Rock music may not hold the cultural sway it did in the days of Zeppelin or Hendrix, but don’t tell that to MODOC. Or tell them, sure, but prepare yourself for the clear-eyed defense of the genre coming your way. Like the Nashville trio’s contemporaries in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Queens of the Stone Age and Band of Skulls, MODOC are weathering this cultural lull just fine, carrying the torch for the sort of gritty, swaggering rock music that topped the Billboard charts long before bedazzled pop tarts ever had a say.
They are true believers: “There is no fucking gimmick,” says singer Clint Culberson. Good thing because audiences are tiring of gimmicks too. In fact, MODOC have seen it with their own eyes, playing to increasingly larger and more passionate audiences at Summerfest, SXSW and MidPoint, among other gatherings, and at over 150 shows across the South and Midwest in 2013. There’s only so long you can put up with manufactured, repetitive, candy ass dross before you want the real thing. And MODOC are plenty happy to give it to us.
Chances are you’re reading this because you have at least a hint of what we’re discussing here. Perhaps MODOC played your city and “blew the doors off the place,” as they did in Baton Rouge according to attendee and Daytrotter commentator Will Spann. Or maybe you heard MODOC when they were Fox Sports’ Band of the Month, or when ABC music supervisors wisely placed “Devil On My Shoulder” behind fall promos for the show 666 Park Avenue. (CBS followed suit in 2014, using “Devil” in Reckless.) Like so much of MODOC’s work, the song revels in twilight and seduction: “There’s something ‘bout loneliness that sets you free,” sings Culberson, throwing his arms wide open to embrace the exile from the world that cut him loose. It’s like a Southern Gothic novel on steroids, and its sinister thrum will have you staring wild-eyed into the night like only the best rock music can do, flames a-flicker.
MODOC are such convincing torchbearers for several reasons, chief among them that Culberson, John Carlson (drums/vocals) and Kyle Addison (lead guitar/vocals) have played together in one form or another since attending the same Indiana college. After a stint playing as sidemen for a local musician, the three set their collective sights outside the Midwest, leaving behind their friends and families to join the resurgent rock scene in Nashville, where in recent years Jack White, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Jeff the Brotherhood, Paramore, Autovaughn and others have infused the city with a vivid and edgier energy.
"In our minds, the scene was huge, so we just thought, ‘let's go down there and be a part of it,’” Carlson says. "I feel like we got to experience something unique in the city's history, the re-birth of a new thing coming out of Nashville. It was an amazingly good decision. We love it here.”
MODOC formed soon after the boys got settled, and they went right to work self-producing records and breaking into the notoriously hard-to-impress local scene thanks to fierce, enveloping live shows that made the band impossible to ignore. Indeed, though Nashville’s streets are littered with musicians, producers and songwriters who quit dreaming at the first hint of difficulty, MODOC relished the opportunity to determine their own fate — a DIY approach that rings true for them even today. "We've always had the deciding stamp on our work,” Culberson says.
Look no further than the band’s self-titled debut for evidence of this determination and commitment to craft. The eponymous effort, released the latter part of 2013, sounds like it was recorded in a tony L.A. studio with Dave Grohl or Nick Raskulinecz despite the fact that it was cut in a Music City garage. It was, in the words of Carlson, a “‘don’t trip on your way to the lawn mower” type of situation. And yet MODOC revs and hisses like a classic jet black Mustang speeding top-down on a desert highway — each explosive riff and anguished tale taking you farther and farther away from that scene in the garage. When Addison’s sinister, tremolo’d guitar sits beneath Culberson’s soulful yelp in the first seconds of “When Ya Coming Home,” MODOC’s opener, it’s made damn clear that, for the listener at least, it won’t be anytime soon.
Even before relocating from their home state of Indiana, Nashville’s robust rock scene was never far from MODOC’s mind. The band considered larger metropolises like New York and Los Angeles, but ultimately the re-ascendant Southern outpost felt just right. “I don’t know that we’d fit in or stand out in L.A.,” Culberson says, laughing, although West coast crowds will very likely take just as viscerally to the band’s live show as they have elsewhere. The same might be said of rock and pop fans in the U.K., where MODOC have recently turned their attention due to that country’s unabashed and continuous history of supporting the up-and-comers and veterans acts alike.
Just a few years into their increasingly buzzed-about run, MODOC now have the sort of momentum that should make the next few years exhilarating for band and fan alike. Culberson, Carlson, and Addison are already demoing material for the MODOC follow-up, and have confirmed performances at Austin City Limits, Summerfest, Big Apple BBQ, Bunbury and more for 2014. The band is also seeing growth outside the U.S. in far flung locales like Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Spain, Germany and Australia, a testament to MODOC’s potent affect as much as the ease with which great music spreads online these days. It doesn’t hurt, of course, when the folks behind Band of the Day — one of iTunes’ top music discovery apps — select your band to play their official SXSW party, or when Apple itself deems your work “New and Noteworthy.”
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Rock music isn’t dead, despite all critical lamenting to the contrary — it’s just hanging underground for a spell, incubating while the starlets and boy bands have another fleeting day. And when it reemerges, as it inevitably will, MODOC will be waiting to give the people what they want, no gimmicks necessary.