Monday, August 20, 2007

Modest Mouse

Something that happens when one purchases an iPod (80gb!) is he/she (me) gets a chance to listen to some old favorites that had been shelved in favor of newer fare. I was downloading a portion of my abnormally large music collection (overcompensation for something else?) onto the iPod when I stumbled upon Modest Mouse.

Although I've been listening to Isaac Brock and co.'s latest (We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank) all summer, I have not listened to their earlier material or some time. These were records that meant (mean) a
great deal to me. And so the story goes...

I remember the first time I saw/heard Modest Mouse. It w
as the fall of 1996. My senior year of college had just begun when a friend invited me out to see this band I'd never heard of, but a band I had heard of (Tiara) was opening. This particular friend had never lead me astray, so I headed to Bernie's Bagels and Distillery to check out this "mouse band".

After an intense set by Seattle's 764-HERO and Columbus' own Tiara, I began to pick up that this night at Bernie's was going to be worth it. My girlfriend wanted to go, but something told me to stick around. My friend was ecstatic and was joined by about 8-10 indie geeks who were just as stoked. I also noticed the logo for Up Records at the merch stand. Up was the label for one of my all-time favorite bands, Built to Spill. I've often used favorite labels to help inform my musical tastes and have rarely been let down.

Modest Mouse hit the stage as the crowd suddenly grew and moved forward. I had a spot near the front, but I had to contest with a support beam. As I moved from side to side of the post, I could see a rough-looking threesome squeezed onto Bernie's tiny stage. The venue could hold up to 100 people, but there were maybe 40 or so that night. Of course, 38 of those 40 were jammed in front of the band.

What soon came out of the amps was the most abrasive yet danceable music I'd ever heard with this smarmy-looking kid lisping all kinds of diatribes. They reminded me of a cross between the blue-collar indie punk of the Archers of Loaf and distorted guitar heroism of Built to Spill. The music was filled with discontent and alienation while causing us all to rock out like there was no tomorrow. It was the first time I felt like I had been altered by a band I had never seen or heard before, and only the 40 or so people in the room knew the same thing.

I later heard from one of the members of Tiara that Isaac Brock was on the prowl that night for some drugs. He was also a little weary about playing a bagel shop but was pleasantly surprised. I spoke with Brock a year later after a show at Cincinnati's Sudsy Malone's, and he fondly remembered Tiara's set. The night was one of the most memorable of my many spent in dingy venues to hear bands no one has ever heard.

I saw Modest Mouse many times after that night at Bernie's. I missed them due to a broken-down van in Bowling Green in the following spring. My second Mouse sighting was at Seattle's famous Crocodile Cafe. There was the Sudsy's show the following fall (where Brock offered us beers only to give us one and keep one for himself) and a couple of wild concerts at the historic Southgate House in Newport, KY. They played Columbus with 764-HERO again and a band called The Shins. There were other shows after that. There was even Brock's side-project, Ugly Casanova in Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom (with an unknown Iron & Wine). The last time I saw them was for my bachelor party where my sister and I drunkenly heckled the band in order to hear anything from their pre-millennial releases. To put it plainly: I've seen this band a lot.

I keep going back for more every time Brock puts something on tape and releases a record. I made many copies of This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Talk About for almost everyone I knew with positive results. I've collected every 7" prior to the band's major label debut. Modest Mouse sold alienation, despondency, and angst. I bought everyone no matter how clichéd.

The band sounded and sounds like no one else ever has. There is something about out-of-tune, Japanese, Fender knock-offs that appeals to my ears. Then, there's the vocals. Brock somehow is able to combine barking, whimpering, and a red-neck drawl in order to get his point across and all of this with a lisp.

Despite the dominance of Brock's guitar and voice work, the band has been held together by all its parts. Jeremiah Green drives a beat that is ferocious - before and after his mental breakdown. And Eric Judy keeps a steady groove that is consistent through all the MM material. (During a hiatus, I knew a girl who was managing a coffee shop in Seattle where Judy once applied for a position in order to feed his kid and partner. She talked him out of it by pointing out that he was Eric Judy of Modest Mouse. He left without applying for the job.)

So, as I listen to the hidden tracks on the Interstate 8 EP, "Dramamine", and The Fruit that Ate Itself, I'm reminded of how great this band is and how much they mean to me. Hopefully they will keep making music for a long, long time.


Mike said...

Isn't one of the Modest Mouse dudes a rapist? I think I heard that somewhere.

comoprozac said...

Brock was accused of rape but never charged. That's been a tough issue for me as a fan (but not nearly as tough as it was for those involved). He has demonstrated things to me that suggest the issue was overblown, but it's a scar on his reputation. I think the link attached to his name addresses the issue.

ATR said...

The part about the coffee shop manager and Eric Judy sounds like it needs to be a short story.


comoprozac said...

That's not a bad idea, but I may save it for a piece in my novel that I'm planning for that novel writing month thing you did last year. (BTW-MM is playing on the iTunes right now.)