Published Mar 16, 2015The last time Modest Mouse released a full-length, it was another decade and their guitarist was that legendary guy from the Smiths. Eight years is a long time to wait for a new album, but finally this week the band release Strangers to Ourselves.
Over the phone on his way to the beach, frontman Isaac Brock tells Exclaim! that it was indeed a long process. "We started writing it about five years ago and kept working on it," he says. "We went into the studio and toured over and over again, because I wasn't convinced the songs were written. Then we walked back into the studio after three years and it was a very roundabout of finding my way back there."
The band didn't make things easy for themselves by building their own studio, which Brock now realizes. "I put myself in a weird situation there," he explains. "We didn't mean to but we did it. One thing led to another and we ended up owning the building because we couldn't tear it down. We built the studio in the basement of an old printing factory. So I felt like I really owed it to myself that this sounded really, really good. And then I was unsatisfied and tore [the studio] all down, then built it back up. So I made a lot of unnecessary work: three years of recording, then over-recording and doing it all again. When you work in someone else's studio, you have someone else coming in after you, or it becomes expensive. Without that, there I was putting in 16 hours a day."
On top of building the studio was the fact that they couldn't find a producer who would be able to stay with them and oversee the album over eight years. Including Brock himself, there are five producers credited on Strangers to Ourselves: Andrew Weiss, Tucker Martine, Clay Jones and Brian Deck.
"I think it's great. And sometimes not," Brock says about all of the people involved. "Initially me and my friend Clay ended up producing it. He convinced me it would be a great idea, and I didn't exactly think it sounded like a good idea. But I love that dude, he's a smart dude, so I said okay. And then after 10 days I fired myself in that role. I said, 'Dude, I fire me.' And we worked with Tucker, who's a frickin' saint, incredibly helpful. He ended up staying on for a few months, but had previous commitments. Brian Deck was great. He brought a lot to the table, but he had other engagements too. No one could really work on my record for three years. No one was available. But in general it was nice, we got a lot of good ideas."
One thing you won't hear on Strangers to Ourselves is the original idea Brock kicked around when he first sat down to write the album: his own version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town.
"When we were in the writing process there was something I was trying to do differently than the other albums," he says. "My initial goal was to write Our Town. I wanted to write an incredibly boring and mundane record. Like, I'm just hanging out, we're just driving to Dairy Queen, whatever. But I got about five songs deep into that and said, 'Well, enough of that.' Besides that, I generally feel pretty lost going into these things. I sit around and find the right ingredients, I hope. But that's the goal. Y'know, every day is a new adventure."