Cubicle Concerts: Modern Fools
The Keene cosmic country band discusses the wild lore of Gram Parsons and performs three songs from their latest album, "Strange Offering"
As they describe it, the formation of Modern Fools was “pretty piecemeal.” The Keene area five-piece cosmic country band came together over a series of years, slowly gravitating to one another from different groups, engaging in a kind of “sunk-cost fallacy” as bassist Ian Galipeau jokingly calls it. “There’s just an inability to stop doing it,” says guitarist Jon Braught. “There’s something happening underneath, always. Either there’s a guitar and you’re wanting to play guitar, or you’re sitting there writing bad poetry, but it’s always happening, so it feels rewarding to come together with your boys and make music around that.” And that’s a bit more bountiful than “sunk-cost fallacy” lets on.
Started by frontman, guitarist and vocalist Josh Blair in 2015, Modern Fools had a two-year run, fizzled out, and then jumpstarted again, in 2020, when the pandemic put the quotidian on hold. Drummer Justin Gregory helped Blair record a number of songs he wrote during the doldrums, and, before long, they added Braught, keyboardist Nick Hayes and then Galipeau into the mix. “It really was just an amalgamation of different friends who’ve been in bands together,” Gregory says. “There’s, like, five musicians in western New Hampshire, and we all have been in the same bands for the last 10 years,” Braught adds, laughing.
The last two years have seen Modern Fools solidify. They released their first album, “SEER,” in 2021, and their second, “Strange Offering,” on May 5 of this year. Talking to the band, there’s an undeniable chemistry at work; they often finish each other’s sentences, cut each other off with quippy banter and, clearly, genuinely enjoy spending time together. As they explain, sharing a lineage and love of music, pushing each other creatively and doing it DIY, because it’s fun, because they can, because they simply can’t stop doing it, make it all worthwhile. Even if it is a sunk-cost fallacy.
“We’re in a spot where we’re all really leaning on each other,” Gregory says. “That merch that Josh was talking about, we met at the makerspace in Peterborough and printed out a couple hundred shirts. We have a ton of fun with it. It’s really become a fun little engine to keep putting fuel in.”
Modern Fools stopped by New Hampshire Magazine’s office in May to perform three songs for our Cubicle Concerts series. Watch their performance below, listen to their latest album, “Strange Offering,” and follow them on Instagram (@modernfoolsmusic) for updates on where to catch them live. Video created by Alex Kumph (@akumph) and Michael Dowst; sound engineering by Ben LeBeau.
New Hampshire Magazine: If we can imagine your style as a reanimated Frankenstein monster made up of the body parts of your influences, who would be the brain?
Justin Gregory: Well, definitely Rando “Macho Man” Savage is the voice. Can you dig it? We established that last night.
Jon Braught: We all found a latent passion for the WWE that we hadn’t discussed, but 20 years on, here we are.
Ian Galipeau: Gram Parsons is the heart…
JG: Who’s the head? I would say there’s a point to be made that it’s just The Beatles collectively, maybe not any specific one.
Josh Blair: I would say Ringo.
JG: It’s not Ringo. It’s probably George or Paul. Or no — it’s John, actually. It’s all of them (laughs). We’re doing really well with this question.
Jon B.: If it’s brain and nerves down, we all grew up listening to The Beatles more than anything collectively. That’s the one that we all listened to.
JG: From a musical theory standpoint and a vocals standpoint, I would say it’s The Beatles. I mean, I lean on Ringo a lot, I know this guy (Ian) leans on Paul a lot.
IG: I can name, like, three bassists. I am not a good student of the bass. But I listen to Paul obsessively.
JG: It’s hard not to say Beatles.
Josh B.: I feel like GG Allin’s body part must be in there somewhere.
JG: That’s an unmentionable spot.
IG: He’s from my hometown, Lancaster.
JG: His mom’s actually a writer in our local paper. Shoutout to Arlene Allin. She used to come to our wrestling matches and basketball games.
Jon B.: Wow! That’s wild.
NHM: Is she, like…laid back?
JG: She’s just screaming! No, she was very laid back. Would never have known…Would you say that’s accurate, Josh? GG Allin’s part?
IG: Who’s the feet, and the legs? Who’s the foundation?
Jon B.: Who’s walking so we can crawl?
Josh B.: Roy Orbison on one leg and Hank Williams III on the right (laughs).
JG: That’s not a person…Well, actually, maybe. Not one that we’re influenced by.
Josh B.: Yeah, it is — junior, junior. He had a really terrible ’90s country career that I have a soft spot for.
JG: But there are people like Cut Worms and Fruit Bats and…
Jon B.: Dr. Dog.
JG: Yes, I would say Dr. Dog, for sure, are the fingers maybe? The hands or something? They’re the more hands-on approach — how we may approach production, for instance. Or how we may approach arrangement. Those are those more modern sounds (we’re influenced by).
Josh B.: This is a hard question. I feel like you need to make a blank diagram that’s a homework assignment.
JG: I love the prompt.
Jon B.: As we branch out, the more disparate our influences and tastes go.
NHM: Did we say the heart yet?
Josh B.: Gram Parsons.
Jon B.: Grammy P.
NHM: Who is Gram Parsons? I’m not familiar.
Josh B.: He’s responsible for blending country and rock together in the ’60s. He played with The Byrds —
JG: But a very specific iteration of the Byrds. You have to say that.
Jon B.: A very country iteration.
Josh B.: He’s responsible for “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by The Byrds. That’s a super influential album in that whole genre, but he also influenced The Rolling Stones to lean a little more country. He’s responsible for that crossover — instead of country just being this hoity-toity Hank Williams thing, everyone just playing three chords, all very straightforward stuff. He bridged that gap.
Jon B.: Both Gram Parsons, solo, and his band with Chris Hillman, called The Flying Burrito Brothers. If there’s a definition for cosmic country, where we like to pull from, it’s them.
JG: “The Gilded Palace of Sin.” Check out that album.
Josh B.: He has an interesting story as well. He passed away, but he drug overdosed in Joshua Tree, California, and he made a pact with his road manager that, if he died, he would take his body to the desert and burn it.
Josh B.: So he died in Joshua Tree but they shipped his body to L.A., and his manager drove through the night, stole the hearse, stole the body and then went back to Joshua Tree and burned his body in the desert. It was epic.
Jon B.: The people who point to Gram Parsons who came out of that whole scene, like Emmylou Harris, she got her beginning touring and singing with Gram, and then all the Laurel Canyon guys reference back to him, too. He’s really, really well regarded and his story’s crazy and the music he influenced is really far-reaching.
JG: I think we have to mention Townes Van Zandt as well. He’s a big part of that. He could maybe even be the soul or the nipples or something. It’s one or the other.
Jon B.: Soul or the nipples. That’s our next album.