2015 will see the return of the one of the most exuberant and wildly creative bands to come out of the 2000s: the New Orleans quartet known as Mutemath.
2015 will see the return of the one of the most exuberant and wildly creative bands to come out of the 2000s: the New Orleans quartet known as Mutemath.
It’s been well over three years since the band has last released new material and while that doesn’t seem too awfully long, the time that’s passed since 2011’s Odd Soul has been riddled with monumental changes for the band.
While the members have enjoyed some personal joy as some have entered fatherhood, the band itself has been in a regular state of turmoil for much of the past three years with the loss of longtime guitarist Greg Hill and the departure from Warner Brothers and many of their other business partners.
Now armed with a new member and a completely new team behind them, Mutemath are looking to make a big return with the same energy and vision that earned them so many fans back around the time
of “Typical” in 2007. Vitals, the band’s newly announced fourth album due out this fall, comes at the most pivotal time for the band and maybe the most productive time as well and is an album with perhaps the highest stakes of all of their previous work. With it being fully in the band’s hands, it’s time again for Mutemath to do more for themselves than any label or brand ever could.
At the recent LAVA Fest in Suffolk, VA, RVA Magazine got a chance to sit down with Paul, Darren, Roy, and recent addition Todd for an in-depth (and scattered) discussion about the genesis of their new album as well as a look-back to past stories and successes.
It’s been a while since you’ve been down in this area.
Paul: It’s been a long road. We’re just trying to finish the new record. We’ve been underground for a while now. Just trying to figure out what is this next piece of music that we’re trying to uncover for ourselves. We’ve been a band for ten years now with three records and this is record number four. It was just important to us to give it its due process and time and not rush it. It feels insane when I think back to the last time we actually put out a record. So much has changed and so much is different now, but this is going to happen this year.
What types of changes were you going through?
Paul: Well, there are some new fathers among us. We were adjusting to that part of life and I feel like we’re in a unique place not only in our lives, but in our existence as a band and as artists. We really wanted to give it time – what do we want to say, what is the record supposed to sound like. This is the first record we’ve made with a new band member, Todd who joined us on the last record cycle. This is his first go at it as far as creating something from the ground up with us. We just want to let evolution happen. Roy is really becoming our guitar player, by default, and stepping up in that world. Todd, who was our guitar player, is taking on more synth duties so we sort of have those new dynamics creatively which is very exciting for us. It just needed time to bake.
How far along in the process of the album are you guys now? 50%?
Paul: We’re at 95%. We’re mastering the record right now.
Are you worried that you’ve been toiling over this too long now?
Darren: I don’t know. You think that what you do, you spend four years trying to go somewhere else and the end result might be that people still hear what you’ve done all along. That’s okay. I would not be disappointed if that was the reaction to it. I do feel very excited about what it is. There’s just like a law of averages in effect. The longer you spend on something, working away at it, the more you’ll be able to find the good stuff. The cream will rise to the top. The album has a lot of synths and I’ll say that it has my favorite vocals that Paul’s sung. A lot of my favorite vocal performances. I’m a little bit more of a machine than an animal on this one and I’m really enjoying that approach on the drums. But Roy and Todd’s contributions to the synths and guitars and bass were all phenomenal I think.
I’m really excited about it. To me, the record takes place within the confines of relationships. Filial love – committed, but more mature. Love with stress and pressure of eternity. I think it’s really cool for that reason that a rock record talks about that.
Did you all have an influence on the lyrics then?
Darren: Paul wrote it. We all made tons of tracks and he wrote tons of lyrics and melodies. Roy made a ton of instrumental songs. I made a ton. We had a lot of ideas that we whittled down to what were our favorites. Paul has always said that he thinks being a songwriter is like being on call 24-7. I remember one of my favorite songs, he sang into his iPhone while he was out driving around looking for a new place to live. He pulled over and sang it and that became something. You never know. There are some songs that just come to you in that way. I don’t know, man – that part is still kind of mystical to me like when the good stuff happens and why. When and why it goes away too.
Is there a single yet?
Darren: We’ve got 12 singles!
Paul: Chances are everyone’s going to hear the song “Monument” first. There is a group of singles that are kind of jousting for the place and maybe they all will kind of make it, but if we can twist our management’s arms, I think it will probably be “Monument,” which is one we’re really stoked about. It seems to have risen to the top.
And what’s the timeframe on the album?
Paul: That’s another tough question. I’m going to be conservative and say probably October. You’ll probably hear music before then, but the whole album around October.
Is it out of your hands at this point?
Paul: No, it’s completely in our hands. I don’t know if you know this, but we’re not with Warner Brothers anymore. As matter of a fact, this is turning over a new leaf in all aspects of our lives and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it ties very much into what we’ve been talking about with the themes on this record for the past four years. It’s a whole new team. New management, new agents, new business people, new label. We’re in the middle of trying to sort through the last couple of pieces of the puzzle. We want those to be in order before we turn on the green light and say let’s go. We’re getting everything kind of set up now, but the good news is the music is done and we’re extremely stoked about it. We’re trying to pace out the information on it as much as it comes together because we don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse.
Darren: Quadruple album!
I know you had a tenuous relationship with Warner Brothers including the lawsuit between you two. Was it a amicable split in the end?
Darren: The record label industry is at a place right now where there’s a lot of turnover so the people that you grow a bond and relationship with may be gone by the time you’re done with a record. To be honest with the whole thing, that world is tough. We’ve been in this place before where we’ve had to start over and a lot of good things can come from pushing the reset button and cleaning house. Just like whenever you move, you find all this stuff that you think, “Ah, I should have gotten rid of this a long time ago.” It’s probably a good, natural thing, but we have nothing bad to say about Warner Brothers. They worked hard and a lot of great people worked hard and believed us so there’s no bad blood or anything like that.
Paul: It was a natural time to go to a different place. For a lot of different people who worked there and us, we were all hurt that this wasn’t going to go forward and they’re not at Warner Brothers anymore either. Warner Brothers is this thing and company that its own life and you get attached to people that you meet along the way. We still have tons of friends that we’ve shared a ton of great memories with and hopefully we still will. It will just be under a different umbrella that won’t be called Warner Brothers.
Seems like there’s been a good amount of turnaround in all aspects of music management too, PR and what-not.
Paul: You’re right. I feel we’re kind of lucky that it was able to all happen at once so there’s no straggling of the old school. There’s this new, fresh energy from top to bottom that’s been really inspiring for us. The industry is in such a different place than when we put a deal and business structure in place ten years ago. It’s really exciting to get to re-imagine some new possibilities for music and what we can do with it now.
Roy: It’s been a rebirth of the band in all aspects. Musically and business-wise. Everything, even with Todd, so it’s exciting more than anything. With every new birth, you go through a new change, you lose part of yourself. You give something up and you gain something. The last few years, it’s been constantly that so it’s nice to say to see this baby now that’s fully born.
Paul: We’re still cleaning the baby out.
Roy: It’s in the warmer. Clean it off, get the gunk out of the eyes.
Darren: It’s currently in that first nine month phase. It’s out of the womb and yet it can’t do anything. It’s that second gestation period – can’t roll over or anything. Kind of looks like you actually.
You seem like you’re the one to just say something completely random and weird at 3 AM while everyone is close to dozing off.
Darren: 3 A.M.?
Paul: Not just 3 A.M.
Darren: I thought that was a rock solid analogy.
Paul: A bottle of wine and then he’s really talking.
Darren: Get me a little bit of scotch and the truth will come out.
You’ve got about four hours before you go on stage – what do you guys typically do before a festival set?
Todd: Playing giant beer pong.
Paul: Did you do that?
Todd: I watched it and videoed it. It looked awesome.
Darren: Usually we’re getting the set ready, setting up. A lot of the gear is rented so we deal with that and get it to our liking. Get cozy with it. Call our families, do ten pushups, and do the show.
Impressions of LAVA Fest so far?
Darren: Well, we’ve never been in Suffolk before, but we’ve played in Richmond and the NorVa a lot so we have an impression of this part of the country that’s very favorable. Some of my favorite experience, some really good hangs. We’ve been able to become friends with fans from this area. I remember one time way back when, some of them brought us to their house and gave us lunch. I don’t know how many times we’ve played The NorVa. 4 or 5 times. We used to play Alley Katz in Richmond. Rest in peace – I loved that place. So many cool book stores and so many things. Edgar Allen Poe. You’ve got a lot to brag about in Richmond.
Paul: I have to say I’m a little uneasy that we’re at a festival on a runway.
Yeah, it was very odd to drive down the runaway to get to here.
Paul: It’s the kind of runway that if there’s a plane out there in trouble, they’ll shout, “There’s a runway down there! They’ll all be okay – just go!” It’s one of my worst fears to see a tragic plane downing.
Don’t get nervous by all the skydivers or parasailers out there then.
Paul: There’s skydivers? No, I have not seen that, but if it’s all part of the plan, I’ll be okay I guess.
Todd: That’s awesome. I might wait till after the show to try that parachuting out. Right after sound check.
That’s how you entrance in.
Darren: That’d be amazing if we stuck the landing on the downbeat.
You have to play the whole set with the parachute still attached though.
Darren: I’d be the one who gets caught in the dressing a foot above the drums trying to get down.
What’s next in your schedule?
Darren: A festival down in Houston and then its album artwork and videos and stuff like that which is fun.
Paul: Rehearsing. We’ve got a new show to put together.
Darren: We’ve got to sew our new costumes.
Paul: It’s a to-do. Just to even think up a music video these days, at least the way we work, is a good two month process. We got to get busy. Oh well.
You’re almost ten years removed from “Typical.”
Paul: Did you say 110 years?
Yes, 110 years. You’re all centenarians.
Paul: In music industry terms, that’s about right.
Are you ever worried that you might be only known for “Typical?”
Paul: No, I’d be honored. I was really proud of that when that happened. It was an exciting time for us. The greatest thing was that there was no expectations, which I love. I love working in the world of no one cares, not even sure if you exist. The label didn’t even know we were making a video, I think they thought we were messing with the wrong song and they weren’t going to give us any money. We just had this idea and with our videographer on the road with us just making video blogs, we developed this idea and called friends and friends and put together what became “Typical” and it really moved the ball forward for us as a band. All of a sudden, more people were coming to the shows. That was 2007 – a very exciting time for us.
Was the video for “Blood Pressure” a similar process?
Paul: It was the same basic idea. I remember we were having a meeting about this time and day and they said, “Okay guys, forgot to tell you – you need a video now.” We were going to Japan tomorrow and they just said to figure something out. We started making phone calls and that night was the night we filmed “Blood Pressure” in the Warner Brothers parking lot. Darren just kind of put the team on his back. You do this, you do that, and he edited it later. By the time the sun came out at the end of the video, we packed up and went and got on our plane.
Darren: There was this girl, her name is Claire Vogel, and she worked at Warner
Brothers doing videos and she called people in, stayed up all night, filmed it. I remember I was bleeding and we were all sweaty. Then we played a showcase at a gospel brunch for Warner Brothers and then we just went to Japan. We really had to recover from that.
You look tired just talking about.
Darren: It hurt.
Paul: It was all very exciting though.
Do you guys hope to eliminate those stretches now since you’re a bit older?
Darren: I think we could still do an all-nighter if we had to. They talk about the thing called “daddy adrenaline.” I don’t know if you know about this, but you get an extra boost.
Paul: “Daddy Adrenaline” is me and Roy’s new side project. We hope to be on tour with Mutemath spring 2016.
Darren: It’s that Papa Bear instinct. You don’t want to cross when the daddy
adrenaline kicks in. It’s extra super human power to overcome.
Are you nervous about the new record coming out?
Darren: Not nervous. Just excited.
It’s been such a long time that you’re just ready?
Darren: Yes, exactly and that’s the benefit that comes from spending a lot of time on it. There’s this sort of energy now that it’s done to just get on with it. There’s a little bit of patience required in some of the waiting for some of the pieces to come into place for the promotion of it. But I wouldn’t say nervous in regards to its reception because we like it.
Did you feel any pressure from the fans about this new one?
Paul: Absolutely. I mean, I did. Once we started going into making the second record, that aspect of it became very real to me. You try to not let it wig you out, but it’s important. Those people who support your music and gave you a means to make more of it, you feel a sense of gratitude to that. We’re indebted to that in a way and we want to continue to make stuff that they enjoy in the same way they enjoyed the first record. I know it’s a moving target and after doing a few records, there will always be a group of people who will be disappointed and think you totally messed things up. I think that’s part of it, but you don’t allow yourself to get nervous anymore. You can only do what you think is great in that moment and you hope for the best. You go outside with your umbrella and your poncho on. There’s going to be a storm, it’s going to be raining; just prepare yourself for it. We’re really excited about this record that we made and I think how we went about it parallels a lot to how we made our first record as far as circumstances and the sort of camaraderie within our band. We self-produced it too so a lot of our blood, sweat, and tears went into it and I think a lot of fans are going to appreciate that.
Do you worry about getting too wild in the studio ever and not being able to reproduce that sound in a live setting?
Paul: It seems like for the most part, we create in the studio things we have no idea how they’re going to go down live. I think that’s part of the excitement because what it does is when it’s time to get into that rehearsal space, it puts you in this new mindset. It makes the show more exciting and you have to find the foundations, the key pieces of the song that you can expand upon and let grow so then it becomes this living organism. For ten years now, we’ve had songs that continue to develop and I think that’s part of what keeps it fresh for us and enjoyable for us and I think for the audience as well.
What does it feel like to be veterans in the music world at this point?
Paul: To be vintage?
Darren: It’s always flattering anytime we go to a festival like this and there are bands that have their own act and they got to see us and it was a moment for them that inspired them. I guess ten years feels like the point when that starts to happen.
Paul: Our new manager, she’s a lovely young lady. Her name is Lindsay Brandt and when she found out we were up for management, she was really excited because – and I don’t know if this was part of the pitch and I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt – but supposedly, we were the first CD she bought when she was in college.
Well…did she show you the CD?
Paul: [Laughs] I’ve not seen the CD yet.
Darren: What was even better for me was that she showed us a picture that she took from the audience of our Lollapalooza show way back in 2006 where we had the famous streaker. That poor little guy.
Paul: That was 2007 in Bonnaroo.
Darren: Oh yeah. There’s this great photo someone got of that streaker because we have crowd mics and someone took a picture just as he was just in front of the crowd mic, perfectly censored in real time.
That picture’s hanging in your house, isn’t it?
Darren: Yeah, it’s in my bathroom right now. Makes me feel good about myself.
Paul: I love the idea that no one in our crew on the stage had the nerve to go touch him and grab him. He’s a sweaty, naked dude, you know?
Darren: That’s not true at all. Shawn grabbed him and pulled him off stage.
Roy: But he was hesitant. It took a while.
Darren: There’s a shot in that picture where Shawn’s trying to get him.
Paul: He was the low man on the totem pole – he had to do it.
Darren: He did do it, but it did take a long time for someone to build up the nerve.
Was that the weirdest thing that happened to you guys mid-show?
Darren: Oh, no – we’ve had rappers come on and just rap. Just grab the mic.
Darren: Yeah and we did not stop. There was a freakin’ tornado one time. Some
Paul: One of our early shows, we thought it’d be a wonderful finale if we lowered a pinata at the end and then I’d stand up and take a mic stand and hit it so candy would gloriously explode all over the crowd. What happened in reality was that the pinata came down and it is really difficult to swing a mic stand at a small target. I just kept missing it and I couldn’t get it. So Darren, my back-up always looking out for me, decided he would help me. In his mind, he envisioned that he would stand up in his drum set and propel himself up to jump onto the pinata. All that really happened is that he got on his drum set and jumped into this glorious wipeout. Just straight onto his back. Again, the little pinata was still there – it just kicked our ass in two minutes.
Darren: That was my worst idea. A pinata filled with animal crackers. It was the most Spinal Tap thing. It was tiny – I bought the cheap pinata too. They were showing me the $50 one and I just went with the $20 one because times were tight. My favorite is the time we got locked out of a club for our encore in Switzerland. The club’s backstage was just the street so if you walked out of the backstage door, you’re just on the sidewalk. So we did that. We played the show, we got out the back door, and suddenly we’re on the street right behind the venue. The whole crowd is chanting and we’re thinking this is a good show and good crowd, but we see we’re locked out. We can’t get back in. People started leaving and the exit was right next to us so we’re trying to get people to go get someone. It was a mess.
Any elaborate, pinata-like ideas for this coming tour?
Darren: We can’t give all of the secrets, but yes. Our goal is to become human pinatas that the crowd gets to hit. We’re still working it out so just wait.