Modoc rocks. The band doesn’t worry about genres or indulge in the tired mid-tempo grooves that seem to dominate the modern musical landscape. They write punchy songs, delivering them in brief, three-minute bursts of energy that tap into the primal roots of rock’n’roll, the music that ruled American hearts and minds before it was watered down and dubbed ‘rock.’
“We like rock’n’roll! It’s what we’re passionate about,” says Clint Culberson, the band’s singer and rhythm guitarist. “Having fun and playing music, probably ten times louder than it needs to be. That’s what we’re about.”
Modoc came together at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. “(Drummer) John (Carlson) and I grew up in the Muncie area, but never played music together,” says Kyle Addison, the band’s lead guitarist. “In college, John, Clint and I became the backup band for a guy we knew. When we realized we were all into similar music, we thought we should get a house together and start a rock’n’roll band.”
The band quickly gained an enthusiastic local following, but realized their options were limited in a small college town. “After enduring a childhood in the suburbs of middle class America, we moved to Nashville,” Carlson says, half joking. “We wanted to be in a city where the music scene was blooming.” Inspired by Nashville’s creative atmosphere, Modoc toured relentlessly and cut two records within 18 moths of relocating – the Modoc EP and their debut album Fortune and Fame.
On their new album, Automatic + Voluntary, they continue to explore new sonic and emotional territory with arrangements that deliver a diverse sample of the styles that make rock’n’roll a vibrant art form. “Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs, Eric Burden, The Howlin’ Brothers) encouraged us to experiment and get weird,” Carlson says. “The studio had an almost endless collection of instruments to experiment with. He helped us break the songs apart to get the best out of them. The greatest moments on this record didn’t exist for more than a few minutes before they were performed and recorded.”
Once the arrangements were perfected, they cut the tracks live to preserve the energy of the creative impulse. “Black Eyed Lover” is a snarling rocker with great harmony vocals, blazing guitar work and a breathtaking chorus that celebrates the joys of carnal love. Crisp acoustic guitar figures and Culberson’s easygoing vocal sets you up for the stomping bass drum and slashing electric guitar rhythms that lift the double time chorus of “Kids on the Run” into the stratosphere. The band’s call and response vocals add a punchy rock edge to the soulful impulses of the tune’s classic R&B progression. “This song describes the crazy world we live in,” Carlson says. “Nothing is what you think it is, so you might as well find some friends and go bat shit crazy.”
A deep, staccato groove introduces “Make the World Wait,” a soaring power ballad that alternates between Culberson’s quiet voice and a soaring chorus, driven by a wash of orchestral guitars and lush vocal harmonies that suggest the forlorn romanticism of Tom Petty and ELO. Surf music, shimmering country guitars and galloping percussion set up the understated chorus of “Out of the Blue,” a love song with a melancholy streak. On “I Feel Nothing,” they lay down a wall of psychedelic guitar noise that allows Culberson to channel his inner Lennon on a sharp, nihilistic blues number. “Always the Same” is a quiet, obsessive love song, with bubbling guitars and powerful drum splashes that intensify the tune’s theme of hopeless passion.
Every track provides a bounty of unrestrained melody, with uplifting choruses that deliver the kind of rock’n’roll rush we all seek, but seldom find. “We’re always recording and writing songs,” Culberson says. “We want people to hear them, so it’s a challenge to make sure we’re not working so hard that we’re squashing the life out of the music.” That seems unlikely. Modoc write tunes brimming with energy and with Automatic + Voluntary, they take another exponential leap. It’s a collection of songs as good as anything you’ve ever heard from any band, past or present. A single listen will convince you: Modoc is the future of Rock’n’Roll.