When we met up with Modest Mouse recently, they had no idea where their latest album would end up on the charts.
As it turns out, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank debuted at #1 (see "Modest Mouse Beat Out Joss Stone To Score First Billboard #1") — not that it matters much to frontman Isaac Brock.
"All I care about is if I'm really happy after writing [an album]. If the cover looks great, if everyone in the band feels like they did as good as we could, if at the end of the day we all believe we put everything into it, then you have to let go of it," he said. "It's not your project anymore. It's done. And whatever happens after that is a distraction and not the part of making records that I'm interested in."
Then he paused, cracked a mischievous smile and added, "But I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't happy when people enjoyed what we worked on, so [if it debuts at #1], that's great. It's good news."
That's putting it mildly. Because while Brock may maintain the grizzled veneer of a guy who's been slogging it out in the music industry for close to 15 years, for most of MM's fanbase, the thought of Dead debuting at #1 is pretty mind-blowing. But then again, in the wake of 2004's shockingly successful Good News for People Who Love Bad News (sales to date: 1.5 million), anything is possible (see "Modest Mouse Greet Success With A Rousing 'So What?' ").
So for the first time since signing with Sony back in 2000, all eyes are squarely on Brock and company to deliver the goods. But, again, this is something Brock refuses to acknowledge.
"With a record being successful, you gauge that when you finish making it at the studio. If everyone is happy, then you've succeeded, and everything else is gravy," he said. "Anything that happened after we finished the last record was not worth us taking note of. So there's no pressure with this one, except to be as happy — or happier — than we were the last time we worked on a record."
And while there's not a whole lot of actual happiness to be found on Dead — as opposed to on Good News, which was practically brimming with "to hell with the bad times" tunes like "Float On" and songs of clear-minded introspection like "Bukowski" and "The Good Times Are Killing Me" — there is a new level of musicianship never before apparent on a Modest Mouse effort.
Album opener "March Into the Sea" perfects the loud/soft dynamic the band has been toying with for years. First single "Dashboard" is probably the most unintentionally radio-friendly song the group has ever written. And longer, spacier tunes like "Parting of the Sensory" and "Spitting Venom" showcase the band's newfound sonic prowess, bolstered by new members Tom Peloso, Joe Plummer and, of course, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
"He was my first choice," Brock said. "[Johnny is] a beautiful, really fluid guitar player. And I felt that the contrast between what he does and what I do would be really good. Or it could've gone really poorly. But if nothing else, it would've been a great experiment. It was, and it still is.
"He brings his own weird angle," he continued. "But everyone in this band does. Tom was in a bluegrass band. [Bassist] Eric [Judy] has an interest in the flute. [Drummer] Jeremiah [Green] likes horrific noises. Everyone brings their own thing."
Brock tries to downplay Marr's addition to the group. After all, the original plan was to have him fly out to MM's home base of Portland, Oregon, and record for 10 days. But from the first minutes they were all in the studio, everyone — Marr in particular — knew there was something more to the collaboration. So he stuck around, to the amazement of pretty much everybody.
"When we first started playing, sparks did fly. [Isaac] had his amp facing me very loud and I had my amp facing him even louder, and then he turned his louder and we were throwing riffs at each other and just jamming," Marr recalled. "Within the first hour, we started kicking around this riff that ended up being 'Dashboard.' And by the end of 10 days, we were wiped out because we had written a whole load of music. I got really attached to the songs. I wanted everyone to know that I was committed to it and that it was more than some faceless studio experiment."
So with a new album, a superstar secondary guitarist, a revitalized band and a strong shot at the top of the Billboard charts, was Brock in any mood to celebrate?
"No, I'm not going to celebrate anything," he said. "We've got a couple of weeks off before our tour, and I plan on having knee surgery for an old injury. After seven years on torn cartilage, it seems like it's time."