Interview: Modern Diet's Music Is Indie Rock Soul Food

The rising band on their latest single, traveling the world, and music's different flavors.

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There's a kind of poetic justice in the fact that most of the press surrounding Modern Diet (this interview included) have food puns or culinary themes running through them. From features on music blogs Happy Marshmallows and Stimulate Your Soul back when they were still a 5-piece made up of NYU undergrads to their most recent—and most likely victorious—slot in NYC-based magazine The Deli's Emerging Artists of the Month poll, it would seem the local scene is ravenous for the delectable sounds of these R&B indie rockers. No matter where you've read about them, know that their music is a veritable feast, and know that they're blowing up fast.

We spoke to lead vocalist Jake Cheriff, bassist Dan Hemerlein, guitarist Bernardo "Nardo" Ochoa, and drummer Harry Terrell about their latest single "Red Eye," how the band formed, and what kind of taste they want to leave in your mouth after listening to them.

A week ago yesterday, you guys premiered "Red Eye;" what was the inspiration behind your latest single?

Jake Cheriff: "Red Eye" is about the fallout to a messy relationship I had while studying abroad.

Bernardo "Nardo" Ochoa: "Red Eye" is about the fallout to a messy relationship Jake had while studying abroad.

Dan Hemerlein: "Red Eye" started as a little bass riff that I came up with one day in my bedroom. You can hear the riff in the intro and during the verses. We fleshed out the song by sending voice memos back and forth to each other. The writing process is more collaborative now than it's ever been in the past. I brought in the bass riff, Jake wrote some very personal lyrics, Nardo added some slick guitar parts, and Harry absolutely shreds on the drums during the outro. Plus, we all sang harmonies on the end bit.

Harry Terrell: "Red Eye" was actually my very first experience with Modern Diet. I walked into their (Dan, Nardo and Jake's) apartment about a year ago as they were figuring out some vocal parts, and I remember very vividly playing a shaker and a cardboard box. That night, we experimented with some groove-oriented stuff and wrote the vocal harmonies at the end that are now, a year later, on the final recording. It was a super warm, and a pretty representative introduction into the band.

How did the band come together?

JC: The band came together in a really natural way. There were no Craigslist searches or anything like that… not that there's anything wrong with that. We all ran in the same circles of NYC music goons; Dan and I met briefly in high school, so when we got to NYU we did some minimal scheming to rope in Nardo and Harry and voilà! Five years later, we're living together happily ever after in Bushwick.

BO: I was Jake's roommate in college, and Dan's friend. I would always love going to check out Modern Diet. Jake and I would play music and write together, and eventually I was absorbed into the band. It was a pretty natural (ionian, perhaps mixolydian) progression.

DH: I was a hardcore fanboy of Jake's solo music in high school. After jamming together a few times, the idea of forming a band and try to make a name for ourselves on the NYC scene was pretty exciting.

HT: I ended up filling an empty seat later on in the band's lifetime, but it felt very natural nonetheless. We were definitely all friends first, and when they asked me to play drums in the band I was more than happy to oblige.

Describe your sound in five words.

JC: Sad Boys In Urban Landscape

BO: Look At This (Photo) Graph

D: Layered Layers Laid Forever More

HT: Ants In My Eyes Johnson

How do you see the current NYC indie music scene, and your place in it?

JC: The current NYC indie music scene is such a hang. There's a lot of experimentation going on both musically and in practice—everyone's trying to figure out how to optimally write, record, produce, perform and distribute their music. The way all of these things work is constantly changing, maybe now more than ever. The current NYC indie scene is rad because everyone's sort of working cooperatively to get their music out there. Working as an audio engineer, I've been able to help a ton of amazing groups get their music tracked and mixed. I love the work, but I'm also constantly learning about new means of production and promotion in the process.

BO: I think we're at a point in time when a lot of different fields (of study) are intersecting and playing off of one another (just watch Neri Oxman's TED talk for evidence). Music is no different. What Jake said is right: the "indie" music scene is just one venn diagram bubble with sections shared with other genres and fields. What is shocking to me is the truly staggering amount of oil that it takes to make a record of people making music right now, the diversity of taste and style, and how much excellent content there is. There's a lot of brilliance here.

DH: The scene is great. It's filled with a lot of cool people doing a lot of great things, many of whom are our close friends. We love booking shows with our friends' bands and meeting new people at venues not just in New York, but all over the Northeast.

HT:The NYC indie scene is very extensive, and encompasses a lot of totally cutting edge stuff. It's pretty inspiring to hear something with a string section and dreamy vocals one night, some absolutely righteous, socially just, chaotic R&B rock another night, and then some noise doodycore math rock the night after that. It's pretty inspiring to be surrounded by such a large spectrum of cats.

Your name definitely has a ring to it; how did you guys come to name yourselves?

JC: "Modern Diet" is a song by a band called The Redwalls. They're not together anymore, but I was super into their music way back when and that song had a particularly cool message—something to do with the immortality of originality and a dismissal to the attitude that "it's all been done before."

Is music an essential part of the modern diet?

JC: Did you know that you can drown in water?

BO: If a tree falls on a band in the woods, and there's nobody around to hear the band playing, is the band really a tree?

DH: There's a war against culture happening in the United States right now. We're passionate about our music and we make it with the hope that it reaches people on an emotional level.

Speaking of diets, what are your favorite foods?

JC: Nardo's leftovers. Except every once in awhile when Nardo is a vegetarian.

BO: Why can't we start appreciating the complicated spectrum of foods? Why do we always have to put things into boxes? A true modern diet is a decentralized, non-hierarchical structure of deliciousness where everything is appreciated for its strengths and weaknesses. And sure, some people have sentimental attachments to foods, but some people don't. I do really like when my friend Chris Salcedo makes food, though.

DH: Black coffee and leftover holiday cookies.

HT: This is definitely the most difficult question here. After some thoughtful consideration, I'd have to say breakfast tacos are my final choice, or really all the varieties of Mexican breakfast foods.

While we're still on the topic, what kind of flavor do you hope your music leaves in the mouths of listeners?

JC: In the morning... coffee. But the kind of coffee breath that your partner says they love (whether you believe them or not). Or whiskey at night before you go out in the cold. Or chamomile before bed. The rest of the time, I hope it tastes like the one that got away.

BO: Oh. My. God. Hopefully nothing; that sounds gross. Unless you have music-taste synesthesia. Then, I hope it's yummy.

HT: I basically second Jake, but would add that I hope the coffee is most definitely black.

Where do you hope to take Modern Diet in the next few years?

JC: From left to right—LA, Chicago, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Tokyo.

BO: All around the world. I wanna play our music to the whales using underwater speakers (à la Fred West and the Seattle Cantabile Choir).

DH: In 2017, we plan on releasing our new LP. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to do another music video or two. The goal has always been to have fun and grow as a group and as individuals.

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