"I like butt rock."
It's a simple, if not illuminating statement from Isaac Brock, 22, child-prodigy guitarist/singer for Issaquah, Wash.'s Modest Mouse. And it bears repeating: "I like butt rock."
Now for the explanation: "I wanted this album to sound a bit dancy and I knew he [producer Calvin Johnson of K Records fame] could throw that in," Brock said.
What kind of dancing, exactly, is appropriate for songs such as the aching "Doin' the Cockroach" (RealAudio excerpt), a garage-y, cracked-voice, dance-craze-in-the-making, remains unclear. "Yeah, that's got a good disco sound," said Brock, laughing and apologizing for everything by chalking his actions up to the drunkenness of that moment. "There's no dance that goes with it yet, but I've got my booty wood ready."
Through three releases, Brock has evolved from a younger, sometimes paler imitation of Built to Spill's Doug Martsch mixed with grunge-forefather Neil Young, emerging on The Lonesome Crowded West as a maturing guitarist/songwriter with a unique vision and a decidedly off-center perspective. Playing with dynamics at will, Brock blasts the album to a start with "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" ("I imagine God has really white shoes"), a herky-jerky take on sin and redemption that flutters from a gentle acoustic ballad to a frantic punk rant more than once over the course of nearly seven minutes.
Never merely content to unwind dream-like tales of road-weary woe through guitar virtuoso indie-rock, Brock adds a new element into the mix on the album with songs such as "Heart Cooks Brain" (RealAudio excerpt). With a hand from DJ KO (Kent Oiwa) of the Seattle band ICU, grinding turntable scratching is mixed into the usual guitar spirals and enigmatic lyrics such as "In this place that I call home/ my brain's a cliff/ and my hearts the bitter buffalo."
"Isaac likes my band a lot," KO said. "I just got into the studio and he told me I could do anything I wanted. He's heard me play before and he decided he wanted to have some extra sounds on the album." Brock said he just thought the song had a good groove and that a "DJ might sound smooth on it. I like DJs and shit," he said. "I've always wanted a DJ in the band."
The trio, which also includes drummer Jeremiah Green (of Satisfact) and bassist Eric Judy, have been on a recording tear since the release of their first EP, 1994's "Blue Cadet-3," on Calvin Johnson's K label. That EP was followed by a single for Sub Pop in 1996 and their first full-length album, 1996's meandering This Is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About. The same year, the group released the drunken, psychedelic folk EP Interstate 8, which featured nearly an album's-worth of hidden material, some of which cemented their well-deserved reputation as a sometimes sloppy, drunken
train-wreck of a live act.
Although still a babe in rock arms, Brock said he couldn't have possibly made this latest record when he was started back in 1994. "Hell no, I couldn't," he roared. "Lyrically, back then, I was still trying to cling to the styles I listened to when I was younger. This time I didn't think about it, it just happened."
But like the rolling, multi-part epics on Interstate 8, the five minutes long or longer tunes on their third LP, The Lonesome Crowded West, unfold in epic torrents of guitar and non-sequitor lyrics such as "And they all went down and did porcupine/ everybody was feeling high."
Aside from endless tales of drunken carousing, the other discernible theme in his lyrics is the time-tested tale of the road. Not content to merely write cheesy, "isn't life on the road hard?" tunes, though, Brock instead writes confusing, drifting-over-the-center-line tales of road rash that rise on the horizon like a drowsy, late-night mirage, songs such as "Convenient Parking," "Out of Gas," and the combo "Long Distance Drunk" and "Truckers Atlas." "I guess I must be obsessed with the road," he said. "But I never thought about it. We spend a lot of fucking time on the road I guess. The thing is, I don't even own a car."
Brock told the story of how he once bought a car for a 12-pack of beer. It was a "little shitty, itty bitty" Chevy Citation, which he said he regretted buying because "you can't trust a car named after something you don't want in the first place." He eventually ditched the car, but not before he got his 12 beers-worth of ride out of it.
"Maybe even a kegs-worth," he added. [Tues., Jan. 20, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]