Modest Mouse: ‘This will be the first time I play music in a world where Jeremiah doesn’t exist’

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Modest Mouse: ‘This will be the first time I play music in a world where Jeremiah doesn’t exist’

Modest Mouse

The year 2023 marks 30 years of Modest Mouse—hardly a surprise for anyone over the age of 25 who remembers the band as a household name in indie rock since childhood. But the passing of time, and the history of Modest Mouse, isn’t something that Isaac Brock has a lot to lament about.

“I don’t have a very good perspective of it from my seat,” Brock confesses, smoking a cigarette in the late afternoon light from his studio warehouse in Portland, Oregon. “I’ve either been too close at one point or another, and I’m now too far away.”

Brock, as a person, is just as surprising and wry as his lyricism that is such a defining, unique element of Modest Mouse’s music. The 47-year-old is the last remaining founding member of the project. He has released seven albums with the band, including 2021’s The Golden Casket— their first release in six years. A briefer interval of time compared to the eight years between their two albums prior.

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The Golden Casket sees Brock grappling with his theories and fears about technology and the modern world. His vernacular is as familiar and singular as ever. It’s an album that dials down the guitar to make room for an assemblage of glittery and grimy found-sound tones and timbres— a new form of risk-taking, which, for Brock, is an element of songwriting that has always felt essential to his practice.

“I’m embarrassed about most of the albums in a way where I’m like ‘okay, this might be a little bit too much of me to put out,’” Brock says, squirming. “But if you’re not embarrassed, you’re probably not saying anything.”

Jeremiah Green, Modest Mouse’s drummer, and founding member alongside Brock, passed away at the end of 2022. Green was the drummer on every Modest Mouse album except for 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News, where he temporarily stepped aside from the band. At the time of speaking to Brock, Modest Mouse are a day out from playing Lollapalooza in Santiago, for what will be their first show since Green’s death. Brock predicts that touring will evoke a lot of coming to terms with Green’s passing, but that he feels content with where the two of them left their relationship.

“This will be the first time I play music in a world where Jeremiah doesn’t exist,” Brock says plainly. “I’ve never had to make a record where he literally wasn’t there. I’ve gone through everything in my mind where I’m like ‘I’m just gonna do the next record without a drummer.’ As neat as that would be, to seemingly honour him, it’s probably not gonna work out that way. I’d probably get two songs into that and be like, ‘eh, I like playing drums,’” he admits sheepishly.

On the topic of envisioning future Modest Mouse albums, and what it is that compels Brock to continue making music in the project after three decades, Brock is practical-minded, and his approach is simple. He concedes that he just wants to keep making things interesting for himself.

“I have a lot of really good ideas that I’m excited about, and an approach to music that I’ve only just gotten going with—which is a little more slippery, where everything bends. It works kind of like a big pile of slithery snakes,” Brock gesticulates. “Otherwise I’m just doing field recordings, turning frog sounds into songs.”

The band have been playing The Golden Casket live over the last year, and it’s presented new challenges in translating whacky sound bytes and samples into live replications. After a period of trial and error, the band can now play every song on the album apart from one. Brock is stoked with how things have come together.

“Aspects of the album were just sound effects, like…crushing bottles in a big can. The song Wooden Soldiers has a weird typewriter sound’ — Brock stops to quickly vocalise the sound; a playful run of notes. “But we have a phenomenal percussionist who turns a lot of them into organic sounds. Oh, and he looks like Jerry Garcia,” Brock says with restrained pleasure.

Modest Mouse’s headline slot of Daydreams festival, going down later this month, will be the first time the band have set foot in the country since 2016. When asked about the lineup of the festival, Brock lights up at the chance to talk about Tropical Fuck Storm, a band that he declares as the most meaningful music to him over the last 15 years, alongside The Drones and Rhianna.

“I can’t say enough about Tropical Fuck Storm,” Brock says, shaking his head in wonder. “Artistically, and as people, oh my god I wish I were them, I love them so much. I was listening to The Drones and Rihanna at the same time, and I don’t think I’ve completely climbed out of that mode. I remember driving and hearing Rhianna’s cover of ‘Brand New Person’ by Tame Impala. It was so weird and dark. I got deeper and deeper into that record and was like, ‘this is so good.’”

When asked about his relationship to touring, and what he has on the cards for devout Australian Modest Mouse fans, Brock says that he is looking forward to doing something different every show. It’s essential for Brock to keep setlists fresh and varied, which he doesn’t feel he can do at large-scale festivals.

“What I’m doing in South America tomorrow is fun because of the spectacle, but if I’m gonna be completely honest, it can get a bit repetitive. If we do the same thing twice, I mean, how many times are you gonna watch the same movie?” Brock muses. “You gotta give people something to show up to.”

Playing in Australia is special to Brock, most notably because of his fascination for the wildlife and natural landscape. He relays several scenes and encounters with the Australian wilderness that has stuck with him.  His bandmate Russel Higbee is an avid bird watcher who carries a pair of binoculars in a guidebook bought for every area they visit. At one point, Brock picks up his phone and asks Siri what the biggest bird in Australia is.

“I remember in Sydney, I was sitting by the waterfront and the sun’s setting, and there’s a flock of cockatoos, and, I don’t know if you call them a flock, we’ll just call them a bunch of bats. But they’re flying and they intersect with the cockatoos like an Escher painting,” Brock looks upwards remembering the scene, his hands raised. “And they’re both off at each other, since one dominates the day while the other dominates the dusk.. But they were all there together at dusk. That was something I’ll never forget.’

Modest Mouse are playing Daydream Festival as part of Live at the Bowl on Saturday 22 April at Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Tickets available here.