Read an interview with Matt Thiessen, frontman of Relient K below.
*Interview originally appeared on mousertime.blogspot.com and has been reposted with permission*
I remember the first time I picked up “Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek,” while in the music section of a nearby Wal-Mart. I was immediately drawn to the funny cover, featuring several awkward looking teens lined up for a mug shot. I quickly scanned the album and was hooked instantly. I must have played that album a thousand times my freshman year of high school, still never getting enough of the upbeat sounds and positive lyrics of the foursome. I later became an even bigger fan, tracking down and purchasing every release they put out. These purchases even included “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything,” which was a split single EP where Relient K covered a Veggie Tales song, and Veggie Tales covered “Breakdown” by Relient K. I never really grew out of Relient K, because as I grew, their music grew with me. With each release Matt Thiessen and the crew changed their style and lyrics, which allowed them to keep older fans, while still gaining new ones. I had a chance to meet up with my childhood hero, Matt Thiessen, on Relient K’s current tour “Twas the Tour Before Christmas” with Sherwood and Deas Vail.
A big thank you goes out to all the people who helped and supported me to get this done. Thank you to Amanda, Laura, Brandon, Dave and Jonathan! Couldn’t have done this without you!
How has the “Twas the Tour Before Christmas” been so far?
It’s been great! It is acoustic for the most part, with a little bit of electric guitar. It has just been really relaxing and fun. We’ve got the entire tour on one bus, just like a “Christmas camp.” Not a whole lot of pressure every day. You just go up, be yourself, and play a little show, and talk a little bit.
You know the bands on the tour pretty well, correct? When was the last time you toured with Sherwood?
Yeah, we toured with Sherwood like three and a half years ago, but we see them every time we pass through town. Like every time we go through Seattle, we will go and visit Dan. After you tour with a band, you tend to keep in touch with them.
Would you classify this show (“Twas the Tour Before Christmas”) as an actual “Christmas Show?” Are you only playing Christmas songs?
Yeah, we are playing a few Christmas songs. Just a splash of that because of the time of year, I guess and because of the fact that we have a lot of Christmas music that we have recorded. So yeah, it’s just fun to kind of go into that for a minute.
Any special Christmas plans for you personally?
I have a big family, I am one of five kids that my Mom and Dad had. My oldest brother lives in California, and has a couple of kids while the rest of my family lives in Ohio. So anytime that we can all get together is really cool, and that is what is happening this year. My brother is going to fly to Ohio and so it will be a ton of us hanging out. It will be good times.
Is there anything that you guys are working on right now? Are you working on a solo-project?
Well, I started working on a couple of solo songs here and there, but I am not really pursuing a record right now. I am sort of letting that happen naturally. I am thinking about starting to write the new Relient K record. I’ve got about two months to kind of think about what I want it to be, and then I pretty much need to start writing in January and February. Hopefully that happens, and it’s not a record and we get to record it. We will be touring this summer and next fall, and then it starts getting busy again. Just doing the cycle.
How is the writing process for you now, after years of doing it? Do you still crank the songs out?
You know honestly I don’t like to write songs that often, only when I feel like I need to and when I’ve got something that I really want to sing about. So this record will be interesting to just step back from everything and kind of see where I am in life and write about it, however it seems worthy. Or maybe I will write about completely different stuff, I have no idea at this point (laughs).
How would you say your faith impacts your music?
I fell like a lot of times, when I write a song, it is coming from an introspective perspective that my faith always kind of factors. Faith is either part of what factors in to my decision making, or it is part of what factors into my fears and my doubts. It is either the positive or the negative part of it that is afflicting me during times of conflict, which is normally when you write songs about yourself when you find some sort of conflict or you are seeking some sort of resolution. A lot of times, that is when that kind of stuff will pop up, but it is always different and about something specific, just a little part of the soul, not always necessarily the whole encompassing thing. I feel like it is easy to get people to see eye-to-eye with you on little things, but if I were to talk about my faith as a whole, people tend to turn off to that. They feel like you are trying to persuade people to think like you do, and that’s not really what I’m trying to do.
Something that I have always admired about Relient K’s music, is how much you grow and change from record to record. Is that something that you specifically aim for with each release, or does that just happen naturally?
Yeah, we wrote the first record, it wasn’t very great, but some kids related to it. So all of the sudden there was a “Relient K fan” out there, someone who just really got it. On the second record, we just tried to focus on making it more current, write better songs that are catchier, learn how to sing better, and at the same time try to write about stuff that is still relate able. We felt that those people that understood the first record will get this one and it has just been a process like that since. We will be like “hey, let’s get better at everything on this record!” For example, I get better at playing the guitar and piano, every time we do a record because we practice more and the years go by and it’s just what happens. It is just growing up, and it’s cool how over the years the fans grow up and we grow up, and it just kind of works together. It was definitely intentional, like let’s try to relate to each other.
Who are some people that you have looked up to live performance wise?
If you go and watch a Coldplay show, Chris Martin used to be a little timid onstage, but now the success that the band has had really gives him a lot of confidence to really own it. Also, I really admire the way that Ben Gibbard sings live, he just stays on pitch. That is something that I try to do. I don’t have the greatest voice in the world, so I just try to think real hard while I’m singing and just do a good job. Lots of really good bands live bands out there to take notes from.
Anything from Matt and the Earthquakes coming out soon?
I don’t really know. I don’t know if I am going to keep “the Earthquakes” part of the band name or not, or do a solo record. I think that my goal is, right now, to talk with some people that I really respect, like my buddy Jon Foreman from Switchfoot. I will just hang out with some friends this year, and kind of see what they think I should do and take some advice. I am just in this weird spot where I don’t feel the need to do anything, but maybe I should. It would be cool.
What is the status of Relient K’s A&R involvement in Mono vs. Stereo?
The music industry is in pretty terrible shape right now, so as far as the record label is concerned, it is basically a business. You have to be this “bank”, in which you are are going to loan this band this money, hoping that they will earn enough fans to where they will actually contribute something back into it to where the record label can continue to afford doing that. It is just a tricky thing. Not signing a lot of bands is kind of our philosophy right now. We’ve got Deas Vail and we are signing a band by the name of Indian summer pretty soon. I’m not sure when their record is coming out, but it should be spring. We also are going to sign this guy named Denison Witmer, who is this little folk artist that we have been a huge fan of for years. We are really excited to put out his record, and see what he has coming up in the future. We just want to make sure that we are only putting out records that we really enjoy and really like.
Do you have any producing projects with other artists in the works?
Yeah, I have been doing a lot of that. Two days ago, we had a show in Nashville, and before the show I had my buddy Mark come over to my house and set up a microphone so that we could track some background vocals for an Owl City song that I had worked on with Adam. I think that there is a Katy Perry song coming out before the summer. I produced this band called Run Kid Run and their latest release. A lot of little things like that going on.
Do you see producing as a future career?
Yeah, It is just whatever happens. If there is a cool band that I like, and I have time to do the record, I am like “this is awesome!” It is whatever time allows.
You mentioned Katy Perry, how do you feel about her being nominated for four Grammys?
I guess that’s cool. I don’t understand why America embraces Lady GaGa and Katy Perry and all of the “pop stuff” as much as they do. The Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber are also included, and I don’t really get any of that. Maybe that means that I am old (laughs). That stuff seems like it isn’t that “authentic.” Katy has a cool writing style though, and her lyrics can be poignant and mean stuff from time to time. I really appreciate that about her. Congrats to all of those people who are doing well, but I listen to different stuff (laughs). I would definitely nominate some different people for Grammy’s right now.
Who are you listening to right now?
Have you ever heard that band Steel Train? Their new record, I love that.