Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An interview with MUTE MATH

photo by Claire Vogel
[More excerpts from my interview will be posted later.] 

If you want something done right, the DIY approach is often a good bet. 

That’s what MUTE MATH learned after a highly difficult experience crafting Armistice in 2009. 

The New Orleans post-rock band initially tried to take the reigns on the experimental album. Yet according to singer/keyboardist Paul Meany, there was “a lot of mistrust, too many cooks in the kitchen and tons of conflicts of interest” with multiple producers. 

They ended up doing third and latest effort Odd Soul in Meany’s residential studio, sans interference from management or Warner Bros. Records. He and drummer Darren King handled the bulk of the work; Julian Raymond (Cheap Trick, Fastball) tied up loose ends. 

Meany mixed half the album and King contributed art design/layout.

 “We had to reinvent the process. Making the last record was very dysfunctional. There was no way we could do it that way again,” Meany admits, during a phone interview from his home in the Big Easy. “I still love Armistice and am proud of the end result, but it was just a mess to get there. We found the right way to record MUTE MATH is to have a degree of seclusion.”

MUTE MATH formed nearly a decade ago as a long-distance electronic experiment between Meany and Hill, who lived in Missouri (he’s now based in Texas ). It evolved into a band when bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and guitarist Greg Hill joined. Their eponymous debut CD came out in 2006. 

The following year, “Typical” became a minor modern rock radio hit on the back of the popular companion music video, shot in backwards motion and later nominated for a Grammy.

In 2010, the group put out a live DVD and was preparing to record when Hill decided to quit. After a quick meeting, the problem was solved within the ranks and Cardenas took on double duties. 

“Roy is the best musician in the band and a natural guitarist. As we started writing and creating songs as a three piece, it immediately clicked and felt right. So we didn’t mess with that. We just went the distance.”

What comes across is a dynamic mix of late ‘60s classic rock (the Traffic-styled “Cavalries”), psychedelic, blues-based grooves (the lurching title track, intense single “Blood Pressure”) and MUTE MATH’s trademark electronica sounds (“All or Nothing,” vibraphone-led “Sun Ray”).

“Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin - he grew up on that type of rock ‘n’ roll,” Meany explains, about Mitchell-Cardenas. “It’s in his DNA as a guitar player and it’s how he thinks. The influence certainly comes through Odd Soul, so we went with it.”

Both King and Meany seized the opportunity to contribute a bit of six string too. “Guitar kind of became a new instrument for all of us. An opportunity that wasn’t there in the past opened up and we all drew inspiration from it.”

More new sonic textures came via an organ built in the 1940s. “My earliest memories are playing [the instrument] as a kid in church. Bringing that angle to this record was something we had fun with. I think this is the most high spirited and cohesive record we’ve done.”

King stepped up in the lyric department for the first time and help take some weight off Meany. “We’ve known each other for 15 years. Through time and us working so much together, the lyrical part became natural.

“There was something both of us felt like we wanted to get across,” in regards to their self-described “eccentric Christian” upbringings and past touring with ministries. The topic informs “Blood Pressure,” “Walking Paranoia” and the album title. “Those things were in our conscious mind as we were dreaming up concepts.”

One past lesson put to use on Odd Soul revolved around critiquing compositions. “The only voice you can trust is the guy you’re going to spend the next couple years on the road with. The opinions that matter most about my songs are Darren’s and Roy’s.”

Upon heading to LA to finish up the album, King spied legendary 1960s-70s timekeeper Jim Keltner’s Brazilian drum tree set up in an adjoining studio. He decided to use it for part of seven-minute, jam-based excursion “Quarantine.” An engineer found out and shut recording down halfway through.

“Darren immediately apologized and said he didn’t know what came over him. He just blacked out. If he sees this amazing Christmas tree-type drum, I can’t expect him to control himself. No matter who it belongs to, he’s going to start recording - as he should,” Meany says with a laugh. “I guess there is a protocol and an ethic we didn’t know about.” The band has since been banned from that studio.

While it might not be obvious, the singer affirms how New Orleans ’ rich music history has influenced MUTE MATH’s sound. 

“Just take The Meters, a band that in our opinion wrote the textbook - or at least a chapter - on groove. Darren and Roy are certainly very inspired by that approach. I grew up listening to artists like them, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John and Professor Longhair. It’s all just the soundtrack of living in the city. We let ourselves go there more on this record.”

Last fall, the group toured with new recruit Todd Gummerman on lead guitar. 

“It feels like the band is turning over a new leaf,” notes Meany. “There’s certainly no better way to build chemistry than to get jam packed into a small, sweaty venue. You’re tripping over and unplugging each other, trying to hold it together. You become a good band. It was a trial by fire for him.”

Now MUTE MATH is amped up for an extended tour set to launch this month.

“Playing this new record live was always in our conscious mind – to have something that was stage ready…I’m building an electric sanctuary, which is something we’re going to take out on the road. We’re raising the stakes and really excited. We’ll play the complete record, along with the old songs and present it as an electric 3-D interactive show.”

Tour Dates
1/26 Houston, TX...House of Blues
1/27 Austin, TX...Stubb's
1/28 Dallas, TX...House of Blues
1/29 Tulsa, OK...Cain's Ballroom
1/31 Denver, CO...Gothic Theatre
2/02 Los Angeles, CA...Club Nokia
2/03 San Diego, CA...4th and B
2/07 San Francisco, CA...Regency Ballroom
2/08 Sacramento, CA...Ace of Spades
2/10 Seattle, WA...Showbox SoDo
2/11 Spokane, WA...Knitting Factory
2/12 Boise, ID...Knitting Factory
2/14 Salt Lake City, UT...Club Sound
2/16 Kansas City, MO...Beaumont Club
2/17 Chicago, IL...House of Blues
2/18 Minneapolis, MN...First Avenue
2/28 St. Louis, MO...The Pageant
3/01 Grand Rapids, MI...The Intersection
3/02 Detroit, MI...St. Andrew's Hall
3/03 Columbus, OH...Newport Music Hall
3/04 Cleveland, OH...House of Blues
3/07 Boston, MA...House of Blues
3/08 New York, NY...Best Buy Theater
3/09 Philadelphia, PA...Trocadero
3/10 Washington, DC...9:30 Club
3/11 Norfolk, VA...The Norva
3/14 Charlotte, NC...Amos' Southend
3/16 Ft. Lauderdale, FL...Revolution
3/17 Orlando, FL...House of Blues
3/18 Atlanta, GA...The Tabernacle

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