Photo by Mark C. Austin

We (Eric Brown, Liz Bibb and myself) met up with MUTEMATH’s founders, lead singer Paul Meany and drummer Darren King, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Pensacola, Florida.  We chatted about the rebuilding of their native New Orleans, festival lineups, Brian Eno, and their recollections of playing with Kiss at Voodoo Experience 2009. The conversation eventually shifted to the record making process.
Jonathan Popham: I know that you lost a member last year. How has the writing process changed since then?
Paul Meany: We are recording, aren’t we? Should we sit down?
Darren King: Let’s sit down.
JP: [Laughter] I have to keep my recorder ready! I never know when you could say something provocative.
PM: You’re good. You’re going to go far away in this business, boy.
DK: Well, we played a show in Indonesia and when we got back we were all tired and worn out. We got into a fight with [former guitarist] Greg [Hill], and he said, “You know what? I’m done”. He had reached the point of no return.
JP: So was there bad blood before that or did it all come from Indonesia?
DK: Greg had stressed us out for the career of the band, but I thought things had been getting better up until that point.
PM: Armistice [2009] was the peak of tensions.
DK: That was the darkest time, in Oxford, Mississipi, when we were making that record.
PM: It was kind of a miracle we finished a record that we were proud of, and held the band together. But, it there was this impending sense of,  “Gosh, when is going to come apart?”
JP: Being in Oxford, Mississipi with an impending sense of doom is perfect atmosphere for Southern Gothic.
PM: [Laughter] Southern Gothic?
DK: We almost turned into a goth band.
JP: Really?
DK: Oh yeah. [Death Metal Voice] Cookie Monster!
Liz Bibb: So you guys just dropped a new record?
JP: Yeah, already at 24 on the Billboard Chart in around a week.
Paul and Darren glanced at my computer with and nodded cordially. Eric and Liz excused themselves to go speak with Constellations.
PM: What do you know?
DK: So yeah, Greg left and we turned around and had a big meeting. Paul and Roy both said, “Well you know we are expecting children”. That was the next bit of news. There was just one day where all this news happened at once. And we decided to make the new record (Odd Soul, 2011) in a much healthier way than the previous one. We decided we weren’t going to have any money pressure. Or if there was any pressure, it was going to be not enough money instead of spending money by the hour in the studio with some producer we have never worked with before who suddenly has all this power over us.  So, we kind of shut the door on everyone and the three of us made a record— that we loved. It is my favorite recording we have done so far.
JP: Would you say that on Odd Soul, you are in your truest form?
DK: Well, at one point on the second record the producer broke down and said,” You guys should just be producing yourselves.”
JP: Have you ever thought about just going unsigned? Just having your own label and saying, “Let’s do it”?
DK: No. Certainly not. That’s never been the goal. The goal is to have some weird balance between being on a label but still having control over that record.
JP: It’s about freedom?
DK: Yeah. There are certain things that you can do yourself and then there are things that other people can do. The one thing that no one else can do for you is write your songs.  We decided that. As far as selling it? We need help. We can’t do all that ourselves.
JP: So you guys just came down today. You are headlining the last day. What was that like whenever Linkin Park dropped out as headliner? You arrive and they tell you, ”Well congratulations, you are headlining”.
DK: [Surprised] Is that what happened?
PM: It’s kind of bitter sweet, isn’t it? We are the default headliner. It’s all right. We’ll take it.
DK: You are the one that told me this.
PM: [Laughter]
DK: This is news to me.
JP: Well, I am a journalist.
DK: Well, I just assumed that we walked in the headliner. I was like, “Yeah, of course”.
PM: [Laughter]
DK: I’m kidding, of course. That’s how all the great backup quarterbacks become great. Drew Brees was once a backup quarter back. This our chance. This is it. This is our game.
DK and PM: [Unison] This is what we trained for. [Laughter]
PM: Har-mo-ny!
JP:[Laughter]You really seem to be in a good place with this record, because your last record, Armistice, peaked at 18. That was for it’s entire run. You are already at 24 [with Odd Soul], so would you say have gone back to your base?
DK: I hope so. VH1 made us the “You Outta Know” artist for this upcoming month and I am curious to know if that had much of an affect on it.
PM: I wouldn’t even look at that. I just know how it felt when we finished both records. The only way we will be able to continue making records is if we do it how we want to. Armistice, we were just going to implode.
DK: There is a difference between being spent, like, “Phew, we completed a record” and “I need a week to just—rest”, then feeling depressed and kind of angry at music. Armistice, we were beyond tired at the end of that record.
JP: It takes a perfect storm of variables to make something so awful. Was it really just Greg?
DK: Oh no, not at all! Least him! He doesn’t deserve the credit for Armistice being terrible.
PM: To be perfectly honest, I don’t think we could have made Odd Soul unless we made Armistice because I’m not sure we trusted ourselves enough through the record making process. There was so much indecision on the band’s part with every song idea we had. We were a little drunk with ambition, and everyone had this little ideas. We figured we could just keep working until everyone was happy with everything. There was an ideal that we were chasing that became frustrating. It became, we don’t need just one producer, we need two producers just to break this tie. There was a disgusting democracy going on that was choking the life out of the process of making music. We began to resent it. Doing away with all the cooks in the kitchen for Odd Soul was very therapeutic for us. We realized that only opinion we were interested in when we started an idea was the guys  we are going to be spending the next two years on the road with. If we can’t come to an agreement, then that’s a problem. I think we learned how to listen to eachother more, argue less, and play music more.
We chatted about the perfect weather and the festival for a minute before getting back to music.
JP: This really is a great place for you to be. This, being the third day, there are going to be a lot of people leaving. But, being the third day, being the headliner, if they are there, they are there for you.
DK: You notice that there is a theme going, Jonathan. You are optimistic. You just pulled up our chart and said “I know you haven’t peaked as much as Armistice, but that’s in the first week” and now you are telling me, “I know people are going to be leaving during your set, but those are the people you don’t want there anyways”
DK and PM: [Laughter]
DK: I do appreciate optimism. I’m the same way.
The conversation drifted to further elaboration of the same topics, In closing, Paul left me with a message.
PM: I feel like this record sounds most like “us”. It feels like every record you are just digging a little deeper to find out just who you are.

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  1. Pingback: POPHAM CULTURE: MuteMath « The Real Jonathan Popham

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