Songwriter Interviews

Matt Thiessen of Relient K

by Dan MacIntosh

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Relient K is the musical realization of frontman Matt Thiessen's creative vision. The popular pop-punk band has a knack for consistently producing songs that combine self-deprecating humor, energetic musicianship, and catchy hooks. All of this is pinned together by Thiessen's impressively diverse lyrical ability, with explored subjects ranging from romance to religion — sometimes in the very same song.

The band toyed with mainstream fame earlier in the decade ("Be My Escape" made it to #82 in 2005, and "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been" went to #58), but has yet to see the crossover success that the quality of their music suggests they deserve. Fame and fortune aside, the band continues to put out quality music, and it seems safe to say Thiessen will continue to put out polished, well-written songs one way or another.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): I wanted to talk about some of your songs. One of the songs I've seen you perform is "High of '75." It must be kind of cool to play it in a place where there's nice weather.

Matt: Totally.

Songfacts: Does the weather change the way you perform?

Matt: Yeah, especially outdoor shows. Some days it's just so hot and hard to breathe while you're playing that you can't hit notes as strongly as other days. But I have a rule that you're never allowed to talk about the weather from stage, never allowed to say anything negative like that, because we're a band and we're on stage playing, so it's really just an awesome thing. You want to put on a good performance. So if you say anything about the weather, if it's raining or if it's cold, or if it's too hot, you have to do 20 pushups on stage.

Songfacts: Really?

Matt: Yeah. I've caught myself doing it and I've made myself do pushups.

Songfacts: Really? You've had to do the pushups? Oh my goodness. Has the rest of the band learned pretty the rule pretty well?

Matt: Yeah. It's kind of a joke rule, but yeah - I think it's a good philosophy.

Songfacts: You've played a cover of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun." So tell me about why you chose to record that song and what does that song mean to you?

Matt: Cool. I remember it was probably 2002 when we decided to start playing that song live. And it was mostly just for the irony of doing that song from a guy's perspective. It still kind of works. Like, it's not necessarily a song that has to be sung by a female.
"Girls Just Want To Have Fun" was the breakthrough single for Cyndi Lauper. Written and originally released by Robert Hazard, the 1983 release of Lauper's version saw the song shoot to the #2 position on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for two weeks. Widely recognized as a feminist anthem, it remains one of Lauper's most widely played songs.
Songfacts: (laughing) And that's important, right?

Matt: Yeah, I mean, it makes sense to play it on Warped Tour and yeah, it doesn't really mean a whole lot to me except for the fact that whoever wrote it had a really great sense of melody and I'm trying to give it a little nod.

Songfacts: And you still do the song "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been." We're both Christians, so we're kind of on the same wavelength there. Do you find that you're getting better as far as being happy with yourself? When you sing that song, is it looking back saying, "I've actually made some progress in my faith life"?

Matt: Oh yeah. That song was about a very specific episode that happened between me and my bass player. And it's one of those mistakes. Sometimes I say things to people, I guess, with the intention of hurting their feelings or something like that. And it was something I've been working really hard at, just trying to be a nice guy and stuff. So it was just one of those moments where I was pretty bummed at myself for being a jerk. And so yeah, it's kind of like that song sums up all those times in our life, where we're like, we wish we could take something back, we wish we didn't just cross the line like we did.

Songfacts: Yeah, my pastor's been going through the series of James, and there's one scripture, I think, where it says the tongue is harder to tame than wild animals.

Matt: Yeah. It's true.

Songfacts: It seems like we get past that as we get older. But we still fall back into those patterns. From your songwriting, I'd guess that you have a good sense of humor, and that you have a good eye and ear for wit. And sometimes you probably say things that are really funny but really hurt.

Matt: Yeah. It's one of those things, if you like the English language and you know your way around it a little bit, sometimes before you even know what your brain's doing, you're saying something. I got into a little fight with my girlfriend last night just about nothing. Because we have a really great relationship and there's nothing to be upset about. But sometimes I feel like in my life you start to create a little drama just so there is something to work on or whatever. So that's a dumb way to be.

Songfacts: There are people that are like that. They almost have to have drama in their lives. When things are calm, they're uncomfortable. But I don't see you as that kind of a person.

Matt: I definitely like to try and maintain a sense of consistency in life and I feel pretty good most of the time. Just sometimes negativity can find its way into your life if you let it, and then if you don't know how to dispel it and get rid of it, then it'll come out somehow at some point.

Songfacts: Tell me a little bit about what you're working on. You said it came from an EP, right, with the covers? When I see something like that, it kind of tells me it's sort of a holding pattern until you come out with something that's full length. So you must have something that's going on.

Matt: We do. We have another 7 cover songs coming out, so we have a total of 14 in October. They're all recorded, getting mixed right now. They sound really cool. I'm excited about it. And then as soon as the tour's over, I'm going to go home and start writing a new full length record for the band and we'll try and get in the studio by the winter.

Songfacts: So do you have anything in your mind as far as what you want to write about? Do you think about that this far in advance?

Matt: Yeah, I do. And this tour, I've been hanging out in my trailer by myself a lot just thinking and dreaming and trying to figure out what is it time to say, and who are we talking to at this point in our career and all that stuff. But also it's good to try and figure out what are we going to do that's light and not super heavy subject matter. And that's one thing. It's all just fun stuff to think about. And I've got 300 notes just piled up, just little words or lyrics or melodies or anything.

Songfacts: So you collect ideas as you go and save them.

Matt: Yeah, I intentionally don't try and refine them. I just put all the pieces around and then pick them up and polish them off and stick them together at some point.

Songfacts: Are you comfortable talking about the success of Owl City and that relationship?

Matt: Absolutely.

Songfacts: Did you ever expect that kind of massive success?

Matt: Katy Perry's one of my friends, and when we were working on the Owl City stuff, she was blowing up. So it was weird to see a friend of mine -

Songfacts: You're a friend of Katy Perry's?

Matt: I used to date her back in the day for a couple of years. But we're still really good friends.

Songfacts: Oh, interesting.

Matt: We're not too close, but yeah, she's a great person. So yeah, while I was working on this Owl City stuff, she was hitting the cover of Cosmo. And then, all of a sudden, it's a couple months later and he's charting and radio success and all this stuff. And I'm like, that's really cool. Two of my friends have just become really popular in a short amount of time.

Songfacts: No jealousy that it wasn't you?

Matt: No. The band doesn't strive to be famous, we don't strive to be rich, we don't strive to be on the radio. It's like whatever happens, happens. We strive to not make our fans hate us. That's what our goal is, to keep a lot of good fans around.

October 17, 2012. Get more at relientk.com.
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Comments: 4

  • SarahBeen listening to Relient K for the longest time and I'm really proud of them as a band. To keep your head in the right place, be honest and stay humble - stuff like that deserves admiration. :) You,ve impacted the lives of many teens. So, thankyou and God Bless you guys!
  • Gb "We strive to not make our fans hate us. That's what our goal is, to keep a lot of good fans around." I can't help but mention that RK's priorities have really changed. The new album cause quite an unroar and a lot of fans aren't happy with it. In my mind, this doesn't detract from the amazingness that is Relient K, but definitely a progression over time.
  • Matt Daly from IndiaThese guys(relient k) are totally awesome...since the first time i listened to their song it hit me like...damn these guys are genius..i mean just listen to every song(lyrics,the melody of each song..totally awesome) but as a christian band..i feel they should have more kind of a song that spreads they gospel..but still love this band always did and always will...
  • CwThis is really one of the most creative bands of the last decade or two, and their songwriting craft is incredible -- harmonies, hooks, lyrics, everything. I am a little disappointed you didn't spend more time discussing his process and inspirations, but thanks for giving him the attention.
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