Confession time: I never used to like emo music. In fact, “never liked” is a charitable way to put it — the way some people say they “like everything but except rap and country,” my music tastes never took me to more emotionally confessional territory than Green Day.
With that in mind, I wonder what my friends think when they see emo-revivalists Modern Baseball show up on my Spotify feed on an almost daily basis. To pre-empt any concerns — my personal life is going swimmingly and I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers. I suppose that my ability to hear past the wailing vocals and naked vulnerability comes down to distance. As an awkward highschooler obsessing over friend zones and AIM away messages, emo music was like someone shining a flashlight on my own unattractive mopeyness and myopic self-regard. Now that I am 26 year old yuppie with a relatively stable life, I may not miss those days of wincing and pining — but I appreciate when a band reminds me of those times and just how life-or-death the stakes felt.
What makes Modern Baseball my personal favorite of this new crop of emo-revivalists? Their songs are catchy as hell (“Your Graduation”) and run the gamut stylistically (often incorporating acoustic guitars). Unlike many of their peers, their slow songs actually sound interesting and are more than just boring paeans. More than anything, however, I simply love the specificity of their lyrics. Just like Springsteen did for factory workers or The National “for people…who worry about their 401ks going bankrupt,” Modern Baseball perfectly capture suburban teenage ennui with their encapsulations of graduation parties and profile pictures.
I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Modern Baseball co-vocalist and guitarist Jake Ewald before their recent show at Webster Hall’s Marlin Room in New York. Unsurprisingly, Ewald was exceedingly polite, engaging and honest about the pros and cons of being a college student (Ewald is currently a student at Drexel) touring the world.
DeadCurious: You guys released your last album [You’re Gonna Miss It All] in October, are you planning on recording anything else in the next few months?
Jake Ewald: Not really. We took off some school to do this tour and the last couple of tours so we’re kind of making the most of that time off to do some touring behind the last record. We’re still writing some songs but not really planning on when what going to record next – just trying to get a bunch of people to hear what we have now.
DC: This has been a big year for you guys – you were interviewed by Steven Hyden in Grantland – and officially became a “buzz band.” How has life changed?
JE: Physically not that much, I still buy egg sandwiches from lunch trucks. But it’s been really cool – the reception that we’ve been getting at shows has been insane. A couple of the shows on the tour got bumped up – like this show was supposed to be in The Studio but they bumped us up to the [larger capacity] Marlin Room and it sold out. We can’t even believe it. When we were first planning this tour we were just excited to be on tour with our best friends, then the shows started going so well and we were thinking “holy fuck, this is kind of crazy.” It’s taken some getting used to but it’s really cool.
DC: You are young guys, do other bands take you under their wing as a pet project of sorts?
JE: Not so much a pet project but we definitely got the big brother treatment when we went on tour with the Wonder Years. They’ve been around for a while and done the support tour thing for a long time and we were the opening band on their tour and they just made such a point to befriend us and treat us really well because they had done so many shitty support tours themselves where bands had just brushed them off. They’d give us advice because they were one of those bands who did five-plus years in a van making 100 bucks a night, doing the grind, and sleeping on floors.
DC: What are the types of questions that you guys have for them? Any struggles that you look for advice on?
JE: One of the biggest worries we had was when we went on tour to Europe. When we announced we thought it was cool but then thought, ‘Okay, so how are we actually gonna do this.’ So we needed to figure out how we get our instruments, shirts over there – all those specific things that you don’t think about until you’re like WTF.
Oh, one of the other big things is that they’re getting into their mid and late 20’s so one of the first questions I had for them was: “Do you have health insurance? Can I buy that?” They said “Yeah, thanks to Obamacare I pay like 150 bucks a month,” and I thought that I can do that once I grow up a little bit. So yeah, things that are related to being a grown up but not having a real job. Paying rent, too.
DC: What’s the best industry advice that you’ve been given?
JE: I don’t want to say follow your heart because that sounds stupid but don’t let people tell you what to do. I mean, let people tell you what to do if you’re about to make a stupid decision, sure, but don’t lose the spirit of your band in all the fuss because that’s what’s going to keep you going.
The more shows that we play, the more tours we do, the more people get added to the picture – booking agent, manager, PR person and it’s a lot of people telling you what to do. You have to remember that you have a say in all of that – like, we want to do this tour, bring our friends out, have tickets at this price – you can’t lose sight of that.
DC: You’re still a student at Drexel University, are you studying anything besides music?
JE: Me and Ian [Farmer, Modern Baseball bassist] are studying ‘music industry’ and coming out with a business minor. We’re really lucky because we get music industry education, then go on tour and make the connections that we need to actually use that education. A lot of kids do the program and won’t know what to do with it when they get out of school so we’re lucky in that sense.
DC: Have you enjoyed some of the business side of being in a band?
JE: I mean we let people handle it for us but I also don’t feel like an idiot about it – I know kind of what they’re doing. It’s nice to be able to say: “I know how you’re working this and it’s your job but can we do it this way?”
DC: Okay that’s the last serious question. What’s the best cheesesteak in Philly?
JE: You’re asking the wrong guy because I actually don’t eat red meat but I will tell you that it’s Pat’s.
DC: Do you know people who wrap cheesesteaks in pizza?
JE: That horrifies me. Evan Weiss [from Wonder Years] does that. It’s intimidating.
DC: How did you guys come up with your band name?
JE: My dad was a physical education teacher for a while and had a bunch of sports books. So me and Brendan [Lukens, Modern Baseball guitarist] were in my parents’ basement the day we started the band. We were like [in high voice] “Oh my God, we’re gonna start a band!” We wrote maybe one song and we looked at a book on the wall called Modern Baseball Techniques and just thought “Modern Baseball.”
DC: Do you guys ever get confused with the band American Football?
JE: Not so much confused but lumped together. People will say stuff like, “That band is just a bad version of American Football.”