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Members include IsaacBrock(born c. 1976), vocals, guitar; EricJudy (born c. 1976), bass; JeremiahGreen (born c. 1978), drums. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York City, NY 10022, (212) 333-8000.
Seattle's Modest Mouse are considered one the few American post-punk guitar rock bands since the arrival of Pavement and their 1992 album Slanted and Enchanted to produce music that sounds new and can stand next to the canonical albums of the 1980s by bands like Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, the Meat Puppets, and the Minutemen. The group's first two albums, 1996's This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About and 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West, became instant indie classics, firmly establishing Modest Mouse as a leading emotional guitar rock band. And although many worried when the group signed to Epic Records for the release of 2000's The Moon and Antarctica, Modest Mouse laid the fears of fans and critics to rest with their major-label debut. Far from a sell-out, the album instead won accolades as the most ambitious major-label alternative release to follow the Flaming Lips' celebrated 1999 album The Soft Bulletin.
Unusual among most indie rock/alternative bands of today, Modest Mouse embeds its trippy and spacey music--part tangled guitar, part modern boogie--with what feels like a fully developed worldview, envisioning suburban and rural isolation through the hazed eyes of a heartbreakingly honest man at odds with the world around him. "Listening to Modest Mouse is a bit like looking at one of those warped mirrors in a boardwalk arcade," analogized Salon online magazine contributor Joe Heim. "The sound is both familiar and perplexing, filled with pleasing hooks and dissonant, disorienting distortion. The most experimental of Modest Mouse songs often sound as if they were recorded in slow motion: Eric Judy's bass oozes, drummer Jeremiah Green sounds like he's pounding on mud and Isaac Brock sings through a glue-filled mouth. Weaving and looping, the songs swirl and repeat with a dizzying narcotic charm. It is the woozy intensity created by these musical ebbs and flows that has become the band's signature formula."
But amid all the acclaim and growing popularity, Brock, who plays guitar and serves as the trio's primary songwriter/lyricist, and his fellow mice, who both feel more comfortable hanging in their lead vocalist's shadow, remain most interested in maintaining their artistic integrity and less concerned about achieving commercial success. "More than anything," Brock, who has even had his mail stolen and auctioned off on the eBay website, said to Pandemonium's Claude Iosso, "I don't want to lose it and dry up." Moreover, the band stayed true to the working-class ethic of their roots, preferring a frugal lifestyle to one of excess. The group's relationship with Epic, likewise, pales in comparison to Modest Mouse's indie rock counterparts. They accepted a bare-bones offer--a recording budget but no signing bonus. And for their tour during the summer and fall of 2000, the trio turned down a bus (the label would have billed them for it) in order to save money. Instead, Modest Mouse loaded up an old Dodge van that had been their traveling vehicle for years.
Deciding between austerity versus opulence was never a difficult choice for the members of Modest Mouse, all of whom emerged on the indie rock scene from humble beginnings. "You should totally feel proud about earning your own keep," Brock told R.J. Smith in Spin, "about not having had anything ... handed to you. That's a great thing. It's too bad so many kids get robbed of that." Born around 1976, Brock speaks from experience, growing up without the comforts and opportunities many children take for granted. His mother, Kris, was at one time a member of a hardcore 1960s radical group called the White Panthers, and Brock spent a year of his early childhood living on a hippie commune in Oregon. Then, after his mother and stepfather turned to religion, joining the Grace Gospel Church, the family relocated to a small town in Montana. Isolated, Brock said he developed few social skills and rarely played with other kids.
At age 11, he and his family moved to the quiet, suburban logging town of Issaquah, Washington, located some 15 miles east of Seattle, where Brock lived in a shed next to his parents' house. (His mother still lives in a trailer near the old home.) It was in Issaquah that Brock, by now a fan of the Tree People, Talking Heads, the Beatles, and the Pixies, met the other members of Modest Mouse. In 1992, Brock's family was running a local video store when one day Judy walked in wearing a shirt plugging the San Francisco Bay Area hardcore band Econochrist. Although Brock expressed his dislike for that particular group, the two 17 year olds immediately hit if off. Soon thereafter, they met Green, at the time around 15, on his way to a free meal sponsored by a group of Hari Krishnas hoping to recruit young members.
From the onset, the three high school dropouts (Brock eventually earned his diploma and attended some classes at Bellevue Community College; Green as well later moonlighted as a student) dedicated themselves entirely to music, practicing in Brock's shed. Brock, who wrote and sang all the songs, named the trio Modest Mouse after a reference he once came across labeling America's working classes as "modest, mouselike people." However, Judy, at the time struggling with personal problems, left the group early on, but Brock continued to write songs and record with Green and various other friends.
These casual sessions resulted in about three tapes of 40 songs. A short time later, after one of the group's various bassists/second guitarists quit, Judy rejoined Brock and Green. The trio has remained a stable unit ever since, with Brock taking on duties as the showman and songwriter, while his cohorts are content to play backing roles both on stage and off. Nevertheless, Judy and Green are skilled musicians, providing Modest Mouse with their lush sound. "They're the talent, I'm the personality," Brock claimed, as quoted by Iosso.
After releasing a handful of singles, Modest Mouse released their debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, in 1996 on Seattle's Up Records, an independent "anti-grunge" label. Standout tracks of the gallivanting, off-funky set included the reflective, yet furious "Exit Does Not Exist," the expansive and flowing "Make Everyone Happy/Mechanical Birds," and the glorious closing song "Talking Sh** About a Pretty Sunset." "Few bands, from any region, can make such a range of beautiful yet intense sounds move forward so relentlessly," concluded Sam Jeffries for the online magazine Netspace. That same year, the trio released the Interstate 8 EP, a collection of surreal suburban snapshots, followed by the witty The Fruit that Ate Itself EP in 1997.
With the group's next album, 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West, Modest Mouse came to the attention of the mainstream music press. "At a time when American guitar rock is so desperately lacking imagination," wrote Jason Fine in Rolling Stone, "the feisty songs of The Lonesome Crowded West are a sign that some real vitality can still be squeezed from the post-punk mold." Eclectic without feeling showy, the album featured anxious guitars and loping drum beats as a backdrop for Modest Mouse's rich, sprawling sound, incorporating everything from aggressive punk to country-inspired guitar lines.
In terms of lyrical content, Brock further explored the concept of suburbia creeping into the remaining rustic regions of the western frontier, each song featuring seedy characters--truck drivers, mobile home dwellers, bus travelers, and drunken gamblers--living on the fringes of the American West. In the tune "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine," the singer forecasts the day when nature will take back her lost land, while in "Trailer Trash" Brock contemplates the lives of people who survive by "eating snowflakes with plastic forks and a paper plate of course" and who "don't mean anything" because "they live in trailers with no class."
By now, Modest Mouse had amassed a sizable following and seen success on the college charts, and in 1999 signed with Epic Records. Late that year, Up released Building Nothing Out of Something, a collection of early seven-inch singles and three songs from Interstate 8. Understandably, many fans wondered whether recording for a major label would compromise Modest Mouse's experimental bent and creativity. However, The Moon and Antarctica, released in June of 2000 and produced by former Red Red Meat member Brian Deck, won nods from longtime fans and critics alike.
"The result was powerful enough that anyone looking for a straight-ahead re-creation of the band's fine, melodic new album could have found themselves overwhelmed by volume, but hardly disappointed," insisted Los Angeles Times contributor Steve Appleford. Consequently, "When [Brock] sings about sitting 'outside, naked shivering,' watching the 'cold sunlight reflected from the moon' on the track '3rd Planet,'" concluded Ivan Kreilkamp of the Washington Post, "you'll feel that cold light on your own skin as you watch the wall of distorted guitar noise curl overhead like a wave."
by Laura Hightower
Modest Mouse's Career
Formed band in 1992 in Issaquah, WA; released debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, on Seattle's Up Records, 1996; released The Lonesome Crowded West, 1997; Up released Building Nothing Out of Something, Modest Mouse signed to Epic Records, 1999; releasedThe Moon and Antarctica, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Singles and EPs
- Do You Connect? (EP), K, 1994.
- "Broke," SubPop, 1996.
- Interstate 8 (EP), Up, 1996.
- "Life of Arctic Sounds," Suicide Squeeze, 1997.
- "Birds vs. Worms," Hit or Miss, 1997.
- The Fruit that Ate Itself (EP), K, 1997.
- "Other People's Lives," Up, 1998.
- "Neverending Math Equation," SubPop, 1998.
- Night on the Sun (EP), Rebel Beat Factory, 1999.
- This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About Up, 1996.
- The Lonesome Crowded West Up, 1997.
- Build Nothing Out of Something Up, 1999.
- The Moon and Antarctica Epic, 2000.
- Boston Phoenix, August 22, 1996.
- Los Angeles Times, February 25, 1998; May 23, 1998; June 10, 2000.
- Rolling Stone, February 5, 1998; July 6-20, 2000.
- Spin, July 2000.
- Village Voice, November 4, 1997; January 27, 1998; February 1, 2000; May 23, 2000.
- Washington Post, May 19, 2000; June 21, 2000.
- Modest Mouse (unofficial site), http://www.crystal-night.com/~bwillen/MMWelcome.htm (August 9, 2000).
- Netspace, http://www.netspace.org (August 9, 2000).
- Pandemonium Online, http://www.seattlesquare.com/pandemonium (August 9, 2000).
- Pitchforkmedia, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com (August 9, 2000).
- Salon, http://www.salon.com (August 9, 2000).
- Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com (August 9, 2000).
- Wall of Sound, http://www.wallofsound.go.com (August 9, 2000).
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