Rodent to success
After years spent toiling in indie obscurity Modest Mouse have finally broken big but, as David Pollock finds out, frontman Isaac Brock is more fazed by car mechanics than the arrival of a member of The Smiths in his band’s number
When I call for a chat, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock is at home in Washington State. He’s been hard at work all morning trying to replace the starter on his van, and seems excited at the prospect of getting his hands dirty. Not the sort of pastime you would expect from a man whose album debuted at number one in the Billboard album charts; but Isaac Brock is not your average pop star.
Born in 1975, Brock was raised in a church which had affiliations with David Koresh’s Branch Davidians religious cult, although his parents left it when he was still young (Brock is now an ambivalent atheist). He formed his band in 1993 when they would practise in his garden shed.
‘It was something to do which didn’t cost much,’ he recalls. ‘We grew up in the mountains. Everyone would snowboard, but that was kind of expensive’.
Like The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse toiled through nearly a decade of obscurity before 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News brought them to public light. That album broke the US top 20, while it was this year’s We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank which sent them right to the top.
It’s a sharp contrast from the Brock of yore whose prodigious talent for partying ended in a ten days in jail (a passenger in his car passed him some laughing gas, he lost control of the wheel, the friend injured her thumb. In certain states’ law, any injury caused DUI is attempted murder).
While his band are huge in the States, one recent development caught the UK’s imagination: the recruitment of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr as a member.
‘We’d actually never met before I left a message with his management,’ says Brock. ‘I think from his end it just seemed like an interesting experiment, while I thought his getting involved would give a different direction to the band. The writing of it was fun, all of us in the attic at my house just enjoying playing together and letting the record write itself.
‘We share the same tastes, but it was the areas where we differed that were an advantage. He’s used to writing all the music and then having someone with the lyrics, whereas this was all done at once.’
Brock seems invigorated by Marr’s presence but still struggles to define his band’s appeal.
‘I dunno, I never can explain these things,’ Brock muses, his thoughts perhaps drifting back to that starter. ‘We’re good at it, that’s all I know’.
The Guitars and Other Machines Stage, Saturday