Jake Ewald is currently on the tour of a lifetime.
It’s both a crowning achievement for his band, millennial miserablists Modern Baseball, and a reflection of how far they’ve come in a relatively brief time as a touring group. Ewald and co. are currently the opening act on a national headlining tour through North America for Brand New, who are celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their seminal LP The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me. For Ewald – one of the many teens who had their lives changed by that record – it’s nothing short of a dream come true.
“They were a big influence for us,” he says. “The first night of this tour was my first time ever seeing them live – it felt like a total out-of-body experience for me. That, paired with getting to actually meet them, was so awesome. They actually ended up being really chill and really cool people.”
Ewald adds that he and his bandmates have become fast friends with The Front Bottoms, their fellow support act, whose trajectory from best-kept secret to cult emo heroes is not entirely unlike that of Modern Baseball’s.
“When we were in college, we used to drive a couple of states over to Virginia to go to this thing called Stay Sweet Fest,” he says. “It was this three-day thing where something like 200 people would go and watch bands play in the back of a restaurant somewhere. One of those bands was The Front Bottoms, and we’d seen them a couple of years in a row. They really impressed us – and now they’re on tour with us and playing to 3,000 people who know every word to every one of their songs. It’s the coolest thing in the world.”
Mid-2016 saw Modern Baseball release their third studio album, Holy Ghost. It’s since gone on to become one of the year’s most critically acclaimed LPs – and that’s not just within the immediate bubble of their genre, either. Although Ewald has agonised over details on the band’s previous albums – 2012’s Sports and 2014’s You’re Gonna Miss It All – he has a reserved confidence in what Modern Baseball have achieved on the latest record.
“This was the first album in which we all wrote our own parts and we worked on every song together as a band before we went in to record,” he says. “The record’s been out for about six months now, and it still feels like something that we consciously created – something we achieved together. I haven’t had any moments where I wish I’d done something differently, which is definitely something that I’ve had to deal with upon listening back to records in the past. We’re still really excited about this record, and it’s been great to see so many people feeling the same way about it.”
Holy Ghost is an album that makes full use of the band’s dual frontmen – Ewald and Brendan Lukens share lead vocals, guitar and lyric writing. This time around, the lyrical and vocal duties were neatly split between the record’s side A (Ewald) and side B (Lukens). In this case, it allowed for Ewald to serve – for half the record at least – as a cog in the proverbial wheel, as opposed to driving the car alone. It took a moment of adjustment, but the end results speak for themselves.
“Before Holy Ghost, I used to write entire songs for the band,” he says. “I would write out parts, note for note, for everyone in the band, teach it to them and then critique them on how they were playing it. Ian [Farmer, bass] and I were always the ones that would record everything, too. Going into this record, I promised myself I would take a step back. By writing all the songs on this album together, as well as using an outside producer [Joe Reinhart], I feel like I was able to achieve that. It gave me a chance to appreciate everyone’s talents and to let everyone do their own thing. This is my favourite Modern Baseball record – I’m really glad that I made those decisions and made this an equal experience for everyone involved.”
After a rapid-fire Australian visit in April this year, which saw the band promptly sell out shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Modern Baseball are set to return over the New Year period, seeing out 2016 and welcoming in 2017 with appearances at Falls Festival. The Pennsylvanians are also set to play two headlining dates in Sydney and Melbourne with indie rock trio Camp Cope. The latter appeared at both of Modern Baseball’s last Melbourne shows, and a rapport was struck up straight away.
“We’d heard good things about them, so it seemed like a no-brainer to ask them to play the show in Melbourne,” says Ewald. “Once we met them on a personal level, though, we hit it off instantly. They totally killed it – their songs are so special, and they have this special energy between the three of them. The songs feel very human and very vulnerable, as does the way that they play off one another. We fell in love with them for that, and as soon as we found out that we were coming back, they were the first band that we called. We’re really stoked.”
Modern Baseball perform atFalls Festival 2016/17,Wednesday December 28 – Monday January 2, in Lorne, Marion Bay and Byron Bay; and also appearing at the Metro Theatre on Wednesday January 4.Holy Ghost is out now through Run For Cover/Cooking Vinyl.