Modest Mouse, a legendary American rock band, has an epic history that spans three decades, which means I am now old. Formed in 1993 in the small town of Issaquah, Washington, the band has since relocated to Portland, Oregon. It’s hard to investigate this band without exploring the roots of lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Isaac Brock. Other founding members include Jeremiah Green on drums, and Eric Judy on bass. The trio initially began rehearsing in a shed near Brock’s mother’s home.
Isaac Brock was born on July 9, 1975, in Helena, Montana. He spent much of his early life moving around the Pacific Northwest, living in both Oregon and Washington. Brock was raised in a religious household as a member of the Grace Gospel Church, a Christian sect. This upbringing influenced the themes and lyrics in some of his songs. According to an interview in 2004, Brock describes himself as “pretty much” an atheist, and doesn’t care if people are religious or not, saying, “Whatever makes the day easier for you”.
Brock’s home life was unstable and challenging, as his family lived in a trailer park and faced financial difficulties. He attended high school in Issaquah, Washington, but there is no public information indicating that he attended college. Instead, Brock’s passion for music led him to travel back and forth between New York, Washington, D.C. and the Pacific Northwest and eventually forming Modest Mouse back in Issaquah.
Brock often paints a picture of the American countryside as being both idyllic and desolate. The religious undertones in his lyrics can be attributed to his upbringing in a devout Christian household, as he often grapples with themes of faith, existentialism, and the human condition. Some of his songs are arguably about the darker aspects of addiction, escapism, and self-destruction.
The Death of Legendary Drummer Jeremiah Green
Jeremiah Green, the original drummer and co-founder of the rock band Modest Mouse, passed away on New Year’s Eve 2022 at the age of 45. His death came shortly after the band revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer. Vanity Fair published his obit. The band is scheduled to go on tour in 2023 and we know it won’t be the same without Jeremiah on stage. Our hearts go out to his family and the band.
The Formation of Modest Mouse
The Significance of the Band’s Name
The band’s name is derived from a passage in the Virginia Woolf story “The Mark on the Wall,” in which the author refers to the “modest, mouse-colored people” who blend into the background.
Early Influences and Musical Style
Isaac Brock was heavily influenced by the Seattle music scene and its unique blend of punk, indie rock, and grunge. This would shape the band’s eclectic musical style, which often combines elements of indie rock, punk, and even folk. Brock’s lyrics frequently explore themes of loneliness, existential angst, and societal issues, giving Modest Mouse’s music a distinctively introspective, yet explosive quality.
Listen to the first ever recordings of Modest Mouse from 1995:
You can hear the band’s early influences include:
- The Pixies
- Built to Spill
- The Smiths
- The Clash
- Talking Heads
The 1990s: Foundation and Emergence
The Debut Album: This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About (1996)
Their debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, was released in 1996. The album showcased their unique blend of indie rock, with darkly comical lyrics and musical idiosyncrasies. The combination of Brock’s distinctive voice and the band’s raw energy made them stand out in the 1990s indie rock scene.
The Lonesome Crowded West (1997): Gaining Recognition, Building a Dedicated Fanbase
In 1997, Modest Mouse released their second full-length album, The Lonesome Crowded West. With songs tackling themes such as urban sprawl and eccentric characters from the underclass of the American Northwest, The Lonesome Crowded West resonated with listeners and the band’s popularity continued to grow.
This album’s unique sound, characterized by long, winding, and raging songs, garnered critical acclaim. Their early success set the stage for the following decades, in which the band would continue to evolve their sound and maintain a devoted fan following.
The 2000s: Mainstream Success and Evolution
The Moon & Antarctica (2000): A New Direction
I had this on CD and on vinyl, and this is by far the #1 Modest Mouse album as rated by the Song Detectives (we have no rating system). In 2000, Modest Mouse released their third studio album, The Moon & Antarctica. This album afforded the band more studio time which may have allowed them to showcase a more polished and experimental approach.
Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004): Breakthrough Album
Modest Mouse reached a turning point with the release of their fourth album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. This album featured a mix of styles, including pop-influenced tracks and melancholic ballads.
Float On: The Hit Single
The standout single from Good News for People Who Love Bad News, “Float On”, became a massive hit propelling Modest Mouse to mainstream audiences. This catchy, optimistic track with infectious guitar riffs and memorable lyrics resonated with listeners worldwide. “Float On” reached No. 68 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its popularity cemented the band’s status as a household name.
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007): Continued Success
In 2007, Modest Mouse released their fifth album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, demonstrating the band’s continued appeal and growth.
Collaboration with Johnny Marr
A significant factor in the success of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank was the collaboration with former Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr. Marr’s distinctive guitar style complemented Isaac Brock’s songwriting, resulting in a unique fusion that greatly contributed to the album’s popularity. Marr toured with Modest Mouse from 2006 to 2008.
The 2010s: Experimentation and Reinvention
Strangers to Ourselves (2015): Return after an Extended Hiatus
In 2015, Modest Mouse released their sixth studio album, “Strangers to Ourselves,” marking their return after an eight-year hiatus. Following the release of “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” in 2007, the band had been relatively quiet, taking time to explore new musical directions.
The Significance of the Golden Casket Project
In 2021, Modest Mouse released their seventh studio album, “The Golden Casket.”. Brock said he wasn’t going to play guitar on this album and he pretty much achieved that, with only a few exceptions. The album’s themes addressed modern concerns such as technology, environmental destruction, and social inequality.
Live Performances and Tours
Early Shows and the Development of a Unique Live Experience
Their early shows playing as a trio are pretty dang punk.
Over time, they have integrated elements of folk, blues, and experimental music into their performances, creating an eclectic and memorable experience for fans. The band has also been known to incorporate visuals and innovative stage setups, echoing the influence of bands like Talking Heads.
The Evolution of Their Stage Presence and Production
Over time, Modest Mouse’s stage presence and production values have evolved significantly. From their early days of performing in small clubs and venues as a trio to their large-scale festival appearances, the band has always pushed the boundaries of what an indie rock show can be. They have continually expanded their visual elements, adding complex light displays and more immersive stage designs.
Band Members and Collaborators
Notable Former Members and Contributors
Throughout its history, Modest Mouse has had several notable former members contributing to their musical ventures. Other than the founding members, key former members and contributors include:
- Joe Plummer: Former drummer
- Dann Gallucci: Guitarist
- Benjamin Weikel: Drummer
- Jim Fairchild: Guitarist
- Lisa Molinaro: Multi-instrumentalist
- Davey Brozowski: Drummer
- John Wickhart: Bassist
- Johnny Marr: Guitarist
Of particular note, Johnny Marr, an English guitarist and songwriter best known for his time with The Smiths, joined Modest Mouse as a member from 2006 to 2008.
Relationships with Other Bands and Artists
- Built to Spill: An indie rock band that has played shows with Modest Mouse.
- The Shins: A fellow indie rock band with members who have also performed with Modest Mouse.
- The Black Keys: An alternative rock band that has toured with Modest Mouse.
- Ugly Casanova: Isaac Brock’s side project featuring various collaborators, some of whom were involved in Modest Mouse.
Final Thoughts On Modest Mouse
The history of Modest Mouse is a remarkable tale of creative expression and perseverance. Many of the best moments in this bands body of work portray the ability or desire to take a tough situation and not let it get the best of you. It’s as if Isaac Brock’s main message to the world is kinda of like, yea bad things happen and will continue to happen, but whatever, it’s going to be ok, we’re going to be ok, let’s just float on ya know?