One minute creeping on elastic tip-toe, the next pounding like magma-slops on your head, there’s a fullness of expression in MOD CON’s new album that is just so satisfying. We spoke to vocalist Erica Dunn about Modern Condition.
I heard the pancakes flying through the air in the Ammo clip are real. How did you all keep such calm, non-squinty faces?
Yeah, it was quite a challenge! We envisioned the clip being a sort of analogy for keeping your cool under fire, but when it came to actually doing it, it was tough! We didn’t want to create a lot of waste, so we had friends off-camera throwing the same couple of pancakes to each other with us getting caught in the crossfire in the middle. Pretty sure as the day went on they started aiming for our heads! Raquel trains in Wing Chun Kung Fu and did this incredible catch of a pancake headed straight for her face while she wasn’t even looking. Tbh we should probably make a blooper reel of that clip!
Each of the album’s videos (so far) has incorporated stop animation. Its style meshes with the MOD CON sound so perfectly; it’s super imaginative (limitless possibilities really) but you can always see the jaggedy seams. What do you like about it?
Both clips were planned to have an element of animation as a contingency plan if a lockdown stopped us from getting together for filming, but the stop motion aspects in both clips allowed us to be more imaginative visually. In Ammo, Carolyn Hawkins nailed the concept we were trying to explore; that of objects gaining agency beyond their prescribed purpose, and I love how it comes across in the clip. There’s an insidious side to these banal utensils ‘coming to life’ but also they’re sort of comic and jilted, like an old Sesame Street rerun.
In Learner In An Alpha the collage stop motion by Sophia Mero picks up what we’re putting down about global near-sightedness and mass production. It makes a weird psychedelic road trip possible, pondering all sorts of physical and existential landmarks. We’re not really able to actually visit the dawn of civilisation, but this kind of collage approach makes it possible. This clip was made in deep lockdown and that’s why only I’m in it singing, which is actually in front of a green screen in my bathroom and filmed on my phone.
When did you learn you were capable of those squeals, and are they something you practice/protect with some sort of potion or vocal exercise?
Um, it’s hard to say, but I possibly started doing that when I was playing in a raucous three-piece called the Steve Miller Band. It was a no-holds-barred, candle-in-the-wind cover band which played hundreds of shows in its short life. I think because that was such a chaotic live band, and I was singing other people’s lyrics (which I often forgot), I started yelling out mid-song to signal a change or whatever. Haha, I definitely don’t practice it; it’s probably shortened the life span of my shredded vocal chords, but c’est la vie.
There’s often really purposeful alignment between the three bandmembers’ parts across the album, especially Raquel’s drum accents on your vocal accents. It’s so satisfying. What appeals to you about it?
Yeah, Raq and I have been playing together for a long time. She is an incredible beat-maker and producer in her own right, making music under the moniker Various Asses. Way back when, we lived together, and I had to beg her not to sell her drum kit for more electronic gear, and somehow instead convinced her to play drums with me! She often writes weird patterns around a lyric length or a particular melody, and it’s probably this that makes the project: we get to stretch out in weird ways. In some ways our aesthetic is pretty minimal; we are efficient players in a sense that we each have our sonic area kind of staked out, and we don’t go much outside of that, but we dig into those zones in a big way and see what kind of combinations come up.
The other side of that satisfaction is when rhythms pinball off each other, with complementary emphasis. How much planning goes into that kind of thing? Do you deliberately nut it out or is the cohesion between you three such that you can just jam and feel how rhythms should interlace?
About half the songs on the record were in our live set before the pandemic, and we were able to really road test them and work them out that way, especially when we toured France (sometimes playing a few shows in a day). It felt like a luxurious way to let a song come to formation, basing decisions on responses from live audiences or how certain sections were able to stand on their own two feet, so to speak. The other half of the tracks were written really recently, when we were able to get together again at the end of 2020 and do some writing before we went into the studio. We were making decisions on the fly and just intuitively about what felt good, possibly those decisions were more cerebral but also really reflect the absolute joy we felt playing together again after having spent a year apart.
The word ‘honesty’ pops up a bunch in your lyrics – in the form of requests, or demands, or ruminations over whether it’s there or not. Is it a particularly interesting mystery to you – the compulsions/decisions around deception?
Looking back at this collection of songs now, it’s clear that I’m doing a lot of interrogating and problem solving of a lot of weird thoughts that’ve been going through my head the last 12 months. It’s cliché maybe to talk about these ‘uncertain times’, but truly on both a personal level and global level, there’s a swamp of destabilising sh-t to roll through on any given day. There’s so much navigating of this surreal reality we find ourselves in, and these songs have all been distilled in that context. The champion of this record is the Bocca Della Verità which of course Julian Hocking partially interprets on the LP cover, and which is ranted about on the track Mouth of Stone: the ancient mask that bites off the hand of any liar brave enough to lay their arm on the line. Definitely, if I was gonna do a Year 12 essay on the themes of the record, I would lay out: truth, scrutiny, judgment, perception and wrath.
Electric Whip is a mean-a-se closer – and apparently Raquel played some of the percussion with her actual arse. Please tell us it was the vibraslap?
Haha, yep, you got it in one! During recording, there was a time post the immense Melbourne lockdowns of 2020 that everything seemed back up and running in a mad flurry, so despite having blocked off time to record with MOD CON I was also doing dates with Tropical F-ck Storm on King Gizz’s national tour. One afternoon after a big couple of days at Phaedra, I had to run off to the airport, and lo-‘n’-behold about an hour after I leave, I start getting vids of Sara and Raq drinking rum and messing around with all kinds of weird sh-t. And yep, Raq doing some vibraslap takes with her butt. Cat’s away, cheeky witches come out to play! Turns out she made the track! It adds a special kind of bounce to the song, haha. She’s a real ass-et to the team!
Modern Condition by MOD CON is out October 22 via Poison City Records.
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