Brooklyn band Miracles of Modern Science has been a longtime favorite at raven + crow. Since we happened upon them opening up for an eccentric British band in a dark, off-the-beaten-path spot some six or seven years back, we’ve watched the band grow and improve with every step of their evolution. They’d likely best be described as chamber pop in one of its most literal interpretations, playing their poppy, catchy, remarkable originals and frequent covers with traditional stringed instruments and drums. We’ve featured MOMs on these pages a number of times before and even did a phone interview with band founders, singer/stand-up bassist, Evan Younger, and mandolinist, Josh Hirshfeld, in 2011.
Now, Miracles of Modern Science seems to be entering a new phase of their life as a band, releasing a second full-length—Mean Dreams—just last month full of refreshingly inventive departures to their song-writing, embarking on a massive US tour, and taking on some line-up changes, the most recent of which is the departure of longtime cellist, Geoff McDonald. We took a few minutes to talk with Evan on the road as they prep for a show in Hollywood tonight. Read on to hear about the band’s growing pains, check out their copious, always excellent covers, and read about what into the making of their new album.
raven + crow: So, we first caught you guys at Death by Audio in…maybe 2009? 2008? You all were opening for Micachu + the Shapes and Anni Rossi, which turned out to be an earth-shattering show all in all. We talked to you all back in 2011, but how have things been going for the band over the past few years?
Evan Younger: That was a great bill! It’s funny to think about though, because it feels like our entire “career” has happened since we last talked. We put out our first LP (and now our second), went on our first (and now fourth) US tour, and started making YouTube videos, which are now a big part of what we do. We’ve had our share of struggles and doubts in that time also, but they’ve made for good lyrical fodder for the new album.
Yeah, totally—we’ve really enjoyed watching you all “grow”, as it were. It was a huge, awesome surprise to discover three bands we ended up loving so much in that one fateful night in Brooklyn, and we’re glad you all are still making a go of it; beyond that, you all have just gotten better and better every year. But I feel like, the older we get, the harder it is to balance band life with work life or family life…or just other life in general. Have you all struggled keeping the band together and active while keeping everything else going?
Oh yes. When we’re not away on tour, we’re locked in our tiny studio all day (and stressed about whatever we’re currently writing/recording/mixing/shooting/editing). It takes a toll on relationships, friendships, sanity. Mean Dreams is more or less about that struggle—especially “Mothers in Jeans“, “Theme from the Magicians”, and “Fidget.”
All awesome songs, if it’s any consolation. Staying on the topic of terrible pain, I know it’s still fresh, but how has the loss of Geoff (former cellist) hit everyone—Geoff included?
The transition came at such a crazy time that we haven’t fully processed it. We’ve had videos to shoot, an album to release, a new cellist to find and had to get up to speed for a huge tour—so any questions about our creative identity we’ve had to shove aside for now. And Geoff is moving to Germany with a baby on the way, so I don’t think he has much time to ruminate either!
He helped record the new album though, right? Was this a decision he came to after or before doing that?
While we were writing and recording last year, Geoff was stretched very thin, with conducting jobs in multiple states and a long-distance girlfriend (now wife) in Germany. But we tried our best to work within his small pockets of availability. He and we both knew it was an unsustainable dynamic, but he was such a crucial creative force in the band that we felt compelled to see the album through with him. It was only after we finished that he got the news that he was going to be a father, and that made his decision obvious.
It sounds like it tipped the already tipping scales for him and you all. And now the MOMs are all uncles, so that’s great. How’s Kirin fitting into the fold then? It must be tough to suddenly be thrust into this tight-knit group, three of you who’ve been at it since the beginning, right?
We came to her with such a crazy ask—”Hey, are you free for 2 months of touring, starting in 2 weeks? You’ll have to learn our entire repertoire. Oh, and we need to shoot 3 music videos before we leave.”—that I’m amazed how well she’s rolled with the punches. We do have a massive back catalog of inside jokes, but she’s catching up quickly.
Seems like. Bigs ups to Kirin! Great video for “Follow Your Heart (or Something)“, by the way. GoPro + jogging around Greenpoint is a winning combination. Was that song lyrically a sort of play on the pop anthems of today?
Thank you! We weren’t trying to parody anything in particular. We had written this rah-rah arena-rock chorus, but we were feeling pretty downtrodden and cynical, so we had trouble writing anything earnest and uplifting without scare quotes. So we ran with that—the group vocals deliver the uplifting message, and the lead vocals undercut it with doubts.
Sounds very life-like. Are you all working on any other videos for singles from the album?
We just put one out for “Mothers in Jeans” and we have two more in the can—one for “The Chop” that has some stop motion elements, and a dance-based video for “Bad Body“. We have an idea for “Don’t Feed the Party Animal” we’re excited to shoot when we’re back from tour.
That all sounds 100% awesome. We’re huge fans of the single you all recently released, “JimJams“. It seems like a bit of a departure in terms of the nuanced sound. It’s definitely still you all, but with the plucky melodies and especially Serge’s hyperactive drumming, it seems like you all were pushing for something new—true?
Serge was pretty new to the band when we started writing “Jimjams”, and his drumming definitely shaped the direction of the song. The song began life with Josh’s opening mandolin riff, but it went into the “must finish” pile once Serge started playing crazy breakbeats over it.
Yeah, it comes through that the drumming drove the song, in a way I really love. And the rest of the album—do you feel like it’s a lot of departure or forced growth from you all?
Yeah. We’ve kept the same instrumentation across every album—that has been, so far, our defining creative limitation. But most of all we wanted to write better songs on this album. We used to drape lyrics over otherwise finished songs, almost as a reluctant afterthought. But this time we set out to write coherent lyrics that would seem to motivate the musical moods and structures, even if the instrumental parts were written first.
No, we’ve noticed a certain lack of tongue-in-cheek sci-fi steampunk themes. I like sci-fi steampunk, but I’m probably a bigger fan of sincerity in lyrics. Tell us about the album title, though—Mean Dreams.
It came about as a playful iteration of MEEMS, the title of our previous release. But once it was uttered, we realized the album is about our “mean dreams”—in multiple senses of both words.
Got it. I’m definitely getting a clearer picture of the struggle you all have faced as a band over the years. In between albums though, you all do some really, truly great covers—anything new you all are working up for tour?
We just put out a cover of “Lean On” by Major Lazer/DJ Snake/MØ, and we’ve got a couple more on the way.
Oh, totally love that new Major Lazer album. It’s got some great stuff. How’s tour going so far? It’s a pretty big one.
Before we left, I was more stressed than excited, since it was such a mad scramble to get everything done before we left. But now that we’re on the road, we’re having a blast.
Looks like from the various social medias. Nice Breaking Bad shot, by the way. Any non-show plans at along the way? Scale the letters of the Hollywood sign? See that giant ball of yarn, wherever it is? Find your spirit animals?
We don’t have too many days off, honestly! But our best tour adventures are usually unplanned. We’ll keep you posted….
Please do! And have a great show tonight.
MOMs play the Hotel Cafe in our neighborhood tonight—if you’re around, you should go. Check their Facebook page to see when they’re hitting a town near you and visit the band’s site to order their new album, Mean Dreams, in physical or digital formats.
Check out the video for “Mothers in Jeans” below.