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Cover Story: Add It Up

Mute Math capitalize on their summer 'buzz band' breakthrough

By Alan Sculley · September 19th, 2007 · Cover Story
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Warner Brothers Records

Mute Math



From the very first days when Mute Math was coming together as a band, founding members Paul Meany and Darren King didn't put limits on the kind of music the group would create. The approached yielded a sound that is not only distinctive but hard to categorize.

And for a time it looked like the difficulty in pinning down the Mute Math sound would have a severely unwanted impact on the group's career.

To understand the entire picture, one needs to start with Earthsuit, a Christian Rock group that Meany had before starting Mute Math as a side project.

That group lasted long enough to make one album and do some touring. Part of the problem, Meany says, is the band members didn't get along. But they were also soured by working within the Christian music industry.

The expectations for how Christian Rock should sound and the messages artists should communicate didn't mesh with Meany's more open-ended and adventurous musical ambitions.

"Our eyes were opened to, how can I put this, I guess the failed expectations, or what the music was supposed to be about and what the business side of it was really about, and it just felt like an ill fit," Meany says. "What I felt inside and wanted to accomplish musically weren't the same, didn't work within the parameters (of the business). I think everyone in Earthsuit felt that frustration and we decomposed."

Meany's response was to start Mute Math as a side band where songwriting would have no boundaries and he would try to rediscover the pure excitement of creating music without any agendas for what the band would accomplish or communicate.

For a time, the plan seemed to be working.

In 2004, Meany, the band's manager, Kevin Kookogey, and producer Tedd Tjornhorn, formed a label called Teleprompt with an eye toward releasing an EP, called Reset.

Tjornhorn had made contacts with Warner Bros.

Records, and he felt Mute Math could start out on Teleprompt, build a foothold in the market and then move directly to the national label in hopes of achieving wider success.

Warner Bros. was interested and signed on for the venture. But when the label heard the first Mute Math demos, that's when the band's creative impulses ran head on into record marketing reality.

"When we put together our first batch of recordings, it was deemed pretty quickly that we had no radio hits or nothing that Warner Brothers could really work," Meany says. "You know, it's funny because we can get into describing the music of Mute Math and the instrumentation and what we do. And if you just talk about it at base-level, it sounds like we're going to be some way left-of-center experimental art band. But it's really not that at all. I think the experimental side is just how we get started. We just try to, at least in our minds, push the boundaries, at least a little bit."

A listen to the band's self-titled debut CD confirms Meany's view of the group's music. The band's sonic approach gives the group an instantly unique sound, as it makes considerable use of electronics, Techno, Hip Hop beats and synthesizers. But beneath the whirlwind of sound, it's clear that Meany and his bandmates ­ drummer King, guitarist Greg Hill and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas ­ have a good grasp on song structure and an ear for melody.

So a song like the smash hit "Typical" takes wing because of its catchy, hard-edged guitar riff and forceful vocals. "Chaos" stands out, not just because its swirl of sound, but for the Police-ish riffing and a Sting-like vocal that anchors the song. And "You Are Mine" is basically an effective, silky Pop ballad.

The Mute Math/Warner Bros. saga didn't end with the label deciding it couldn't market the group. Instead things got even stickier.

Word Records, a Christian music label within the Warners family, got wind of Mute Math and wanted to release Reset. Since Warner Bros. had lost interest at the time, it wasn't long before Word took over the project.

"They were looking at the fact that I had played in Earthsuit and had a Christian band history, and they were going to work off of that," Meany says. "Of course, that thought immediately gave me a brick in my stomach."

The brick probably grew into a boulder as time went on.

For a while, Meany and his bandmates tried to play nice and allowed Reset to be released on Word, but with the intention of moving to Warner Bros. for the group's full-length debut. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. had decided Word could keep Mute Math.

So Mute Math took bold action, filing suit and declaring that the band would not make any more music for Warner Bros. and Word. Instead, the group would release its debut CD through Teleprompt and sell the CD at shows.

Mute Math hit the road in January 2006, and slowly but surely the CD started selling, eventually upwards of 200 copies a night at some shows.

This grassroots success didn't escape notice at Warner Bros., and the label quickly moved to resolve the impasse and bring Mute Math back into the fold.

"They were like, 'Let's make this work,' " Meany says. "This is obviously something that slipped through the cracks. We obviously didn't see it in the beginning. Much to their credit, they apologized and threw the old deal out the window and said, 'Let's make the new one and the right one.' We couldn't have been more happy when that actually happened."

Things have gone swimmingly ever since, as Mute Math has continued to gain fans, both through headlining tours and a stint as opening act for The Fray earlier this year. VH1 and radio picked up on the band and played them heavily.

One reason for the continued momentum is Mute Math has gained a reputation for playing energetic and dynamic live shows. King, in particular, is known for a rather unhinged stage presence.

"Darren, he is a ball of energy," Meany says. "I remember the first time I auditioned him, and I didn't know what to expect. He had his headphones all duct taped on. His drum set was set up all wrong. It was something he must have just bought at a thrift store a week before. This audition only lasted five minutes. He played one song. And it happened like that, because in the midst of his song, his drum set fell completely apart and his sticks broke. The cymbals fell over. He actually happened to blow the P.A. system he was playing through.

"It was so exhilarating, and it was very unruly and a very ham-fisted approach to playing, but so compelling. I said 'My God, I want to be in a band with this guy.' I think that was kind of a starting place of what would unfold in the live show. Since then, of course, he's learned how to pace himself and at least make it through a 60-minute set without totally unraveling."



MUTE MATH plays Bogart's on Oct. 14.
 
 
 
 

 

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