Modest Mouse: Johnny Strikes Up the Band

Modest Mouse

The Kansas City Star 

By JOEL FRANCIS

Isaac Brock says he isn’t surprised that Modest Mouse hit the mainstream a few years ago. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t really think about it.

“I don’t ask myself why people like an album,” said Brock, who founded the band in 1993. “Thinking about those things doesn’t take up as much of my mental sphere as cleaning my floor.”

In 2004 the band went from underground status to platinum-sellers with “Good News for People Who Love Bad News.”

When it came time to work on the follow-up, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,” Brock didn’t worry about what anyone would expect: longtime fans, Top 40 scenesters or record executives at Sony. His lack of concern paid off. Even with two new faces in the band — former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and prodigal founding drummer Jeremiah Green (who quit in 2003) — the record has been a success.

“For me … it’s counterproductive to think about that stuff,” Brock said. “Somehow we are able to leave all of that at the studio door and start from scratch.

“People assume since Johnny’s in the band he’s changed how we did things. But there are six people in this band, and everyone contributes in their own way. We all do it.”

In other words, don’t come to the show expecting “The Queen Is Dead, Part II.”

“It’s a funny thing,” Brock said. “There will definitely be people who show up based on the premise that Johnny is in the band. But our shows are going to be a lot uglier than what the Smiths did.”

Still, Marr’s contributions influence more than the songs he worked on in the studio. Brock said Marr’s impact on the older material is noticeable.

“That’s where we’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Brock said. “I told him that on any song he didn’t have to play it as it had been played before. Make your own canvas. It would have been a waste if I didn’t let him make his own imprint.”

While Marr’s arrival to the Mouse has generated most of the publicity, Brock also welcomed founding drummer Green back after a one-album absence.

“He just needed to take a break,” Brock said, declining to elaborate on why Green left other than saying he “went out of town for a while.”

“Everyone who leaves is welcome to come back,” Brock said, “with some exceptions.”

Brock said he was surprised at the synergy Green has with Modest Mouse’s second drummer, newcomer Joe Plummer.

“We brought Joe in to play percussion, but the way he and Jeremiah have been playing together as drummers is very cool,” Brock said. “It’s much more interesting than I ever expected.”

Making music that is interesting is the only gauge Brock has for his artistic process.

“It would take a change in who I am for me to care too much,” he said. “I’m not much interested in much other than being who I am.”

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