“Yeah, we got run up the coast,” frontman Isaac Brock tells New Times. “We played the show in this huge venue, but only 800 people were as dumb as us to stick around — I don’t want to call anyone dumb, but, you know, optimistic. And then we got on our bus and show after show got canceled. Just sat in traffic on the fucking freeway on the way to Georgia.”
With its upcoming show at the Fillmore on Friday, October 15, the indie-rock band is now dealing with the complications that have plagued the music industry since the onset of the pandemic. But with album titles like Good News for People Who Love Bad News and Building Nothing Out of Something, Brock seems used to how silver linings and dark clouds mesh.
“Getting out to play for people that come out to the shows, it’s been really nice,” he says. “Obviously, people needed it. They needed to get out and see music and stuff. It reflects in the energy, but there’s also a little bit of a cautious vibe too. We’re all getting used to each other again, you germy bunch of motherfuckers.”
It has been nearly 30 years since a teenaged Brock formed Modest Mouse in his hometown of Issaquah, Washington. Influenced by pioneers the Dead Milkmen and the Pixies, Modest Mouse had the wordy, lyrical wit of the former and the constant shifting between loud and quiet of the latter.
“When I first started, there was a K Records pop scene in the Seattle area where the overarching vibe for popular alternative was a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude,” Brock remembers. “I drifted from that quick, where I was like I wanted songs to have depth and interesting sounds. Then I just kept following my path.”
A decade later, that path led Brock to unimaginable success. The band’s 2007 album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, topped the Billboard 200, while the breakthrough single, “Float On,” was so inescapably popular that it appeared on everything from a Kidz Bop compilation to Guitar Hero.
Modest Mouse went from tight three-piece playing dive bars to a musical calvary headlining arenas.
“It got kind of out of hand, which is why I slimmed it down again. It’s not fucking small, it’s six people, but it’s a lot more focused. I didn’t want a bunch of people on stage, but I wanted the songs to sound as good as possible. At some point, the balance was tilted, where having the additional people was no longer helpful. There were too many busy hands, so I had to clear it up a bit.”
Modest Mouse’s latest album, The Golden Casket, was inspired in part by Brock’s second run at parenthood.
“I was like, ‘You know what’s cool to do when you’re in middle age? Starting from scratch,'” Brock jokes. “I’ve got a 19-year-old in college, and I fucking love it. But I’m a lot better at it now than I was the first time around.”
Active parenthood kept The Golden Casket from having obvious musical touchstones.
“Musically, it was almost made in an influence vacuum. I had listened to so little grown-up music over the last four years since I had kids. You had playlists like the Tolerable Toddler and Frozen. I just sort of do what I want to do, and I had a lot of help giving it shape.”
Song titles like “Fuck Your Acid Trip” seem to point to the fact the Brock isn’t aiming to go after the toddler set anytime soon.
“I was singing ‘Row Your Boat’ for an hour straight, so at least I was hypnotized and sleepy. It became a really weird song to me. Just the whole message, it’s kind of a mind eraser,” Brock says. “Lullabies were starting to make me uncomfortable, because I’m like: Why is the baby in the tree falling out? What’s going on here? Sooner or later, this little person is going to know how to talk, and that’s what I gave them? A nonsense song about you in a tree falling out?”