How many bands can take you to another place through their music and then explain how they did it by citing the works of psychologist Abraham Maslow?
Meet Modern Inventors. Migrating from Philadelphia to Nashville a year ago, Josh Benus and Matt Kass have symbolically expanded on their backgrounds as formally-trained musicians with a sound that’s both unique and powerfully emotional.
Not only that — they’ve challenged our assumptions of what it means to even be a band. Are they two guys with a rotating cast of sidemen? The core of a broader community of experimenters, composers and occasional house guests? All of the above?
“Modern Inventors is in fact a slew of different things,” answers Josh, whose artistically active family back in New Jersey encouraged him to avoid conformist thinking even before he set off for the Hartt School of Music. “We’ve learned to be producers, engineers, session musicians …”
“ … and other roles too,” adds Matt, the product of a musical upbringing in Philadelphia and a Cornell graduate in psychology and ethnomusicology. “We’ve done a film score. We’ve done co-writing. I mean, Modern Inventors really is a band with us at the center and collaborators, friends and some of the most talented people we know who gravitate toward this house.”
More about that house in a moment. First, let’s focus on the music Josh and Matt have been conjuring lately. Start with “Tonight,” their current single. Guitars chime, a synthesizer lick percolates and choir-like harmonies waft as voices cast sparks into a dark sonic sky. Then check out the B-side, “Closer,” whose spell is just as deep through with a whiff of R&B stirred into the mix. In these and all Modern Inventors tracks, there’s a sense of immersion and movement, depth and discovery.
“One of the most influential things I’ve experienced is when you can listen to a record and it takes you to a place and leaves you there until the music is over,” Matt says. “That’s what we’re trying to do, to take you out of your own life and transport you to someplace new where you can lose yourselves for a while but also let you know that you’re not alone. We want you to inhabit this music with us.”
Matt and Josh sensed they were on the same wavelength shortly after they met. Josh sought out his future collaborator after hearing Matt’s work with The Brakes, one of Philadelphia’s most popular local bands. “Josh wanted me to produce his record,” Matt recalls. “So I listened to his compositions and I was like, ‘Man, this is interesting stuff!’ It soon became evident to me that we were gravitating toward the same type of sound and that we had a similar musical vocabulary.”
After several years of collaborating in a variety of projects, including a soundtrack for the HBO documentary First Comes Love, they solidified their partnership by founding Modern Inventors in 2012. Shortly after that, they decided to move to Nashville, where they connected quickly with the city’s vibrant artistic network and — critically important — found the house that functions now as their personal and professional home base.
“Working and living here is great because we can put all of our time into writing and recording,” Josh explains. “We have our hands on every second of these recordings. They are us. And because this house has allowed us to do this, it’s become our signature. I mean, we’re walking around town and people in bands that we respect come up and say, ‘Oh, you’re those dudes from Philly! You’ve got that killer studio at your house!’”
“For me, the allure of Nashville is, that it’s about the songwriting,” Josh adds. “It’s inspiring living here because everyone’s so passionate about their craft. So in retrospect, this is the probably the best move we could have made.”
Dinner parties featuring Josh’s gourmet creations morph into jam sessions here. Songs take shape on the weathered upright piano in their living room. Other artists drop in, stay awhile, lay down a few tracks and leave their mark on this ever-evolving community. That’s all part of Modern Inventors’ mission, to keep their door open to anyone who might drop by and contribute ideas and inspiration.
But, always, Matt and Josh helm this ship. “Our long-term plan is to have a sound that people know when they hear it,” Matt insists. “We have the ability to curate not only what we do and to make Modern Inventors a great American rock band but also to say, ‘We really like this artist who opened for us. We want him to come to our studio and work with us, just to see what happens.”
“We want to be a part of people’s lives,” Josh sums up. “Whether it’s about helping someone get past a problem or enhance their experiences, Modern Inventors is about creating meaningful and enduring music. There are all kinds of avenues we want to explore … but the first step is always the songs.”
It’s clear: The world needs this music. Maybe the group has already worked its way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the self-actualization pinnacle … but that’s another conversation for another night at the Modern Inventors dinner table.