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A Conversation with Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse 

While every band grows and changes over time, few do so quite like Modest Mouse: The former trio is now a sextet, complete with celebrated ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr; the sound has transformed from spacey guitar jams to a horn-filled, heavily percussive bombast; and the band's fan base has grown exponentially.

Though it shot from beloved college band to indie-rock's upper echelon with 2005's Good News for People Who Love Bad News and is still riding the success of last year's chart-topping We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, there is at least one thread that ties Modest Mouse to its origins: Madman/genius front-man Isaac Brock has always been set on ignore mode to much of the outside world. And besides a truly unique take on rock 'n' roll -- melody through madness, chaos and beauty coexisting -- it's this no-bullshit attitude that makes Modest Mouse so much more than just another pretentious indie band.

 

You founded your own label, Glacial Pace, in 2005. What joys do you find in running a label as opposed to being on one?
Since I was 11 or 12, I've always been in love with making compilation tapes. I love giving them out to friends. Now I just get to do that on a bigger scale. I just like turning people on to music. I think I'm supposed to be actively seeking out bands, but I don't do that so much now. It'll usually be something I've been listening to, and I'll be really excited to find out if they want to work with me. I'm not combing through MySpace for the next big thing. I only really work with people who are interested in working with me. I'm not into wining and dining anyone … ever.

Modest Mouse has seen a lot of members cycle through over the years. Is it hard to bring personal songs you've written to an ever-changing crew of people?
Well, lately we've been writing songs big-bang style -- all at once with everyone there. But I don't feel too self-conscious showing off what I've written to the band -- I mean, if somebody is there, then he must like what I'm doing already.

If I told you in 1996 that in 10 years, Johnny Marr would join your band, would you have believed me?
Well, I wouldn't have thought it was a good idea. I don't know what's changed, but where we are now, it works, whereas 10 years ago it wouldn't have. But we are in the same place musically now, so it's a great idea.

What do you see going right and going wrong in the music industry?
[Record labels] are desperately trying to find what people will like, not even what they personally like. I mean, think about the late '90s -- it was all about shit like Limp Bizkit. When that came out the labels were just running around trying to find garbage like that -- and that's it. Then it takes someone having the balls to try something different, like the White Stripes.

There's always something new that breaks and changes the template, and the cycle starts all over again. It seems exhausting. You have a situation where record companies have essentially fucked with the public's trust so much that it's hard for people to even want to buy records.

What's the last great record that you bought?
The last truly great record would probably be the latest from The Knife, or it could even be Aha Shake Heartbreak from Kings of Leon. But I don't expect for there even to be a great record that comes out in a year. Every year, everyone needs their list of the top 10 fucking records that were so fucking great, but truth be told, there can be a year when it just doesn't happen. Sometimes the best records in a year don't even touch what was the worst of another year -- and you know what, that's all right.

Why is it good to be Isaac Brock right now?
You caught me at probably the wrong time to ask -- my past couple weeks have been sitting in parking lots behind big music venues and catering to people. There are reasons that I'm sure it's great to be me, but I just can't think of one for you, buddy.

 

Modest Mouse with Dirty Dozen Brass Band 7:30 p.m. Mon., June 30. Rostraver Ice Garden, Rt. 51, Belle Vernon. $30. All ages. 724-379-7100 or www.elkoconcerts.com

click to enlarge Good news for people who love Johnny Marr: Modest Mouse
  • Good news for people who love Johnny Marr: Modest Mouse

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