Modest, perhaps. Mousy? Never.
A talk with Isaac Brock, lead singer of indie rockers Modest Mouse
Isaac Brock can’t seem to sit still. Unless, of course, he happens to find himself thrown in jail.
Random incarceration aside, most days the bulk of his time is spent being the front man, lead guitarist and chief songwriter for leftfield rockers Modest Mouse. Given the band’s fanatical following and critical acclaim, this would be a full-time job in anybody’s book. But, like some ADD-addled youth, Brock is constantly on the move.
He’s spent the better part of 2002 touring with his side project Ugly Casanova in support of their album Sharpen Your Teeth. Seeming to follow the “no rest for the wicked” mantra, no sooner had that tour wrapped up in July than Brock ventured out on the road with Modest Mouse as part of the Ultimate Sunshine Tour featuring the Flaming Lips, Cake, and De La Soul (which hits Sacramento Memorial Auditorium on Aug. 9).
While touring and making music would appear to be enough to satisfy most musicians of Brock’s caliber, apparently it’s not. Somehow, between all the sound checks and travelogues, he also finds time to serve as an A&R rep for Seattle’s Sub Pop Records. When you think of popular musicians working in that capacity, the first name that comes to mind is Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit fame.
“Uh-oh,” laughs Brock at the comparison. “Since forever I’ve kinda just been calling anyone I know who ran a label and telling them what I thought they should be putting out. And Sub Pop actually took some of my advice,” explains Brock of how he landed the gig. For the record, Brock turned the label onto Albuquerque quartet The Shins, a band that has done rather well, and as a result Brock found himself with a new job title.
It’s logical to expect there might be conflict of interest, given that Brock is a musician (and one who is signed to Epic Records, no less), but he sees it differently. “I think I’ll do a better job at it since I’m in the work and I understand what’s going on. I’m out and about with a lot of the bands and stuff, and I have a clear idea of the whole process, which is different than being an office person who enjoys music. I have more of an old-school approach to it, which is a bit more hands-on.”
That hands-on approach is precisely what allows Brock to be a musician first and more or less pretend to be a record label exec on the side. “I don’t have to be in the office,” he chides. “I can’t push paper; I just can’t do it.” Which brings us to the open road, the antithesis to being stuck inside the 9-to-5 grind. When it comes to surviving a tour, this mouse is a seasoned veteran.
Like venerable road warrior Mike Watt, Brock favors the lithe handling of a van over that of a chauffeured tour bus. In fact, Brock recently purchased a new Dodge van after crashing his last one. “It doesn’t have the camper top yet,” he states. “I’m trying to make another ‘Vansion’ [that would be Brock’s sly reference to a van-cum-mansion]. The first Vansion, in my opinion, was a better van. It had a better turning radius, but I didn’t really trust it for a tour. The new one that I bought has broken down twice already. It hasn’t been behaving as well as it should.”
Mechanical difficulties are but one of the mishaps Brock has encountered on the road. Another is the law. He actually spent a week in jail this past June. “I was in Niagara Falls on the Ugly Casanova tour and I decided to go over to the Canadian side to look at it from there,” he explains. “And on the way back it turned out that I had a warrant.” Said warrant was in conjunction with the aforementioned crashed van. Apparently the lawyer he hired had literally taken the money and run, leaving Brock’s legal matters unsolved.
“I ended up in jail for five days,” Brock continues. “They had me listed as a fugitive, and all they knew is that I was wanted for a felony. They had me in double-lock-up maximum security, walking around with ankle cuffs. The first 24 hours I was in jail they had me in a holding tank that seriously had not been cleaned in at least four months. They didn’t give me a cup to get any water, didn’t give me any food, no pillow, no blanket, nothing. The cops wouldn’t talk to me when they walked by. I mean there was actual shit on the walls. It was a really fucked experience. I had to fire my lawyer and hire a new one. But he got me out.”
Brock pauses for a second, and then with an ironic laugh he adds, "Now everyone on the chat rooms is trying to make it out like I was arrested for smuggling drugs. Man, I’m just not fuckin’ dumb enough to cross a border with any sort of drugs."