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Q&A: ISAAC BROCK of Modest Mouse (Excerpt)

Highlights from 20 Interviews (2007)

Isaac Brock at the Royal Albert Hall, London / May 2007 / Photograph by PAT GRAHAM

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Sunday, December 09, 2007


BUILDING SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING:
ISAAC BROCK
(EXCERPT)

The complete Stop Smiling Interview with Isaac Brock, which was conducted throughout summer 2007 in Chicago and at Brock’s home in Portland, appears as one of three cover stories in the second annual 20 Interviews issue. (For more on this issue, click here). An excerpt of the conversation follows below

Interview by JC Gabel

Stop Smiling: You grew up in Issaquah, just outside Seattle. You moved around quite a bit, and then settled in Portland, but at one point you were living in a logging town in central Oregon.

Isaac Brock: Once I got into Portland I had no idea what the fuck I was doing in that logging town, except for drinking and getting fat. I didn't go back, I just moved out. It seemed to me at the time that if I wanted to get things done — I was too easily distracted — and I was in the middle of nowhere, so I’d have nothing but time to focus and work on stuff. But because I was isolated, I drank out of boredom and I got less done. I didn’t ever actually intend on moving to Portland. It wasn’t a thought I had. It just kind of happened and here I am. Occasionally, people ask me to talk about the music scene here, like, “Why do you think people move here?” — that whole thing. There’s a lot of rock and rollers who live here, but I have no idea. I don’t hang out. I stay at home most of the time.

SS: Can you see yourself living anywhere else permanently — other than the Pacific Northwest?

IB: I have a hard time imagining that — maybe the Northeast, around Maine. It’s beautiful. It’s cold enough to not make me paranoid about the world ending, and it’s near seafood — treats from the deep.

SS: You’ve stated that you don’t like talking to journalists about your music or yourself. Is it because you get all the same tired questions.

IB: Pretty much. They read the first article that was ever done on the band, and then ask those questions again and again. It wasn’t like the people were even interviewing me because they were at all curious about anything. Some hadn’t listened to the records, and I don’t think they planned on it. They didn’t have any personal interest in what they were asking.

SS: Which leads to the inevitable question about Johnny Marr.

IB: They really wanted to make that the story and, unfortunately, it wasn’t, as far as we were concerned. Johnny being in the band is great because he’s a great player, but there are always new people in this band. That’s not new.

SS: Even with someone like Johnny Marr, who joined from a previously huge band, it seems like everybody is treated equally, but it’s your band to some degree. You write a majority of the songs.

IB: I just stuck around the longest without taking time off. I just try to keep it so that people are paid fairly. There have been times when other bands have asked me — people who have my role in other bands — “How should I divide up the money?” Fucking evenly, man. If you want to keep doing this, you can’t have one person being rich while the rest of the fucking people are working day jobs during the time off. Juggle that.

SS: Does that work the same with the music publishing?

IB: The publishing works the same, yeah. The only thing I get more for is my hand for writing the vocal parts. So everyone gets a part, no matter how many instruments or how little you play on something — even if it’s a tambourine hit, you get one part. That way I make sure that no one overplays. If people were only able to keep the lights on at their house by writing a certain amount of music in a song, then you’d have these really busy, busy songs. I like the idea that someone can just do this one thing for a second and that’s all that needed to be done. It kind of eliminates some ego aspects of it, too.

SS: Signing with Epic had to do with two things, I gather. One, Chris Takino, the founder of UP records, was ill. His label was probably a great home for the band. And two, because you could all quit any day jobs you might have had.

IB: It was. But Chris was trying to push me in a way to sign to a bigger label — not because he didn’t want to put the records out or anything, but because he thought it was the right time. Also, by that point, it was going well enough that the odd jobs were largely unnecessary. Once we moved to a major label, we actually made less money.

SS: But more money touring?

IB: No. To be honest, I think we made more money per person eight years ago. Now, for every one of us there’s someone helping move all this shit and you have all these unions when you play these bigger places. It just gets expensive.

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