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Modest Mouse is Playing Nice and Taking Heath Ledger With Them

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Generally when I think of humanitarians Modest Mouse doesn't pop to the top of my list. However, based on their recent events Modest Mouse might have won an "indie rock do good" award if one existed.

Pitchfork reported back in December that there was a benefit concert, "Obama Do Rock For Kids Auction" where Modest Mouse performed with Arcade Fire, REM, Interpol, Wilco and more. There was also a huge auction of music memorabilia.

In February of 2009 the band announced they were coming out with an album of re-polished outtakes. In March the band titled the album No One's First and You're Next. Between March and its August 18th release there were the form of three limited edition two-song 7" singles: "Satellite Skin," "Autumn Beds," and "Perpetual Motion Machine."

This led to the socially conscious spotlight for Modest Mouse yet again this time from a video of the song "King Rat" originally found on the Dashboard single off the album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and the first song on the new EP album No One's First and You're Next.

The video for the track "King Rat" has generated a TON of buzz for reasons good and bad. The video, because it was directed by Heath Ledger who died before the release, has been given much attention. It is titled "King Rat," which makes me think of the "King Mouse" (or Mouse King as he is apparently billed) that my 4 year old niece always cheers for and talks about after going to the Nutcracker Suite. This "King Rat" is more suited to whales and saving them than Nutcrackers and slaying them.

Directed by Heath Ledger and having Daniel Auber and Norris Houk handling animation, the video a "visual plea against the legal commercial whale hunts taking place off the coast of Australia," according to the press release.

The reasons I sound surprised when speaking of their good behavior is the history of the band, specifically lead singer, guitarist Isaac Brock. Brock is the rusty lug nut, the hard touring driving force behind Modest Mouse.

When I first heard of Modest Mouse it was 10-12 years ago and they had a sound that jumped out at you like an electric shock in a post punk, indie rocker way. They also had this raucous lead singer-guitarist who was having trouble with the law, an almost punk pre-requisite.

In 1998, Brock got a DUI from passing out while inhaling nitrous oxide that caused the female passenger in the car to dislocate her thumb. The state of Oregon has a law that if someone is hurt in a DUI accident the charge can be attempted murder. So from there the rumors escalated. I had heard he punched a woman in the face while drunk on stage and apparently there was a rape charge, which was later dropped in 1999.

A lot of the additional rumors however were trumped up by college kids (I was one myself at the time), who didn’t know what to make of a band who sang about Jesus looking like “crisco disco”, love lost, angst, drinking to stop the pain, personal suffering and conversely things effecting the environment (see the whales references above) and a range of subjects that would have you thinking they were bi-polar.

I initially had this slightly off, preconceived notion of Brock as a Jim Morrison type lead singer. The in person image did nothing to distill these ideas as Brock reminded me of Shane McGowen of the Pogues and so at my early Modest Mouse concerts I expected nothing less than a full on display of rowdy self-destruction. In truth I found a band that was tight at hitting the off key notes and the intentional wordplay and a sound that I fell in love with.

For the last ten years Modest Mouse has been churning out albums and touring all the time and so it comes as no surprise that their latest release No One's First and You're Next, an EP, is a collection of B-Sides that fills in the gaps between We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

No One's First, You're Next is just eight songs, but is sharp and easy to like on the first take, as that was the point of re-polishing the originals of these songs. I found myself slipping right back into that Modest Mouse groove, as there nothing too hard on this album. It truly is more of an easy going album, by their standards, but quality none the less. The first track "Satellite Skin" and the first single released off the album, complete with a music video is an almost great tune, and it is like they have picked up right where they left off on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.

Another song that sticks out is "Perpetual Motion Machine," the third single they released off the album and one that has the ubiquitous Dirty Dozen Brass Band, from New Orleans who has been around for over 30 years performing, collaborating on the song. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band has put on some of the most fun shows I personally have ever seen, so having them in studio with Modest Mouse must have been a rowdy musical affair, to put it mildly.

To give you an idea of how popular Modest Mouse has grown from those early years, they debuted with this EP, that came out on August 4th, 2009, at #15 on Billboard's top 200, #3 on Rock Albums, #2 Digital Albums, #2 Alternative. Not too shabby for a band that prides itself on scruff and holler.

But don't let the charts or Heath Ledger's ghost or my opinion sway you, decide for yourself. You can find their music at the Modest Mouse homepage, their myspace page, youtube channel and the Epic records page for all the info and updates on songs, videos and touring information.

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About Ross Feingold

Ross Feingold is a longtime published journalist and member of the Atlanta Press Club. He has covered topics and events ranging from Biotech to Music to Sports.
  • http://www.modestmousemusic.com Isaac Brock

    Great article Shinobi!! Thank you for covering us and get this out there first and showing us the methods of your quiet and Einstein like mad mathematics skills.

    You’re a good person and a genius of a recording and music industry mind. You helped us out of all of our prior attempts at radio, find the “knowing business” side of what labels DO NOT DO and got us a couple of platinum records and albums with “Float On”. I can tell you other than maybe Nick who had it as like his 3rd song to go to radio with, though he just writes not Jeremiah or Eric even wanted it on the album let alone as a hit single. You were talking predictive big data scientist stuff and knowing business intelligence in 2008 when NO ONE was saying “social media”. The funny thing is now everyone claims they are an expert, even my agent has “new media information vp” on his business card now. HA! Like you said “let them do the guesswork”, and we will keep trying to make good music man.

    Peace brother!

    Ike.