Even Bigger Than Relient K
By Alyce Gilligan
October 26, 2009
Relient K has been around for a while. So long, in fact, that it's easy to overlook them. Or at least think "Oh yeah, Relient K? They've got another album?" and then go about your business. But the band has been working hard since their 2000 self-titled debut, releasing hit after hit—even if you weren't watching. In the meantime, they've found huge success on the Billboard charts, signed (and left) a major label and have become A&R reps for a label while guest-starring on albums by everyone from Owl City to Kelly Clarkson. We recently sat down with lead singer and lyricist Matt Thiessen to talk about Relient K's latest album, Forget and Not Slow Down, his multiple projects besides his primary band and what "maturity" means for a band once notable for covering the Charles in Charge theme song.
Besides the new record, what's been new for you in terms of side projects and collaborations?
A whole new world has opened up, because Matt Hoopes, the only other original guy from the band, and I both started doing A&R for Mono vs. Stereo Records. Relient K is signed to—partially—Mono vs. Stereo and partially to Gotee records. It’s fun. We are also going to sign other bands, and get to put out our side projects, but there's lots of question marks of what we are going to do. Basically, music is our oyster and we are going to do whatever we want. Keep putting out bands, and guest appearing and writing; life is fun and music is my favorite thing to do.
I’ve heard that you’ve said songwriting and praying for you often feel like the same thing, could you elaborate on that?
A lot of times I feel like when I have questions and start talking to God and searching my soul and why I am the way that I am and what I should do differently, usually the result of those prayers is that God has something good to say and usually it's enough to try to put into a song.So that’s how it happens inside a 10-year career.
The theme of Forget and Not Slow Down is not living with regrets and always progressing. How do you feel you’ve applied that mindset in your own life and the work of Relient K?
Well, it’s definitely a continual process. There are things that upset us; every year you could probably rank the top five things that got me upset this year. Go back and calculate the time you spent lamenting or being depressed and fussing around and complaining. You could have probably used all that energy to do something really cool with that part of your year and been more productive. I guess for this record, instead of just writing it and quitting the band, this is my way of dealing with this stuff. Because I was pretty torn up over a situation and I had to make a decision. Either I move on with my life and be happy or not, and I should make that right away. Don’t waste time making that decision. Usually you’ll find out moving forward is the better idea.
How do you feel like this album shows your maturity as a songwriter?
I think that I definitely realize songwriting isn’t about formula. I know that Rivers [Cuomo], when he wrote the Green Album for Weezer, he said “I could write songs like this in my sleep." He was going at it from this formulaic perspective, and I think it’s really more about what you're saying and the sentiment behind it and the honesty—there is really no right way to write a song. This record, I definitely went for a different approach and tried to open up and see where that took the music.
Even though the music is always honest, it is hopeful. Do you feel like performing with the new release is going to belittle more difficult because it is a more serious album, a more personal album?
Yeah, I have encountered the last couple times playing the newer songs. It's a weird feeling on stage singing about this stuff. But it’s nice; I like it and I’ll get used to it. And this record, however ironic it is to say, it was a therapeutic process. And that song on the record, "Therapy," it’s about how it's good for me.
This is the first album you did completely organic and synthesizer-free. How do you feel that affected the sound, and what provoked you to go that way?
Normally when we use software instruments, it doesn’t happen until later in the recording process, and I think by the time we got to that spot we were like, "Hey, we don’t need it. We've got enough tracks here." And we were definitely talking about how cool would it be if we don’t end up using any midi or synthetic stuff on the record. It was a goal we shot for and achieved; it definitely makes the album sound more indie—I don’t really know what that means. But it is more natural.
Since you were in high school when you started, do you feel like you’ve seen it all? Do feel like planting roots, or do you enjoy the adventure of the tour?
You know, the novelty of touring does wear off, but it’s just all perspective. I look at it, I never get to sleep in my own bed, so there are the cons. But I don’t work in a cubicle, the world is my office and I get to go around and meet different people and do stuff. Just like any job, there are pros and cons and places you have to be when you don’t want to be there and that's just life. But I feel like I kind of duped the system by getting to be in a band, because it is just fun most of the time.