Isaac Brock doesn't take well to compliments.
"It's an interesting disability," he says. "To be honest, in the everyday, I do like getting compliments." It's just that they lead to questions. "I'm trying to learn how to be gracious," he adds. "When people say,"—and here Brock's unmistakable, spiked drawl shifts to a high, flighty register—"'Hey, congratulations, your record was this or that.' It's like, oh great. Super. Now I feel weird, like that was my goal."
And to be sure, Modest Mouse's trajectory—a decade spent on highways between innumerable small towns somehow going on to birth a number-one record, Grammy nominations, and spots on national TV—is something no one could've predicted, least of all Brock himself.
"I just never put much thought into it and when it happened I was all right—it was a little awkward," he says. "Because, to be honest, I'm just doing what I do." And whatever your opinion of the band, that's a statement beyond dispute. All the while, even in his earliest home demos, Brock's voice, themes, and jagged, groovy style remain constant.
Sure, certain aspects have changed—some for the better, and others not so much. Surprisingly, Brock misses life in the van. "There's definitely a different expectation for our shows now," he says. "It's not three drunk dudes who just showed up a half-hour ago who just loaded their shit on stage." On the other hand, Brock say he's mellowed his own drug use. "It's a pity how much time I've wasted doing drugs," he says. "I don't regret having ever done 'em. I regret how much I did them when I wasn't getting anything out of it."
But as with any artist in the spotlight long enough, change happens. "I don't know that [drugs] helped anything," he adds. "It didn't musically do shit for me. It gave me a lot of hard-luck stories, and I've milked those. So what about milking some pleasant shit?"
Recently, Brock has been focusing this energy on his label, Glacial Pace, working primarily with local acts Mimicking Birds and Morning Teleportation. He says he fell in love immediately with Mimicking Birds, but listened for five months before deciding to work together. "You want to see if it holds up for a long enough time, you know?" he says. Morning Teleportation were friends first. "For the first year of knowing these dudes I didn't know they were in a band," says Brock.
Starting Glacial Pace allowed Brock to refine aspects of previous A&R and production jobs for Sub Pop. "I had a hard time doing A&R for instance," he says. "I had a hard time telling bands, 'Hey, you should go on this label that I'm working for,' and then dealing with bullshit like there wasn't enough money to record an album." Instead, Brock is able to make things fit. Mimicking Birds, for instance, recorded at his home.
The producer's role can be taxing for Brock. "Working 14-hour days in the studio on other people's stuff, it's exhausting," he says. "I absolutely wouldn't be working on Modest Mouse stuff at that time."
That both Glacial Pace's new bands are from Portland, Brock says, is merely coincidence. Upon finding Mimicking Birds, he didn't know where they were from. Morning Teleportation's move here was equally serendipitous. And while Brock is happy about his "accidental" settling in Portland, he believes the city's oft-praised music scene is a bit overrated.
"I think it needs to pull its head out of its ass a little bit," he says. "I'm not trying to talk shit... it's just not like there's a family vibe. I don't see it, at least." Brock adds, "It's a great city in a lot of ways. But I'm not going to hand it a fucking trophy for music right now."
As for the future, Brock seems to have the next steps mapped out: "After this tour we're gonna give ourselves six months and we'll have a record," he says. "Of course I did just decide I'm going to New Zealand this winter, so I might have to push that back a bit." Brock continues, "But I like giving myself deadlines to get shit done. I work well under pressure. I don't work much at all without it."