Modest Mouse had been an indie rock standard-bearer for more than a decade when its single "Float On" suddenly became a mainstream hit in 2004. The Epic album from which it was drawn, "Good News for PModest Mouse had been an indie rock standard-bearer for more than a decade when its single "Float On" suddenly became a mainstream hit in 2004. The Epic album from which it was drawn, "Good News for People Who Love Bad News," went on to sell a whopping 1.5 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
It was a surprising turn of events for the unassuming rock outfit, but according to frontman Isaac Brock, it didn't change Modest Mouse much at all. What actually had the most impact was the arrival of second drummer Joe Plummer and former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, who Brock thought would bring a fresh creative perspective to "We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank," due this week.
Marr's signature chiming fretwork is indeed apparent on the album, and first single "Dashboard" is already a modern rock hit. But there are no "Float On" part twos on the record. Instead, Brock and company forge ahead with idiosyncratic rockers featuring ukulele and violin and work up a psychedelic lather on the nearly nine-minute jam "Spitting Venom." The Shins' James Mercer, whom Brock has known for years, guests on three songs.
"I had this idea of writing a short book that could go with the CD," Brock says of the initial inspiration for the new songs. "All the songs would be about these five people who worked on a fishing boat. Every time they docked in a town or in one way or another, they'd somehow get killed in every song and then start alive again. As much fun as that sounded, actually making an entire record about that limited the emotional scope, so I chose not to pursue it."
As for the addition of Marr, Brock opines, "I like the Smiths, don't get me wrong. But I wasn't all that boisterous about them. One of the reasons I thought he'd be a good person to work with in the first place was that he plays entirely differently than me. He has a much more liquid, fluid style, which I thought would be an interesting contrast to how jagged-y I play. I hate to break it to you, man, but I've never been f*ckin' starstruck."