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June 11, 2001
The name Modest Mouse first skipped around the ears of the underground almost ten years ago. Whether or not anyone was listening back then, on the other hand, is another story. One thing is for sure - everyone is listening now.

Isaac Brock, Eric Judy and Jeremiah Green were literally kids when Modest Mouse began gestating in "The Shed" - a ramshackle practice space Brock built next to his mother's mobile home in Washington state. That was 1993 and Brock, who first picked up a bass at 15 and later scammed a guitar off a friend, started playing with nothing more than the idea of making sound. He watched, like everyone else, while a buzzing Seattle tipped its overflowing jar of influence over America. Brock was well within the shadow of the grunge revolution, living in Issaquah, a suburb of Seattle twenty miles to the east. Everyone wanted to play music and Brock was no exception.

What became of the words Modest Mouse, from their humble beginnings to their current meaning, is somewhat surprising. The band, as it is, resembles a figurehead in independent music today, spearheading the most recent crop of independent artists that have crossed into the major label zoo and survived with integrity in tact. This year Modest Mouse will be one of the headliners of the Unlimited Sunshine 2002 tour along with The Flaming Lips, Cake and De La Soul, kicking off in Saint Louis on July 31st. What a long, strange road it has been.

Brock and Modest Mouse began modestly enough, bouncing back and forth between heralded Washington indie labels K and UP for their first few releases, but it was in 1997 that the trio released The Lonesome Crowded West, a stellar pre-post-punk album packed with hooks and fringed with a jagged edge. The album proved to be the band's breakthrough, and in the wake of a major-label bidding war they inked a deal with the Sony mega-corporation, releasing the sweeping, critically acclaimed The Moon & Antarctica in 2000 on Sony's Epic Records imprint.

Modest Mouse aren't always the easiest group of guys to listen to, which has proven to be a good thing, allowing for them to not be smeared across MTV's plastic bubble of a music world. Depending on who you talk to, the band might be fucking huge and important in the "indie" scene, complete sellouts, or just some horribly average rock band. Whether they have been ahead of their time or simply ahead of themselves, Modest Mouse have meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and that is what has continued to make them great.

But something is there in the music. It stands alone, original. The music is necessary, even if only for the creators' own survival.

Isaac Brock is still a young man by most standards. 26 to be exact. And the band seems to have plenty of creative energy left after nine years, especially after leaving fans with the monster concept album that was The Moon & Antarctica. Not only do they seem poised to make music for years to come, but Brock has also completed a long-anticipated album with his side project, Ugly Casanova. The album, entitled Sharpen Your Teeth, will be released on Sub Pop Records this spring.

"For now, the two projects are going to live side by side," said Brock over telephone from New York, where Modest Mouse just played an exclusive show for New York University students.

"We [Modest Mouse] haven't played in over a month, so this is just a one-off thing," he said.

While Eric and Jeremiah still live in the Seattle area, Brock recently moved to Cottage Grove, Oregon, leaving the band members are a stretch away from one another and looking for a centralized practice space to begin work on their follow up to The Moon & Antarctica. A warehouse is preferable.

"I don't wanna' talk about what sound it will have, though," said Brock when pried about the upcoming album. "I'll just set myself up for disappointment. It won't be done for another nine months."

In the meantime, Cottage Grove has been a beneficial working spot for Brock and his Ugly Casanova project, which has been two years in the making. The town is a landing spot for him, self-described as a person "all over the place all of the time." It's a small logging town, sleepy and rural, almost like David Lynch's Lumberton from the 1986 film Blue Velvet; picket-fenced and beautiful, the "Covered Bridge Capitol of Oregon."

"The first year of Ugly Casanova doesn't really count," said Brock. "It was sporadic. Sometimes I don't feel like writing, so I'll just kick it and barbecue."

Once things settled in for Brock in Cottage Grove, he found himself collaborating with The Moon and Antarctica producer Brian Deck, who he says can open the door to creative recording.

"Epic gave [Modest Mouse] shit for using Brian, because he's not a hit maker," said Brock. "He is essentially the first person that we've worked with that could actually produce," he continued. "He can make your ideas happen."

Brock and Deck co-produced Sharpen Your Teeth at Glacial Pace Studios in Oregon, utilizing both analog and digital processes for recording. The album has trademark aspects of the Modest Mouse sound, but with a focused attention on atmospheric instrumental layering, weird rhythmic devices and rugged folk music. Straight-ahead drumming is avoided, the album instead opting for clanking pots, pans, et cetera. Sharpen Your Teeth nods at the more recent, more panoramic elements of Modest Mouse and continues to expand on them. With an all-star cast of contributors that includes John Orth (Holopaw), Tim Rutili (Califone) and Pall Jenkins (The Black Heart Procession), Sharpen Your Teeth is diverse: goofy, at times, but with dark undertones sprinkled throughout. Thematically speaking, the songs don't revolve around set characters or circumstances as Modest Mouse's lyrics would showcase. At times it is both a continuation of ideas from The Moon & Antarctica and Everywhere and His Nasty Parlor Tricks, and at times it is all its own, a new, more mature Modest Mouse infected with the atmosphere of those rural Oregon barbeques.

"It's harder to make a concept album when you are working with a lot of different people," said Brock. "Pall and I wrote some of the songs together...just hung out and drank for days." said Brock.

Drunken, smoky and inevitably strange, Brock's music is hard to pigeonhole - and even harder to ignore.

SEE ALSO: www.subpop.com/bands/uglycasanova
SEE ALSO: www.modestmouse.com
SEE ALSO: www.subpop.com

--
Trevor Naud
Trevor Naud is a former staff writer for LAS and a former sex symbol and guitarist of the band Red Shirt Brigade. He currently plays music with South South Million and PAS/CAL.

See other articles by Trevor Naud.

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