Mouse That Roared
Modest Mouse just does not give a fuck.
For two weeks, the tape recorder jacked into my telephone has been sitting still, waiting for singer/guitarist Isaac Brock's voice to come through the line and answer a few simple questions. The Issaquah, Washington, threesome is somewhere on the East Coast, playing packed shows, no doubt, regardless of whether the band gets local press in each of the towns where it stops.
Morning after morning, Up Records, the mice's label, offers assurances that Brock will be calling at any time--"We haven't heard from them in like five days. When we do, they will be severely berated."
Modest Mouse could give a shit.
Brock, bassist Eric Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green have recently become indie rock's most visible darlings. Everybody loves Modest Mouse, even the band's heroes, like Built to Spill's Doug Martsch.
Rolling Stone drooled about the band's latest album, The Lonesome Crowded West; Spin gave the recording a rating of eight (out of a possible 10) and named MM one of the top 10 bands to watch for. Lonesome Crowded West also spent eight weeks at the top of CMJ's college radio chart. Hell, your very own New Times is printing a feature about the band even without an interview. Would you give a shit?
Green recently told the Seattle Times, "We've never really tried that hard to promote our band and we never really cared if we were successful. Even if people hated us tomorrow, we'd keep doing what we're doing."
Brock expressed a similar reticence after the band's show at Boston's in Tempe last November. "Interviews are pretty stupid. I usually just lie so that it's interesting," he told me as he downed a beer.
If, as he claims, Brock's interviews primarily produce lies, this article will operate on the premise that without an interview, the truth will be more easily revealed. So what follows are the facts, embellished by hearsay and innuendo. The conjecture comes later.
Brock, Judy and Green are younguns, all in their early 20s. They've been playing together for more than four years, since Green was a mere 16 years old. In that time, the band has released two albums, This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West, and two EPs, Interstate 8 and The Fruit That Ate Itself. Modest Mouse likes to get loaded (reference "Dramamine," "Polar Opposites," "Karma Payment Plan"). Tales abound of shows where Brock tripped on acid, interviews that began with Brock asking "You got any speed?" and drunken interband brawls that resulted in broken facial appendages. When in Olympia, Washington, for an MM show, one acquaintance of the band remarked that Modest Mouse is the only band that can rival Oasis for substance intake.
Another key component of the group's muse is that all the members of Modest Mouse are from blue-collar, working-class backgrounds. In fact, Brock only recently moved out of the shed outside his mom's trailer (ref. "Trailer Trash").
But by far the most important thing to know about Modest Mouse is that it rocks like no other band of the '90s has attempted to do, coming off sort of like a bastard child of Built to Spill's shimmering indie pop and the Pixies' asylumesque charisma. Modest Mouse's stores of talent are intricate and diverse. Each of its recordings covers more stylistic ground than most people's entire record collections.
For example, The Lonesome Crowded West sports Sabbathesque metallic flailing ("Shit Luck"), tense schizo-blues ("Truckers Atlas"), an ominous yet naive drinking dirge ("Polar Opposites"), acoustic white-trash folk ("Bankrupt on Selling," "Styrofoam Boots/It's All Nice on Ice, Alright") and miles of territory in between. Brock's voice ranges from a childlike, slightly lisped drawl to a provocative roar swimming around his patently recognizable guitar harmonics. Judy and Green's form a rhythm section with the energy of improvisational jazz: spontaneous, often jaw-droppingly weird explosions of tweaked bass lines and deviously manic drumming.
Lyrically, Brock is a master of capturing both the cynicism and doe-eyed innocence of premillennial youth. He tells stories of a drunken cowboy who fires his rifle at the sky and screams "God, if I have to die, you will have to die," of a lisping girl dating a bar-hopping cinematographer who everyone knows is really a pornographer, crack dealers in parking lots dreaming of the big time, surf-rock bands from towns nowhere near a coast forfeiting their roots for bleached hair and cutoff jeans.
Brock also unloads dropout philosophy like a Ph.D. ("Well, I'll go to college and I'll learn some big words/And I'll talk real loud, goddamn right I'll be heard/They'll remember the guy who said all those big words/He must've learned in college"). His blue-collar roots also reveal themselves in unflinching snapshots of the workaday world: "Every planned occupation/Surefire disappointment up ahead," "I get up just about noon/My head sends a message for me to reach for my shoes and then walk/Gotta go to work, gotta go to work, gotta get a job."
Voice of a generation? Probably not, but Brock's talent for evocative metaphors and introspection speaks louder than any Green Day song about boredom and jerking off.
As this is being typed, the phone still hasn't rung. But the recorder's not plugged in anymore. Interviews suck, and I'd rather let Brock lie to you himself than be the vehicle for it.
Modest Mouse doesn't care anyway, and that's fine with me.
Modest Mouse is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, May 20, at Boston's in Tempe, with Califone, the Get Up Kids, and Braid. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.
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