By: Alexander Napoliello
After former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr left Modest Mouse to play with rising U.K. rockers The Cribs in January 2009, the band rummaged through their past for a rhythm guitarist who could help carry the substantial load of the indie rock empire built by Isaac Brock and company. Modest Mouse is complex and well versed, integrating various forms of punk, pop, rock, blues, and aspects of folk – so not exactly a simple feat for any guitarist.
Jim Fairchild, who previously played with the band for a short time in 2006, quickly rose to the top of the list. Fairchild was no stranger to the various musical aspects bandleader Isaac Brock, bassist Eric Judy and drummer Jeremiah Green build upon. For 13-years Fairchild played alongside Jason Lytle in Grandaddy, an established indie rock act incorporating elements of folk and electronica into a pop formula. Fairchild's solo venture, All Smiles, proved he could not only play next to a prominent frontman, but be one as well.
"Isaac [Brock] is a very smart dude. He doesn't fuck around. He doesn't bring people into the picture he thinks won't be able to bring something to it. So within that, there is a real surprising amount of latitude," Fairchild told JamBase over the phone from his home in San Francisco. "He encourages you to bring your personality to it. That's a demonstration, first of all, of just how smart he is, what a great musician he is, and what a great sense he has for what is going to be effective in his band."
Modest Mouse's lengthy resume began to take shape with the 1997 cult-classic The Lonesome Crowded West, an album full of anger and resentment transcribed through a renegade, punk fashion. Then, 2004's platinum-selling Good News For People Who Love Bad News proved a more melodic offering with pop hits "Float On" and "Oceans Breathe Salty." With this album came instant popularity and the beginning of a pop transformation that found Modest Mouse staying true to their roots but suppressing the anguish found in earlier albums. The release of We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (2007) displayed slight hints of their earlier aggression but largely capitalized on a modern rock undertone featuring sing-along choruses and softer sounds. Created from outtakes of the previous two albums, 2009's EP No One's First and You're Next followed suite, proving just how deep the band's songwriting cannon goes.
Fairchild has the experience to aid in the evolution of Modest Mouse. His solo career and involvement in Granddaddy encompasses similar aspects to Mouse's more recent refined sound, and his style offers a nice contrast to Marr (who hasn't officially left the group altogether, as expressed in a chat with Pitchfork last December).
| Jim Fairchild by Scott Dudelson|
Essentially, Modest Mouse is like a tree. At the roots are Judy and Green, who've been there since the beginning and anchor Modest Mouse's solid foundation. The trunk is Brock, whose creative intuition is the bridge between the roots and the crown of the tree. The water that feeds the growth is the trio's rugged rise outside Seattle, which became the driving force behind their hard-egged, rough lyrics (the pain and anger embedded in their early albums is reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's manic, suffering themes). Over time, this tree grew branches, namely second percussionist Joe Plummer and multi-instrumentalist Tom Peloso, which allowed the band to evolve from an aggressive trio to an upbeat indie ensemble. In 2009, Modest Mouse grew another branch as Fairchild was welcomed in with open arms and offered free reign with the material. Although creativity goes hand-in-hand with an artist's vision, Fairchild was unfamiliar with such congenial group dynamics.
"It got to the point toward the end of Grandaddy where there was no room for anyone's creativity except for Jason's, and that became pretty darn frustrating," says Fairchild. "I don't think it would be an overstatement to say he just didn't want any input from anybody. He wanted to play exactly what he had written, exactly the way he had written it."
"Lack of creative room led to the demise of Grandaddy. That was certainly a part of it, at least on my behalf," Fairchild continues. "First of all, if people are going to make records they should make them however they want to make them. If Jason wants to sit around and only have himself plan the record, that's fine. That's his prerogative. But, I do think that there is strength in groups and I think there is strength in bouncing ideas off of people."
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