Promo photo by Claire Vogel.
The best part about a band sticking together for so long is that they get older and more mature as people. The smart bands don’t try and make the same record over that made them popular early in their career, even though that’s what local alternative stations love to overplay. That evolution over time may turn away fans who only like the old stuff, before they became mainstream, but often these bands can learn to make better quality records. That is exactly what happened with Warner Records recording artist and New Orleans-based MUTEMATH.
The band formed in 2003 thanks to the break up of Christian alt-rock band Earthsuit (see my sentence about growing older and making better quality records above). MUTEMATH conquered critics and fans early with the well-received self-titled album and Armstice in 2009. Those records along with their couple of EPs and live releases could have been enough to secure their place in music had they decided not to record another album. Last year, however, even after the departure of guitarist Greg Hill, they released what could be their career defining record, Odd Soul.
Odd Soul is the band’s first self-everything album: self-produced, self-edited, self-written, etc. It is the record that only the MUTEMATH of today could have made, and it shows. Odd Soul is heavier, more raw, more rock ‘n’ roll than soul, as the title implies, and just enough groove not to be annoying. In fact, the record doesn’t even sound like it’s from this era; it should be a vinyl in your parents’ record collection. It’s that good. One can only hope it will translate well live. I caught up with drummer Darren King recently and asked a few questions about Odd Soul, self-producing and what makes this upcoming tour so special.
Before we look ahead, what was 2011 like for you as a band? What made it memorable in comparison to other years since you started?
Darren King: 2011 was a very eventful year. We worked really hard. It was my first full year as a married man. Paul had his first child and Roy has his second. We also had to deal with a personnel change for the first time in the band’s history. Our guitar player quit in 2010 and finally we got the balls to record a record on our own for the first time. So yeah, it was a stressful year too, but somehow one of the best years I’ve ever had. We’re old enough now not to take anything for granted, especially being around this long and the way I did when I was younger.
Now let’s talk about your latest record, Odd Soul. It is your first self-produced effort and also the first with new member, Todd Gunnerman. First, what does having Todd do for you guys in terms of energy, sound and overall band cohesiveness?
King: Todd didn’t join the band until after the recording was finished. The funny thing was that
we were courting him throughout that process. We were sending him the songs and he was
playing them. He was able to tell us “hey you guys are doing good” and “that the songs were fun
to play.” It was really just Paul, Roy and me. There were a few times when we’d play with our
friend Rob Cavallo on a song here and there. It was really was this sort of L.A. studio experience
at the end with mixing, but really this album was written, recorded and created entirely at Paul’s
What did you learn about yourselves with this record that you didn’t know or realize with
your previous albums?
King: Producers that have worked with us in the past have sort of considered us control freaks.
Finally we just realized we don’t play well with others in that regard. We loved getting to do
everything ourselves. The downside of it is that the logistics are bad. There’s nobody to help us
do all the boring parts of the recording process and that slows things down. Everything still took
place at a faster pace though because we didn’t have to deal with a relationship struggle and the
political turmoil that having a fourth person with so much political power. And Paul is a great
engineer, while I love editing. I love getting stuff and chopping it together only to put it together
like puzzle pieces. If there was ever a band that was cut out for self-producing, it is probably us.
What will you do differently on your next record, assuming there is a next record?
King: There were a lot of things we realized at about the halfway point of this record. The most
important thing I determined was that if I love something, then it’s good. I won’t worry about if
anyone else is going to think it’s cool. If I love it, it is because I love good music. I spent my entire
life living up to all this. If I don’t trust myself to please me, then I shouldn’t be doing this at all.
It’s taken me a long time to come to that point and that’s what I’m going to take to the next
record. Putting everything I love in one record is going to be the goal for the next record. It’s a
weird thing to be thirty and feel like you’re starting to get a clue.
Now about the upcoming tour, what excites you about this one? Other than supporting the sales of the new album, what is it that makes you want to hit the road again?
King: Playing music is my favorite thing about being alive. I feel really guilty saying that, but
it’s true. I feel like it should be something else but it isn’t. Our new songs are more fun to play
than the old ones. I love being in bus, sleeping in a bunk. I love playing shows and I love meeting
people. I love the fact that this tour has the most well put together crew of people working it.
That’s really tough to do. It’s not easy to get twelve people together with really good vibes.
Everyone on the tour, including the band that’s opening for us, are all my best friends. I feel
really spoiled right now. I feel guilty about the fact that I get paid to play music with these
people. I’m not getting filthy rich with it or anything, but I’m eating.
What are your plans for the rest of 2012 after this current tour is over?
King: We get to go to Australia for three weeks. We are about to film a music video for the
song “Allies.” We want to go to Canada, so hopefully we’ll be able to do that because we love
it there. And we’d like to get back to Europe. For some reason or another we’ve never done
terribly well in Europe. We tried, but it didn’t take. We’d really like to go again because I love
it there. Touring is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done so hopefully we get to keep doing that. It is hard to think too much about that because I’m so excited about this tour and how great it is
going to be.