playing and everything — you’re not really on a specific timeline or anything with touring and writing. But has any of this changed since then?

MW: No, I mean that’s pretty much it. I mean, we’re definitely going at a snail’s pace. It’s finally fun again so we don’t want to put any pressure on ourselves by, you know, working too hard or too frequently. Or working on a certain timeline. It’s one of those things where it feels a lot like when we first started the band. Where everything feels very new and fresh and inspiring. And we want to keep it that way.

PB: Is there any chance that we’re going to hear new recordings soon or anything?

MW: We haven’t gotten that far yet. It’s definitely a ways away, but we’ll definitely be incredibly open with how that progress continues.

PB: And you guys seem very open since you’ve come back. You guys have been out there with everyone. You know, a lot of bands try to cover it up and say, “Oh no, this going to be the biggest reunion ever! We’re going to do all this>” But you guys just threw it out there that you’re going to do it this way. Still, is this the main band for you guys right now, or do you have side projects that you’re working on more?

MW: Everyone has different things going on. I manage bands full-time. I work at a company in New York and I do that. I have six bands that I manage, so that takes up most of my time. And then Kenny [Vasoli] is always working on music, creating new stuff. And then Tom [Gryskewicz] plays drums with a DJ …

PB: Really?

MW: Yeah, yeah, and they do like a ton of DJ sets. They’re doing really well in Philly. And then Mike has a great full-time job and has a great family and kids and he’s doing that. So, all of us have our own things going on, and we’re all happy with where our lives are at. And it’s just a matter of where Starting Line shows kind of fit into that and not take away from anything that we usually have going on. That’s why we do play so infrequently, but it makes [us] enjoy the shows that we do play.

PB: Growing up, you guys started in your teens. Is it a lot harder now for you guys now that you’re older?

MW: Well, I think right now it’s super easy because it’s pretty much like a weekend sort of thing. So it’s just fun. But I think if we had to go grind it out nine months a year like we used to, I don’t think our bodies would be able to take it.

PB: Yeah, takes a toll on you.

MW: It does.

PB: And also since you guys left and came back as a band, a lot’s changed in the music scene. Have you noticed anything harder or different for you guys?

MW: I think lots of stuff has changed and it always does continue to change. I mean, for us personally, I know our individual tastes have changed and what we listen to. And that definitely plays an important roll on our writing here-on forward. But I think it’s just a matter of us playing shows with those songs that we kind of created. And I don’t think that really like … You know, there’s a nostalgic sense to that. And as long as the kids aren’t going anywhere, we’re not going anywhere.

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PB: I mean, every musician, as you get older your styles are going to change and your tastes are going to change. Do you ever worry, like you have a new song that you said you’re playing for everyone. Do you ever worry that people aren’t going to like it because you guys have changed what you like? How does that affect you guys?

MW: No, I think throughout making so many records there’s definitely certain parameters that we know we need to stick to. You know, we can’t go make like a crazy art record. We know who we are and we know we can’t deviate too much. We can definitely push the envelope, push the bar. And that’s what we always try to do. But I think we definitely know if we write anything it needs to be, you know, it needs to feel like a Starting Line song.

PB: The fans are important, obviously, to keep you guys in that zone. But at the same time, it’s not like you’re feeling super-pressured into anything.

MW: Yeah, yeah, we’re definitely not. I mean we’re not going to write like a new Say It Like You Mean It. But, you know, if kids like Say It Like You Mean It, then there’s a good chance they’re going to like what we’re creating here on out.

PB: And what stuff have you guys been listening to lately? Or you at least? What’s been influencing you?

MW: I’ve been really into the new Washed Out record, which I think is awesome. This band called Dom, I’ve been really into. Um, Body Language. A lot of like indie and electronic stuff. And then as far as like … stuff goes, like the Dangerous Summer record I think is great.

PB: Incredible, man. I love that album.

MW: I’ve been blown away by that record.

PB: And you still dig pop-punk — you guys are still into that?

MW: I am as long as it’s something that I haven’t heard before. And that’s why I like The Dangerous Summer record so much. I feel like a lot of bands are just kind of recycling stuff that’s been used over and over again. I feel like those guys really made an effort to kind of like step it up. And, you know, that’s something I enjoy listening to in music.