There are many bands that come in and out of the emo “scene” throughout the years. What becomes tricky, however, is figuring out which bands will be a flash-in-the-pan, one-album wonder, and which will carve out a spot for themselves for several years and make more of a lasting impression in their fans’ minds. Predicting which bands fall under which umbrella is about as easy as throwing darts blindfolded.
For a long time, the rise of Modern Baseball was puzzling to me. I appreciated their innocent, typically introspective songwriting style that they displayed on their Run For Cover Records debut Sports. While I was one of the many to notice their maturity and improvements on 2014’s You’re Gonna Miss it All, I never considered them as a band to reach the crowds of the bands I’d seen them opening for (The Wonder Years, Man Overboard, Say Anything, Joyce Manor). When the band embarked on their first headlining tour, I was taken aback by the size of the rooms they were playing. I had seen them live before, and enjoyed their happy-go-lucky stage banter and attitude: they threw breakdowns into songs where one simply shouldn’t be there; they played the famous riff from “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as an outro to “The Weekend,” a fan favorite since its debut on Sports; and above all else, they looked like they genuinely enjoyed what they were doing, and the people they were doing it with.
It was during a spring tour with The Hotelier and Tiny Moving Parts, though, where we started to see some cracks in the armor of the scene’s darlings. Brendan Lukens, one half of the band’s songwriting duo, had to pull off several dates of the tour due to health issues. There were more missed shows after these, citing the same issues popping up again. The rest of the band – fellow songwriter/guitarist Jake Ewald, bassist Ian Farmer, and drummer/vocalist Sean Huber, continued in his stead, with friend/Sorority Noise frontman Cam Boucher filling in for Lukens on guitar frequently. After a strenuous string of tours, the band returned to their home of Philadelphia, who had grown proud of their local product just as they had done for The Wonder Years and The Menzingers before them.
If Lukens’s issues were the smoke of the inner turmoil of the band’s psyche, next came the fire. After the now-typical two-year waiting period between albums, the promotion/hype train for the band’s highly-anticipated third album Holy Ghost had begun. As many bands have begun to do, Modern Baseball decided to release a documentary that showcased the band’s recording process. What that documentary highlighted, however, was a completely different experience than what some may have expected. Tripping in the Dark begins with a brisk, tongue-in-cheek history of the band to this point, before delving into the band’s touring history and their releases prior to Holy Ghost. What follows is an introduction to the album’s title track, which segues into Ewald confessing that much of his songwriting was focused on his grandfather’s death, which had a profound effect on both Ewald and his family at large. Ewald speaks of a new relationship that helped him cope, and ends on an optimistic note.
Up next was a highlight of how Lukens wrote his half of the album. Following Ewald’s emotional recollection of his grandfather’s death, Lukens too opens up about his struggle with mental health. An emotional retelling of Lukens on the roof of his house with thoughts of committing suicide brings about a drastic change in tone, and the documentary then becomes less about the upcoming album and more about Lukens’s road to recovery. The documentary ends with a clear, positive outlook, and it helps the viewer understand where the band came from in order to release this album. It was one of the bravest decisions a band has made that I can remember – not since Underoath’s Lost in the Sound of Separation had I seen a band be so open about the turmoil that nearly tore them apart before the release of an album. But for Modern Baseball, it was simply indicative of the honesty they had built their career. They were honest when they wrote their lyrics, and therefore they decided to be honest with their current mental state. This was, to me, a rare, almost unheard-of move for band to make. It’s not difficult to envision many other bands in the scene failing to disclose these difficulties in order to maintain the illusion of happiness.
Modern Baseball’s honesty on Tripping in the Dark was met with a myriad of rewards. Many of the band’s fans identified with both Lukens’s and Ewald’s struggles, and the personal connection they had with the band’s songs had developed into an even deeper connection with the individuals who were writing the songs. In the week of its release, Holy Ghost was #3 on the US Alternative Albums Chart, and landed the top spot on the US Vinyl Sales chart. It was a crowning achievement for a band that at first seemed like the little brothers of bands that they would never outgrow. Turns out, they had done just that, as a summer headlining tour drew even bigger rooms, multiple sellouts, and a more connections made between the healing band and their grateful fans.
While their success grew and grew, Modern Baseball continued to become voices for various issues they were passionate about. Spearheaded by the openness and candor they spoke with on the issue of mental illness, the band were very helpful in providing resources for fans that were having struggles of their own. When they embarked on a headlining tour over the Summer of 2016, they took inspiration from other trailblazing bands like Speedy Ortiz and PWR BTTM by requiring the venues they headlined to provide gender-neutral bathrooms to help create an all-inclusive experience. But they didn’t stop there. The band also provided fans with a hotline to call and/or text to report individuals who were acting in a threatening manner in order to resolve issues between fans. While it is important to note that they were not the only band setting up resources like this, the fact that it came from a band comprised of four straight, white men on the biggest headlining tour of their career showed their commitment to their cause.
When it seemed things couldn’t get any better, they did: Brand New called, and asked MoBo to head out with them (and fellow rapid-risers The Front Bottoms) on their tour celebrating the 10-year anniversary of The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. I attended the date the PPL Center in Allentown, PA, and was surprised once again to see amount of fans who showed up early to see Modern Baseball, and as the band ripped through “Your Graduation,” what will likely end up being widely-regarded as their best song, I remember feeling so happy for a band I had been so completely (and happily) wrong about.
With a tour with arguably the most beloved band in the scene under their belts, 2017 was poised to be another huge year for Modern Baseball. They had a European headlining tour lined up for the winter, and a spring headliner slated to start after that. What happened next, unfortunately, is the reason this post is being created. About a month ago, Lukens took to the band’s Facebook to announce that he was not going to be traveling with the band in order to preserve his mental health. The rest of the band would continue their international trek, which wrapped up last week. Even when speaking of his issues, Lukens continued to look out for the band’s fans, providing several hotlines and resources to use when struggling with mental health.
With their headlining tour a few weeks away from starting, the band’s Facebook page became the bearer of bad news once again. This time, It was Ewald reporting that his own mental health had been deteriorating, and that the rest of the band would be canceling their headlining tour and all future festival appearances, and would be taking an extended, indefinite break. Canceled tours are not something we see too often, especially with the “what have you done for me lately” mindset running rampant in today’s music industry. Yet again, Modern Baseball had disregarded their rising fame in favor of their mental health. This decision was likely the most difficult one yet, especially because it left a fear of not knowing if or when the band would return in the minds of their fans. Yet again, Ewald posted with these fans in mind, as he posted the same list of mental health hotlines that Lukens had previously posted. Even in their departure, Modern Baseball continued to put its fans first.
While I’ve spoken ad nauseam about how band breakups are inevitable, I was very upset about the news about Modern Baseball when it broke this week. Modern Baseball have gone from a young, scrappy band to one of the foremost voices in our scene in their six—year career. To lose such a strong advocate for many very important issues that trouble America’s youth is a loss that will be felt for a long time. I feel horrible for the band’s devout fanbase, who likely relied on the band’s records and concerts to get a release from the mental issues the band helped them to heal. But that’s what has become so special about Modern Baseball after all. Even though they are gone, the lessons they tried to teach should – and hopefully will – persist.
It’s difficult to hear someone speak about their own mental issues, partially because you’re never really sure what to say in response to it, and partially because it causes us to bring our own mental health into question. What Modern Baseball’s break truly means, though, is to not feel so uncomfortable in these situations, and to do our best to face them head-on and turn what so many people consider to be a negative in their lives and turn it into a positive. Of course, this is no small task, and each individual has their own coping mechanisms; it is important, therefore, to understand that while our personal experience with mental health is unique, there are a vast amount of resources at our disposal, and that there are countless others going through their own struggles. Rather than bury their issues in pursuit of further wealth and fame, Modern Baseball decided to shut themselves down, only to reappear when they feel they are mentally ready for their return. It’s something anyone, even someone who has never heard of Modern Baseball, should draw inspiration from. Despite the obligations we may feel to perform certain roles as a friend, family member, significant other, team member, or any other social role we attain, we must remember that we cannot fully fulfill those roles if we are doing so at the expense of our own mental stability. Even though we may feel that we are letting our loved ones down, a clearer mental state will allow for us to love more fully and openly. Modern Baseball resisted the shame of admitting they needed help; it becomes our duty, now, to follow their lead.
Mental health issues are one of the world’s most soft-spoken killers, with so many individuals succumbing to the demons they hide or don’t possess the tools to face head-on. If there were a conclusion to be made about the Modern Baseball story, both the band and their battles, it would be this: it isn’t over. The biggest trouble with mental illness is that it’s not exactly something you can “win.” It’s not something that you defeat and leave behind; in fact, it is this exact frame of mind that makes dealing with any mental illness all the more difficult. Rather, mental health issues are something that needs to be battled with diligence and a profound awareness of one’s own state. The way we can “beat” mental illness is by seeking help through the proper channels, finding our escapes and crutches we can lean on in times of need, and through our attention and perseverance. We must also remember that just as one day of improvement does not always mean victory, one day of regression does not mean defeat.
We have seen that mental issues almost derailed Modern Baseball before they released Holy Ghost, their most important work to date, and we have now seen that they will need to bring their band into the dugout for the time being. Their battle is not over, and they will continue to fight it. It’s our turn, now, to do the same.
For your convenience, the hotlines that Modern Baseball posted to their Facebook page will be copied below. The Garden Statement wished Modern Baseball nothing but the best in their efforts to improve their mental health, as well as anyone who may be reading this that is going through mental health struggles of their own.