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Posted January 27, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Mutemath: Positivity is ‘Vitals’

Mutemath
Mutemath

After four years without putting out a new studio album, the indie rock act Mutemath has returned with his fourth studio album, Vitals. With its vintage guitars, Rhodes keyboards, synthesizers and other electronic instruments and soulful vocals, the songs on the album have a retro-feel to them. Drummer Darren King, who founded the band in 2003 with singer-keyboardist Paul Meany, spoke to us about the band’s return via phone from his Nashville home where he was “hanging out and recording some drums for the fun of it.”

It’s been four years since your last studio album. Can you talk a bit about that break?
A lot of life happened. It seemed like a quiet time for the band. We leveled up, is the way I refer to it. All of our grandparents passed away and our daughters were born. We went up a rank, I guess you could say, in the hierarchy of our family. We assumed a few new responsibilities. We made a lot of songs during that time and started a new label after we got dropped by ours. It was the most eventful quiet four years of my life.

When did you start writing the songs for Vitals? Was it during that four-year time?
It never stops. It’s like the hair growing out of your head. You create for the fun of it. When Paul and I first started writing, I was in Nashville and he was in New Orleans. I would send him CDs in the mail. Now it’s easy to share files and creates works in different cities. You can experiment. I was living in Texas at the time in the basement of a print shop.  It had a metal vault door and we would lock ourselves in and lose all track of time. There was one time when the door closed and I couldn’t get it open. We were in there for a little bit. We should have stayed in there until we had a record. We need those parameters because we would go on forever without having someone telling us to stop.

What was the recording experience like?
A couple of songs got mixed by outside people but we’ve never done a record with as little outside input as this one. That requires a certain level of confidence and trust in each other. Someone has to be the bearer of bad news when things don’t go well. Someone has to be the objective person and someone has to be the inspirational person. You have to have thick skin. You have to trust each other. We’re old enough that we were able to do that. I understand why most bands hire a producer . . . mostly to act as a scapegoat, to give an objective viewpoint or to break the tie when two people feel one way and two feel the opposite.

The opening song “Joy Rides” has such a good energy to it. Talk about the genesis of that song.
That one started with Paul. He got together with a buddy of his and they made a beat. I think he was intentionally trying to not to be a bummer. He wanted to write positive music. Anytime we would bring a song with good vibes to the table it was what everyone liked. It wasn’t a lack of trying to come up with songs that had a lot of testosterone or were tough. For whatever reason, those ideas weren’t something we were as excited about.

The optimistic songs were the ones we went with for the record.

“All I See” is one of my favorite songs. I love the vocal performance.
That’s just Paul crushing it. We wanted to focus less on the drums showing off and we didn’t want to get overindulgent in the studio. We wanted it to be about the vocals and we wanted it to be a great vocal record. It’s crazy to be in the same room with him. It’s really special to hear people who can sing that way. I was 14 the first time I met Paul and I said, “You have a really nice voice.” My voice cracked as I said that. We always laugh at that. He’s great but he’s hard on himself. He’ll do take after take. If you leave him alone, he’ll do three days of takes. To me, it all sounds the same. It sounds like him singing awesome.

I love the way “Bulletproof” has ricocheting synths. Has that song made it into the live sets?
We intentionally saved that one for this tour. [Bassist] Roy [Mitchell-Cárdenas] started with that. He had the idea of it and it’s one of the more aggressive ones on the record. It’s so fun to play. It’s so good.

I read that the band originally started as a long-distance collaboration. What’s the story there?
I met Paul in April of 1997 at this church that was my whole life. It was the most important place in the world to me. He was passing through. He was interning with his band. It was an eccentric, unique group. They played for ten weeks at eight church services a week. For ten weeks of my life, I saw Paul every single day. My mom and I would drive 30 miles to go to this church we would go every day for ten weeks straight. And then he was gone. He was my hero. I emulated him and we kept in touch. I wanted to do what they did. I joined their band and then their band broke up I lived with him and his wife and their three dogs and I worked at Macaroni Grill as a waiter. We made tracks for other people. We did what we did. We had a lot of fun just starting out with no pressure. That was the one thing about this fourth record; it was like a reset button. As sad as it was to part ways with Warner Bros. because there were lots of people there that we liked and had a meaningful relationship with, it was a good thing that happened. It’s for the best. There were multiple times when Paul nearly kicked me out of the band because I wasn’t cutting it. I wasn’t good enough on the drums. I wrecked the band’s trailer. I was too young. I hung in there and it’s a fun story to think back on.

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Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.