Moving In Slow Motion:
A personal essay on
by rachel grace almeida
The last time I saw Modern Baseball was when they were leaving my old, East London, basement flat the morning after their sold-out show at The Dome. After what could only be described as a life affirming show for the band and fans alike, a lot of spent bodies in sleeping bags filled my living room that night. Everyone was tired. Somehow, it was my first time seeing Modern Baseball play a show – I always found a way of missing them, both with their hectic touring schedule and my inability to stay living in the States. That night at The Dome felt like a huge turning point for Modern Baseball – they had just played their biggest headline show in London to date, and if you looked around at the crowd, there was a change in everyone’s behavior, too. People in the crowd were trading in their usual limby, belligerent flails for quiet moments of intimacy with the music. It was like everyone felt the weight of their impending success, and they, too, also wanted to reflect.
The next morning, a Sunday in late March, they were packing up to leave for another sold-out show in Bristol that evening, with a pit stop at Stonehenge on the way. It was 9am, we had slept a total of about three hours, and, most of all, it was time to say goodbye. I wasn’t sure when I would see Brendan, Jake, Ian and Sean again, but given the success of the show the night before, I knew it would be soon. A few weeks later, they were announced for Reading & Leeds Festival that summer.
Fast-forward a year and a half and a lot has changed. This time around, I’m meeting them at the lobby of their hotel in London Bridge, where the environment felt more full-grown and definitely more stable – for everyone involved. Modern Baseball had just flown in from the States a few hours earlier and the rest of the band were sleeping upstairs, so I was met with a relaxed, buoyant Brendan Lukens.
Emerging from the Northeast’s basement scene, Modern Baseball has garnered a devout fan base through their nonchalant appeal: they look and sound just like you and me. Earlier records captured the joyful banalities of life – awkward romantic fuck-ups, watching Planet Earth, falling asleep in high school classes, wasting time. In those songs they were able to reveal personal details of their lives without being too vulnerable through the literalism practiced in their lyrics. This particular process is what made them stand out – their 4th wave emo-punk peers were trying to “grow up”, drenching songs in metaphor, but Modern Baseball were more interested in telling stories as they happened.
At times, songs off 2012’s “Sports” and 2014’s “You’re Gonna Miss It All” felt like a huge build up that never managed to reach its summit – like there was hesitation and unease with everything happening around them. Then, in early Autumn 2015, they released “MOBO Presents: The Perfect Cast EP feat. Modern Baseball”, and their sound took a moodier turn. The EP came a few months after Modern Baseball cancelled their Reading & Leeds performance, and a subsequent Australian tour, due to Brendan’s mental health condition, which he candidly spoke about in a Facebook post to their fans. Brendan, Jake, Sean and Ian took time to heal, and then announced their third full-length LP, “Holy Ghost”.
This time, the record format was different: Jake wrote the first half and Brendan wrote the latter half separately. Holy Ghost, in its entirety, is about loss – the loss of a loved one, the loss of sense of self – and the speckles of dust that come along with it. Jake’s grandfather passed away during the writing process – a theme he bluntly tackles on his half of the record – and Brendan had just finished a Psychiatric Treatment Program for bipolar disorder, suicidal tendencies and addiction. It’s clear that Jake and Brendan both have different styles of pain and aching. Jake’s approach to grief is resonant and brooding, with the songs on his side of the record galloping, gliding and palpitating; Brendan’s emotional turmoil materialized in a more urgent way, with corrosive guitar strums and unflinching howls that made you feel like your pain was being noticed, too. It felt less about what he was saying but more about the emotions you felt while you were listening to it.
As Brendan and I sat down, a small door swung open from the cabinet installation on the wall near us, and we both caught it from the corner of our eyes. No one was there and the air was still. We started talking about our new inclinations to be spooked out by weird stuff going on around us, given the shit storm that 2016 has been. “It’s been a really difficult year. We’ve all had to make a lot of changes, and we’ve all – in one way or another – lost someone who’s really close to us. I feel like, luckily with us, we have our support system within ourselves and within our families. I feel like we’re just trying to keep holding each other up when we need it, and give each other space when we need it. It’s been weird, I won’t lie,” he said, with the same vacant look we’ve all had on our faces this entire year.
But with pain comes release; the sense of picking yourself up and moving forward, regardless of the problems you’ve dealt with before. It’s a clean slate. The final song on Holy Ghost, ‘Just Another Face’, channels the resilience, self-support and self-reflection that are borne out of depression and anxiety. “It’s weird looking back on our lives so soon after it happens with these records. Even us writing now the way we always do, it’s like a crazy level of self-reflection that I don’t think any of us are completely aware of, or realize, or want to realize. But I feel like that also is part of coping and our way of processing things.”
The first time I heard Holy Ghost, I was sitting alone in my living room in total silence, looking for warmth. I had already heard ‘Everyday’ and ‘Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind’ but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. After the first run, it still sounded irrevocably Modern Baseball, but something was different this time. When I ran through the record a second time, I started to feel what could only be described as an acute identity crisis. Hearing this album felt like home – but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to welcome that feeling. I was suddenly reminded of the tumbleweed-ridden South Florida suburbs I grew up in, where the social disparity and utter boredom weighs down on you until you want snap your own neck. I thought about my family home; my ugly-but-loveable, cherry red PT cruiser; nights spent sneaking out to smoke weed in the Everglades; road-kill I would mourn along the way; and the long, endless drives to mid-state towns to go watch shitty bands play in someone’s grandma’s basement. I thought about all my friends, how I left, and how they also eventually left.
It’s no secret that I’m not fond of where I grew up. My disdain for my hometown is almost as much a part of my identity as where I’m actually from is. This resentment isn’t a stranger to Brendan, either, who lived in South Florida for a few years because of his dad’s job. There is a unique greyness that comes with our corner of the States, especially when it comes to music – Florida breeds creativity as a form of self-defence, but can never keep the creators around. Everyone kicked back at all the bullshit and spare time through house shows, punk bands and DIY communities.
The majority of my adolescence was spent in people’s backyards while their parents were away, jumping into the pool after friends played a set; or in abandoned warehouses scoping how we could turn it into a venue for a night; or scratching my car’s interior with badly constructed pedal boards that I was transporting for my friends. This kind of group mentality is what appeals to Modern Baseball’s younger and older fans alike: the universal feelings of discomfort and reassurance that we’ve all experienced.
Brendan is quick to talk about how himself, Jake, Sean and Ian have been nurtured by their scene both as individuals and as a band. In turn, he hopes that they’ve been positive force in not only in Philly, but also in representing American DIY around the world. “I feel like no matter what tour we do or what city or country we’re playing, back home in Philly we’re always very welcomed and that’s a big reason why we want to do so much and tour as often as we do. It’s all the little things bands forget by the time they get to a very large size, but we’ve been so fortunate to be able to find that so quickly in our career – I guess that’s why we can still appreciate every little step of the way. It’s a nice little way to keep us grounded – you know, being able to still see the house you played at two years prior,” Brendan tells me, with noticeable ease. As for their steady climb, Brendan made it succinctly clear that they don’t feel pressure to say the right thing now that they’re being heard, because doing the right thing is instinctive. “We don’t normally say dumb things because we just don’t think that way. It’s about utilizing when and how we speak up about something that needs to be spoken up about.”
Modern Baseball is moving forward. They’ve finally found a way to turn their confusion and disillusionment into a tangible entity. We’re all growing up in real time together, as unsure of anything as the rest of the world, but we’re kindred in community. Life’s hard, heartache sucks, and adulthood comes with a lot of growing pains – but they convey the loneliness of existing in an uplifting way. Jake put it best: waking up everyday is all about doing things you don’t want to do, but your reward is you get to wake up.
‘Holy Ghost’ is out now, via Run For Cover Records
You can buy it here
photography by jessica flynn