“Come on, can I dream for one day?
There’s nothing that can’t be done
But how long should it take somebody
Before they can be someone
‘Cause I know there’s got to be another level
Somewhere closer to the other side
And I’m feelin’ like it’s now or never
Can I break the spell of the typical?”
–Mute Math (Typical, 2006)
Someone recently asked me “what was your favorite concert you attended in 2009?” I saw a lot of concerts and it is hard to name just one, but what always sticks out is when you see a band or an artist for the first time. A concert highlight for me in 2009 was seeing MuteMath at New York City’s Nokia Theater. If you are a fan of the Twilight movie sage, then you are familiar with Spotlight, the energetic tune that marked Edward and Bella’s introduction as a couple to their school.
MuteMath is much more than a band featured on a movie soundtrack, they are an innovative band who pushes creativity in sound and video. The energy that you feel listening to Armistice, the 2009 follow up to their self titled album which was released in 2006, is the same energy you feel from their live performance. As much as I listened to their music before hand, nothing prepared me for what I saw on stage. I was totally blown away by a performance that went nonstop for almost 2 hours. The crowd was made up of young and old, MuteMath newbies, and super fans, such as Mary and Dana, who had traveled up and down the east coast just to see them perform. “Each show is different from the last show. I simply love them,” I recall Mary enthusiastically telling me before MuteMath took the stage.
MuteMath are made up of four multi-talented band members, Paul Meany, Darren King, Greg Hill, and Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas. What’s so exciting about this group is that you can’t group their music under one genre. After listening to Armistice, I could hear the influence of electronic, jazz, rock, funk, and blues. Seeing and hearing their music come to life on stage, made me appreciate their talents even more.
MuteMath’s drummer, Darren King, took time out of his busy schedule to discuss their latest album with JohnSimonDaily.
JSD: How did you get your name? What does it mean?
Darren King: Originally we were just called Math because when the band started it was just Paul [Meany] and me and we had a lot of electronics and a lot of computers helping us out with the sound. That name was rather common, several bands and artists had already used that name we discovered. So we changed the name to MuteMath. Picking out a name was probably the least fun part of putting this band together I suppose. It was born out of the ashes of a previous project and whenever we started making music together, again everything was fresh and exciting, and without the pressure and strain of sustaining anything or living up to any particular expectations. So the name, we liked it because it was symmetrical. It looked really symmetrical. Two four letter words that both started with M and we thought it looked good in print. So that is why we picked it.
JSD: This is your second album, what was the creative process like?
DK: It was all really exciting. I think I learned a lot from making this album. We worked together, all four of us, in a way that we hadn’t before because the band was still being formed as we were making the first album. So there was a lot of discussion and a lot of arguing and a lot of trying a lot of different styles of music or approaches. I have to say part of what I learned is that it is very random; sometimes a message or idea seems to yield really exciting results when every other time seem to be awful. We gained a mutual respect for each other, I think, throughout the process. Even now we have a sense of invincibility about us. We feel like after having made this album, what’s a little discomfort, or what annoyance, or what is a little waiting, or what’s a little getting in debt, because we did all of it a little more than we thought we would on making this album. Everything about this album seemed harder than what it should have been.
JSD: You recorded this album in New Orleans. Why New Orleans as appose to New York or California?
DK: New Orleans is where the band has always been based out of with exception to a couple of years immediately following Hurricane Katrina, where some of us moved to Nashville for a time. I actually didn’t have anywhere; I just kept my stuff stored at my family’s houses. God bless them for being so patient with me. In essence New Orleans is home base to us. It’s a cool city, no place like it.
JSD: Who were some of the musical influences for this album?
DK: James Brown and in particularly, James Brown Live. I found a recording called Say It Live and Loud: James Brown Live in Dallas 08.26.68. There is a song called ThereWas A Time and that is the exact drum beat I took for the song The Nerve. I’m not a record collector; I’m kind of a music junkie, so I listened to a lot of stuff.
JSD: What is your favorite song on the album? Why?
DK: It changes. When the album was first done, it was Pins and Needles because of how it was recorded, because of the melody, the lyrics, and the chords. That song was the song that I was most proud to have made. I thought it was an important song and might mean something to people. I like Burden. I worked really hard on that one. I stayed up countless nights working on Burden, producing it and putting it together. Editing it and making that long jam at the end.
JSD: How has having Spotlight on the Twilight Soundtrack and covering the Transformer theme song boosted your popularity and fan base?
DK: The Transformer song was really fun to work on. Paul and I both agreed if the 12 year old Paul and Darren discovered that we would have this opportunity and pass up on it, to make the Transformer theme song, we would’ve been eternally unforgiving towards ourselves. So we had to do that one and it was fun. Paul gives me a hard time still about the time that he walked up stairs and heard me making robot noises and laser gun sounds in the microphone for that song. The Twilight Soundtrack obviously helped. I’m sure someone who hadn’t heard of us before, found out through that. It was a fun experience, but we were concerned. We didn’t want to become the Twilight band. So whenever we got asked to do Twilight Conventions and stuff like that, we turned those opportunities. I was glad we were on the soundtrack, we almost didn’t make it. We were the last band to put our song on the soundtrack, because that song (Spotlight) wasn’t finished yet. I think we had an hour left to turn it in, when we finally did.
JSD: In 2007, Mute Math was nominated for a Grammy for best short form video for Typical. What was that like and do you feel pressure to keep pushing the innovation button for your videos?
DK: Getting to go to the Grammy’s was wonderful. Ultimately just to people watch. Just to watch all these people walk pass was ridiculous. Then to see the performances, that year there were some great performances I was honored to see. It is a negative way to think of it as pressure, but anything worth doing is worth doing as well as you can. Having your first music video nominated for a Grammy did set a standard that was a bit daunting. What has happened is, we have made four videos, two that we were proud of and two that were not, once they were finished. We simply don’t release the bad ones (laugh). I’m glad we don’t, even though some money went into them and hard work. If they don’t come out good, then they don’t need to be out there, it’s not worth it.
Armistice Live in Japan