Music

Two for the Rodent

Meet the New Members of Modest Mouse Who Aren't Johnny Marr

Wendy Lynch
Wendy Lynch
Wendy Lynch

As you enter the Paramount this Sunday, winding through the bust-a-gut-excited, sold-out crowd, you'll want to get as close to the stage as possible. The sound in the back of the room, especially under the balcony, is blunt and obscured, and the flat, ballroom-style floor offers poor visibility.

Plus, you'll want to be that much closer to Isaac Brock, Modest Mouse's trailer-trashing, self-mutilating lead singer and his newly assigned, perfectly coiffed foil, the guitar-demigod Johnny Marr, the most recent addition to the group.

While you're up there, you'll notice someone—with what? a cello?—perched in the middle of the stage between the two stars, someone next to veteran bassist Eric Judy. And there's another guy back there, too, knocking on a woodblock while Jeremiah Green, the current band's third original member, batters his drum kit.

Say hi to percussionist Joe Plummer and upright bassist/fiddler Tom Peloso, the new guys in Modest Mouse who aren't Johnny Marr.

"One day Isaac asked me—I'm pretty sure it was in Cleveland, Ohio—'you wanna grab your bass?' And I was like, yeah," Peloso recalls. This was back in 2002, when his band, blue-collar bluegrassers the Hackensaw Boys, were sharing a bill with Modest Mouse, Cake, and De La Soul on the Unlimited Sunshine tour. "I didn't really think much of it other than I like these guys and I like their music. Two weeks before I went on that tour I had heard The Moon & Antarctica. My girlfriend at the time had the record, so that was my first listening of Modest Mouse."

Born and raised around Charlottesville, Virginia, Peloso had been fiddling under the name Pee Paw Hackensaw since 1999, as the Boys gained modest success on the U.S. festival circuit and throughout Europe. He jumped at the chance to add bass and fiddle to a couple of tracks on Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

"When I decided to make the change from the Hackensaw Boys, it was a big deal to me," Peloso says. "It still kind of freaks me out today how it all came together." That includes the recording of Modest Mouse's most recent album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, with the newly revamped lineup.

"I didn't feel like we had to really hunker down and write these songs," he says. "It just kind of happened. It seemed really fluid to me, like that's the way it happens with Modest Mouse: It just happens."

Peloso knows he arrived at precisely the right point in the Modest Mouse trajectory, "like they did all that work and I was off on another track doing the same kind of thing, and I met them where they had more success in the process." He's still happy to play with the Hackensaws and appears on their upcoming May release. "Like a week ago, I was kinda doing that typical thing, like, oh, I'm pinching myself," he laughs. "It's been a crazy ride and I know that's cliché or whatever, but that's the truth."

The ride's only getting crazier. Peloso and Plummer are in preparations for Modest Mouse's upcoming 90-day, multicontinent tour. Peloso had been doing yard work around his Schuyler, Virginia, home; Plummer, nursing a cup of coffee and what sounded like a premature tour flu, is "battening down the hatches" at his Portland, Oregon, apartment.

"It's gonna be clear over the course of three seasons—the end of winter, spring, and the beginning of summer," he says of the tour between coughs. "I don't know what to pack."

Prior to mounting up with the Mouse, Plummer played drums in Black Heart Procession, a San Diego chamber-rock collective signed to Touch & Go. He met Brock when BHP toured with Modest Mouse and started playing with them regularly around 2003 during lingering confusion over rotating drummers. Eventually, Jeremiah Green returned to the band and Plummer was invited to fit in... somewhere.

"Isaac and I had been playing a little bit in Portland, just messing around, drinking beer, and playing music," he says. "The first practice was in Seattle and everyone showed up and I showed up and I wasn't quite sure what I was gonna be doing, so I just filled in where I could." Plummer's role is essentially utility guy, playing kit drums, percussion, melodica, Rhodes, and glockenspiel. "I fake that I can sing, as well," he says. He's proof that 13 years after their first record, Modest Mouse 2.0 is functioning at maximum efficiency.

"If anyone's frivolous, it might be me, but I don't feel like that," he continues. "Early on, I had to miss some shows and they told me there was definitely an absence when I was gone. That not only made me feel good but it gave me a little bit of a purpose, I guess. I was new, now Johnny is the new guy, but we're all getting along really well together. It all feels really good." recommended

jzwickel@thestranger.com

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