Isaac Brock was still a teenager living in a Seattle suburb --- in a shed behind his stepdad's trailer, to be exact --- when he and two friends formed the band Modest Mouse. It was the mid-90s, and their noisy guitars and drums, along with Brock's signature blend of yelling and singing, created something unmistakable, infectious, and hugely popular. 2004's Grammy-nominated Good News for People Who Love Bad Newswent platinum, and 2007's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sankreached number one on the Billboard 200 charts.
The band's new album, Strangers to Ourselves, is their first in eight years. There are all sorts of superficial scheduling reasons for what took so long, but Brock puts the real blame on himself. "At the end of the day, we could have been putting out records, but I wasn't really sure I knew what it was I wanted to say," he tells Kurt Andersen. "I just don't feel like putting out stuff that doesn't matter." Brock struggled to finish Strangers to Ourselves. "This record might have been the closest thing to anything killing me ever," he says, "up to, and including, people literally trying to kill me."
Brock is known for his funny, smart, morose lyrics. More than a few of his songs deal with religion, which the songwriter has struggled with since he was young. As a child in Montana, Brock spent several years as a member of a fundamentalist Christian church. "I remember when the deacons laid their hands on my head and I was supposed to find my tongues," he tells Kurt. "I just wanted to save everyone the embarrassment of having this go on too long, so I just stole some lines from Mary Poppins." Brock's parents eventually broke with the church and started moving the family among church communities and communes as they tried to find their place in the world. "I was just cargo, me and my sister, we were the thing they brought along," he says. "It's like a sampler platter of 'What brand of crazy are we gonna be?' At the end of the day I just found my own brand of goddamned crazy."
It makes sense that a younger Brock would write punk rock songs questioning God, shopping malls, and Orange Julius. But now that he's pushing 40, what keeps him writing such subversive songs? "I'm still not comfortable," he explains.
Bonus Track: Listen to Isaac tell Kurt why it took 20 years, a UFO, and a really crappy motel to write Modest Mouse's new song "The Best Room"
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