Modern Life Is (Still) War
Following their 2003 debut LP My Love, My Way, the Marshalltown, Iowa, hardcore band Modern Life Is War quickly became a cult favorite. The band was becoming the vanguard of North American hardcore that would be lauded critically just a few years later in bands like Fucked Up--melodic, heartfelt, raw, honest, political by default as a result of their station and perspective. It was the kind of music kids fought to share because it was so invigorating and new and somehow prescient. By the time their third album Midnight In America came out on Equal Vision in 2007, Modern Life Is War had figured out the power in their passion and pushed it just a little too far--they imploded within a year of that release. But they reformed just this year, not in "reunion," but in continuation. They've released a new LP, Fever Hunting, another document of desperation and desire and absence that almost tops at the same level as their impeccable 2005 record of small-town ennui, Witness.
We caught up with Jeffrey Eaton, the band's frontman, in advance of two New York City dates on one day, Saturday October 12: Modern Life Is War plays The Studio at Webster Hall with Night Birds, Deathcycle, and Wet Witch at 7:30 p.m.; they'll then head over to Brooklyn's St. Vitus for a midnight set with openers Incendiary and Survival.
You've started playing shows again. How has that been going?
We've actually just played one show so far and that was This Is Hardcore festival in Philadelphia. That was our first show back in nearly five years. In two weeks we do Des Moines and Chicago. The following weekend we do D.C., two shows in New York, and then Boston.
I saw the videos from This Is Hardcore. How did it feel to be back on stage with that band?
It felt incredible. There was a lot of anxiety on our part just preparing for the show and knowing that we were going to be playing in front of one of the largest crowds we've ever played to, on our first show back in so long. It was a little bit nerveracking. But there was so much energy in the room and so many people excited to see us and people that had never gotten a chance to see us the first time around. So it was very exciting. I was actually almost crippled with fear until we actually started playing and then it kind of all melted away.
I had seen you guys a bunch a few years ago. It seemed like you had so much confidence then. What were you so anxious about this time around?
I don't know what it was. I didn't really anticipate feeling that way. I've never been a guy that's felt nervous on stage at all. I don't know what it was. I think that we really wanted to put our best foot forward as much as we could in terms of playing very tight, having lots of energy, and playing together the way we used to. And I know that was important for us with the record and coming back and playing shows. We really I think just wanted to prove to ourselves more than anyone else that this is the right thing to be doing. I think I just was overthinking it a little bit. But once we started playing it felt very natural and everything came together nice.
Is that sort of what you guys were tackling on this new record? The opening track, "Old Fears, New Frontiers," seems to get at what you're talking about.
Yeah definitely. I think that rather than shy away from the subject at hand I just wanted to lay it out right away. The first song more thematically lays out what's to come on the record for sure and kind of what we're all going through right now.
What have you all been up to in the last five years?
We've all led different lives since then. Chris, our bass player, actually left the band after we recorded our second LP, Witness. He fell in love, got married, and is now living in Phoenix, Arizona. Our guitar player John, who was with us up until the very end, and is still playing with us now, he actually became a long-haul trucker. So he kind of stayed on the road after we got off the road. And he's still doing that. I spent almost two years in California not really doing anything notable in terms of work or anything. Just skateboarding and kind of getting out of Iowa for awhile and clearing my head a little bit. Matt, our guitar player, has been in California and he's been playing with Only Crime. He plays with Bill Stevenson and Russ from Good Riddance and Aaron from Bane. Tyler is still living in our hometown of Marshalltown. Everyone went their own separate ways to some extent. But then again we all stay in pretty close contact and talk on the phone, even throughout all those years.
How did you all get together if you're scattered across the country?
Me and Chris, the bass player, we were talking on the phone one night. We had never really talked about the "reunion thing" or anything concerning the band for a long time. It's just kind of been in the dirt for awhile. I think he'd probably been drinking a little bit and said, "You know man, I've been thinking about it a lot. I miss playing with you guys. I miss being on stage." And he sort of posed the question to me whether I would consider doing a reunion show. I basically said no, but that I have the itch to be creative again in terms of writing songs, writing lyrics. That was what I was itching for. It was really as much about getting on stage as it was about wanting to write songs. So I basically said to him, that I won't do a reunion show. But if all the original guys would consider getting together and trying to write songs and we all felt that something good was happening and it was something that sounded like our band, then I would consider writing a record and then talking about what happens next from there. He got ahold of everyone I think that night, or at least by the next morning. And everyone was kind of immediately on board. Matt, our guitar player, is super prolific and always writing, recording his ideas and songs that he comes up with. He actually had a wealth of ideas from all those years in between. We just started with things that he had come up with. There were literally hundreds of ideas. We just kind of added his filter and tried to narrow it down to something good. Within a week of Chris and my phone call, we were back to the drawing board working on a new album.
It's amazing that it could come together so quickly after such a long time off.
Yeah. And for the first number of months it was all talking on the phone and sending demoes to each other through email. Matt and Chris were getting together because they were both on the West Coast. They would get together over a weekend and play together all weekend and come up with song ideas. Tyler and John and I would all do the same thing since we were all in the Midwest. And we just started working in small groups and sending things back and forth. By the time we actually got together, which wasn't until September of last year, we had nine days together where we had nothing morning, noon, and night to do but play music and try and finish the album. But we came into that with like a ton of material. We had ideas for basically all the songs that were going to be on the record. We just had to all be together in a room so we could hash it all out.