The Sons of Hermann Hall is a curious place. On the outside, it looks like an ancient home, with peeling paint and foggy windows. Even the first floor, which contains the bar and restrooms, maintains a bona fide vintage feel. There’s pool, a water fountain and some other bar games; there’s also a fully stacked snack bar for people who need to put fuel in the tank before they lose their minds during the show. The upstairs feels renovated and modern, but somehow less authentic than this first floor. Modern Life is War singer Jeffrey Eaton sits at the bar, sipping a Coke and Jack, patiently answering my run-of-the-mill opening questions.
“[Modern Life is War] started in 2002,” he says. “We all already played in different bands together, and we all hung out…some friends started a new band, and they asked me to sing. That’s it, you know, very simple.” He breaks every few sentences with a small sip. A skater since youth, Eaton eventually discovered hardcore through many gateway punk rock bands in the 90’s. “My first big love [however] was Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. I always listened to it when I skated. Then I got into Rancid’s Let’s Go. I kinda fell in love with music again [after a long period of time without listening to it].” He assures me that there are a plethora of other bands that piqued his interest at an early age.
Currently, he says he’s been listening to a lot of local bands lately. Being true to their native scene, the band closely follows other musical outputs in the Iowa area. They played a show in Iowa City, with opening act Brooks Strauss, who just released an LP entitled Acid Casual. “I think it’s one of the best records I’ve heard in years,” he assured me. It’s apparently a folky, Kinks-esque masterpiece that all of Jeffrey’s friends have been informed of.
We decide to talk about hardcore once again, trying to decipher what determines a band’s worth nowadays. Jeffrey says that a band that deserves recognition eventually gets it. He pointed at my Touché Amoré shirt for reference. “They’re band is a great example of that. I saw them play in California before their first LP was out, and I just knew. Everyone in the world’s gonna hear this band.” I nod in agreement. They are one of the more well-known bands in today’s scene, and they’re critically praised as well.
The interview meanders on, as Eaton describes his yearnings to tour with Off With Their Heads, Terrible Feelings, the band’s positive experience with Ceremony at the infamous Gilman venue in Berkeley. “Ceremony is one of my all time favorite bands,” he says. He prefers the intimate shows to the “bigger” shows. He says that the band hopes to start writing soon, even though they just reunited to release Fever Hunting to positive acclaim. They still share that same inherent desire to create music, and that’s what keeps the band going.
He then discloses information about guitarist John Eich’s high school obsession with Sarah Michelle Gellar. He had a cardboard cutout of his favorite Vampire Slayer in his room. We also talk about his experience in Denton, Texas, how he skated around town and bought rare vinyl. He says it’s a cool place, similarly to his fellow friends on the Deathwish Inc. roster. “I like Jeremy [of Touché Amoré] a lot, and our friend Daniel [of Bitter End] is roadie-ing for us. Tre and Jake and Blacklisted are all friends.” He says it’s like family, something that became evident when they released their 3rd full-length on Equal Vision records. “It wasn’t the same,” he admits. He then says his favorite Deathwish as of late was the Code Orange Kids full-length. “That records awesome. I’m a big fan of them.” I agree with his enthusiasm; we both appreciate how they’re the same age as me. He talks about the great experience at This Is Hardcore 2013 in Philly, but is sad to report that Modern Life is War will probably not play this year, although he will try to attend as a fan. “I got to see Negative Approach, Ceremony, The Geeks, all these rad bands. It felt like a family reunion [last year].” He loves the DIY mindset, especially since the show is so massive.
I use the mentioning of the DIY attitude to Segway to a question asking him if his band could play in my high school auditorium if I organized it. An inebriated fellow next to us that went to my high school’s rival claimed his punk band was cut off during a pre-game set booked at Jesuit. Jeffrey said, “I think that’s what would happen to us.” Eaton loves intimate shows, though. It’s what makes hardcore unique, where the band is essentially the same as the fans. He sees no reason for copious amounts of violence in the pit, but he thinks that a show where people are fully invested in the band is the best show. It’s not strictly assigned to hardcore, but it is important; it’s what propels Modern Life. “I don’t care about succeeding, just being creative and playing shows.”
He thanks me for the interview and encourages me to talk with him after the show in a more relaxed manner.
After the show, which was low-energy on the crowd’s part but impassioned for a handful of fans, I sat down with Eaton, bassist Chris Honeck, and drummer Tyler Oleson. We all talked about parental disapproval of hardcore, and listening to Metallica as kids. Tyler illustrated how hardcore came into his life. “When I was thirteen, I heard Sick Of It All on a snowboarding video, and I freaked out. I’d never heard anything like it,” he says.
Although Tyler was excited to talk about his early experiences with hardcore, the band was not ecstatic about their set. “I think we didn’t play as well, and the energy in the room matched that,” said Chris. However, they didn’t have any regrets or complaints. The band unanimously agrees that someone always suggests that they play in a different venue, at a different time, etc. It’s a constant struggle to please everyone. “How are we supposed to know what works perfectly,” Chris maintains. “People say, ‘well, if you would’ve played here, more people would’ve showed up.’ How were we supposed to know?” Modern Life is War is a band that “embraces the show for what it is,” as Jeff says. “I respect all the bands we played with [Stymie, Modern Pain, Die Young TX]. Tonight was a victory.” Putting on a crazy show takes a lot of money, and since punk doesn’t rely on money, things don’t always go according to plan. They’re just happy to have shared moments with people that have emotional investment in their music. Chris says, “I just talked to a bunch of people that drove down from Oklahoma City. That’s insane!” He hopes people can have that much passion for something regularly, and he hopes those people had a good time. “The fact that there’s kids mouthing every single word means that they’ve listened to our records, they care about being here. Just because they’re not [moshing] doesn’t mean we’re not playing a good show,” Chris says.