lazyhome         reviews         hype         webboard                interviews



On the heels of a breakthrough album, critical adoration and with major labels breathing down his neck, Modest Mouse singer/guitarist Isaac Brock struggles to keep his head clear.

modest3.jpg (147152 bytes)

Modest Mouse: Running with the Devil

by Tim McMahan



I'm on my way to god don't know

My brain's a burger

And my heart's the coal

I'm trying to get my head clear

I push things out through

My mouth but get refilled though my ears












"I'm trying to keep out of the business side, but it's hard. It doesn't really have anything to do with the music. When we started this, I never expected jack shit."




Try to decipher the opening lines of Modest Mouse's "Heart cooks Brain" and you're certain to be left with vivid mental pictures of what a brain looks like lying flaccid on a sesame seed bun. Don't bother asking Modest Mouse's lead vocalist/guitarist Isaac Brock what it means. That's one of the reasons he gave up talking to reporters.

"At one point, I decided never to do interviews because I figured I could talk about music or write it," says a groggy Brock via phone interview. "Reporters are always asking me if I care when I get compared to the Pixies or Built to Spill. What am I supposed to say? 'That fucking pisses me off, man. I hate that shit.'? I don't give a damn. They can compare me to Sade and Prince for all I care."

It doesn't really matter what Brock and cohorts Eric Judy, bass, and Jeremiah Green, drums, are trying to say or sound like. They may not understand them, but people are starting to take notice and Modest Mouse is quickly becoming the band that replaced the Pixies as the weirdly cool independent voice of alternative rock music.

Just how hip are they? The underground is talking. Nine Inch Nail's Trent Reznor loves em, as does punk elder statesman Bob Mould and Matador Records' co-president Gerard Cosloy (who doesn't count the band among his U.S. roster). Add to that a recently shared bill with Yo La Tengo in Seattle and you've got something of a buzz going.

Brock says he's grateful for the kind words, but doesn't seem to really care. Our phone interview woke him for the day just after lunch Seattle Time. No, he hadn't played a late gig. He'd been out all night partying. Brock, 24, makes no bones about it, he's struggling to keep from becoming a jaded rock star and getting caught up in the business.

"I'm trying to keep out of the business side, but it's hard. It doesn't really have anything to do with the music. But I'm trying. I'm pretty confused, you know?" he said. "When we started this, I never expected jack shit."

The band formed in 1992 in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, Washington. Brock says he met Eric Judy in a video store and had played with Jeremiah Green. After practicing and recording demos from a shed next to his parents' house, the band recorded its first single on Olympia's K Records in 1994. In the years that followed, they recorded a number of singles and an EP before recording their 70-minute debut, "This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About" on Up Records. But it wasn't until last year's follow-up, "The Lonesome Crowded West," that the ball started rolling for Modest Mouse.

The sound is avant-art punk, with most of the CD's 15 tracks ending in long and, in some cases, endless-feeling grooves. The lyrics are a weary, cynical blend of reflections of life and death, Jesus and Satan, leaving sonic clues to their influences that include the Pixies, Meat Puppets, early Pavement and Sunny Day Real Estate. Brock's warbling voice -- at times a hyper yell, at others, a worn-out croon -- won't register to unwilling ears. The first spin of "Lonesome..." leaves you feeling dissonant, confused and slightly nauseous. After spending a few hours with the CD, you begin hearing where the band is headed. After a week, you're there with them.


Modest Mouse's days in the shed are now gone. Brock and a roommate live in a tiny house in Seattle. And the band spends six months a year touring, not necessarily in support of a new release, but because they like to play. Asked why they've never ventured to Nebraska, Brock says, "It's kinda weird. I don't know why the fuck we've never been there. Nebraska is like one of the hardest states to even remember. It's like the lost state or something."

Though Brock says he loves his current label, Up Records, the big dogs are barking at his door, including mega-label Dreamworks. He has no reservations about jumping from his indie to a more commercial label. "I have a limited education," he says. "I don't want to be working shit jobs my whole life without the possibility of having a chance to even own my own house. I wouldn't mind actually getting paid (for making music). I love the record label I'm on, but I've got people knocking at the door. Commercial rock is usually pretty shitty, but it doesn't have to stay that way. I think we could go to a major label and still fly under the radar, you know?"

He says the band's next project is possibly writing a soundtrack for a major motion picture, "if I like it," he says. "Recently, I've been writing a lot of songs about the devil and outerspace. I'm not really into God or any of that shit, but I'm pretty sure I got a visit from the devil. He doesn't make daytime appearances; he visits you in your sleep."

Perhaps the meeting was inspired by Brock's hi-jinx on the road. During a recent gig in Lawrence, Kansas, he "got real drunk and broke beer bottles over my guitar. It's not really the way you want to represent yourself."

On top of that, the band had all of its equipment seized on the way out of Canada after U.S. Customs found "a crumb of grass" in their bags. "They let us off eventually after scaring the shit out of us for a couple of hours. We kissed as much ass as possible."

Are the experiences merely fodder for the next Modest Mouse opus? You get the feeling that it's just Brock's way of staying young in the face of a future filled with lots of executives in business suits.

"There's this golf course right next to my house," he says, "where me and my neighbor stole a really nice bench and this huge-ass water container." What are you going to do with them now, I asked. "I'm gonna fill the container full of water and drink from it. And sit on the bench."

Back to lazyhead.gif (1570 bytes)

Originally printed in The Reader October 15, 1998.

Copyright 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


modest2.jpg (76628 bytes)



"Recently, I've been writing a lot of songs about the devil and outerspace. I'm not really into God or any of that shit, but I'm pretty sure I got a visit from the devil."