modest mouse the golden casket
[Photo by: James Joiner]

It takes a minute for me to be connected with Isaac Brock, lead singer and songwriter for revered indie-rock band Modest Mouse. Once we’re paired, he quickly gets something out: “I’m talking to you through these sunglasses, which are also headphones. They don’t work great as sunglasses, and they don’t work great as headphones, which I guess makes them great for me.” This sums up not only the personality and character of Brock but also the band’s musical output: meeting in the middle of the good and bad. From the titles of their records (e.g.: The Lonesome Crowded West, Good News For People Who Love Bad News) to the sometimes chaotic instrumentation that leads into more soft-spoken lyrics, Modest Mouse are about the middle ground. 

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The Washington-born and Portland-based band announced a new LP and, subsequently, a tour. The band’s seventh studio album, The Golden Casket, is out June 25, and already, there’s so much speculation attached to its arrival. Granted, it’s been six years since their last LP, Strangers To Ourselves, which alluded to this new record, but it seemed as though the band were gearing up for a sooner release back in 2016 and then again in 2019. Singer-songwriter Brock weighed in on these concepts that barely saw the light of day.

“Topically, this is volume two,” he replies when asked about the hint to this album from the cover art on the 2015 LP. Typically, Brock isn’t the type to dive too deep into his psyche for music and how he develops his songs and lyrics. Overall, he tends to not care all that much about interviews. However, he happily chatted about ideas he explored on the album such as radio waves and vibrating on different frequencies as well as the anniversary of the band’s first studio album. Brock seemingly had a great time, walking through his neighborhood, saying hi to passing dogs and accidentally getting stung by something, which he deemed “Fine, I suppose.” 

First off, how are you doing? What were the effects of quarantine on you?

In reality, I’m already in baby jail, where it’s like quarantine, only cuter. And there’s a lot of feces involved. [Laughs.] I’m great. [It was] generally a pretty good year. For me, it was a productive year. Just even getting this record done was something that I would have probably taken longer to make if I’d gone out on tour. We don’t record while on tour. That’s why oftentimes it takes us so long between records. I mean, it’s hard to sit here and draw silver linings around a national tragedy.

With the band’s last release, Strangers To Ourselves, coming out in 2015 and that record taking eight years to be released, is the process of making a record becoming much more meticulous?

Eight years is a long time, I suppose. I remixed our last record so many fucking times. It’s crazy. I started getting real worried that I was gonna end up in a Kevin Shields situation. Wait 30 years for a new My Bloody Valentine record. I was aware that that could happen, and I saw it happening.

For this particular record, this is not very interesting, but I’ll tell you anyway. So we started releasing what was going to be the next record a year-and-a-half ago or maybe a couple years ago now. We got three songs out with “Ice Cream Party,” “Poison The Well” and the third one, “I’m Still Here.” There are more songs that go toward making that full record. I’m still working on it, so that’s part of the gap right there. I also just fucked off a lot in that time. I homed in on some vices that I homed out of. I wasted some time, but I was filling my head and zoning out with things like playing the drum machine really fucking loud through a billion different pedals. It was good to get that out of my system, but it wasn’t part of this record.

Fans were teased about a follow-up to Strangers when you stated that you had recorded two albums simultaneously, in the hopes that it would be released fairly quickly after that one. Were those three singles from 2019 the songs that were recorded at the same time as the 2015 record?

Yeah, those three tracks and then there’s seven others that are still there, but two of them aren’t done. I’m still figuring out how to approach that. Probably by the time I feel like putting out another record, some of those will still not be done. [Laughs.] I think it’s safe to say that maybe they just can’t be done, and maybe I just move on from them. It’s little shit, too. It’s like one of them that I love I keep changing because I feel like it’s too grunge or it doesn’t sound grunge enough. That one has a Krist Novoselic playing bass on it, so it’s going to sound pretty fucking grunge. It’s a cool fucking song.

So, everything on The Golden Casket, is completely new material that has nothing to do with that era of songwriting?

That’s right.

Those who purchased a physical copy of the 2015 record saw on the back of the packaging the words “The Golden Casket Vol. I.” Is it safe to say that this new LP is volume two?

This is volume two, which is a little sideways considering it’s not those other songs. Topically, it’s volume two.

Is this the last installment for The Golden Casket?

Yeah, it’s a two-part thing. I was going to do “The Golden News,” but I think I’m done with it.

Fans have been speculating that due to the title having the word “casket” in it, it might be alluding to the end of Modest Mouse. What are your thoughts on this type of speculation?

Oh, that’s fun. I don’t know the future, but I’m feeling pretty optimistic that this is not the last record we’ll put out. I also thought that the title was pretty funny. I can see why it could be seen [as] pretty bleak.

Those who believed this to be true were going off an old interview where you stated that you would eventually stop putting out music but would continue to tour.

Wow, did I say that? Huh. Here’s where I’m at with my information: Almost don’t believe it unless you’re there or the person is telling you face to face. I’m not sure I said that. I’m hoping to get a deepfake made of myself. That would be fun because during an interview, I could be interrupting myself. I don’t remember saying that, but I say a lot of shit. I don’t know. I wouldn’t trust it. [Laughs.]

One of the most interesting qualities of the band is how every inch of each record shows the polar opposites of being alive, from the titles of the albums to the lyrics themselves. 

I imagine it looks that way for everyone. Nothing is as it appears. All the negative space is the good stuff or the bad stuff, depending on what you’re focused on. That’s the loop of life, really.

You explore the idea of these vibrations and waves passing through us, such as radio waves and Wi-Fi signals. This correlates to the idea of everything vibrating at a certain frequency, and that goes hand in hand with astrology and manifestation. Are you a fan of these concepts?

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan. I accidentally became a student. I feel like foundationally, my belief system has been altered by what I learned can happen now. Things that I’ve read that we could do to one another with radio waves and how certain psychedelics work on your brain. The world is fucking complex.

This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About turned 25 years old in April of this year. Are you a fan of bands playing albums in their entirety to celebrate their anniversaries, and would you consider doing a tour like such?

I am a fan of that. I like the idea. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it because I don’t think that every song on that record is all that good. I think some of them are fucking great. It would have been great as one record, not double vinyl, I think. I still don’t think I’ve come close to writing another “Dramamine,” but some of the songs make me uncomfortable because I wrote them when I was like 15. But if I decide to do it, I get to look like a hypocrite.

You’ve stated that you’re not a fan of cheap sentimentality. When creating the tender ballad “Lace Your Shoes,” was it difficult to write about something so dear to your heart and not come off as too cheap or cheesy?

With that one in particular, I needed to write that song in order to get the rest of the record written. Lyrically, it was just like scraping off the barnacles, if you will, by talking about [a topic] that I knew very well, which is how much I love my kids. As far as sounding gushy and sentimental, I think that happens more often than not when someone is trying to sell an emotion. When the idea is, “I want people to feel this,” that starts to feel cheap or weird. Sentimentality is embarrassing.

The last time you were in the studio for the 2015 LP and those songs that would have been the second volume, you worked with producers such as Big Boi and Andrew Weiss. With Weiss in particular, you stated that he brought something great to the production side. So are there any moments of production on this latest record that are similar to some of those tracks worked on by Weiss?

No, this record was produced in a very classic producer way. He and I would make noises and collage them together. We got to build the thing together, and it felt great. I want to work with Andrew Weiss again because the stack of songs we worked on together were tracks that producers passed on. With this one, it wasn’t the same scenario.