Modest Mouse is an American indie rock band formed in 1993 in Issaquah, Washington, by singer/guitarist Isaac Brock, drummer Jeremiah Green, and bassist Eric Judy. Since their 1996 debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, their lineup has centered on Brock, Green, and Judy. Guitarist Johnny Marr (formerly of The Smiths) joined the band in May 2006, along with percussionist Joe Plummer (formerly of The Black Heart Procession) and multi-instrumentalist Tom Peloso, to work on the album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Guitarist Jim Fairchild joined the band in February 2009. The band’s upcoming sixth album, Strangers to Ourselves, is set to be released on March 17, 2015. Their name is derived from a passage from the Virginia Woolf story “The Mark on the Wall” which reads, “I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises.”
In 1994, Modest Mouse recorded their first EP, Blue Cadet-3, Do You Connect?, at Calvin Johnson’s Dub Narcotic Studios. It was released by K Records. A single, “Broke”, followed under Sub Pop that was recorded by Steve Wold (a.k.a. bluesman Seasick Steve) at Moon Studios in Olympia, Washington. During this time, Modest Mouse also recorded what would have been their first album, Sad Sappy Sucker, but constant delays caused the album to be shelved and forgotten. It was not until 2001 that it was officially released. Before making their way into the pop music world in 2004, many of their tours included stops at DIY/punk venues.
After moving to Up Records, Modest Mouse released two full-length albums and other recordings recorded at Moon Studios, including the 1996 LP This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. This album was produced and recorded by Steve Wold (at the time Wold was assisting in the recordings as well, but was not officially part of the band). The next offering was Interstate 8, also produced by Wold. The 1997 album, The Lonesome Crowded West, (also recorded at Moon Studios, by Scott Swayze) turned out to serve as the band’s breakthrough. The Lonesome Crowded West gained the band a cult following, and is now popularly considered to be one of the defining albums of mid-1990s indie rock. During this time Nick Kraft was brought in to refine the band’s sound. Prior to its release, the band had recorded the EP The Fruit That Ate Itself. In 1999, Up Records released a singles and rarities collection entitled Building Nothing Out of Something, which included the entirety of Interstate 8 except for the songs “Edit the Sad Parts” and “Buttons to Push the Buttons”.
In 2000, Modest Mouse released The Moon & Antarctica, their first album on Epic Records. The album was critically well-received including a 9.8 out of 10 score from online music magazine, Pitchfork Media. It has subsequently gone on to receive further acclaim. Brock has since released an album with his side project Ugly Casanova on Sub Pop, which was the only side project allowed due to the contract. The band licensed “Gravity Rides Everything” for a commercial for Nissan’s Quest minivan, a move that Brock has publicly acknowledged as blatantly commercial but necessary to achieve financial stability. Regarding the commercial, Brock stated, “People who don’t play music for a living can criticize my morals while they live off their parents’ money or wash dishes for some asshole.”
In 2001, Modest Mouse released the EP Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks, a collection of unused songs from the recording sessions of The Moon and Antarctica. In 2002, they joined Cake, De La Soul, The Flaming Lips, The Hackensaw Boys and Kinky on the Unlimited Sunshine Tour. The public radio program Marketplace used “Float On” as bumper music and helped propel the group to a broader audience.
In March 2003, Green left the band after suffering a nervous breakdown; the official word was that he was leaving to work with his side project, Vells. The same year, he and bass guitarist Eric Judy appeared on Adam Forkner’s first solo album, VVRSSNN. Green was replaced by two new members, drummer Benjamin Weikel (who also drummed for The Helio Sequence, as well as playing keyboard) and Murder City Devils guitarist Dann Gallucci (who had been a member of Modest Mouse previously, and appears on Sad Sappy Sucker and The Lonesome Crowded West). On April 6, 2004, Modest Mouse released their fourth album, the platinum-selling Good News for People Who Love Bad News, which had two hits with “Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty” (both of which they performed on Saturday Night Live on November 13, 2004). The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album that year, and “Float On” was nominated for Best Rock Song. Later that year, Green returned to the band, and Weikel returned to drumming exclusively for The Helio Sequence. Gallucci left the band in August.
In May 2006, Dann Gallucci (who had left the band amicably in September 2004) was replaced on guitar by Johnny Marr, former guitarist for The Smiths. Their next album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, was released on March 20, 2007 after being delayed from December 19, 2006. It was the first Modest Mouse album to reach number one on the US Billboard 200 charts, and had the hit single “Dashboard”, as well as “Missed the Boat” and “We’ve Got Everything”. Modest Mouse released singles for the songs “Satellite Skin”, “Autumn Beds” and “Perpetual Motion Machine” in limited editions (a run of 4,000 each) vinyl 7 inches, featuring artwork by art director and illustrator Joshua Marc Levy, J.Alex Stamos, and Natasha Wheat.
The band began a North American tour in June 2008. They returned to Florida for the first time since their November 2006 Bang Music Festival show, where they were cut off stage early, with three shows in Miami, Orlando and St. Augustine. Modest Mouse finished their tour supporting We Were Dead after two years of promoting the record.
Jim Fairchild of Grandaddy and All Smiles replaced Marr as guitarist, when Marr left the band after joining The Cribs, beginning with the support of No One’s First and You’re Next, which was released on August 4, 2009, composed of unreleased tracks from the recording sessions of Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.