20 Questions: Miracles of Modern Science

They may be a string section, but they made a pop disc great enough to land on our own Best Pop Albums of 2015 list. Now, they wanna talk about Foster the People (naturally).
Miracles of Modern Science
Mean Dreams

Maybe you had to be there — but hell, maybe you didn’t.

At the Hideout, an appropriately-named Chicago bar and venue that is so dubbed for being sandwiched (hidden, arguably) between the Chicago river and one of its great highways, a four-act set was performing that evening for a fun literary and vaguely hipster-y crowd. The opening sets were fine, but by the time that New Jersey’s own Miracles of Modern Science took the stage, with mandolin, double-bass, violin, cello, and a tight drum set, the crowd knew they were in for something special, but after hitting the crowd with instantly-hummable pop hooks, chant-along vocals, some beautiful melodic gestures, and a genuine sense of fun and chemistry, everyone in the room turned into a fan (the group went third, and the act that followed played to half-capacity as so many swarmed the band and purchased merch). Realizing they had about ten minutes left in their set though, the “MOMS” took all their instruments out into the crowd and played one hell of a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and followed that up with their maniacal, bloody, whimsical gothic horror song that was the secret track off of their first-ever album and was dubbed, tellingly, “Secret Track“. Every band member became a character, their faces and voices stretched into cartoon proportions, and it made for one of the most unique shows that went on in Chicago in 2015.

“Secret Track” was also an incredible coup for the group, fronted by lead singer and erstwhile music video director Evan Younger, as during their college days, they played it at the end of every show, and now get giddy at the chance to unleash it upon a new audience. Of course, after spending so many years building up their fanbase through covers of pop songs on their YouTube page (a tradition that, it should be noted, they’re very much keeping alive), few could resist the undisputable charm of their original material, so much so that Mean Dreams, their second full-length album, even came in at #10 PopMatters’ own Best Pop Albums of 2015 list.

So to help celebrate their phenomenal 2015, Younger sat down with PopMatters to talk about the undisputed power of Spotify, the Apu Trilogy, and, of course, one of those amazing Foster the People music videos.

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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I recently saw Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy in a marathon at Film Forum, and I lost it in the middle of Aparajito. (It was this moment.)


2. The fictional character most like you?

I identified a little too strongly with Steve Coogan’s fictionalized portrayal of himself in The Trip: sarcastic, vain, competitive, taking himself too seriously despite working in a fundamentally silly medium (comedy in his case, pop music in mine).


3. The greatest album, ever?

Depending on my mood I might say Money Jungle, Laughing Stock, or Third Eye Blind’s self-titled. 


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Oof. They’ve both jumped the shark, haven’t they?


5. Your ideal brain food?

I get most of my ideas when I’m moving around — most often just pacing in circles.


6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I’m proud of our new album, Mean Dreams, both as a member of the band that wrote it and as the producer/engineer/mixer. It’s the first album I engineered myself in my janky home studio, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.


7. You want to be remembered for …?

I haven’t done what I want to be remembered for yet.


8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

David Lynch, David Byrne, Maya Deren, Tchad Blake, Björk, Bill Gates …


9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The music video for Foster the People’s “Houdini“.


10. Your hidden talents . . .?

I’m a bit of a show-off, so most of them don’t stay hidden.


11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Norman Maier via Eliezer Yudkowsky: when facing a difficult problem, “do not propose solutions until the problem has been discussed as thoroughly as possible without suggesting any.” It’s life-changing advice, at least when I remember to follow it.


12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

In terms of bang for buck, a Spotify subscription. It’s unbelievable when I think about how much I spent on albums as a kid.


13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

Something with a bit of stretch.


14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I’m going to go with Merrill Garbus. We got to meet her briefly after seeing a tUnE-yArDs show on our most recent tour, and she’s awesome.


15. Time travel: where, when and why?

I’m pretty excited to see how this century plays out, honestly. But I might duck into the future and bring back a death cure


16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Dogs and trees.


17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

Sweets are my vice. Lately I’m dousing everything in maple syrup. 


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

If I had the means, I’d go half city, half country. I miss nature when I’m in NYC too long, but I miss art house theaters when I’m away.


19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I’ll miss you!


20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Cooking up more music videos for Mean Dreams.