Published May 18, 2016Modern Baseball's 2014 record, You're Gonna Miss It All, gave credence to their semi-official motto, "whatever, forever." But that lax attitude gives way to sober realities on the Philadelphia emo quartet's new album, Holy Ghost, out now on Run for Cover.
"In the past, we didn't analyze things as much," Brendan Lukens tells Exclaim!; he's half of the band's songwriting brain trust, alongside fellow singer-guitarist Jacob Ewald. "We didn't want to lose our tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, but we didn't want to show it off the entire time. This is just the progression of us as songwriters."
What he and Ewald were analyzing was tremendous loss and personal change. You're Gonna Miss It All was a record written by a group in their early 20s, two-thirds of whom were still in school. Holy Ghost captures those same people on the cusp of adulthood, which weighed heavily on the two songwriters.
Early on the album's creative process, Lukens and Ewald, whose grandfather had recently passed away, decided to split the record in half, with each musician taking a side for themselves. "Jake and I were going through the same basic themes," says Lukens. "We were able to live in our own little world and dive in sonically and lyrically."
Yet, as the band were gearing up to enter the studio, Lukens' life started to go off the rails. Months of depression and substance abuse came to a head last August when he began contemplating suicide. He entered treatment, where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Sober and on medication, he joined the band for their scheduled recording sessions, with Hop Along guitarist Joe Reinhart producing, just days after completing his program. While Ewald had his half of the album written and demoed, Lukens had nothing.
"I wrote my leads for Jake's side of the record. While Ian [Farmer, bass] and Sean [Huber, drums] were recording their sections, I would go home and start writing songs for my half, come back the next day and record my leads for Jake's side and start all over again."
Everyone was very patient and supportive during this process, he recalls, but the pressure of his own high expectations bore down on him. "We had all this time planned out, and [the idea that] I wasn't going to bring forth my part of it was the most stressful concept to me."
His experience with mental illness naturally filtered into his contributions, making them a public matter, which he has embraced.
"It was a good opportunity to talk about something that doesn't get as much attention in the United States," he says. "It was also a good way for me to cope with what was going on. It was another support system."
His half of Holy Ghost is marked by the ragged and raw conditions in which its songs were created, but their blunt honesty help make them some of the band's best work to date.
"We weren't necessarily nervous about how it would fit together," he says. "We were surprised about how well it went together by the end of it."
Modern Baseball play Toronto on June 19; check the rest of their tour dates here and have a listen to "Apple Cider, I Don't Mind" below.