Modest Mouse: Happy Hour
Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 954 from August 5, 2004. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone’s premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story . Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
Isaac Brock is twenty-nine, charming, smart and successful. He drives a metallic-gray Volvo V70 wagon and lives with his ”totally not insane” girlfriend, Katie, and their slightly neurotic eight-month-old mutt, Sloan, in a neat bungalow in a quiet, gentrified Portland, Oregon, neighborhood. He’s got a live-in personal assistant, Richard, who runs Brock’s errands by day and fetches beers for him by night. He’s in negotiations for a lucrative music-publishing deal, and he and Katie are looking to buy a house. Good News for People Who Love Bad News, the latest album by Brock’s band, Modest Mouse, has sold 687,000 copies — more than all three previous Modest Mouse albums combined. And after eleven troubled years on the Pacific Northwest scene — years scarred by drug abuse, injury, mental illness, alcoholism, occasional homelessness and death — Modest Mouse have, improbably, become one of the summer’s breakthrough bands.
So why, on this starry, seventy-degree June night, does Brock give off the impression that it might all just disintegrate at any moment, that chaos is around the corner? ”It’s just the way things are — they’re good, they’re fucked up, it is what it is,” he says, elbows on the bar next to a fresh Pacifico and a shot of Patrón at the Bonfire Lounge, a no-frills hangout near his house. It should be noted that we’ve been drinking since well before sundown, and that the sun will rise again in a little more than three hours. Brock, dressed in dark jeans, a red-checked short-sleeve Levi’s shirt and blue Adidas, is built like a Tonka truck — squat, solid — and he moves like one, with weight and purpose. The liquor has put him in a carousing mood; he’s swinging his arms, hammering the bar and talking loudly to anyone who will listen.
Right now, despite the fact that he’s leaving for a European tour in three days, Brock is pleading with the Bonfire’s co-owner, Dimetri, that he needs a job. He first inquires about a position as ”the drink drinker, steward of the alcohol” then moves on to chef. (Brock actually is an excellent, inventive cook, his girlfriend and others confirm.) ”I could cook you your own dick and it would be so good you’d eat it,” he shouts. ”Yeah!” No reaction. ”Oh, no, wait, that was not really a good sell,” he says. ”Kind of icky.” Pause. ”Could we get back to me being a good cook?”
”What do you like cooking?” asks Dimetri.
”What’s in the fridge?”
Things devolve from there, as does my ability to take notes. I mark down that Brock eventually switches from tequila to vodka (”Wrong decision,” he admits later), and that his two companions — Benjamin Weikel, who plays drums on the new Modest Mouse album, and Joe Plummer, the band’s percussionist on loan from The Black Heart Procession, one of Brock’s favorite bands — disappear at some point. By that time, Brock has already made new friends at the bar.
”How many political idealists does it take to screw in a light bulb?” he asks one of them.
”None. Political idealists can’t change shit.”
Brock gives himself a big laugh for that one, and then the jokes get worse. In the middle of one that somehow involves his mustache, olives and ”British ladies,” he seems to realize that he’s lost his audience — and maybe his grip. So he improvises an ending: ”And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I invented bullshit!” he shouts, convincingly. Two guys at the bar halfheartedly clap.
Brock takes a bow. ”You’re welcome, a world,” he says. ”You’re welcome.”
The bartender interrupts: ”Dude, go home.”
Two years ago, when he began work on Good News, Brock was heavily depressed, with too much time on his hands. He was living in a small house owned by his stepfather in rural Cottage Grove, Oregon — ”the covered-bridge capital of Oregon” — trying to make sense of the death of two friends: Chris Takino; the owner of Mouse’s first label, Up Records, who died of leukemia, and a woman he prefers not to talk about. ”They were both young,” he says. ”It wasn’t drugs. It made no sense.”
One night he was working alone in the studio and things got out of hand. ”I was drinking to the point that I wasn’t all that handy,” he says. ”I don’t know what I was fucking with, but the next morning I woke up and my thumb was broken, there was benfit metal and shit all over the studio. I was in, like, an extra bed in the house, not my bed. I thought, ”This isn’t good.’ ”
The rest of the band — drummer Jeremiah Green, bassist Eric Judy and guitar player Dann Gallucci — were living in Seattle, so Brock suggested renting a house in Portland — a midway point — to work on the album. Green, also a heavy drinker and depressive, was suffering from what Brock calls ”lazy psychiatry,” taking large doses of anti-depressants that made him aggressive and paranoid. Brock had a difficult time playing guitar with his broken thumb, and tensions were mounting. Says Green, ”Isaac and I were really fueling each other’s fires, letting our bad selves go crazy.” Judy and Gallucci tried to keep working, but they remember spending most of the time cooking and watching TV.
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