Since 1995, indie rock band the Get Up Kids has been making energetic, catchy music and touring the world. While the group formed in Kansas City, in recent years, the band has become more and more connected to the city of Lawrence. The group played a free concert in the middle of Massachusetts Street two summers ago, they shot a video for their “I'm Sorry” video at the city's White Schoolhouse, and the album release show for their latest LP, Problems, was an intimate affair at dive bar the Replay Lounge.
This is to say nothing of the fact that drummer Ryan Pope and bassist Rob Pope co-own downtown Lawrence bar and coffee shop the Bourgeois Pig, with Ryan making his home in Lawrence, as well. Singer and guitarist Matt Pryor also lives in Lawrence with his family, and seems kind of surprised when I bring up the fact that the Get Up Kids are kind of considered to be a “Lawrence band” nowadays.
“Is that true?” Pryor asks over beers one Friday afternoon, noting that they're a Kansas City band, in that that's where they started. He points out that he and Ryan Pope are the only ones who actually live in Lawrence, with the rest of the band spread out over the country. “We're not from anywhere now, technically. We're from America. We learned from Boys Life you could book your own fucking life and tour the country, and eventually, the rest of the world.”
While the band might not be “from” anywhere, the city of Lawrence seems to be pretty proud that the Get Up Kids are from here, ostensibly, and that's why the band's done so many cool things within the city limits.
“Anything we can do here, feels like a unique thing,” Pryor explains. “I don't know if I ever want to play like, a regular show. I've done too many fun things here. I'd rather play at the Arts Center and do a black tie event or something. Something weird, you know?”
In the early days of the Get Up Kids, the band would drink beer and screen shirts in Rob Pope's apartment, which they'd then sell for $5 at their shows. While they crushed and did really well, it was soon thereafter that the band realized that they'd have to find someone else to do the shirt-making for them. They went with some friends in Louisville for a while, but eventually found that they had their friends nearby making shirts already. To that end, the band partnered with Blue Collar Press, in order to meet their merchandise needs, and even bought into the company.
“We all worked there at one point or another – Rob, Ryan, and I,” Pryor recollects. “I remember cleaning screens there.”
Ahead of the recording of last year's KickerEP and this year's Problems, Pryor went to Blue Collar and spoke with the company's Burton Parker about upping the band's merch game, which he felt had gone stagnant.
“We had just gotten new management, and I sat down with Burton and said, 'This is where we're at,' and he was like, 'Okay, we'll make it work,'” explains Pryor. “It was like, we'd been running in the same hamster wheel, and we needed everyone to come at it with fresh ideas and breathe new life into it from all aspects.”
He says that since then, it's been gangbusters, with the Get Up Kids trusting Blue Collar to create new designs for their summer tour.
“It's trying to run [the band] like an actual business, which we never did before,” explains Pryor of the Get Up Kids' newfound energy. “If that part is running smoothly, then it really opens us up to just write songs and play shows. We don't have to worry about as much of that, and so we were very comfortable making that record, which shows.”
Part of what makes the Get Up Kids' connection to Blue Collar Press so integral to the band's operations is that they use Blue Collar's sister business, Merchtable, to run their webstore. It's convenient for a couple of reasons, Pryor says.
“One thing is that, for that Replay show, we were like, 'We should sell shirts at that show!'” he offers as one reason. “It's like, 'All right – go get 'em. It's just down the street.' It's very convenient, because it's also like, 'Hey, we're going to Europe: can I swing by and get a couple of vinyls that I can stick in my suitcase?'”
It's not only pick-up, but drop-off, as well. Coming back from tour means that the Get Up Kids might have unsold shirts, hats, and assorted other merchandise, which they can then hand over to Merchtable to have sorted and added back into their store's inventory.
“It's not the same thing as owning a record, but it's still a piece of art,” says the singer about shirts and merchandise. Pryor himself, it must be noted, is a self-professed “black t-shirt and jeans kinda guy.”
“Some of my bandmates are more fashion-forward,” Pryor continues, explaining that the Get Up Kids' new LP has kind of a beach vibe on the cover. “That means a lot of pastels, but I just want to make sure that we have a one-color print on a black shirt, that's available on large and extra-large.”
Pryor and I discuss the fact that trying to puzzle out sizes and styles can be a nightmare, and that's where the knowledge and research of the BCP team comes in so handy.
“I trust them, and I trust our people, even if it's something like, 'Well, I'd never wear that,'” Pryor concludes. “But if we only sold things that I would wear, it'd just be black t-shirts and that's it.”
Story: Nick Spacek. Photos from bands instagram