Interview: Paul Meany of MUTEMATH
USD Radio’s Tom “Wonderboy” Roth recently spoke with Paul Meany, front man of New Orleans rock group MUTEMATH to discuss the band’s most recent album, upcoming tour, and what drummer Darren King carries around in his little black bag.
Tom Roth: In March 2008, you told The Orange County Register that your goal for MUTEMATH’s second album, Armistice, was to “embarrass” the first record. Did you accomplish that goal?
Paul Meany: The jury is out on that. I’m not sure we did. I think the second record is certainly as good as the first record but, yeah, we didn’t blow it outta the water. We tried though. We had to tell ourselves we were. I do think they are two great records though.
TR: If we could go back to an earlier MUTEMATH song, what were the circumstances under which you wrote “OK”?
PM: I think at the time, I was just trying to find a new beginning. I think me and Darren had just started writing songs together and experimenting and that was certainly one of the first songs we had put together. I think a lot of the songs on the EP were about recovering from losses and trying to cope with falling on your face and getting back up which is certainly where I was at that point.
TR: MUTEMATH has been fortunate enough to enjoy exposure through a variety of popular outlets including television and movies, notably the Twilight and Transformers series as well as spots on Discovery Channel and ESPN. How has this been for the band?
PM: I will say the Twilight one was certainly the most surprising. I don’t think anyone was sure what was gonna happen with a song on the first Twilight soundtrack. First of all, it paid for our third record so we’ve been thankful for that. We probably wouldn’t have gotten to another record without having that. But yeah, what a phenomenon that became.
TR: From the opening of Odd Soul, it’s apparent this record is different than MUTEMATH’s previous releases. How did this new sound develop?
PM: From a culmination of a few things. First of all, I think losing our previous guitarist was one factor so it’s kind of strange that it became a more guitar-led or guitar-heavy type of record. To some degree it makes sense because the guitar became a new instrument for the record. We went ahead and did the record as a three-piece and had a lot of fun with picking up a guitar… all of us did. Roy certainly did most of it. I think also, partly in our mind, was to make a record that was very stage-ready which we had never done in the past. That wasn’t something we were thinking about. I think we kind of evaluated what we thought we did well as a band and what we didn’t…. Our show is pretty high-dynamic and just a couple slow songs so we wanted a record that had that same ratio and it kinda fell suit into that. I certainly feel like this record, Odd Soul, is our most cohesive – certainly our most high-spirited – record and I really enjoy it. I think it’ll certainly stand the test of time and with this record, I would probably lay claim to embarrassing the previous two. I think it’s our best one.
TR: Were the sounds on Odd Soul in any way influenced by the music of MUTEMATH’s hometown, New Orleans?
PM: Absolutely. I think that’s always been an influence to our band. We certainly just let ourselves go there more on this record. We indulged a bit more on that. You have to remember our band started out as an electronic experiment. It was just Darren and me and a lot of the music was “built” in samplers and drum machines. It started there and kinda ended there in a way too even when we record the instruments. But over time, and you can probably see the evolution from each record, it just kinda has become a little more organic. The formula hasn’t changed too much. Song ideas for us still start in samplers and drum machines. It’s usually how we get ideas off the ground but how we develop those is a little more informed by what we do in our show; what we’ve started to find we naturally do live anyway. We spent a lot of time on the last couple of records, reinterpreting them to work for us live or feel right when it’s just four guys on stage. We just decided to invest that effort on the front end this time, going into the record so that when we’re done with the record it’s actually more ready to happen for us on stage.
TR: Which tracks on Odd Soul are you especially proud of and which are you most excited to share with fans?
PM: Certainly “Prytania” is the top for all of us. We love that track. I love “Cavalries”. I think “Cavalries” is probably one of the most exciting songs we’ve ever done. “In No Time” is certainly a special song for this band… “All Or Nothing”…. “Blood Pressure” and “Allies” are the two songs we started with when we were writing new material. Once we got those two songs, we kinda built the rest of the record on that. So those were pretty pivotal tracks as well.
TR: Your shows are notable for the on-stage energy. How do you keep that up while on tour?
PM: I don’t really know. I could probably make up some non-sensical answer that’d probably be more interesting but the truth is, we just get on stage, we just play, and react. That’s it.
TR: San Diego is lucky enough to have two opportunities to catch MUTEMATH in the near future at Wrex the Halls Ball with Blink 182, Social Distortion, Everlast, Pennywise, Switchfoot, and DMC on December 11 and at 4th and B on February 3. What can fans expect to see?
PM: For 4th and B, we will have started the new show that we’re developing right now. We are creating what I will call an “electric sanctuary” that we are going to take out on the road. We are going to be playing the whole record – the whole new record – on this upcoming tour. Every track, along with some old stuff, but we are definitely going to play the whole new record and put it in this environment of an interactive 3D approach. It’s as vague as that. We’re raising the stakes on our show. That’s what we’re trying to do right now. I’m really excited about next year. It’s a must-see, if I shall plug [laughs].
TR: Armed with a new set of songs and a new guitarist, what have the differences been between the Odd Soul Tour and MUTEMATH’s previous tours?
PM: Just the songs. I think Todd (the new guitarist) has fit in very well. He’s a great musician. He’s very talented, so he just kinda learned the music, and stepped right in and has been covering it all. We’ve been playing mainly new music and it’s just been really fun to rebuild chemistry with the band and the new songs and enjoy the new sparks that are happening around the music right now.
TR: I saw you in Portland, OR in 2007 while you were on the Flesh and Bones Electric Fun Tour. Did Darren duct tape his monitors to his head every night and did he ever complain about getting the tape out of his hair?
PM: Yes. He’s always done that. He quickly learned that he can’t use duct tape. He has to use gaff tape. Gaff tape is a little more forgiving and usually by the end of the night, he’s sweated it all off. There were a couple of nights where he ran out of gaff tape and someone at the venue would have a roll of duct tape and he’d use that. That was always the kind of thing where he’d be sitting in the bus, kinda pouting, knowing that he’d have to rip this off and it was gonna be really ugly. Those were painful enough to teach him to always have gaff tape. If you ever wonder what Darren is carrying in around in his little computer bag he’s always got with him, there’s certainly a roll of gaff tape in there.