Following six years of touring non-stop, three full-lengths, and tensions within the band, one of hardcore's most-loved names, Modern Life Is War, called it a day in 2008.
Five years later, the announcement of their reformation on April 1st sparked a confusing reaction of eager anticipation and skepticism within the hardcore world. But it happened; they're back.
And two days following their big comeback show at This Is Hardcore in Philadelphia, Punknews interviewer Faye Turnbull sat down with vocalist Jeffrey Eaton as he explained what led to their demise and reunion, and (more importantly) what's in store for the band's future.
Itâs the final day of This Is Hardcore and you played your first show back a couple of days ago – how did you find it? Did it meet your expectations?
The festival itself met all of my expectations and, as far as our set, I was pretty nervous and had a lot of anticipation – probably too much, actually. We just put in so much work getting prepared and ready for this. I was doing all of the work, like ordering the merch and doing all the things to make sure our record got done, so we could have them here - there was just so much build up to this. It definitely didnât disappoint and I feel like we played a really great set, and Iâve heard nothing but positive things from people who saw it. It was good, but it was almost like nothing could quite live up to what I was hoping to happen or something like that, but it was good.
Iâm interested to know how this comeback show came about - why This Is Hardcore? Did you approach Joe Hardcore (This Is Hardcore promoter) or did he hear about you getting back together?
Hereâs what happened: early last year around March, Chris who plays bass in the band, called me up on the phone – we talk all the time on the phone – he lives in Arizona and I live in the Midwest, and he said to me one night, "I really miss you guys. I miss doing this. Is there any chance youâd consider doing a reunion?"
We had never really talked about it before that and I said, "No, but the only way I would consider it is if we all got together and wrote a new record and were happy with the results. If we can do that, then Iâd play another show. I have no interest in just playing old songs and taking vacations based on something on what we used to do." So, he called everyone else in the band and everyone else kind of agreed to those âterms,â more or less. Then we started working on it immediately. Thatâs how long itâs been in the works for.
Itâs been a long process; it wasnât that a few months ago we got a call asking us to play a festival. We were originally planning on playing our first show back in Iowa, but thatâll be our next show and our second show back. I donât know how Joe heard weâd be getting back together, but he did and weâve had each otherâs numbers for years, so he gave me a call and asked me. I said, "Weâre not playing shows until our new record is out, and thatâs not going to be until September, so we canât do it." But heâs a pretty persuasive guy and kept bugging me about it, and also offering us really nice things, like being paid to play This Is Hardcore, our plane tickets, and a hotel room this weekend, and thatâs a lot of money. It also takes a lot of stress off our shoulders – Iâm not a rich guy - like paying for a plane ticket and hotel room. I donât really take vacations, I canât afford it, so him taking that pressure off made it really easy to pull it off.
So, my next thing was to call Deathwish and say, "Hey, letâs say we were to do this, could we possibly have our vinyl by then for our new record?" and they were like, "I donât know, but I think, maybe, you can." We made it happen.
Are you surprised by people's enthusiasm about your reunion and the new record?
Iâm very flattered by it. I just didnât know – and sort of still donât know – about the size of what that response was going to be. I knew there was going to be people that were really, really excited, but thereâs also going to be a lot of people that donât care and never did. Then thereâs a new generation of kids who didnât hear us, having not played for five-years, and we always said if you play in a city every two-years, youâll be looking at almost half a new crowd. Youâre not going to play to the same people two-years later - thereâs more turnover in that. Older people drop out and younger kids get in.
I think the response to us coming back has been overwhelming and positive. I thought Iâd maybe hear more people having negative things to say, but most people have had really nice things to say, which is, of course, nice.
Did you feel that amount of positivity towards the end of the band? Or do you feel this is just some massive hype?
I think that started to change a little towards the very end around 2007/8, but I understand that. You do get used to things. You get used to the things that are in front of you every day. If you have a long-term girlfriend or boyfriend, or a wife or husband, and you see them every day and share the same bed every night, it is easy to start taking that for granted and not always show the love or appreciation you have for that person, and I think that applies for anything in life, and bands are like that too.
We were touring so much, we put out a 7-inch, a live split 7-inch, and three full-lengths in six years. I think people were starting to not care as much about seeing us and stuff like that, but I understand that. Iâm not bitter about that. I was also getting worn out, and maybe people were too, from the road and just doing so much – trying to keep up that pace. Maybe it was time to call it quits for a while and I think getting back together has been good, but I needed that time and maybe others did, too.
From what Iâve heard, before you broke up, there was some animosity and strenuous relationships between members and that was partially the reason why you ended it, and now youâre back with the original line-up - is it a happy family now?
It is, yeah. I will say that all of the members of this band have always remained friends, and that goes for all the original guys and also Tim and Sjarm, who played with us for somewhat of a short period of time during Midnight In America. Nobody has been an enemy or not considered someone else a friend. I think - if anything – especially, when speaking about the original line-up, we were all going through shit in our own lives that affected the way that we interacted with each other. I was dealing with a lot of stuff that I didnât know how to deal with, so I was probably not as kind. These guys are some of my best friends in the world, and who Iâve known since I was a little kid, so I was probably just going through my own stuff and wasnât treating them in the way that I should have been. I think, in certain cases, they would say that about themselves as well.
We didnât spend as much time talking about real things as much as we should have, and I think thatâs just part of growing up and life. We donât have the kind of friendships where we get together for dinner and go out, have fun, then go home at the end of the night – weâre like family. We argue, spend countless hours together, and care about each other in a deep way instead of a casual friend who you might see once in a while.
But yeah, towards the end of things, it was kind of intense. Matt had left and Chris had left, and I very much felt like they were a central part of the band, but we had so much more momentum going forward and I didnât know what else I would do with my life or time, so we just pushed on with other people, and those people filled in amazingly and did a great job and I love them, but things just went the way they did and got too stressful, so we had to throw in the towel for a while.
Did the reunion have to be the original line-up? Or did you consider Tim and Sjarm, who joined during the Midnight In America-era, as well?
To me, it had to be the original line-up. I think they all contribute something to the sound of our band and also just the way the band feels. For us, itâs not about looking cool or anything, but itâs weird for me to see someone else play bass – Chris needs to play bass. If itâs someone else, it doesnât feel like Modern Life Is War. Weâre all part of the push-and-pull that creates our songs. We donât have one songwriter; weâve never operated like that. Matt is the person who contributes most to the songwriting process and Iâd say heâs probably the most talented musician in the band, but everyone has songs and parts that theyâve written on every record that weâve done. Weâre a five-piece band where all five members pull their weight.
Youâve just said it now, and Iâve heard you say it previously, that Modern Life Is War was pretty much a different band and Midnight In America wasn't really a Modern Life Is War record with the two new members. Are you still proud of that record?
I'm still very proud of the record. That line-up, we could have done a fake imitation of previous records, but it's not where we were at the time. It's not where I was in my life and we had different guys in the band and we wanted them to express their influences. They weren't hired to impersonate other people. I'm very proud of Midnight In America, I think it was a great record and I think there's an obvious difference, but I also think with Fever Hunting, you can hear elements of Midnight In America, but it's more of a Modern Life Is War sound. It is all part of the evolution of this band, it does belong in our back catalogue, it is a good record, and I'm very proud of it.
Like you said, before you broke up, it was non-stop – you were touring constantly and released three full-lengths. Iâve heard you say that you had this âcanât stop, wonât stopâ mentality. Is that what burned you out to the point of breaking up?
Yeah, I donât think thatâs a sustainable lifestyle - itâs totally the reason why. If I had to do it over again, I wish we took a break or six months off where we could get jobs and settle down to take a deep breath, and then get together six months after and talk about what we wanted to do next. Instead, we did what you described and I think it was too much.
I think you can do that for a limited amount of time when youâre a band the size of ours or smaller, and you can probably do it forever if youâre a band that can actually make enough money to live. The money that we were making was probably just enough to come home and pay rent. You can survive and thatâs it, and thatâs fine, but also it seems like thereâs a time clock where you canât do it anymore - especially when itâs something you love. It starts squeezing the fun out of what you love, because youâre depending on it for money and I hated that.
I donât want to have to make money in Modern Life Is War to pay for my rent. If I make money playing in this band, thatâs awesome, but I donât want to depend on it. I want to make money in another way, because itâs something I love and something thatâs fun, but I donât want it to be ruined by money.
What about this time round? I take it Modern Life Is War wonât be a full-time thing and youâll just be touring here and there?
Yeah, weâre basically going to play mostly weekends, like two or three shows – maybe four, at max. If we do go overseas, weâll probably have to do a week, just because it doesnât really make sense to go over and play two shows. Weâre going to try to do things consistently and try to play in a lot of places, but weâre just going to make the trips very short and have breaks in-between each one. Some of the guys have jobs that have limited vacation time, so theyâre going to use their vacation time to go play Modern Life is War shows and go back to the grind, and thatâs not my current situation in life, but I respect the fact itâs theirs and they can make it work.
For Midnight In America you jumped ship to Equal Vision Records, because you said you'd reach a bigger audience and that you never felt too comfortable being on Deathwish, since you didn't like being labeled a 'Deathwish band.â Why did you go back to them for the new album?
God, yeah. That whole thing is complicated. It's a weird thing to get lumped into a group of bands when you're working very hard to be your own thing. We wanted to have our own sound and style on our own terms. When we got with Deathwish, there were a lot of people who told us they didn't go to our shows, but did now, because we were on Deathwish and only listened to those bands - they were Deathwish people; it was strange to me. I get it now, but at the time I didn't. Deathwish was great to us; they opened us up to the world and to people who would potentially be interested in what we do. Deathwish has access to those people – they have their attention. The people who would be interested in the music we make and the lyrics we write, I think Deathwish is communicating with those people and it's our gateway to all of that, it's just makes sense. I genuinely believe it's where we belong as a label. That being said, a label doesn't define us and the fact that we've put out records on Deathwish, they would be the same record and we'd be the same band if we were on another label - we're still a fiercely independent band.
Going to Equal Vision, I think we realized what it was like to be a fish out of water. The stuff that they were putting out at the time had nothing to do with us. It was fucking different, and not in a good way. It was like, "Fuck, I wish we were hearing about how our label put out the new Blacklisted." Instead of God knows what Equal Vision was putting out. I definitely don't want to slander them, Equal Vision is an awesome record label and they treated us completely fairly and kindly. I have people there that I consider friends and they were amazing to work with; it just wasn't the right fit for us.
All we could do was realize we made a mistake by leaving Deathwish and go back. It felt kind of weird to do that. I had to get a hold of Tre and Jacob and ask, "Hey, we're writing a new record and have most of it done, would you guys be interested in this?" And they were immediately like, "Yes! Tell us what we can to do help." It was kind of a cool feeling coming back home. Jacob did the artwork and the layout, and I worked pretty closely with him on that - he did an amazing job. He did handwritten lyrics for the lyric booklet that comes with the LP and CD, and it was a very fun process.
There are loads of bands that say theyâre breaking up and play âlastâ shows, then get back together a few years down the line. It kind of makes the whole thing redundant and a lot of people roll their eyes when bands say theyâre playing a âlastâ show now. Do you regret saying you're going to break up?
I think if you're in a band and you love playing in a band and there are people all over the world who love your band and connect with the music you make, I don't think you should ever quit, unless people die or whatever. You should just say you're not playing shows anymore, and that's a smart thing to do, but when something consumes your life in the way that Modern Life Is War did from 2002 - 2008, I needed to know it was over to move on with my life. That was a hard thing to do; it became my life. I knew if I was like, "We're just not playing shows any more," it'd just haunt me and Iâd have a cloud over my head with people asking when we're next playing or recording. I just didn't want to deal with that and wanted peace of mind, so I think that's why it happens and bands do it, because they need that peace of mind.
The thing that people don't like about bands getting back together is that they think bands belong in a time and place in their life, and I totally understand that. If there's anyone who doesn't want to come see us now that we're a band again, I understand that. If they just want to leave that where it was that's fine, but the five of us are the people that made that music and put it together. No one can tell us we can't do that and if you want to talk shit on it, itâs fine. If you want to come back and be a part of it again, fucking please come back - we want you to be there. But if you don't, we understand that. A lot of people's lives have changed so much that they don't do this stuff anymore; they don't go to hardcore shows anymore, so we understand that. We want the people who are there to be genuinely excited and to be a part of it. We don't care if there's a hundred people or a thousand people, as long as we have some people there to play to and share the experience with, we'll just keep doing it.
I guess thereâs kind of a selfish aspect to it, since you made a big deal about breaking up and the last show. Iâm sure thereâs people who went out of their way and traveled thousands of miles for your last show and are probably a bit annoyed.
I understand that in a way, but here's the way I've been thinking about it, whether it's true or not. In my mind, for those people who are like, "Hey, I really went out of my way to be there that night and that pisses me off that you're doing it again." I understand that, and if you think the new record sucks and there's nothing there for you in that record, you should just not support us anymore. But if you think the new record is something worthwhile and can connect to it, that's our apology for coming back.
We don't want to do this cheaply. We don't want to do it if we don't have creativity coming from us and that's why I wanted to do it this way. I didn't want to play reunion shows where we only play old songs; I want to play new songs. Our new record is out and it's fucking important to me.
Youâre frequently labeled âmelodic hardcoreâ and you said one of the reasons Modern Life Is War broke-up is that the band had a time and place, which was no longer there. That style of music seemed to die completely when the likes of you, Have Heart, Verse, Sinking Ships, Life Long Tragedy, etc. called it a day. Do you see a resurgence in âmelodic hardcoreâ since youâre back together?
Maybe, I think there are bands that have carried on. 'Melodic hardcore,' it's kind of a funny thing. I don't think of it like that. To me, Sick of it All is a melodic hardcore band. People don't say that, but listen to the melodies of Scratch The Surface and Built To Last - that's a melodic hardcore band. To me, a melody is part of a song; it's not a genre of music.
I do know what you're referring to in terms of those kind of bands, but there's always melodic hardcore bands and there always has been. 7 Seconds is a melodic hardcore band, their choruses are based on vocal melodies. I hate it when people are like, "I don't like melodic hardcore" - yes, you do! It's funny how people like to chop things up and shove things aside and say, "I don't like this shit! I don't like this sound!" With hardcore/punk rock music, I don't do that. I love so many different bands. Ceremony was fucking amazing last night - they're so weird. What the fuck are those guys doing up there? They were fucking with the crowd, but they were successfully fucking with the crowd. They're masters of dynamic. They made people wait for something to happen and then when it did happen, they took it away before they had enough of it and brought it back again. It was beautiful. Then H2O comes up and it's so different compared to a band like Ceremony, but I used to listen to the first two H2O records in high school and I still remember all of those lyrics, so I was stage diving and having fun. That's all hardcore. It doesn't matter.
I like Sick of it All. I like Madball. I like Night Birds. I like Code Orange Kids. I like Gorilla Biscuits. There's so much there to love and I don't think of those bands any differently. When I think of Code Orange Kids, I don't think they're metallic-whatever. They're a hardcore band to me. I think if more people had that mentality then they'd enjoy it a lot more. It seems like people get kind of territorial and angry about stuff like that when there's only two kinds of music - good and bad.
Talking about bands that have carried on with that sound, Defeater always get comparisons to Modern Life is War – even to the point where some say theyâre ripping you off – how do you feel about that?
I don't feel like that. I think that they obviously took influence from us and they've said that, and that's fucking rad. Do you think we're not influenced by bands? We wouldn't sound how we sound if we didn't see Tragedy. We didn't pull our sound out of thin air; it's not like that. I'm influenced by certain things; I'm influenced by Unbroken's Live. Love. Regret. Are we ripping it off? No, I don't think so. Is Defeater ripping off Modern Life Is War? No, I don't think so. I think they're heavily influenced by us and I consider myself acquaintances with most of the guys in Defeater.
With this new record, I never used to do any of the social media stuff, but now I do it for the band, so I do the Twitter and I've noticed a lot of people be like, "Fuck Defeater!" and "Now Modern Life Is War is back, Defeater blah blah blah…" It's just so stupid. We want those guys to play shows. We want those guys to sell a bunch of records and do really well. It's cool they were influenced by our band, and I'm sure at some point we'll end up playing together. I mean, we played together this week, but on the same show. We just feel like that and I posted something recently like, "People should stop pitting bands against each other, it's not a competition." We're not in competition with Defeater. You think this is a tournament where we're trying to regain some sort of crown? It's not like that. We make music because being creative fulfills us and our lives, and I'm sure it's the same way for those guys, so they're doing their thing and we're doing our things, and we're influenced by various things. People make this deal about it and it's false, it's not the case at all.
Did you remain active in the hardcore scene after Modern Life Is War or did you take a backseat?
I've remained fairly involved. I kind of moved to California right after it ended and I would go see Rotting Out, Touche Amore, Trash Talk, and shows in California. I saw a ton of bands those years and once I moved back to Iowa, I'd go see local hardcore bands. One of those bands, Omens, theyâre playing our show in Iowa in October, and they're awesome. I've stayed active, I buy records, I check things out. I'm 32 and levels of passion for this specific kind of music come in waves a little bit. Sometimes, there seems that there's a lot happening that I'm really excited about and then sometimes, it takes a little dip, but it's always a part of my life. I'm always going to end up at a show or pick up a record.
I tried to sing in some bands and do stuff like that, but nothing really panned out or really clicked. The most significant thing that I started doing was DJing. I've always been very interested in classic American 60s soul music, funk, Jamaican reggae, ska - all that kind of stuff. I've been collecting records for a long time and wanting to DJ since the band basically started, but I didn't have the time or resources, so once the band ended, I started really working on that. I do it all the time and its how I make a living, currently.
What's next for Modern Life Is War? I know youâve got record release shows for Fever Hunting coming up in October.
Yes, we're playing Iowa on October 5th, then two shows in Chicago, and DC, New York City, and Boston the weekend after. If people want to try to go to those shows, get on it. New York's sold out and some of the others might too, so if anyone wants tickets, get them ahead of time.
We picked all of the bands on those line-ups; we all think they're great. We're playing with Omens, Coliseum, Touche Amore, Kill Your Idols, Harms Way, Boiling Over, Holy Fever, Spine, Night Birds, Wet Witch, Deathcycle, Nervous Impulse, Sobriety High, so we're really excited. All the bands are bands we're really good friends with or bands we really want to play with, and that's what we're going to try to do now - try to put bands we like or are friends with.
Fever Hunting is out; you can get it on Deathwish. We're going to try to go to the west coast for a couple of shows this year, but that's not confirmed yet, and that'll be it this year. There's been talks of the UK and Europe in 2014, but it'd be short, we're not going to play in 20 countries, but we'd like to go if we can. If we do the States next year, we won't be playing in any of the cities we've played in this year. That's the future plan so far, and we're probably going to work on song writing and start talking about a new record.
I think thatâs about it, is there anything else you want to add?
Thanks, Punknews. I know someone reviewed our last show in Marshalltown and it was a really great review, so it's cool you're doing this after our first show back, so thanks for giving us love and the people who read the interview or came out to the shows or bought our records. We're back, and we're really happy to be doing it again.