What is it like to have a conversation with Isaac Brock? Actually, it’s a lot like listening to Modest Mouse — he’s somewhat erratic, often explosively funny, and, just when you least expect it, brutally honest and insightful.
Believe it or not, but Brock now qualifies as a true indie-rock elder statesman. Modest Mouse’s seventh album due out June 25, The Golden Casket, arrives 25 years after their 1996 debut, This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About. Back then, Brock was a few months shy of his 20th birthday, and he sounded like it. His early songs were rough-hewn, combustible, and filled with pointed observations about small-town blue-collar life that still seem utterly unique in the largely bourgeois world of indie music. (Brock’s insistence on saying his band was from Issaquah, Washington rather than nearby Seattle had as much to do with his trailer-park allegiances as his aversion to being associated with grunge.)
The next two Modest Mouse albums, 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West and 2000’s The Moon & Antarctica, are landmarks of modern indie. Then came 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News, which shockingly transformed them into a multi-platinum mainstream rock band. While their output since then has come slower — just three albums in the past 17 years — Brock remains committed as ever to not repeating himself.
For The Golden Casket, “I didn’t go in with any plan except I told them I wasn’t going to play guitar,” he says. Instead, he set out to make “a sound effects record” in which he assembled various exotic sounds (“fucking kalimbas and weird tinkery shit,” as Brock puts it) into a sonic collage with big-time rock producers Dave Sardy (LCD Soundsystem, Band Of Horses) and Jacknife Lee (U2, The Killers). In the end, however, Brock did end up playing some guitar, though the album ultimately hews closer to the layered production of later Modest Mouse records as opposed to the band’s more feral early work.
Thematically, Brock’s concerns have remained remarkably consistent over the course of Modest Mouse’s career. Just as The Lonesome Crowded West ruminated on the early effects of urban sprawl on the Pacific Northwest, The Golden Casket evinces deep skepticism about how modern technology has turned against its human masters. Brock freely admits that his thoughts on this subject veer into “tinfoil hat” territory — he basically believes we’re all in the midst of a secret world war being waged with a combination of disinformation and underhanded hacking of essential forms of personal and political infrastructure. But even at his most conspiratorial, he can still crack a well-timed joke.
“I don’t believe that we are very restrained in our usage of anything,” Brock says. “I mean, if someone were to tell me right this second that, definitively, using cellphones gave me brain cancer, I’d still just be like, ‘But they also give me cellphones.’”
While he’s not overly fond of looking back (or doing interviews in general), Brock did agree to reflect on Modest Mouse’s seven albums, and explain how they all lead up to The Golden Casket.