Modern Baseball: Dial ‘M’ For MoBo
Having knocked it out of the park with their third studio album – another jaw-dropping leap forward topically, sonically and personally in Holy Ghost – it comes as no shock that Modern Baseball would already make their way back to Australia after a short eight months. After crushing a three-city string of East Coast headliners that sold out as soon as they went on sale, the Philly pop-punks are making their return at the ’16-’17 iteration of the Falls Festival, where instead of shredding to sweaty clubs of 200, they’ll take to stages ahead crowds eclipsing the five-digit mark. Needless to say, it’s a pretty damn exciting time – for us and the band themselves. Riding that hype off into the sunset, BLUNT caught up with co-frontman/guitarist Jake Ewald.
I remember the last time MoBo were in Australia, you guys really wanted to hug a koala but never got the chance – is that number one on the priority list this time around?
It’s definitely, definitely up there! You can only do it in Brisbane though, right?
I thiiiiiink so.
I have only a limited knowledge left of Modern Baseball [laughs] – are we going to be around Brisbane again on this tour?
You’ve got Falls in Byron Bay, which is only a few hours out if you’re dead set on it.
Okay, so maybe we can work it out! I really hope we can.
Speaking of Falls itself, have you heard much about the festival?
I mean, I’ve looked at the poster [laughs]! We’ve just heard that it’s really, really cool. I don’t know much about it, though.
It’s like 50% music fest, 50% arts and culture – the aesthetic is total boho chic and everyone’s cooked on pingas.
That sounds pretty awesome! I can’t wait.
Do you guys usually celebrate New Year’s?
Yeah! We always kind of end up at the same place – one of our friends or one of us will have a party, and we’ll just go hang out and watch the ball drop, y’know, be really loud and do stupid stuff. It’s pretty cool. It’s great to hang out with our friends!
Do you believe in the New Year’s kiss – that kissing at midnight brings a year of good luck?
Oh, it’s a year of good luck? I’ve heard that the person you kiss on New Year’s is going to be the person that you’re going to spend the most time with in the following year.
I kind of like that explanation better.
Yeah! Y’know, it’s a little less pressure [laughs]. But yeah, I guess I believe in it! Now that I think about it, though, I think I’ve always been in a relationship on New Year’s Eve, so there’s not much of that whole, “Oh my gosh, who am I gonna kiss!?”
You’re also doing a few sideshows with the one and only Camp Cope! After you all hung out at the Melbourne date of the last tour, did it just seem like a no-brainer to get them back onboard for this one?
Oh yeah, totally! As soon as we found out that we were coming back, they were the first band we hit up. We’re really excited to play with them again.
I love that the poster for these sideshows is a customised jar of Vegemite – which would make a killer merch design, just saying. Did you guys try Vegemite when you were here in April?
We actually did! When we did our [Like A Version] at the triple j office, somebody was making Vegemite toast on their lunch break. We were like, “Oh my God! We’ve never had that, can I have some?” and they were like, “…Yeah, okay.” They put some on some toast and gave it to us, and they were just really excited to see our reactions to trying it for the first time. I personally didn’t like it very much at all, but I’ve heard that you kind of have to figure out how much of it to put on for yourself.
Anyone that puts more on than a pea-sized amount is an actual monster.
I think I got just a biiiiiit too much – it was just really, really salty.
“It seems like the shows have settled down a little bit, for the most part, and you can tell that a lot of people are just really enjoying the fact that nobody’s getting smashed by crowdsurfers.”
I want to talk about the tour hotline that you guys set up a couple of months ago – I really think something like that could revolutionise live music. Is that still a thing, or is it a little harder to do when you’re not headlining?
I’m pretty sure the phone number is still live right now – I think it’s just live all the time. It’s definitely a little bit different now that we aren’t in charge of the whole show – there’s not a great amount things that are in our control – but we still like to do as much as we can to help everybody have a good time and stay safe at the shows. Another thing is that we go overseas a fair amount, but the phone number that we have for our US tours is only a US number, so we’re trying to set up a method for the future where we can hopefully have just one number, somehow, that works around the world. We can have that same number and post it everywhere, so that at anytime, anywhere we play, you can call the same number if anything goes wrong. Hopefully we can set that up sometime in the near future.
It seems like you guys are really going above and beyond to make your shows as welcoming as possible. Does that come down to personal morals, or is it a case where you’ve noticed shows being a little too rough in the past?
Not necessarily in the past, but as our shows in the States started getting more rowdy – just because more people were coming and more people were getting excited… Y’know, at the heart of it, they were punk shows, and people would be kind of aggressive sometimes, but not in a crazy way all of the time. But just having more people smushed together in a small room, we started to see more and more of the same things happen every night, night after night, which we’d only seen when we opened for bigger shows. Every band finds their own way to deal with those things, so for us, we tried out the hotline. Now when we do a headline tour, we can try to keep as much of the show under control as possible. But yeah, it was just us seeing an issue happen over and over again, and we were like, “Let’s try this, and maybe it’ll help…” And it has so far!
Since implementing those ideas and striving to lead by example, have you learned much, or have you noticed much of a shift in the ways that you guys approach touring now?
Actually, yeah, kind of! It seems like one part of it is that, just because people know that the hotline is available, they come into the show with a different mindset. They won’t necessarily come and be like, “Oh, I’m gonna mosh really hard and punch people in the face!” It seems like the shows have settled down a little bit, for the most part, and you can tell that a lot of people are just really enjoying the fact that nobody’s getting smashed by crowdsurfers. And then on the other hand, also, a lot of people have expressed appreciation that the hotline is there at all, even if they’re not using it – they’re like, “Hey, it’s really cool that you have this, this makes me feel better about being here in the first place,” so that’s been really neat to see.
Slight change of topics: of course, you guys released Holy Ghost just under half a year ago. Since dropping the record in May, how has everything shaped up for MoBo?
It’s been really cool. The shows that we did in the US right after it came out were some of the craziest headline shows we’ve ever done, so that was really neat. I feel like more people are hearing our band than ever before, too. It’s cool, because we still have a lot of younger fans at our shows, but we’re also staring to get some fans that are a little bit older and maybe didn’t like our old stuff as much, but are really into this new record. But we also still have a tonne of young fans, so it’s really cool to see a lot of different people come together at the shows and get excited about these songs.
Thus far, the general theme of MoBo records seems to be that they’re these capsules in time, wherein the four of you are the trying to find yourselves and define who you are as people at that specific point.
At least from my own perspective, I think that’s a pretty good way to put it. We try to make everything pretty personal, so a lot of the stuff comes from these little vivid experiences that we’ve had as individuals.
Do you think that once you’ve eventually found yourselves, Modern Baseball will disintegrate, or do you see a future for the band past that point?
I don’t know… We always kind of just go with the flow – do what tours seem cool, write the songs that we like at the time. Even though we’re all still, like, 23 and 25, we’re not quite as young as we used to be, so we probably won’t be doing these crazy touring schedules for the rest of our lives [laughs]. But we’re just going to keep writing the songs that we want to write and keep doing the tours that we want to do for as long as we can.
“When you’re writing a song, you have to just completely forget about what people might think about it, so that you can get fully lost in the experience you’re writing about.”
I feel like with a lot of emotionally open songs, it’s easy to adapt them to your own experiences as a listener, and find ways to make those songs relate to your own shit. With how much of yourselves that you pour into these songs, how do you feel about people tacking their own meanings onto them?
It’s the coolest thing to see, anytime someone comes up to us after a show and says, “I don’t know what you wrote this song about, but I was going through this and it helped me through it because I could relate to it.” When you’re writing a song, you have to just completely forget about what people might think about it, so that you can get fully lost in the experience you’re writing about. And then a lot of the time, I think being so honest about it and being so vulnerable helps it be more realistic or relatable in the end. I don’t know, it’s a kind of mysterious process and I don’t know exactly how it works, but it’s pretty neat [laughs].
Another slight change of topics: Slaughter Beach, Dog! What was it like releasing a solo album in the midst of such a busy time for MoBo?
It was exciting! It was one of those funny releases where I had finished recording the record maybe, like, six months ago. I had a lot of downtime when I was recording it and I was totally lost in it, but it got released, like… Right when we started this Brand New tour, so I was able to get excited about it all over again while we were out on the road. It’s been really neat being able to go online and see that people are actually listening to it – to hear from people like you, that you dig it – that’s really cool to hear!
So you played everything on the record, which is “holy shit” levels of impressive… But how is touring going to work?
I’ll do solo acoustic shows when we’re at home, but I also have a backing band – it’s kind of like a rotating cast, but a lot of the time, Ian [Farmer, MoBo’s bassist] will play lead guitar and my friend Evan plays bass. There’s this old, but really good band from Philly called Spraynard, and their drummer plays drums for us. But also, on this tour that’s coming up, our friend Nick – who’s the guitar tech for Modern Baseball – is going to play lead guitar because Ian can’t come. So it’s just like a rotating party of people.
I kiiiinda get a MoBo vibe from Welcome, but realistically, that really stops at your voice. Did any of the songs on this album start off as MoBo songs, though?
[Thinks crazy hard] Hmmm… I don’t think so, actually. I think that by the time I was writing those songs, I had already decided that I wanted to make a standalone project out of them. And then once I decided that, I was like, “Okay, I need to write ten songs, and they’re gonna go on this album, and it’s gonna be this band, and…” Yeah. I just treated it like it was its own project, I think.
So how does your creative process differ between writing for MoBo and writing for SloBoDo?
It started out that all of the Slaughter Beach, Dog songs would be about fictional scenarios and all of the Modern Baseball songs would be about things that actually happened to me… But the more Slaughter Beach, Dog songs that I wrote – especially the songs you hear on this record – the more my regular live started to seep into them. I’m not really sure at this point [laughs]. I’ll just kind of like, I’ll finish a song and think, like, “Well… Is this too weird to be a Modern Baseball song?” But then, also, maybe it’s even cooler as a Modern Baseball song because it could go in a weirder direction that we wouldn’t normally do. But I don’t know, it depends – I haven’t really thought too much about how I want to do it yet.
Modern Baseball / Camp Cope
December 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st – Falls Festival, Lorne*
December 29th, 30th and 31st – Falls Festival, Marion Bay*
December 31st / January 1st and 2nd – Falls Festival, Byron Bay*
Wednesday January 4th – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Friday January 6th – 17 Russell, Melbourne
January 7th and 8th – Falls Festival, Fremantle*
* – Camp Cope not appearing.