relliw


“I say all sorts of shit,” says Modest Mouse‘s Isaac Brock, and thankfully, he’s not wrong. He recently sat down for a refreshingly candid, hilarious, and deep interview with our Rolling Stone Music Now podcast on the tumultuous creation of his band’s 2004 major-label breakthrough, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, which just marked its 20th anniversary with a deluxe edition on streaming now. (To hear the full interview, go here for the podcast provider of your choice, listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or just press play above.)

When you started work on this album, you were already in breach of contract with Epic Records because you were late delivering a followup to The Moon and Antarctica, right?
Yeah, but I don’t think that was their concern. I think they just wanted to drop us anyways. They were cutting all the bands. Our name came up and they’re, like, about to get rid of it. And then someone from accounting or something’s like, “Ah, we shouldn’t do that.” That’s how it was told to me. I wasn’t in the fucking room. And they shit-canned our A&R guy. I was pretty sure that it was like, we were going to turn it in and that would be that. We just continued [recording] anyways, ’cause fuck them. But no, we ended up having a long, healthy relationship with them after that. And now I’m out of it.

You needed to reassemble everyone. And you thought you could get everyone in Portland and kind of live together like the Band.
We weren’t trying to be the Monkees or make a concept of it. It boiled down to being fair, which was they lived in Seattle and I lived about three hours south of Portland. So Portland was the nearest place that we each had about the same drive to meet when we got together to write and stuff, which would be like these 10-day runs or whatever. It just so happened that at that time, [late drummer] Jeremiah Green was given some weird fucking medicine for depression. There were side effects out the door. And it spiraled into some sort of not-his-fault, pharmaceutical fucking meltdown. We went in to record a few songs at this place and Jeremy literally lost his mind and he didn’t show up for the first couple of days and then when he did, it was pretty weird.

I tried building a studio. The first one I ever really tried building, and I didn’t look at any books or anything about what sounds good. I just made fucking bad assumptions and made it out of this awful chipboard material that smells like shit, like actual feces. All the time. Painted over it, primed over it, but that didn’t help. Anyways, it was just a square box in the middle of a large garage. And we’d go in there to write. No windows, no nothing, as dark as can be. Go in there to write and Jeremy would start running these samplers, just, like, loops he’d make, and then he’d leave for eight, 12 hours, maybe all day. And we’d be blasting him through the speaker. We knew he was in a state of mind where we didn’t want to have him feel anything other than greatly appreciated. 

I think we were all feeling a little worn out from the whole process. And I was like, “OK, let’s just have an honest question. We’ve done this for X amount of years. Maybe it’s run its course. Do you guys still want to be doing this?” And unanimously, everyone goes, “Yeah, actually, we do want to do this.” I was like, man, let’s buckle the fuck up and do it.” I think we then finished the record in about a month.

We’d started a bunch of this stuff while Jeremy was still around, but he kind of just wasn’t around at the time. So when we decided to continue on, we had a friend who was the drummer for the Shins at the time come in, and he sat in for like a week and played, and then we [also] knew Benjamin Weikel, and Benjamin Weikel was more suited to knocking it out of the park.

You hit a dark point right before Portland where you broke your thumb.
Oh yeah. I had a friend die and I got shit-can wasted and I actually bent an entire metal shelf barehanded, and I bent it in half. I was fucking impressed, still impressed with it, but I was emoting in a not-healthy way anyways. I woke up and my thumb was actually, the bone was sideways in the skin, kind of sitting there like a T and shit. And I was like, “Oh, that’s straightened it out.” 

When people talk about your influences or your presumed influences, they tend to leave out the Cure and Robert Smith.
Well played

There’s something about when the Cure does a happy song — my ultimate example is “Friday I’m in Love” — where it has much more power, because you know how much the creator triumphed over to get there. And I feel some of that in some of the more upbeat moments of this particular album.
Yeah, it’s easy to sound angry or fucking agitated or flippant, but owning feelings without sounding super-sappy — or even being sappy without sounding too saccharine and crappy — is a real fucking trick and shit. I’m always really happy when it works out. 

What do Robert Smith and the Cure mean to you, or what did they mean to you?
They’re one of the best fucking bands ever. You can emulate all sorts of bands, but good fucking luck there, buddy. The patience. It can take them four minutes to get to the best part of a song. Their music helps me justify, like, a good song doesn’t have to be fucking everyone’s favorite or some toe-tapping event.

After unsuccessfully trying to get Brian Deck and Phil Ek to co-produce the album, you ended up with Dennis Herring. He was pushing you to try to get a level of polish that was uncomfortable for you, right?
There were moments where I really didn’t like Dennis. It actually took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that, no, I really like him, and I like how fucking batshit crazy he can be about his ideas or his approach. Like, he comes from a different time. If the riff doesn’t sound right on one note that you’re playing, you’re gonna play that note for six hours until it’s right.

Is it true that “Float On” began as a variation of “The World at Large”? [Guitarist] Dann Galucci said, “We were playing that and it had sort of a melancholy feel. And so as a joke, we did a funny dance-oriented version of it. After a while, Isaac had written lyrics and a cool guitar melody, and it just became this whole other thing.” 
It might be true, but I don’t remember that. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time that happened. I think that checks out. Like, like I don’t have a perfect memory. That sounds about right to me. Dann doesn’t have a bad memory and stuff. So that sounds about right.  “Float On” wasn’t really written until the last couple of days of tracking. Once it got done, I was like, “Yeah, this is fun.” I mean, lyrically, I kind of felt like maybe it was a bit too goofy, and shit. Like, “This is fun, but is it silly?”

When you have to do the vocals for something like “Bury Me With It,” it sounds like you’re worked up into a real state. What was your trick?
I’m not going to say that alcohol doesn’t play a small role. Before tracking, it’s nice to have a couple of drinks, so that you don’t know yourself quite as well for a second.

I thought you had quit drinking halfway through this album, though.
When Jeremy parted ways, I quit drinking for about two and a half months. And during tracking for vocals, I actually considered murdering Dennis Herring and I was like, “I’ll be back in a minute.” I was going to turn myself into the police station across the street. I stood there and I stared at it and I thought about what my day would be like. And then I looked up the street and I saw a bar and I was like, “Or that.” So I just fucking wandered up to the bar.

On “Ocean Breathes Salty,” you sing, “Maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll both grow old.” That song always seemed like a strikingly sincere moment on the album.
Yeah. And that song still sometimes makes me uncomfortable because I feel like it’s too earnest and shit. I do love the song but sometimes I feel weird playing it. But I know when Jeremiah’s father passed away, it was the song he wanted to play because for some reason it meant a lot to him. And so now that song means a little more to me because I know that it was special to Jeremiah. 

If there’s a theme on the album of life and death and maybe even deciding whether to live or die, it’s kind of most explicit on that song.
Right. Well, you know that there’s a — I don’t know if I should even fucking say this.  Sometimes I listen to it and I’m like, “Oh my God, is this a Christian rock song?” Like in that sort of Amy Grant sort of way and shit? I know it’s not, but it could be. Like, did you end up there somehow, Mr. Brock? And it’s fine if I did. 

Well, the way I see it is like, I don’t like sports, but I like sports movies. And I’m not very spiritual, but I love spiritual rock songs. It’s the best parallel I could draw.
That’s better than anything I could have said.

I think you were ahead of your time on the song “Bukowski.” Since then, it’s been much more common for people to lose their patience with that misogynist, asshole male artist archetype. You got there early, which is admirable.
Women’s rights and women’s issues were kind of a big thing on my brain from the time I was a teenager and stuff. I lived with my mom and sister and I think my mom fucking brought me up right that way. I was given these Bukowski books by my uncle or whatever. He loved it. I remember reading them and I knew I was supposed to really love these books and I was like, this guy’s a fucking asshole. It was almost just like the confessions of a fucking monster.

A lot of people who were writing songs like this and performing with the intensity that you were at that time ended up dying young. Did you assume you’d die young back then?
I know there were different periods of time where that would have been most people’s assumption and shit. I think that was one of the reasons Dan says that he ended up leaving the band. He was like, “I just couldn’t watch you die.” I think he said that to me before. And I didn’t really feel like it was getting there, but I didn’t have an outside fucking perspective. In hindsight, I’m like, “Oh yeah, you were hitting it pretty hard.” All of it. Now I’m convinced I can’t die or whatnot. Cause I’m young, which is great. And I have a plan too. I’m like, let’s just unleash AI, fucking unmuzzle the thing. It’s gonna get fucking weird. But let’s get to the point where we can upload our entire fucking beings into these things and we’ll just have a digital existence for the rest of our lives.

But there had to have been some kind of level of introspection and revelation that went into “The Good Times Are Killing Me.”
Absolutely.

You had been forced to go to AA before that, but as you just said, you hadn’t really quit drinking. So what level of realization did you have at that point?
Not enough to do me any good, but enough to make a song about it. It was almost like I was giving myself a fucking pat on the back for having done the work I hadn’t done yet. But, like, this is how I feel about it. Let’s see if we can live that way. And at times I do and at times I don’t.

Work in progress.
Yep.

Trending

I mean, that’s life, I guess. It’s a work in progress until we run out of time. Except for the AI.
Yeah. I’m not sure how much I believe what I said about wanting to do that. I say all sorts of shit.

You already have a great catalog to look back at, but a fan might say, “Hey, I wish there were more, given the pauses.” You talked about wanting to work more steadily. Is there any sense of wanting to make up for quote–unquote lost time?
Whatever it took to get to the point where I made the records I made, I’m happy about, I guess. I’m enjoying just steadily working on stuff, because it turns out there’s always a song in you, almost always. I could put out a record right now and I have a fucking perfect record, but I don’t feel the need to put it out right this second. So I’m just going to keep writing songs, and steadily doing it rather than sporadically doing it and shit. In my early days of putting out records, I wrote music every fucking day . And then sometime after The Moon and Antarctica, I spent less time and less time, and then gaps got big and I didn’t like that. So, yeah, I’m happy to be back to writing every day again.



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