Primarily written and recorded at singer/keyboardist’s Paul Meany’s New Orleans, Louisiana home, MUTEMATH’s new album Odd Soulis the band’s third studio release and their first self-produced effort. After the departure of longtime guitarist Greg Hill, Meany, bassist Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas and drummer Darren King were staring at a crossroad as they pondered how to move forward. “As we began to work on songs, we quickly realized that having fewer people in the creative process was better. Roy’s a great guitar player, and we all started feeding off of this new inspiration for the kind of record we could make… all we needed was to be left alone until we got there.”
There’s a spontaneity and spark to all of the songs on Odd Soul that’s unmistakable, something Meany credits to the fact of starting the recording process right after working on their 2010 DVD Armistice Live. “We really wanted to just cut to the chase on this album and compose music that would work for us on stage. We were craving more high-spirited music for this album so any song idea that came close to depressing got nixed,” he continues. “We’re not good at being dark so we wanted to see how far we could go into creating something glaringly bright.”
That uplifting nature permeates all thirteen tracks on Odd Soul, however each song has its own distinct musical feel. From the bombastic Zeppelin-esque groove of “Allies” to the syncopated soul of “Blood Pressure” and electro-ambience of the ballad “In No Time,” Odd Soul showcases how much the band has grown over the past few years, most notably when it comes to Meany’s vocals. “I’ve certainly never pushed my voice as hard as I did on this record,” he adds, “We all pushed ourselves to the brink of our ability on this record… we recorded it as if this would be the last record we’d ever make.”
Despite the fact that many of the songs on Odd Soul—such as the garage-inflected title track—will inevitably make bodies move, the album simultaneously addresses some deeper themes hovering around all of the head nodding. “The lyrical idea of this record is loosely based on our upbringing in what I guess you could call eccentric Christianity,” Meany explains, adding that this is also the first album where Meany and King fully collaborated on lyrics. “We wanted to address a lot of the stories we’ve gathered over the years in what is an admittedly odd culture,” he continues. “And not only that, it’s our culture, and we know it well… I think writing this record certainly gave us a new appreciation for it, and it gave us a chance to be much more up front about ourselves.”
“I learned through these years to treasure my hyper-literal, overly-ambitious, loose wire adolescent adventures in attempting to out-Jesus even Jesus,” King adds. “We wanted to celebrate, up front and center, what we used to think was best kept in the shadows, our weird religious roots. The challenge we took on with this record was to become more lyrically honest, vulnerable, and specific than before, with music that was as exhilarating as some of the most charged up shows we had done up to that point. I am proud to have been raised in an environment that valued intensity, that felt it was important to have something to get all worked up over, that allowed music to be spontaneous and loud and innocent (aka youthful). So this record is the start of us telling the stories that surrounded all of that.”
Artistically, MUTEMATH has made a rock album that is unmistakably and inherently their own. Rooted in New Orleans rhythm and blues, fusing elements from psychedelia to traditional gospel to modern electronica, Odd Soul is constructed to live up to its title. “I think the title describes this record in every context.” Meany summarizes, “It’s who we are, where we’ve been, and what we incidentally sound like when set to music.”
2009 – The members of MUTEMATH had reached their breaking point. Collectively gathered on the front porch of their New Orleans home-studio where they were struggling to record the follow up to their 2006 critically-acclaimed Teleprompt/Warner Bros. debut, the quartet screamed at each other with the full weight of the accumulated frustrations that had escalated from weeks of fighting. To heighten the tension, a lawn mower droning in the background drowned out their voices, inciting them to yell even louder in misguided efforts to be heard.
Finally, drummer Darren King voiced what everyone was thinking, but feared saying out loud: either call it quits or swallow their individual pride and try to write the best songs they ever had. “No one said a word at that point,” recalls vocalist/frontman Paul Meany. “And without comment, apology or agreeing, I just remember all of us walking right back inside, going straight to our instruments, and just starting to play music.” That was the day King, Meany, guitarist Greg Hill, and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas began to write what would become Armistice.
But before that day would arrive, the band had written close to 16 songs in the midst of their 3 years on the road and had full intention of arriving in New Orleans to record and sculpt these ideas into the 10 or so songs they would need for their sophomore release. But after weeks of recording and working in every seperate corner of an old uptown voodoo Victorian, the internal conflicts over what parts made up the best ideas began building to a full on creative stalemate. Growing exhausted with their crumbling democracy, the band started looking for an outside producer to evaluate the situation. One by one, they were flown in every other day for a week until they met Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello, The Hives).
“What caught our attention about Dennis was that he had the most simple, yet slightly offensive suggestion for us,” says Meany about their first visit. Upon hearing what had been recorded so far Herring said, “Why don’t you just try writing some new songs?”
“I’m surprised no one had really entertained that option up until then,” Meany comments, “perhaps because it seemed like too daunting of a task considering how invested we’d become in the existing ideas.” But Herring continued to push his point, “You obviously aren’t happy with what you have, and honestly, I don’t think its great either. Stop spinning your wheels; shelve these songs; and start spending your time writing together. Don’t worry about recording your record right now. Just write it.”
Taking a few days to think about it after Herring left, the band attempted a discussion on what to do next, but still could not come to any unamimous agreements until that noteworthy day on the front porch where all the conflict would come to a head.
“All of the constant fighting had left us unable to resolve anything,” remembers Mitchell-Cardenas. “But something special happened when we just decided to shut our mouths, pick up our instruments, and disregard anything we had written prior.” Something began to align in the creative universe. Songs were forming on their own at a fast pace, almost as if their true sound was being discovered for the first time. It was in this moment that their first single “Spotlight” fell out of the sky.
Once the band had grasped the benefit of their new mindset, they didn’t waste any more time. All previous 16 ideas were completely scrapped and the band began to work together in the same room everyday just starting with a tempo and key to play in. It turned into a marathon style writing session yielding a new song about every other day. The band eventually signed on Herring as their official producer and after 3 months in New Orleans shaping up almost 20 brand new songs, they headed to Oxford, MS and worked more closely with Herring to put the final details in place.
Fueled by the bands chaos and confusion, MUTEMATH has created a work of tremendous beauty and meaning on Armistice via such tracks as the hypnotic, musically inventive “Clipping,” the propulsive, high dynamic charge of “The Nerve,” the quirky tribute to Murphys Law “Backfire,” and the nine-minute, soaring, closing opus “Burden.” Instead of brushing aside the questions and anxiety that propelled the projects birth, the quartet embraces them, with each song questioning where to go from here.
Since MUTEMATH released its first EP in late 2004 and hit the road in 2005, their inherent nature has challenged limitations and expanded parameters. By the time of the 2006 self-titled debut, their blending of adverse genres into its own innovative sonically adventurous creation earned them a reputation as one of modern musics most daring young groups. By 2007, they would find themselves Grammy nominated and declared by Alternative Press as “the #1 band you need to see live before you die.” But in the process of pushing boundaries even further for themselves, they almost pushed themselves out of existence. “It was a risk we had to take,” says King looking back on what they set out to accomplish for Armistice. “This record was by far the most painful music-making experience I’ve ever had, but also the one Im most proud of.”
Its evident that this record is not a high-minded story with a beautiful resolve, but rather the experience of knowing when to stop fighting for the sake of progress. Without a doubt, ideals get mamed and dismembered in the scuffle, but Armistice emerges as a transcendant anesthetic to keep us singing and dancing through it all.
2007 – Born in the dust-laden family garage with archaic samplers, Radio Shack mics, and broken record players, MUTEMATH have been noisily calculating their notes for the past few years.
This electro-alt rock collaboration between longtime friends Paul Meany (vocals/keys), Darren King (drums), Greg Hill (guitar), and Roy Mitchell-Cardenas (bass) has crept up on the music scene with the onslaught of a worldwide fanbase driven to their website and this years performances at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Warped Tour and V Festival.
The four piece (originating from New Orleans) has scattered influences that are apparent without being obvious, and touch on everything from DJ Shadow styled beats, moments of beauty and grandeur a la Bjork, and vocals that pay legitimate homage to Police-era Sting.
When asked about this vast expanse of musical territory that we are asked to find them dwelling within, Meany replied, “I blame it on the past forty years of music.” They act on the idea that their magic is to be found in the mixture of countless thoughts. Their live show thrives on this random energy too involving homemade instruments, live sampling, a junked-out keytar, and enough dizzying energy to make the hardest cynics wet their pants.