Earlier this year, sentimental Philly rock crew Modern Baseball announced that they were taking a break. The news stung for fans, but it also didn't come as a total shock; the decision came shortly after they played a string of European shows without co-frontman Brendan Lukens, who had opted out to focus on his mental and physical health (Brendan has been open about his struggles with depression and substance abuse — in his lyrics, but also in interviews, including one with me for this website).
Jake Ewald, the band's other frontman, wrote the Facebook post announcing the hiatus. "It took this enormous weight off all of our shoulders," Jake told me recently, over the phone. "Like, We're free — for a second." The break has opened up more time for Ewald to devote to personal projects, including fixing up the studio space he runs with Modern Baseball bassist Ian Farmer, and working on the solo songs he's been releasing as Slaughter Beach, Dog since 2015.
Today, The FADER is debuting "Building The Ark," the last song from Slaughter Beach, Dog's new EP, Motorcycle.jpg. Out July 14th on Lame-O, the four-song project relies on the kind of unfussy wit you'd expect from the anxious storyteller behind still-great sing-a-longs like "Two Good Things" and "Mass." On "Building the Ark," he manages to sew images of violent dreams, feeling weird in Las Vegas, and post-grad disillusionment into a cohesive-seeming, emo-ish folk rocker. Listen to that song below, and then read a conversation with Jake about the lonely summer days that inspired these new songs, and what's next for Modern Baseball.
When did you start the Slaughter Beach, Dog project?
It started when Modern Baseball was going, and I was kind of in a funk where I wasn't able to write. I had been used to writing hyper-personal stuff, and I just got to this point where I couldn't muster anything interesting to write about, so I made up this fictional story. It ended up working pretty well; that's when I wrote the first Slaughter Beach, Dog album. After that we wrote the Modern Baseball Holy Ghost songs. I also started writing some new Modern Baseball songs, and some new Slaughter Beach, Dog songs.
I did the EP a month and a half ago, all by myself. But me and [Modern Baseball bassist Ian Farmer] actually just finished a full-length that's gonna come out at the end of this year. I did all the instruments, and he did all the recording. I'm really proud of all the songs. It feels good. I feel like I haven't put music into the world in a little while. Me and Ian are really into restraint right now. It'll be a battle in the studio, like, "What else can we not put in this song?
What was going on in your life when you were writing the songs on the EP?
The EP is definitely more personal. They were [mostly written] last summer, after Modern Baseball did that tour with Joyce Manor and Thin Lips. I had just gotten out of a relationship, and I had moved into my friend's basement in West Philly and did that very typical just-got-out-of-a-relationship-so-you-move-into-your-friend's-basement thing. We were in the middle of a big touring cycle, which was stressful, but when I was at home, I really had jack squat to do. Every morning I could just wake up, go to the coffeeshop, read a book, go home, write a song, eat some food, write more songs, go drink a beer, go to sleep. That's just what I did, every day, all summer.
What's "Building the Ark" about?
That song was written on a Modern Baseball tour. We were in Las Vegas, which I say in the song. It was just like, getting to the end of the tour, thinking about this relationship that I just got out of, and talking to some of my friends about similar things that they were going through.
I started thinking more about my family. I have a really close relationship with them, and I have a twin sister that I have a really close relationship with. When I got tired of being on the road all the time, I started thinking about how I missed my family. I always felt like I was putting them out by being gone all the time. There's some of that in there. But it's also just about dealing with being alone for a while.
Tell me a little about about the decision to put Modern Baseball on pause.
We had a talk a few months before it happened — I don't know if we've told anyone this. We all sat down and said, "We're getting really tired. This is kind of crazy. We should slow down soon." And then we did that European tour where we announced at the last-minute that [co-frontman Brendan Lukens] wasn't going to come. When we made the decision to slow down, we already had a lot of tours booked. We were like, oh yeah we can make it through all of this, we'll be fine. But then as we started to be confronted with those tours we realized we didn't know if we were going to be able to go through with all of them. We were so burnt out, and ready to be done with it for a little while.
We did the Europe tour without Brendan, and at the end of that I talked to Brendan on the phone. We were all just in agreement that we didn't think we could bring ourselves to do a whole six-week U.S. tour after that. It really sucked because then we had to turn around and call all our friends who were coming on that tour and say, "hey, we're really sorry but we just don't think we can do this." That was really difficult. It sucks to think about, because the band was so amazing and it brought us so much joy over the years, but at the same time, releasing ourself from that obligation was this incredible feeling.
What has everyone in the band been up to since the break started in February?
We are all just at home, settling into our normal lives — which rocks. We all finally found good therapists [laughs], and we all are finding little jobs. Me and Ian are focusing on the studio, Brendan is working on his own stuff, Sean is working on his own stuff. It's really cool to feel like normal people, for once.
Did you put any parameters on the hiatus?
The next time the four of us wake up and really want to do this again, like we want to go have band practice, then we'll fucking do it. We'll do it that day. That's how it was in the beginning; we all loved doing it, and wanted to do it every day. Then we got to the point where we didn't want to do it any day, and that was a confusing feeling. We just said, let's not call it a breakup and make a huge deal about it and have a "Last Show Ever" or anything like that. Let's just take it easy for now, and if we wake up an want to do it again, then let's do it.
Are you wary about heading back out on tour for the Slaughter Beach, Dog shows?
I've made strong promises to myself that we're only gonna book a couple tours a year, so that when we do it I can truly enjoy it and be happy on the road with my friends, as opposed to committing to too much and just feeling weird about everything. We have this one week of shows booked at the end of August right now, and I'm so excited. Ian plays bass [in the live band]. I cannot remember the last time I was excited to go on tour. It feels really good.
Pre-order the Motorcycle.jpg EP here.
Slaughter Beach, Dog tour dates:
06/10 - Brooklyn, NY - Baby's All Right (Afternoon Show)
08/03 - Cambridge, MA - Middle East Upstairs*
08/04 - Hamden, CT - The Ballroom*
08/05 - Brooklyn, NY - Baby's All Right*
08/06 - Washington, DC - Sonbyrd Music House*
08/08 - Richmond, VA - Strange Matter*
08/09 - Carborro, NC - Cat's Cradle*
08/17 - Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda's*
* = w/ Shannen Moser