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MUTEMATH Ė 09.25.09 
by Jonathan Bautts on 2009-09-29

The following is a phone interview with MUTEMATH frontman Paul Meany.

So I got to say I think I have seen the word MUTEMATH spelled in more ways than any other band name.

I donít know why thatís all of a sudden an issue. I know a few people bring that up.

It is all caps, one word, correct?

If thatís what works. I donít know if weíve abided by that rule. We take liberties. Whatever works. We might even go vertical on the next record. Who knows? Theyíre just letters, man. Canít we all get along?

I remember I talked to you last year on the Matchbox Twenty tour and you were saying how your goal on the second record was to embarrass the first one. Do you think you were able to accomplish that goal?

Well, I think we got a blush or two, so maybe to some degree. We were bound to embarrass something, I guess (laughs), even if it was ourselves, which maybe happened. Iím not sure. No, Iím truly proud of what we were able to finish up with. I was actually surprised that as weíre playing shows now and putting together songs from the first record and the second record how well they all work together.

I understand you ended up recording another album before Armistice. What kind of happened there?

We had been on the road writing for the past three years while we were touring, trying ideas out on the road, working out ideas during sound check and the back of the bus or whatever it was. We thought we would get off the road and turn it into our record. Great. Itís going to be wonderful. Then we got off the road to do just that and realized it wasnít great or wonderful. The ideas just werenít happening, which was kind of a head trip for us. We really couldnít figure out why. If half of us really liked a certain song, a certain aspect of another song, the other half usually hated it. We found ourselves for the first time not being able to come up with any compromise that seemed like it was benefiting the song or making anything better. It was frustrating, and I think we were paralyzed by that.

So, you know, we started talking to different producers. I think we originally set out to produce it ourselves, but after about a month or so of not getting anywhere we realized we needed to talk to some outsiders to help us figure out what the problems were. We talked to this one guy, Dennis Herring, who we wound up going with, who suggested that maybe, just maybe, the ideas we were trying to make our record werenít that good to start with. We were going to keep spinning our wheels trying to perfect stuff that was really just mediocre, so we shelved all that. Why donít you just try starting from scratch and create stuff that you all can be excited about, which was a very noble idea and one that we werenít immediately attracted to only because we had been so invested in what we had done up to that point and the songs that we had hopes for. We were like, ďReally?Ē

I think once we wrapped our heads around that, it definitely felt like the right thing to do. It felt like the only thing to do, actually. So all that stuff got shelved and we started writing from scratch. We went into the studio every day and hoped that a song fell out of the sky, and it usually did. We went from what was probably the most frustrating time in our band to what was the most liberating and ended up with Armistice.

What did the earlier stuff kind of sound like?

First record b-sides. Thatís exactly what it sounded like, and thatís exactly what we didnít want.

Armistice definitely has a different production sound than the first album, with less guitars out center and more beat driven. What was that process like for you?

It was great. It was extremely educational and liberating. As far as guitars go, I think Greg is probably one of the more inventive guitarists, especially for the kind of songs that we write. Guitars is not an easy gig in this band. He just has a really good knack for articulating the guitars in a way that isnít always conventional or the obvious thing to do, which is great. I think it pays huge dividends for what our songs wind up as. It was a conscious effort and I think Greg has pushed himself to lift the ceiling on what a guitar can do, or what itís supposed to do, and the way youíre supposed to play in a song. So, yeah, I think that was an experiment that was waged that worked.

Another thing I noticed is the record seems to be more concise and thereís less instrumental type stuff. Is that something else you set out to do?

It actually wasnít. It was the first project that we didnít have an instrumental idea that made the cut. We had written a bunch of instrumentals, and most of the songs start out as instrumentals. Usually, we make some instrumentals in the end if we just donít hear a vocal line. Sometimes you listen to an instrumental idea and it sounds complete. Itís like, ďYeah, thereís nothing that needs to be said. That song is saying it all just in the music.Ē For the first time, we didnít have one of those because they seemed to be calling for vocals and the ones that didnít, the instrumental ideas, really got shelved because they werenít strong enough or whatever. They still needed something and we couldnít figure out what. Just by process of elimination, twelve cuts made it.

Obviously, you just started your new tour. Have you been toying with how to expand these new songs for the live show?

Absolutely. The songs are definitely taking on a new life, which is great. We fully expected them to. Thatís kind of been the ammo of this band from the beginning. Weíve never set out to recreate our records. Itís all about letting the song become something more in the live environment and these songs are definitely no exception, so itís going good.

Do you try to record in the studio live?

To some degree, yeah. Theyíre usually either created live or some live aspect of it does get recorded. Sometimes it isnít enough in the recorded medium. Thereís something missing or something that needs to be flowing around. All of us creatively kind of came up on samplers, so at least for me, Darren and Roy, we think in that arena. We think very cut and paste in a lot of ways. I think MUTEMATHís music is usually a hybrid of that, sort of the live aspects with this cut and paste undertone. The drasticness of it probably varies from song to song. We definitely donít rule that out when we get into a recording environment, at least we havenít up till now. Thatís just part of the creative process for us.

Is there anything specific that influenced the lyrics on this record for you, and how do you think they stack up against what you wrote for the first one?

The lyrics are definitely now for me. Itís definitely shooting from the hip. Just the way this record was written, which was very fast and writing a song every other day and not over thinking anything, letting the subconscious mind kind of speak, react to the music and move on. I think it resulted in the best songs Iíve written. I think the themes that surface in the songs of dire time are genuine. Theyíre articulating experiences of what I observed during the process of making the record.

One of the things that stood out to me is there seems to be a large amount of uncertainty on the record. You talk about plans backfiring and not knowing what is real or right or wrong. Is that what you were feeling, kind of a like philosophical crossroads of some sort?

Yeah. You know, the way I had written in the past, whether youíre dealing with uncertainties or internal affairs, whatever they may be, you kind of go behind close doors, you sort through some things, and when you figure a few things out you come back out and you write a song about it. I think this record was a little more of an attempt to write the song about whatís going on behind closed doors and some of the things that arenít necessarily as comfortable to admit about myself that I think are valid and necessary, if not more important.

I think the idea of having it figured out or having some sort of answers to let shine in a song to me is a self-imposed obligation, which can sometimes paralyze honesty. I was being pushed a lot through this record by myself and even by some of the guys in the band to write stuff that wasnít necessarily comfortable or I was a little scared of. That was usually something important that needed to be said or that I at least needed to put into a song form. But, yeah, uncertainty is not necessarily a fun thing to write about.

Have you come to any resolution or is this a continual thing to go through?

I think my resolution is I donít know. I donít have many answers, I probably never will, and thatís OK. I think itís resolution in being cool with uncertainty, really, and thatís all right. Thereís nothing wrong with that. I think thereís ways that weíre programmed, whether itís by society or culture or religion, whatever it may be, that programs us to think, and this is probably one thing that surfaces in a lot of songs, the idea that persistency is good, quitting is bad. I think thereís a thin line between that persistency and giving up. Knowing when to do either is tricky because weíre programmed to think fighting the fight, persistent, never say die, whatever. Thatís all noble. Quitting or giving up is for the losers.

Iíve been in situations where the worst mistake Iíve made has been from being persistent. Some of the best decisions Iíve made have been from knowing when to call it quits and move on to something else. I think thereís nobility in both of those ideas, but itís tricky knowing when to do either. Sometimes you may not now when. So those kinds of head trips, I think, definitely found their way into some of the ideas of these songs.

One of the songs that really stood out to me is the last song, ďBurden,Ē and where you close the album with the line: ďThe devil is not the nature that is around us but the nature that is within us all.Ē How did you come up with that song and what does that line mean to you?

I was reading a book and that idea was surfacing. I think something about it just resounded with what a lot of these songs on the record were flirting with. It just seemed to be the right line for that part and the right line to close the record off. Itís easy to look at that stuff, or evil or whatever you want to personify as the devil, as something that happens outside of yourself.

Itís difficult to take responsibility for that and realize that maybe a lot of the problems that youíre dealing with are really self-inflicted and rooted in yourself. That realization can be extremely freeing and extremely healthy in how to move forward. This record was definitely a lot of exploration of some dirt inside myself and trying to find my own way to move forward and just become a better human being. I think a lot of those ideas were important for me to see.

You had the song ďSpotlightĒ on the Twilight soundtrack last year. Iím curious but what was that whole experience like?

It was good. We had a call from the record company who was licensing songs on the movie, which we had never even heard of the movie at the time or knew about the books or anything. They just said thereís this new movie coming out, Twilight. Somebody involved is a fan. They were wondering if while we were writing the new record we had any scrap parts that might be good for a scene that theyíd like to have music in. Theyíd love for you guys to be a part of it. So they sent us a scene to look at.

Darren, heís kind of a cinematic composer anyway, took some musical ideas that we had that were scrapped and some we were still working on and made something for the scene. Most of which we used was from the idea of ďSpotlight,Ē which we were just finishing up then. They liked the music for the scene and they said we could include a song on the soundtrack, whichever one weíd like to do. We had just finished ďSpotlightĒ and that had made the movie bit, so we put that on. No one had any idea that it would become the massive thing it is, so it wound up being a nice job for us.

Are there any differences between the version that was on the soundtrack and the version that made the album?

Yes, there are subtle differences. Thereís definitely a difference between the one thatís in the movie, I know, and the one thatís on the soundtrack. I think it was just remixed by the time it got to the album version. That was a mix that we had put together for the soundtrack.

Have you noticed if youíve gained fans just because of that one song?

Yeah, every now and then we get signs that some people were turned on to us through that song when people come to the shows now.

So are you working on a new video right now?

We are. Weíre in the final stages of it. Itís a video for ďBackfire.Ē I can say itís the easiest video weíve ever done, thankfully. We needed an easy video, but it has been the most difficult one weíve ever left with a director. Usually, weíve accepted a lot of the workload on all our videos in the past, a lot of self-made stuff, but we were so busy with trying to get ready for the tour and playing shows that we just could not do that. So, anyway, all we did was one day and take some pictures, and then the directorís been working feverishly for the past two months trying to animate it. It should be done by this weekend. Iím really excited about it and hopefully itíll be out next week.

How would you, in your own words, I guess, define MUTEMATH, both what youíve done so far and what you would still like to do?

I hope that we can get to the next record sooner than later and finish it sooner than later. Hopefully, weíre not talking five years from now and weíre still working on our third record (laughs). I think we learned a lot about our band through the making of this record Ė what works best for us, the roles that we should play and usually how we can get the best results.

It would be an interesting experiment for us that weíll probably at least try on the next record is just making one really quick and see if thatís even possible. Can we be in and out in a month, writing the songs and record them, and itís good enough to call a MUTEMATH record? I donít know. Itís definitely at least worth a shot because we know we can always take a year on one. Just for the hell of it, letís try a month and see what happens.


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