When Midtown last released an album (2004’s Forget What You Know), Gabe Saporta was closing in on his 25th birthday and still very much a young rock star on the rise. “Give It Up” earned a spot on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack; the band’s pop-punk fan base had grown since 2002’s acclaimed Living Well Is the Best Revenge; and they were beginning to see a small music scene grow around them thanks to young bands like Fall Out Boy and The Academy Is…
After disbanding Midtown in 2005 and seeing significantly more commercial success with Cobra Starship, Saporta’s taken on some new life roles within the past decade. He launched a talent management company to help young artists avoid some of the pitfalls he encountered; he got married and started a family; and he became a regular at the Dave & Buster’s in Hollywood.
“I have three kids under six, so I don’t go anywhere for fun,” Saporta laughs when asked why he chose the arcade chain as an interview site. “Everything I do is for my kids. That’s the only thing I know. I thought that was a good insight into my life.”
Saporta strolls through rows of arcade games as he points out some of his favorites. His first stop is the classic coin pusher, where he swipes his Power Card and briefly gives it a go while cracking a joke about how he was always destined to become the old Jewish guy at the casino-like machine.
At least a head taller than everyone in eyesight, he excitedly moves over to a round of the classic skee-ball. There’s a sprightliness about Saporta that likely wouldn’t be there had he continued with a busy touring schedule and album cycles into his 40s, and he looks a whole lot more cheerful than most of the other parents chasing their gaggle of children across the dirty carpet.
There’s a brief moment of panic when Saporta checks the pockets of his black sweats and can’t find his Power Card — the one he brings for every visit to the venue — after the two of us team up with a stray elementary schooler to take down some Covenant aliens in the four-person Halo: Fireteam Raven. Luckily, he finds his trusty key before anyone else can swipe however many hundreds of credits and tickets he has stored on it.
Finally, the veteran singer takes a seat within Dave & Buster’s’ bar area. Settling in, he orders a White Claw in preparation for a Friday afternoon chat about Midtown’s first reunion since 2014 (opening for My Chemical Romance this fall) and the band’s pop-punk legacy.
SPIN: Why did you choose now for the Midtown reunion?
Gabe Saporta: Well, we were actually planning it before the pandemic. Then the pandemic happened, and it kind of went on the backburner. To make a long story short, Mikey Way called me like, “Hey, bro, would you get back together to go on tour with My Chem?” and I was like “Fuck yeah.”
Before we got back together in 2014, there was a resurgence of interest in Midtown because of Cobra Starship. There was demand for a show, so we actually got back together and did a festival. That was awesome, and I was like, “Cool. It’s already been done. I don’t need to do it again.” But right before the pandemic, Tyler [Rann, Midtown’s guitarist] was like “Dude, I want to play a show so my kid can see it.” He has the oldest kid of anyone in the band, but the kid was like two when we did the first reunion and nobody else had kids yet. So as his kid got older, Tyler would bring it up sometimes, but I’d just retired from being an artist, so I didn’t want to do it. Then I become a dad, and I have the same experience.
My kid’s like, “Dad, when are you going to play a show?” and I said, “I don’t play shows,” and he said, “I play shows. I’m better than you.” So then we talked in 2019 and were starting to put a plan together because I could actually sympathize with what Tyler was saying. We all have kids, and it would be cool for our kids to see us play before we get too old and can’t do it. Then the pandemic happened, so when it looked like at the end of 2021 that shows were coming back, we’re like, “Hey, let’s bring this back up. Let’s plan for 2022.”
And then Mikey hits me out of nowhere like, “Bro, I heard Midtown’s getting back together.” I’m like “What the fuck? Where did you hear that? It’s literally only us four who know about it…” And he’s like “Oh, shit, I’m sorry. Am I not supposed to know? I just happened to catch up with Tyler the other day, and he told me.” It was cute because he was nervously asking me if we would play with them. We were thinking our kids would see us play in a little Jersey club, but now they’re gonna see us play in amphitheaters to like 50,000 people and think that we’re way bigger than we ever were. I just keep having nightmares where I get to the show and I just don’t know my voice or I don’t know how to sing anymore, so we’ll see if I can figure it out.
What’s it like to know that a lot of the kids seeing you this fall might not have even been alive the last time Midtown put out new music?
I think it’s beautiful. We kind of broke up Midtown when we could have made more records. We made three records, and — especially [on] that last record — we really gave it our all. There’s something powerful about them because that’s who we were at that time and Midtown meant something to us. That’s something that people can rediscover, and I think that’s amazing. Midtown maybe didn’t have the success that we thought we could, but I feel like our success was that we influenced other artists who did.
Right. Five years later, everyone sounded like Midtown.
That’s what the guy who became my manager said. He told me “Gabe, you’re five years too early. But if you stick with something for five years, it’ll work out.” That was the best advice. When Midtown was around, Fall Out Boy was still playing bowling alleys. Five years later, they’re huge. I started doing this electronic thing with Cobra Starship, and everyone hated it. Five years later, we stuck with it and we had a lot of success, just because we didn’t break up after five years — even though that’s a tendency of artists.
Even though now I’m glad that I got to help contribute to a lot of things, when you’re a young artist and things aren’t working for you, it really affects your morale and it can destroy the band. I think that happened to Midtown a lot. We also saw a lot of other local artists who came before us that became these grumpy guys at the bar complaining about younger bands, and I didn’t want to become that. I think that was part of the reason we just stopped too.
Seeing as Living Well Is the Best Revenge just turned 20 earlier this year, have you spent any time revisiting that album?
I work with a lot of young artists now, and I say, “Being able to do music for a living is a privilege.” That’s the goal. That’s success. When we start working with someone and we ask them what they want, if someone says “I just want to be famous,” we’re not going to work well with them. I want to work with people who measure success by being able to do what they love for a living. So when you’re an artist, not only do you get to make music for a living, but you have to wrestle with some of the deepest parts of yourself in order to make that music. You learn a lot more about yourself and maybe your fears. You live more lives and get to travel the world and have experiences. But the best part about it is that you always have a document that records where you’re at.
Living Well Is the Best Revenge is the document of where my life was 20 years ago — and how bad of a singer I was. I was 22 years old, and it reminds me of being that kid making a record in L.A. for the first time. We had our first Hollywood experience with all these fucking coked-up little kid stars running around — and then 9/11 happened while we’re there. When I look at that record, all those memories come back to me. I had a girlfriend at the time who a lot of the early Midtown songs were written about, and she was literally walking through Manhattan [on September 11] and called me at 6 a.m. L.A. time just panicked.
What was it like to be able to go from Midtown to Cobra Starship and really have the rarity of a more commercially successful second act in your music career?
I’m just very grateful for it. One of my idols is Ian MacKaye, and he basically invented straight edge, and then he invented post-punk. He wasn’t afraid to just stop and start something brand new. So for me, it’s been great. The great thing about being an artist is that you have to wrestle with yourself and deal with the parts of you that are the most difficult and the most challenging, and then you work through them.
I remember when I did Midtown, I had this friend who worked at Diesel. I don’t know if you remember in the early 2000s when everyone wore Diesel, but that was because of her. She was this rock chick who loved everything from Warped Tour bands to the New York dance scene, and she just hooked up everybody in New York with free jeans. Midtown was ending, and I was talking to her about it, and she’s like “For my job, I have to go to a lot of shows. I see a lot of bands, and the presidents of labels don’t come out to see the majority of these bands. When I go to your shows, you have all of the executives and presidents there because they see potential in you and they believe in you. If you could get out of your own way, you could probably be successful.” She probably doesn’t even remember that she said that, but it really struck a nerve in me. I’m in my own way because I’m very passionate. I have a lot of opinions. I have a lot of thoughts. I have a lot of ideals. And when you’re a punk rocker that has a lot of ideals, you always get disappointed. That disappointment turns to anger, and I just realized that being disappointed was a choice. Things aren’t always going to go your way, so I needed to learn to just roll with the punches and deal with things when they weren’t what I expected or wanted or dreamed of — especially when you go behind the curtain and see the wizard, it takes some of the magic out of things. It could be disheartening or demoralizing, but being able to be more OK with reality really helped me.
That was the premise of Cobra: I just wanted to have fun. I wanted to go back to why I got into music. I didn’t get into music to revolutionize the music business or give my opinion about what’s fair and what’s not fair. I got into music to do cool shit with my friends. It’s funny because the thing that solidified that with me was when Midtown was ending and Fall Out Boy was just starting, a lot of the shows on that tour were still in VFWs and stuff like that. It was 800 kids packed into a bowling alley and everybody’s singing along. It was punk rock. But the bands — even though Fall Out Boy was only four years younger than us — were a whole new group of kids who were just happy to be there and stoked to see it for the first time. They weren’t wrestling with all this heavy stuff and disheartened from being in the business for four years. I remember thinking, “Wow, they’re just friends making music, and I have to know when to stop worrying. Happiness is a choice.” So I just chose to be happy and have fun. I think the way I did it with Cobra was a bit tongue-in-cheek and being a troll. You don’t have to be obliviously happy, you can still make commentary and take the piss. Sarcasm is the best tool of the underdog to make critiques of society.
What was it like to make that shift to the business side of things after Cobra?
In a lot of ways, it was very natural. I think part of the reason why Cobra was successful was because I took a liking to the music business for various reasons. A) I grew up a poor immigrant Jew, so because I didn’t grow up with a lot, I was always careful with money and took an interest in business. That’s why I was drawn to the DIY attitude of punk rock. It was like, “You don’t have to do all this shit. Just love it and you’ll figure it out. You want to go on tour? Cool, let’s figure out how to buy a van. You have to know the business of punk rock because you need to build the infrastructure to support yourself. I remember going to the phone book and calling record stores in other states to find out who the cool local band was who liked the same kind of music as we were, and then calling them up to trade shows. That’s a very entrepreneurial thing to do, and this is all pre-internet.
I also just love people. On the business side, a lot of artists have conflicts with “the business” because the business can be a little savage. But when one works in music, they’re taking a job where they’re probably getting paid less than you would anywhere else — because they love music. Sometimes they have to deal with the bureaucracy, but ultimately they love music. Just connecting people on that level was great, and that’s really why it’s been successful. It’s my love of people, my understanding of how the business works, and trying to find solutions so that people are happy. I always knew I was going to be on the business side, but I wasn’t sure how or when. And then in 2015, I took time off and got married, and then came back and put out one song. Then Atlantic [Records] sent me to a writing camp to write some songs — and I was writing some of the best stuff I’ve written — but then I got two calls back to back. First, my wife is pregnant. Then the second call was that the president of my label had a stroke.
It was an emotional rollercoaster of a day. As confused as I was emotionally, I felt like I got clarity from the universe, like, “Hey, this is where you get off.” It was interesting because right before going on that trip, I saw that Shep Gordon documentary, Supermensch, and in that documentary, he talks about how he fell in love with cooking through dinner parties. When you have a dinner party, you shop for the food, cook it, serve it; people eat, and then people go home. When you have a band, you write some songs, go in the studio, put out an album, go on tour, then write some more songs, back to the studio, another album, some more tours… It’s like, “When is it over?” I was about to turn 35, and I was like, “When is this shit over?” I got those calls, and I was like “Alright, it’s over.” Cobra had an amazing run, but I was about to be on the wrong side of 35 and it was time to make a move.
When I was younger, Midtown was in a legal battle to get off of our first record deal, and we had like a year-and-a-half where we couldn’t make records or do anything. I felt like I got screwed by the business, so I decided I was going to get on the business side. I ended up managing two bands when I was 20 years old, Armor for Sleep and Christiansen — and I got Armor an amazing deal where they own their first record at a time when people didn’t own their own records. I really enjoyed it, but then we got out of our deal and I went back to give music another run. I didn’t know what my run was going to look like, but I just wanted to do music for a while and then come back to the business side.
Coming back to it was very humbling because when you’re an artist — even if you’re a broke artist — you have tons of people around you who want to be involved. When I said “I don’t want to be an artist anymore,” people thought I was crazy. It’s not something people say, especially singers. I had a lot of friends in the industry, but they were all a little skeptical. It was unprecedented what I wanted to do, so I figured I’d just have to prove it. So I bet on myself and built my own business.
What should people expect from Midtown in 2022?
Fuck, I just hope we don’t suck. We’re not making this a full-time thing or anything like that. This is a special event, and we want it to feel special. I’m actually pretty anti-reunion. Pixies was one of my favorite bands growing up that I never got to see, and then I saw their reunion and was like, “Wow, they’re just fucking phoning it in.” I would hopefully expect that no one thinks we’re phoning it in, and if someone thinks that, just please fucking shoot me on the stage.