WORDS : Harry Higginson
The state of the world right now feels an almost conscious rejection of melody. Conflict, social discord, and a viral pandemic make for a pretty grim scene on a global scale. If anything were to define 2020 so far then, it might just be dissonance.Enter self-described California melodic rock outfit Modern Color. Sonically somewhere between early Title Fight and the hazier, shoegaze-inflected indie of label-mates Gleemer, we got in contact with the four-piece to talk about their upcoming full-length record, as well as their outlook on politics, diversity and their own DIY ethic.
I think this is the first time we’ve hit a point where it feels very defined
Beginning life as a band heavily influenced by hardcore and post-hardcore, their earlier work took a much more aggressive angle than more recent releases, though their unique blend of melody and grit typified by their recent singles, ‘Out of Reach’ and ‘Empty Rooms’, embodies their eclectic history. On their origins, they note that “we come from playing metal and hardcore… but we started out playing with a lot of bands that sounded nothing like what we were doing. It wasn’t until we stumbled around for a little on our own that we… kind of built our own little corner in the wider community”. Their shift away from this heavier edge was not conscious, however: “It’s more just the direction that we were pulled in and what felt good… I think this is the first time we’ve hit a point where it feels very defined.”
taking ideas that started at home all over the world and coming back with new energy
The new record, From the Leaves of your Garden, reflects the band’s diverse cultural background, borrowing its name from a Vietnamese saying, “CÂY NHÀ LÁ VƯỜN.”, contextually meaning “homegrown”. Drummer Vince Nguyen, himself Vietnamese, explains the choice, stemming from the fact that “it resonated with what we were doing right away… taking ideas that started at home all over the world and coming back with new energy.” Produced by Corey Coffman of Gleemer, the record is as much inspired by the band’s taste in modern alternative rock outfits like Fiddlehead and Diamond Youth as it is by Tears for Fears and Pixies. For Modern Color, From the Leaves of your Garden is not a band resting on their laurels, but a push forward into new territory – an exploration of “different ways that we could be more melody driven, and different things that were just fun for us to play.”
We were hungry to get the ball rolling but we didn’t want to wait for anybody to just hand shit to us…
Though now a well-established part of the California alternative scene, the band built its reputation through sheer will and a distinct dedication to getting themselves out there. From booking their own tours to filming their own music videos, the band’s passion is present in everything they do, their visual style especially unique, utilising the saturated and grainy aesthetic of 35mm film to drench their music videos in an almost surreal, 90s haze. “Nobody really knew us when we first started and that meant nobody was dying to book or help us”, reflects Vince, “We were hungry to get the ball rolling but we didn’t want to wait for anybody to just hand shit to us… and eventually that’s how booking our own tours came together… It was the same deal for our music videos, we had a vision but lacked the resources to hire somebody so our bassist Chris picked up his camera and started filming and I learned the basics of video editing”.Espousing the value of getting out there and pushing yourself, rather than waiting for a precipitous big break to come find you, they reflect, “I think every band should take this approach… I’ve seen some bands straight up just not tour, make videos, print shirts etc all because they have no one to do it for them and I think that can be a waste of time, energy, and talent.”
What’s most striking about Modern Color, however, is arguably their social media presence. Though their new album is less than a month from release, they have utilised their platform not to self-promote, but much like many of those in the alternative rock subgenre, have instead lent their voices to supporting social causes, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Though not directly effected by the recent outbreak of police violence, they state “So many of our friends, family, and people we love in our community are fighting for their rights and voices to be heard and we want to do everything we can to help them. We don’t stand for any kind of intolerance and never will… if we didn’t do something to help, we would be complicit in their hurting.” Releasing a limited rerun of an old ‘All Cops are Bastards’ shirt, the band raised over $1500 for charity, divided evenly between the George Floyd Memorial Fund and Black Visions Collective. Though they don’t necessarily think there is an obligation for activism in alternative music, they note that “people who have a platform and can help, should help, regardless of where that platform lies.”
Themselves from a range of cultural backgrounds, they are not unfamiliar with racism and discrimination, and though they note that “our circles of friends have always been welcoming of diversity and we’re grateful that the musical community has generally been the same”, touring exposes bands to less welcoming environments. “We’ve run into some pretty ignorant people and have gotten some odd stares but we’ve stayed out of trouble for the most part… Most of the racism I’ve personally experienced comes in the form of microaggressions people have about me as an Asian American. We’ve been lucky that the experiences aren’t anywhere near as intense or violent as others have it.”
“We gotta be willing to reflect on, question, and change any beliefs or methods that negatively affect marginalized people and artists and their ability to exist at the same capacity as everyone else within our community. If you book gigs, play in a band, run a label or venue, go to shows, or just listen to music, you play a role in who gets heard and who doesn’t… make an effort to listen to each other more and encourage diversity.”
Both politically and musically salient at the moment, Modern Color’s dedication, integrity and musical creativity is genuinely unique. Proving there’s room for innovation and improvement both musically, and in the way we use our voices and platforms, there are few bands more deserving of your attention right now.
Modern Color’s new record, From the Leaves of Your Garden comes out July 10th via Other People Records.