“I’m a shot in the dark mother fucker,” Isaac Brock says. “If I want to try something out, there’s a good chance that the person I want to get ahold of might not be busy and this may be interesting to them.”
Such was the case with Johnny Marr, former Smiths guitarist, who teamed up with the Modest Mouse frontman for a short stint in 2006. It’s almost a testament to Brock’s relevance as a musician, when a legend like Marr is willing to join your band —not that Modest Mouse has anything to prove. They’ve attained more longevity than most bands. As vocalist and guitarist, Brock has plenty of stories to tell, and every single one of them is packed with precise detail; clearly a gift he translates into songwriting. Formed in 1993, Modest Mouse has put out a total of six studio albums, culminating with this year’s Strangers to Ourselves. It’s a catalog brimming with musical genius and nothing less. The first video for the track, “Coyotes,” makes it clear Brock has a fondness for animals. However, he wishes he would have named his band something different when they were getting started in the early ‘90s. Nonetheless, twenty-two years later, Modest Mouse is one of indie rock’s biggest success stories, something he didn’t necessarily see coming.
“I had some required reading that I don’t remember anything about,” Brock says. “It was a Virginia Wolf book. I do remember not giving a shit about the story or anything. Being a young teenager, I was thinking about what was important to me and that was finding a band name. I thought about it every waking fucking hour. I came across a phrase like ‘modest mouse killer people,’ referring to the working class. If I had to do it over again, I would choose like a million other names; being cute really ain’t really my fucking deal and I really didn’t think I was being cute because of the context of the sentence.”
Cute or not, Modest Mouse has amassed a legion of fans who seem to worship the ground Brock walks on, but he’s had his share of struggles. Then there’s the song “Good Times Are Killing Me,” off 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News, where he’s basically confessing his struggles with substance abuse.
“Oh, it’s kind of a struggle that continues to go on,” he admits. “I’m going to skip getting into too much detail about that song because it’s just for me. I said about what I wanted to say in the song. Is that unfair? I’m sorry. I’m not too bothered about talking about it. I just don’t have much more to add to it. Being a nefarious dude, it’s pretty easy to me. I’m currently fighting that sort of shit.”
At age 40, Brock has most likely learned some tough lessons along the way; about himself, the music business and everything else. While recording Strangers to Ourselves, he wound up creating a makeshift studio in his Portland, Oregon home he deemed the “Ice Cream Party.” It was both a blessing and a curse.
“I walked out of this project a fairly different person from when I walked in,” he says. “Without the limitation of time, you can really do a lot. If we had been recording at a studio we were renting, they’re going to have someone else on the books coming in on a certain date and wanting us the fuck out of there. One thing we do is take time for granted. We are amazingly adept at hanging out. We enjoy each other’s company and shit, which is surprising that we haven’t gotten bored of jibber-jabbin’. That’s one of the pitfalls is you can just do that for eight hours and then do some work. The people we had come on board to work on this, they’re not operating on this schedule. They can’t hang out with Modest Mouse for three solid years while we hone in on a sound. Throughout the day, you can be pretty creative and work as many hours as you want. Days started blurring together pretty god damn easily. I would fall asleep here, wake up and start working again.”
At the end of the process, the 15-track effort that resulted from those studio sessions was another piece of art Brock could proudly stand behind, whether critics agreed or not. Pitchfork, naturally, didn’t have too many nice things to say, going as far as calling the song “Pistol” the “worst song Brock has ever recorded.” Nonetheless, to true Modest Mouse fans, it’s a triumph. It retains the authentic Modest Mouse sound Brock has become so successful with. From “Pups to Dust,” and “Shit In Your Cut,” to “The Best Room,” and “The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box,” it’s solid from beginning to end.
“I don’t put out records unless I really love everything on the fucking record,” he says. “Time might change that. After I put out a record, having heard a song enough times, I might be like, ‘I don’t care for it, but oh well.’ I never put out a record I have any misgivings about what I’m putting on it. It’s a record of my favorite songs. I kept the 30 or 40 songs I wrote. It’s not that I didn’t like them. I just didn’t like them enough.”
As Modest Mouse continues its expansive tour in support of the new album, Brock’s opinion on touring has changed over the years.
“It used to be the driving,” he says. “Now the worst part is the waiting, really. It’s idle time and waking up almost every day behind a venue where the dumpsters are. We’re doing bus tours now and there are eight people playing on stage so it’s more work. Also, figuring out how to eat healthily. Your eating gets really fucked up. I don’t really have a schedule right now. It’s seemingly detrimental. There aren’t a lot of places with late night, healthy options. So what do we eat after the show? Most of us don’t eat four to five hours before the show. I pretty much don’t. I might nibble, but I don’t eat until after I play the show. People would say, ‘I got pizza’ and I would lose my shit like, ‘That’s not food! It’s just filler. Quit getting pizza. Don’t fucking do this please. It’s killing me.’”