For the first time in weeks, the sun isn’t out in California, and Mod Sun is savoring the eerie, foggy weather. From a hot tub, he chats with EARMILK on the phone in the wake of the release of his latest record Internet Killed The Rockstar. The record is a departure from his signature “hippie hop” and a return to his pop-punk roots. It’s the music that got him started, and he comes full circle on this record.
But instead of a mere return to pop punk, Mod Sun manifests the renaissance of the rock star, redefining the term after seeing it crack under pressure. Rock stars have been living fast and dying young for decades, but Mod Sun is determined to change this. Having instilled discipline and sobriety through the making of Internet Killed The Rockstar, he was able to tap into something deeper within himself and to manifest that in his lyrics and sounds. Through prayer and self-reflection he has found himself in a space where a unique and personal art is able to bubble to the surface.
“Flames” even features one of the pioneer queens of pop punk - Avril Lavigne. Mod Sun admits that Lavigne’s 2002 song “Sk8er Boi” is one of the reasons he skateboarded growing up. Having the opportunity to work alongside a long-time inspiration, and to collaborate with many of pop punk’s greats, Mod Sun is living a reality of which the 16-year old teen belting out lyrics in his car in Minnesota could have only dreamed.
EARMILK: What has the response been like since the release of Internet Killed The Rockstar?
MOD SUN: Okay, just to be honest, the short answer: It’s been the most overwhelming best response I've ever had. This is like definitely the highest point in my career so far, which is really, really wonderful because I've been in this game for a while. So to be on like a constant incline and then, deep in my career, have a moment where I'm the highest I've ever been. My life is changing through this album. I’ve felt like an outcast a lot in just my life in general, but specifically with music. I've never really felt like I had a home in music that much. With this album, I feel like I'm just being welcomed into all these new people that are finding out about me. I mean, to put it bluntly, I read the comments, like legit, I read the comments, I go to YouTube, I read the fucking comments. And I'm so used to people fucking hating on that shit lowkey for real. So just the comments of this new audience being like, “I love this. I really want to check this out. Like you going all out? I love his art.” It's just a whole different feeling releasing music as opposed to feeling like everyone was gonna hate it. I feel kind of loved right now, which is amazing.
EARMILK: You said you’ve often felt like an outcast. Was that in part because you felt like you hadn't found a sound or a place where you really fit in sonically? I know this album does have a slightly different sound, and I was just wondering if there was any sort of connection there?
MOD SUN: Connecting the dots, there's multiple dots that connected at this point in my career. I would say the first one that's so pivotal is that you're hearing the word pop punk every fucking day right now in the music industry. I grew up literally living and breathing pop punk. My walls were covered in bands from Drive-Thru Records and then of course Blink-182 and everything like that. I was going to every show. Pop punk and the whole scene and emo music was not cool back in the day, you know, you didn't get love for it. Honestly, you were the weirdo of the school. You were wearing really tight girl jeans with half your hair dyed, wearing super small shirts and scarves with a T shirt. Now, there being this whole love for that is insane. It’s just beautiful to see a genre of music finally kind of get love from the mainstream. As soon as I stopped doing that, I started to really do rapping and hip hop music. I loved doing this very inspirational rap music and there wasn’t really a lot of that going on. I don't want to sound like I was like a pioneer, but there wasn’t a very big audience for that. I kind of felt like an outcast in a lot of ways in rap and hip hop music. I’ve been waiting for this moment forever for people to, without sounding cliche as fuck, just take me seriously, you know? Just take my music seriously.
EARMILK: That must have been kind of hard through the years to read harsh criticism. Since you did endure that for so long, was there any way you dealt with the negative feedback?
MOD SUN: Here's a great twist on it, a great quote in history is that you can learn more from a critique than a compliment. I kept that very close to my heart. I mean, a comment that just says, ‘you suck, give up’ doesn't really do much for the artist, but one that says “yo, this part of the song sucks,” that can actually be used as a tool. It really can. I've learned a lot from the critiques from the people listening. Now on the other side of it, hell yeah, it can be very hurtful. But I think once you get accustomed to it, it's just like anything else. It's taking a risk. You start to think of yourself as a future you. What changed my whole mindset was like, I feel like my music is gonna be way bigger after I'm gone, I really do. So knowing that, I'm not making music for right now, I'm making it for the future. And if you hold those things close to the heart, it makes you feel like you're the martyr for real art, which then it kind of starts to be a good feeling. A lot of pop punk was the underdog winning and I've carried that with me my whole life. I've kind of used that as a superpower, being the one in the room that people don't really fuck with, and enjoyed that place. You know?
EARMILK: You mentioned that you’re making music for the future, even for after your life. A lot of artists who have stood somewhere in between pop punk and rap have recently died young, with their music becoming more well known than ever after the fact. What effect did their deaths have on you?
MOD SUN: Absolutely. Let's just open that up like 100%. I think Mac Miller, his passing definitely affected me in a deep way. That was a friend of mine and in a lot of ways an influence to an entire generation of kids. Having to do with drugs, it's fucking awful. I mean, I literally have the 27 club tattooed on my arm so like, I've looked up to rock stars that have passed away my whole life. To see someone like Mac pass away was fucking awful. I think that affected a lot of people to make the change in their life. I'm one of those people, and rest in peace Mac Miller. Going on to talk about Lil Peep, Lil Peep’s music is fucking incredible. He will go down as one of the greatest artists of the generation that I'm a part of. And, again, his death having to do with drugs, these things affected me personally, very heavily. I'm actually almost two years without using drugs or putting alcohol in my body. It was a change that I did for myself, but also to be aware. I'm here to learn the fact that like, I have the 27 tattooed on my arm and I lived to the age of 27. I felt every day that I took something from their passing. The same goes with Mac and Peep and Juice WRLD, these are like, fucking amazing artists. I really think that there's a lot of lessons to be learned from people that influenced you. And yes, that definitely did affect me and there are a lot of overtones of that on this album.
EARMILK: Was that a part of your decision to become sober?
MOD SUN: I would say Mac Miller passing was very, very hand in hand with my decision. It was not like the exact time that it happened, but that was really close to home with me. It's just the idea of reinventing the rock star was also kind of to do with that as well. I wanted to, without being preachy, I do want to offer something to all the people that I look up to, who were fucking rock stars. So I want to be able to find a way to reinvent that and show people a different side of what a rock star is.
EARMILK: I know that manifestation is a really essential part of your project, your self, even your name, was this reinvention a part of what you were manifesting when you set out to create this album?
MOD SUN: It was a pivotal moment of, I'm not kidding when I say I used to ride around the city in my car at 16 years old, sneak out of the house at 2:00 am, ride around in my car and scream lyrics for my favorite band and pretend it was my song. That is all I wanted to do. The music that I was listening to is literally a part of the music that I just created with this album. In a lot of ways, it was the ultimate manifestation of that 16-year old kid. It was like me filling that prophesy in a way and it was kind of more telling that kid at 15 years old who thought that he was never going to fucking make it, that you're going to fucking make it. Furthermore, I found my sound and I found my voice. Where being self-aware really can help out is that I don't really hear music that's like the singing, yelling, screaming register that I can hit. I think I'm just manifesting further dreams of my career being long. I grew up having to look up to people like Bob Dylan, because my father was a Bob Dylan fan. I had to look at careers like that. As it sits to this day, he is my favorite artist in the whole world. And that is someone that still gets on stage. This dude is like 80 years old.
EARMILK: So you don’t plan on stopping anytime soon?
MOD SUN: I've always thought of longevity as being part of art. Like, I want to do this until I die. So you know, just kind of painting the manuscript, of me being able to do this for the rest of my life. I think I’ve found a sound in a style that is genuine and authentic to me and only me. I'm making music that's able to fit in with this pop punk, emo scene music resurgence. But I definitely do think that I offer something that is true to me and only heard in my music. It's painting the manuscript of what I'm going to be doing for my career is like being a songwriter, being able to run across genres. You know what I'm saying? I just mentioned Bob Dylan and Blink-182 in the same article. One of the bad things about my artistry is that I do love Blink-182 as much as I love Bob Dylan. It's painting the future of what my influences will be proud of me for.
EARMILK: So your goal as a musician is to reflect back bits and pieces of all the different things you listen to and add your own touches to make it a compilation of you?
MOD SUN: As a musician, before being a lyricist, and a singer or songwriter or rapper or anything. If you're a musician, I think that you're just obviously going to be drawn to all kinds of music. I remember being a drummer and not liking heavy metal music, but duh I'm going to listen to the drums on a heavy metal song because these are drums that are the pinnacle of drums, like as many fucking drums as you can have on a set. You just have interest in all these other kinds of music. I mean, dude, I kind of am the definition of someone who's putting his hand in every kind of thing that he's moved by and making an ultimate version of that, like Jean-Michel Basquiat. One of the things that people would say mostly about his art because he would famously do a very abstract rendition of a classic painting. Everyone was floored by it, because they'd be like, it was this person who is tapping into history and being like, look, all the history of this shit. And I'm taking the history and letting it go through my new mind of the right now, I am the new version of that art, and then creating a brand new picture of what that was to them. I feel like I kind of bring that as much as I can, into my music. At least I bring the ideology of that. I can't tell you how many times I've set out to make a version of “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. I’m never landing there but to capture that feeling and let it come up through your new mind. Those are the things that I really tried to push myself into.
EARMILK: Was Bob Dylan also an influence for you in finding confidence in your vocals? What led you to venture from behind the drum set?
MOD SUN: I've spent probably ten or more years locked in a room by myself with a microphone and computer. I never was going to let someone record, I always need to record it myself. The things that you can find by yourself in experimentation are incredible. We all know that when you're in front of a roomful of people, and you're trying to experiment, people get really embarrassed, they get really discouraged. I had to learn how to remove the bone of embarrassment from my body. And I had to work on that. At the point I am, I can walk into a room in front of 30 people and not give a fuck and I will find these interesting valleys that no one else is going to think of because they're all in their shell. You’ve got to understand, when you are embarrassed and go into your shell, and then you go into panic mode, panic mode makes you do what you already do. My whole thing was like, I have to completely sound like a fucking idiot before I sound good. I was only able to do that in the studio by myself. If I wasn't given that ability, then I would have never found it. If I can make steps for any other artists, it would say just go into the studio and try to embarrass yourself. Start by embarrassing yourself, and then you will not be embarrassed. Get it the fuck out of the way. Do not walk in there and try to be perfect, walk in there and try to be ridiculous. And then work backwards. And you'll be amazed at what you find. Confidence is everything when it comes to singing and it doesn't matter who you are. I’ve seen the best vocalist not be able to sing because they were not feeling confident at that moment. And I've seen people like me who are not trained vocalists be able to sing flawlessly in front of a room of people because they’re not fucking thinking about impressing them, you know?
EARMILK: Did any songs on this album start that way, just with you alone in a room and letting out all the craziness?
MOD SUN: Oh, yeah. Oh my god. The whole album except for one song was recorded with John Feldmann in the studio, being by ourselves and he would come up with the instrumentation. I have this phrase that I say where he's like, ‘Alright, so what should we do? What should the hook be? What should we sing on it?’ And I'm like, ‘I don't know. I'm just gonna let God talk.’ When I say I'm just gonna let God talk, we both know what that means, which is I have no idea what’s about to happen, but I'm going to get into the booth and I'm going to not think at all and let's just see if magic happens. If you capture magic in the wild, you are performing at the highest level. Does it happen all the time? Absolutely not. But I'm the type of person who will make three songs a day. I'm like, fuck it, let's just make music. Let's just create create create create. At the end of the day if we have something we have something, if we don't, we created, and that's fucking cool. All the songs were a stream of consciousness, like me letting quote unquote “God talk” and it's a very rap hip hop thing, basically freestyling. You don't know what you're gonna do and you let these ideas in and a lot of times they'll come out.
EARMILK: Do you have a favorite lyric that came to you this way?
MOD SUN: This lyric on my album that people still ask about, like, what is it? I don't fucking know. And it goes “her silhouette gets in the way of my shadow.” I don't fully know what the fuck that means. I really don't. Does it sound so absolutely poetic? Yes, it is so poetic. I'm breaking it down to this day. I'm like, what does that mean? In my mind it was that if you're in a room and there's only a source of light, let's say there's a candlelight in the corner, if you're far away from the light, the shadow behind you is very, very small. You have a lot of light in the room but the closer you get to the light, your shadow now eats all the light around you. Once you get right up to the light the whole room is dark. What it meant to me was your past is always following behind you even when you get the brightest of light shining on you, and you get the closest you've ever been to the light and your shadow is still behind you ready to eat it all up. I don't know. That's what I'm saying is the beauty of art. If you didn't let these things happen, that is capturing magic in the wild, like that is art. Most of it was really stream consciousness and the song “Annoying” actually did start with me in a room by myself. I just went to my house and I was like, fuck it, I'm gonna make this song real quick. I turned it in like a day before the album was due. I made this song that I felt that the album was missing. I let the universe happen. Bob Dylan great example. He always used to say, they’d be like, “dude, how the fuck did you write “The Times They Are A Changing?” And he's like, “I left the window open at night.” You know, that was his answer. It just blew in. And I caught it. I relate, you know?
EARMILK: When you are letting God talk - does that tie into religion for you at all?
MOD SUN: Yeah, I mean, extremely, at this point in my life. Throughout my life, no, never, I was not at all. We talked about manifestation. Instead of saying God in the manifestation world, which is based on the secret of the law of attraction, you say the universe instead of God. Which to me is kind of fucking crazy. It's like the universe. You can't even really put anything on that. What the fuck does the universe look like? Having God be a reference point, what I'm praying to all night. Have I been praying my whole life? In a way? Yes. I have. I believe in manifestation, I believe in talking to this guy out loud and asking for it and thou shalt receive type of lifestyle.
EARMILK: Did your prayer and manifestation practices coincide with your sobriety?
MOD SUN: Once I cleaned up my life, and I stopped drinking and doing drugs. I went to AA meetings and there's this incredible thing. It's the closest thing to brotherhood I've ever seen. It's insane. If anyone out there has ever attended AA, I think that you know exactly what I mean when God is put right in front of your face. From that moment, when I cleaned up, I just was like, you know, life is pretty difficult right now and everyone's telling me to go to God. And I started praying every day. And since that day I haven’t stopped. I pray every single day, I pray before I eat. I do that and what goes hand in hand with that is I try to show that I'm worthy for all these things that I'm praying for, like, did I pray that my album Internet Killed the Rock Star would take me to the biggest place I've ever been in my career? Absolutely, I did. As well as praying for people around the world and praying for me to be able to help people in any way. But like, for sure, I'm praying and saying, dude, this is what I want with my life. I have to wake up the next morning or have to go out that day and prove that I'm worthy. Discipline became a big part of my life. I've run four and a half, five miles, five days a week. That was within the last year. That's this part of discipline in my life that I was missing. I was an addict, to put it on the table, I was a drug addict, I was an alcoholic, I was an animal, you know, there's very little discipline. The only discipline you have is getting fucked up, really. That’s the discipline in your life, but now, I've introduced all this other discipline in my life, and it's changed everything.
EARMILK: This album really does mark a pivotal point in your life then. This is the first record you’ve put out since becoming sober?
MOD SUN: Yeah. 100%.
EARMILK: There is also a deviation from your old sound on this record, that I know you previously dubbed “hippie hop.” Do you have a name for your new sound? Or is this still hippie hop?
MOD SUN: I released an album in 2015, called Look Up. And that was kind of the pinnacle of my whole movement up until that point. I've gotten older, you know, you hear this shit all the time, being a brand and brand this and brand that. I've had to compete with all these artists and brands this whole time, pretty much independent, where I'm like, competing with big labels and all this shit. Yeah, I was very concerned for a lot of my career. At this point, I really have a hard time putting a brand on it. I’d love to, it’s just I feel like there's so much more than music going on with what Mod Sun is to people that listen to it. By putting a brand on it or slapping genre on it is really hard to do, because everyone is kind of rooting for me to be a renaissance artist. I'm involved in all these other things and I think that I have my home base being Mod Sun, but like, I think it's just happy to be here. You know?
EARMILK: Is that change refreshing for you?
MOD SUN: It honestly really is. The whole idea of like, pop punk, that's what I call the scene. It was really based on an us against the world mentality. And that was like, if you're with us, we're all wanting each other to win. If you're against us, man, we are against you and we're coming for the fight. When I'm involved in this community of people like Machine Gun Kelly, like Travis and John Feldmann and Yungblud and the younger dudes like Jaden and Lil Huddy. All of us, I think everyone wants each other to win. It’s like when you win, I win. I think that's where I'm at with it. I want to be a part of that community.
EARMILK: I want to talk a little bit about the title track “Internet Killed the Rock Star.” What inspired it and how did it end up becoming the face of that record?
MOD SUN: I wanted to make a song for that 16-year old that was riding around in his car that just didn't think he was gonna make it and wanted to make it out of his city. Like, that's the anthem. I had a dream and, in my dream, I was riding around in my Ford Explorer in like, 2002. And I was listening to that song in my car. And I woke up out of a dream and I immediately went over to John Feldmann’s house and recorded that song. So yeah, that's the true story, too. That song sounds like pop punk to me. That whole part of pop punk to me was that fast acoustic shit, you know?
EARMILK: Did any other songs come to you in strange ways like that?
MOD SUN: "Annoying" was made one day before I had the album in. "TwentyNUMB" was made with me just going in the booth and going “Ohhhh”. And we literally pitched it up 12 semitones and it sounds like a fucking synth. Then the song “Prayer” for instance is one of my favorite ones on the album. It's a ballad. That was all a cappella. I just went in with no music or anything and sang that song. Then we came back and added music to it. I actually was outside on a smoke break or something, and I heard this thing that was like “pray on it, pray on it / I found a better path / I need to stay on it.” And I just ran in and just had to put on a tempo and I just sang pretty much all the song and then we came and put music under it.
EARMILK: Are there any particular songs or lyrics that are reflective of your life?
MOD SUN: Everything is very reflective. I'd say the most reflective one is the most vulnerable song on my album because it's a tribute to my father who passed away last year. It's really hard to explain. It's the kind of song that you really just have to tell someone to listen to, but it documented not only how I felt at the moment of him passing away, but just like this contentious relationship that we had our entire life, so it was kind of one of those lifelong songs. I can’t even listen to it really. It was really hard to make and it’s really hard to listen to.