Isaac Brock is distracted. He's shopping with his girlfriend in L.A. and can't seem to find what he's looking to find. "And that's bull****," he rages over the telephone to me.
Brock, the often offensive, always literate front man of Modest Mouse, is making his second appearance in Billings Thursday night at an 8:30 show at the Alberta Bair Theater. Tickets are still left at $39.50. The Missoula show on Friday is sold out.
I had 10 minutes on the phone with him last week and he seemed pretty steamed during at least 7 minutes of it.
I assumed Brock would be a challenging interview, half genius lyricist, half crazy man. No regular Joe could write lyrics like this from MM's latest single "King Rat:" Well deep water, deep water/ Senseless denial/ I went down like a rag doll/ Heavy with child.''
Dizzyingly happy melodies paired with dark lyrical fodder mark MM's style. And Brock has been known to turn freakishly dark on stage, including a jam session in 2002 where he cut himself after asking the audience for a knife.
He's a reader, that's for certain. And when I ask about his lyrics that crunch along like poetry being chewed up and spit out, he lashes out again. It seems, he doesn't like poetry and is offended that I would even use the term in a conversation with him.
"Oddly, I don't like poetry," he said, using the first full sentence during our 10-minute talk. "Poetry, poets claim to do too much."
He said his lyrics stem from a "constant argument with myself."
I'm not sure I believed him, but Brock said his favorite author is John Steinbeck.
"He's either really good or really bad. When something went wrong, he made that feel festive. Like the 'Grapes of Wrath' and 'Cannery Row.'"
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The band's name comes from a Virginia Woolf story, "The Mark on the Wall:" …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."
Brock discounts the reference to Woolf, though, saying, "I hijacked that from required reading. I never really got into Virginia Woolf." But the quote does sound eerily like Brock's own personality. The success MM has endured after the 2004 "Good News for People Who Love Bad News'' went platinum and the track "Float On'' showed up on every teen's iPod has kept their name in the news. The late Heath Ledger directed the video for "King Rat'' and the band finished the video after Ledger died, releasing it in August with their new EP, "No One's First, And You're Next,'' which debuted at No. 15 on Billboard's Top 40 Chart last month.
Brock said the idea for the song came after he read the book "You Can't Win,'' which is an autobiography by the 1920s career criminal Jack Black (not the actor). Brock said he had no idea where Ledger got the idea from the song's lyrics to make a video about whales fishing for humans, but he said Ledger was a great defender of wildlife.
Brock, who grew up in Issaquah outside Seattle, Wash., said he started recording his voice at the age of 7.
"I was into the 'MASH' song and Queen and recorded a CD of that kind of stuff.''
He had no intention of being a musician.