Gnawing At Success

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

One of the ironies of the music industry is that it can take years of hard work to become an overnight success.  The work has paid off for Isaac Brock and his band Modest Mouse, who have been hard at it for over a decade and are currently one of the hottest bands around.  The band’s latest album, “Good News for People Who Love Bad News,” was released in spring of 2004 and quickly sold over half a million copies.  Modest Mouse has nominations for best Alternative Album and Best Rock Song in the 2004 Grammy Awards, and the band is currently on a nationwide tour that will be stopping off at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz for two sell-out shows Monday and Tuesday.

 Modest Mouse began life in 1993 in Issaquah, a rural town in Washington State. Vocalist and guitarist Brock built a makeshift shed on the land next to his mother’s trailer and began practicing there with bassist Eric Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green.  The following year, the band released its first, self-titled single on Olympia-based independent label K Records.  By the time Modest Mouse released their two 1996 albums, “Interstate 8” and “This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About” on Up Records, the band was something of an underground phenomenon with a sizeable following. 

The band began to draw major label interest after the release of “The Fruit that Ate Itself” and “The Lonesome Crowded West,” again on K Records, in 1997.  After a lengthy bidding war, Modest Mouse signed to Epic Records, part of Sony Music, and released “The Moon & Antarctica” in 2000.

Shortly after the release of “The Moon & Antarctica,” Brock began working on a side project, Ugly Casanova, and other than an EP release, Modest Mouse’s output was markedly less than in preceding years.  Brock and Green were also struggling with personal issues, and for a time it seemed doubtful whether Modest Mouse would continue as a band.  For the next couple of years, the only Modest Mouse release was “Sad Sappy Sucker” on K Records, a collection of older material originally intended as the band’s first full-length album.  Ugly Casanova, in the meantime, released “Sharpen Your Teeth” in 2002.

However, Modest Mouse regrouped in 2003 with some lineup changes.  Ben Wiekel replaced Jeremiah Green on drums, and one-time guitarist Dan Gallucci returned to the band.  Modest Mouse teamed up with producer Dennis Herring (Camper Van Beethoven) to record “Good News for People Who Love Bad News,” which expanded on the band’s tried and tested indie-guitar-rock sound to include brass and string arrangements and even accordion and banjo.  The single “Float On” was featured in hit TV show “The O.C.” and soon the band found themselves part of the prestigious Lollapalooza tour and having their music used in Nissan and Miller Genuined Draft commercials. 

After a more than 10 years of hard work and more than their fair share of ups and downs, Modest Mouse have finally achieved the success they deserve.  Brock remains circumspect, however.  “I don’t really think about it, to be honest,” he said.  “It’s nice, but I’ve been doing this band for so long that it doesn’t really register.”

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, January 27, 2005

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