Exclusive Q&A: MuteMath Revive Their Creativity

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsAfter a rough recording experience with 2009’s Armistice, New Orleans rockers MuteMath decided to reclaim creative control. The result is Odd Soul, a back-to-basics, bluesy record that speaks to the band’s live strengths, first and foremost. The album inspired the band’s upcoming Odd Soul Tour, which features breakthrough 3D video technology on top of stellar performances from both MuteMath and opening act Canon Blue. OurStage caught up with drummer Darren King to talk about how the band were able to revive their creativity, what gets him pumped up to perform and his goals for 2012.

OS: You had some difficulties with the making of [2009’s] Armistice, specifically with songwriting and working with a new producer. What did you learn from that experience and how did it influence your approach to recording this time around?

DK: I learned a little bit about not making things any more difficult than they need to be. I learned, through that process, the most valuable lesson I learned in my career so far. Of course, there are difficulties and parts of it that are frustrating, but you’re not supposed to hate music. You’re not supposed to hate the process. It’s fine if it’s a little arduous, a little frustrating, if you get stuck and get writer’s block…all of that’s good. But there’s always supposed to be this passion in it, it’s not supposed to be just this uphill climb, feat of strength just go get through it. From that point on, I vowed to make it fun. And whenever it gets gross, I start over again, in regards to songwriting, or the process of creating. You’re supposed to feel like you’re cheating at life by getting to do this for a living. And I try to present that, I try to fight for that now, and a big part of that, oddly enough, was not having a producer for this record, and it being just the three of us.

OS: Odd Soul is the first album you’ve made without original guitarist, Greg Hill. How did this change affectyour approach to the new album?

DK: Todd [Gummerman, guitarist] didn’t come into the picture until after the album was finished, so we had all of the guitarists that any band would ever need, and our bass player, Roy [Mitchell-Cárdenas]. [Roy] did a marvelous job of bringing all kinds of creativity and spark to the process to the process. I think he had a lot pent up in him too; he’s a talented guy.

He was a guitar player before he did anything else, so that was an easy transition. He stepped up, too. He’s a father of two, and both he and our lead singer were expecting children during the recording of this album. Roy would drive all the way from Miami to New Orleans, he’d drive through the night, and show up with a great attitude. It was really inspiring. And now we have our new guitarist. As we were finishing our songs in the studio, I would send them to him, and he would tell us that they were fun to play. He worked really hard to get ready for his audition. We were expecting to audition Todd in person, but he got to a place where he knew the songs well enough that he got tired of waiting for us, and he’d just email us his takes. He would play the songs, record himself, sing along, play along and he’d email it to me…and I thought that was ballsy! It made it easy; definitely our first audition via email!

OS: It’s rare to see a drummer that is so involved in the songwriting process. Does Mutemath have a certain method for how you write together?

DK: I think I’m more involved than you even know! Right now, I’m putting together our live video show and it’s time consuming, but I love it. This is probably the first time I’ve mentioned this…we’re doing a very exciting, 3D video show on this next tour. It’s been very tedious, but we’re working with some people in New York and some people in Nashville and we decided to try and go all in on this tour to make it big. So currently, my days are spent programming and animating video for this live show…it’s a new-found interest of mine.

OS: Odd Soul has a more blues-influenced sound than Armistice. What was the cause behind this shift in sound? Were there any particular artists that influenced you while writing this record?

DK: It’s so funny how the influences that I think I’m going for the most, don’t really seem to be the ones that come through in the end product. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, either. But Roy’s playing opened up a lot of opportunities for us. All we were going for was something that would go great live. All the bluesy-ness didn’t so much come from us saying, “Let’s try to do something a little Jimi Hendrix-y,” or, “Let’s do some Led Zeppelin riffs.” It was really that we didn’t want to make a sleepy album. We didn’t want to make something that would be convoluted, live. We wanted to make something that would allow us to play to our strengths as a live band. The whole idea behind the record was to set up the tour that we’re about to do now. The big tour, with the video show and the lights and all of the antics. After Armistice, we released a live record, and I remember reading a review of it that said something like, “Why is this MuteMath’s best record? Why is their best record this live record?” And I thought, well, it probably makes sense that it is, to them. There’s probably some switch that we turn off when you go into the studio. Music can be a little like taxidermy. You can start replacing the real stuff with the glass eyeball and get real meticulous with making things seem real. And I think it has to be that way, to an extent, whenever you do music in the studio. So we tried to make [Odd Soul] sound more real.

OS: You’ve had your songs featured on the soundtracks for major motion pictures like Twilight and Transformers. How have these placements changed or impacted your fan base?

DK: Don’t forget The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2! Yeah, we did get some younger fans through Twilight, and I loved it. We got some hatred through Transformers. Some people loved it, but there were some hardcore Transformers fans that were livid that it wasn’t heavier, like…[metal growl]

OS: Before the new album dropped, Mutemath played some smaller clubs on the Odd Soul Introduction Tour. How will this upcoming tour be different from those shows?

DK: It will be longer. Right now, I’m not making any promises, but right now, the setlist we have has about twenty to twenty-two songs in it. We’ll have a great opening act in our friend Canon Blue, he’s out of Nashville, on Rumraket Records. He’s great. A great musician, great songwriter. We just decided, at this point, not to take out bands that we don’t like, but will sell tickets.

I’d just really rather not subject our fans to that anymore. Actually, we’ve done a pretty good job at taking out artists that I like. But we had a couple opportunities to tour with bands, and we’re gonna go for quality. We do want to make this the most absurd show we can and I want everyone to feel like they got way more than their money’s worth after the show, and I want to make it the best tour we’ve ever done. I’m certainly excited about this 3D video. We’ve got this really neat set behind us, and I think it’s technology that’s going to be pretty common in a year. I’m glad that we’re doing it now…I feel like we’re ahead of the game if we do this tour this way. If we did it next year, someone else will have done it before us.  I know [electronic musician] Amon Tobin has done crazy stuff with projecting on 3D structures…you see it a lot with electronic artists, but I don’t know a band that’s done it yet on a tour. So the goal, unless someone sneaks in there next week, we’ll be the first band to take that kind of stuff on the road.

OS: You mentioned Canon Blue earlier…what can people seeing him for the first time expect from his performance?

DK: He’s an electronic artist. He’s opened for Miike Snow, I think that was a really good fit. So, stylistically, fans of Miike Snow will also enjoy Canon Blue. He’s done a good job with mixing a lot of really beautiful elements with some intense, glitchy electronics, as well. I know he got the Amiina Quartet to play on his record, the same group that played for Sigur Rós. So he’s got a lot of pretty strings on his record, and he’s a good singer too…it’s going to be my favorite tour, I’m pretty positive of it. Unless something goes wrong! [laughs]

OS: You guys are known for having a pretty wild live show. What inspires your stage presence? Do you tendto be more consistent with the performance aspect of the set, or more spontaneous?

DK: I’ll only speak for myself, because I think the other guys would give you a different answer… but I’ll tell you what makes me wild on stage. I’m a little hungry for attention, and you certainly get it whenever you perform. People clap for you after every single song. I can’t think of anything else where I get that much attention. From the very first show we ever did, God, it got me really excited. I’m not an only child, but my brother and sister were both teenagers when I was born, and I was just alone a lot. I would spend hours in my bedroom playing drums, pretending there was an audience in front of me. Or I would put on my Paula Abdul record and dance as a background dancer and pretend there was an audience. I look back and realize that a very large portion of my time alone as a kid was pretending I was in front of a bunch of people.

I’d even do speeches. I memorized the Gettysburg Address and I would do it in my bedroom for, I guess, a bunch of soldiers? I was raised in church, and Paul did this too, he’d preach, his family would make him preach for people…and I would preach to no one in my room. That was just my thing, I guess…pretending I had an audience. And when I finally got one, I think I got way too excited. I just get pumped up. It’s exhilarating. And to be honest with you, I’m addicted to it. Sometimes I play hard because I love it. If I’m tired but I’m still playing hard, it’s because I don’t want it to end. I’m scared of the day when I don’t have an audience in front of me. I don’t like myself when I go too long without playing a show. I’ve gotten a little bit better about it, I think being married helps [laughs]. If one person approves of you after seeing you at your worst, then that does mean more than a bunch of people who think you’re cool whenever you’ve got a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I used to go through intense withdrawal, really bad, whenever we didn’t tour enough [laughs]. So yeah, it’s kind of an addiction thing. I get excited about people, I’m like a dog! [laughs]

OS: Since we just started a new year, what’s something you hope to accomplish this year that you haven’t done yet?

DK: Like my resolutions? My New Year’s resolutions are: to not sit down to pee, because I end up playing Words With Friends on my phone…just sitting on the toilet for too long. It’s just such a waste of time. Being on the toilet for five minutes after you’ve gone to the bathroom is just dumb. I’m also going to stretch daily. As a band, we’ve already made a couple music videos, we want to make another one. We get to go to Australia and we want to make a good impression there. And I want to be a good son, a good sibling, a good husband, a good drummer. OK, here’s the real one: to get into a creative habit with music. When we’re control freaks like this and we’re working on video and working on the tour so much, I’m starting to miss getting to make new songs. So just to do a little bit every day, with songwriting, so it doesn’t take too long to come out with the next record.

This is definitely a show you don’t want to miss! Catch MuteMath’s Odd Soul Tour on these dates:

01/26 Houston, TX at House of Blues
01/27 Austin, TX at Stubb’s
01/28 Dallas, TX at House of Blues
01/29 Tulsa, OK at Cain’s Ballroom
01/31 Denver, CO at Gothic Theatre
02/02 Los Angeles, CA at Club Nokia Live
02/03 San Diego, CA at 4th and B Concert Theater
02/07 San Francisco, CA at The Regency Ballroom
02/08 Sacramento, CA at Ace of Spades
02/10 Seattle, WA at Showbox SoDo
02/11 Spokane, WA at Knitting Factory
02/12 Boise, ID at Knitting Factory
02/14 Salt Lake City, UT at Club Sound
02/16 Kansas City, MO at Beaumont Club
02/17 Chicago, IL at House of Blues
02/18 Minneapolis, MN at First Avenue
02/28 St. Louis, MO at The Pageant
03/01 Grand Rapids, MI at The Intersection
03/02 Detroit, MI at St. Andrew’s Hall
03/03 Columbus, OH at Newport Music Hall
03/04 Cleveland, OH at House of Blues
03/07 Boston, MA at House of Blues
03/08 New York, NY at Best Buy Theater
03/09 Philadelphia, PA at Trocadero
03/10 Washington D.C. at 9:30 Club
03/11 Norfolk, VA at The Norva
03/14 Charlotte, NC at Amos’ Southend
03/16 Ft. Lauderdale, FL at Revolution
03/17 Orlando, FL at House of Blues
03/18 Atlanta, GA at The Tabernacle

Exclusive Q&A: Jessie and the Toy Boys Play Around With 'This Is How Rumors Start'

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsJessie Malakouti has a story to share with everyone. And what a globe-trotting story it is. She started her career in LA and eventually landed big in 2006 with the all-girl hip hop group Shut Up Stella. But, when things took a downturn with that group, Jessie made the daring escape to Europe. After spending some time in the UK club scene honing her craft, she made her triumphant return to the States with a new approach to music along with a brand new group to go along with it. Jessie took some time out of her busy recording schedule to sit down with OurStage to give us the lowdown on her new group: Jessie and the Toy Boys.

OS: Do you have any goals for Jessie and the Toy Boys?

JM: I’m currently working like a worker bee on the album which is going to come out in early 2012. So, that’s kind of the most immediate goal, which is finishing this record. Making it sound exactly how I want it to sound and to put it out for the fans, because I know they’re tweeting me everyday, asking when it is [coming out]. So, I’m working as fast as I can to finish the album.

OS: Why did you go with mannequins?

JM: I decided to form Jessie and the Toy Boys with the Toy Boys, because I have grown up in different bands and, no shake to anyone in a band I’ve ever been with, I know exactly who I am as an artist and I have a very clear vision of what I want to do, how I want to sound, how I want to look and all those things. It changes too, with my mood. It’s difficult to be in a band with me, because I’m a creative control freak, so I decided to start a band with mannequins, or as I like to call them, Toy Boys, because they don’t talk back. They’re awesome bandmates. And also, from a visual point of view, I have so many visual ideas with them. It’s fun.

OS: Does it feel different, having a lot more control over the creative direction of the album?

JM: It’s something I’m used to doing, but it’s different for me to have a team and a label that allows me to have control. I’ve always had control over everything that I’ve done. Just maybe in the past, with Shut Up Stella, it was more of a tug-of-war about what they wanted us to be and what we wanted to be. People have an idea of who you are and it doesn’t always mirror what I think I am, so this is the first time I’ve been able to take control of everything and have the full support of my time, so it’s really nice.

OS: Have you felt like you want to go wild with it and push off from the barriers?

JM: I don’t necessarily break barriers, but if I do along the way, that’s cool. I just like to create music that I like. So, when I leave the studio and there’s a song I listen to in the car, even in a rough state, over and over, then I’m stoked. I know there’s something that I’m proud of and that I love. Same thing with the videos, because I’m involved with the creative process of that as well. Any form of art that I’m hooked on and love to watch or listen to, for me, that’s cool and I’m proud of this.

OS: Do you have any interesting stories from your time in the UK that you would directly attribute to your inspiration for this project?

JM: I have a really interesting story, which kind of unfolds on the album. Not to give away too much, there’s a short film that’s broken into five parts. It’s called This Is How Rumors Start, along the title of the album. Each episode is a song title, so I wanted to push it. It’s going to be coming out soon. Basically, as you go through the episodes, you kind of see what happened. It’s based on the truth, mostly. You see what I went through in the UK and Europe, and why I started Jessie and the Toy Boys, and how I met the Toy Boys, and how everything started to come together and why I came back to America. I don’t want to give away too much of it. I want people to check out the webseries when it comes out or mini-movie, as I like to call it. But, you can hear it in the music. Once you see the visuals too, you’ll understand more what songs are about. Sometimes people think it’s cool, because I put a song out on my EP earlier called Running Makes the Girl Goes Round and it was a fan/critic favorite. It’s funny, because it’s kind of turned into this strip club anthem, but it’s totally not that. It’s a song about my best friend selling me out. When you watch This Is How Rumors Start, you totally see that and you see what the songs are really about. But I like to keep it kind of open-ended, because I like for the listener to listen to my music and make their own connections about what they think songs are about. That’s the beauty of music to me.

OS: What do you feel is the difference between the club scene in Europe and LA?

JM: The difference between the two of them is that America is very late. When it comes to dance music, we’re 100% late. I was making records that sounds like everything coming out right now three years ago. My old demos could come out right now and sound relevant. But, I personally think we go harder though in the clubs, especially when I was touring with Identity Festival and the whole electronic dance tour. The crowds were fucking out of control and really awesome. So, there’s a really cool energy in the dance music scene, but probably because we’re late. Because it’s so new over here, everyone’s so stoked and pumped and even with dubstep. Not to be like I do everything first, but I put out a dubstep record in 2008 and I remember everyone in the club I played it for when I came over for Christmas was like What is this? I was like Just wait, it’s gonna explode. But, I like that it’s all happening over here now, because everyone seems so much more enthusiastic about it where I think in Europe, they’re starting to flatten out on dance music a little bit. I mean, who knows? But I love it, I love the genre no matter where it’s popping off. It seems to be a global phenomenon, so I’m happy that it’s the kind of music I make.

OS: How do you view your collaborations with rap music and artists like Yelawolf?

JM: It’s cool. Growing up in the LA music scene, I’ve always been amazed and impressed by hip hop and people who are just awesome at hip hop. I found Yelawolf online a while ago before he signed to Eminem and started tweeting him. I thought he had something really cool and really liked his style. Basically, we became friends. I played him Push It one day in my car and then we drove to the studio. Five minutes later, he recorded the rap that you hear on it. That’s how I like to get down with music. I like for it to be genuine and organic and never want to do anything that feels forced. A couple of weeks ago, I met this really cool rapper named John Christopher. He’s on tour with Kanye and CyHi (Da Prynce) and I think we’re gonna collaborate on some stuff, so you can look for that. I just love hip hop and talented emcees, so it’s cool to get to collaborate with them.

OS: Are there any underground pop acts that you might be interested in working with?

JM: I don’t know how underground she is. I think she’s started to take off in a major way as well. But, her name is Winter Gordon and she’s a friend of mine. We both [were at] Miami Winter Concert this year together and we became friends there. She’s come to LA a couple times and we’ve hung out. We’re gonna do something together. There’s this cool new group called DWNTWN. I met them because they’re co-managed by DJ Skeet Skeet and he’s a friend of mine. They’re really rad and they’re working on a remix for me for the song that just dropped Let’s Get Naughty. It’s cool, they’re going really industrial with it. I don’t know how to classify what they do, but it’s definitely pop though. You should check it out. They just played CMJ. I’m excited about that project, so I want to do more things with them too.

OS: Are there any stereotypes that are really strange that get applied to you?

JM: I don’t think so. Not any that I can name. I guess, in general, pop music has a stereotype that it’s disposable and there’s no substance there. I think that’s true with some songs, but I’m looking forward to introducing to the world the entire body of work I’ve been creating, because I feel like there’s a lot of depth to this record and there’s a lot of songs that I’m really proud of and hope stand the test of time. I think pop doesn’t have to be just disposable dance music, and even if it is, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think everybody likes to have a good time. But, there’s some songs on This Is How Rumors Start that thematically run a little deeper, so I’m excited for that to come out.

Be sure to check out Jessie and the Toy Boys’ official web site for all the latest news on This Is How Rumors Start. And watch the official video for “Let’s Get Naughty” below!

Exclusive Q&A: Opeth Unleashes Their Heritage

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsA few months ago, we featured a post celebrating twenty great years of music by Opeth (which you can read here ). Obviously, we have lots of respect for Mikael í…kerfeldt and company. They’re progressive death metal juggernauts who never seem to disappoint fans and critics. Despite numerous great albums, amazing tours and boatloads of positive critical reception, they’re still hard at work, releasing their tenth album Heritage earlier this year. Not too long after our article was published, we were able to put together an interview with the frontman of this iconic band, and it was well worth the wait.

OS: Opeth has been in the metal world for quite some time now, and you’re considered by many to be one of the best metal bands of all time. What helps you put out such great material so consistently?

Mí…: Well, we don’t really regard ourselves in any way as one of the best bands or whatever, we just try to write and record music that we want to hear, and I guess the big difference is that we have a wider range of influences than your regular metal band. I mean, we’ve been around a while of course, but really we’ve just been putting out records we want to listen to, first and foremost, and I guess we’ve just been fortunate that other people like that shit as well.

OS: Speaking of that, the critical reception of Heritage has been pretty great, and it sold pretty well, even though it’s quite different than your other material. How do you feel about the album’s reception so far?

Mí…: I’m pretty happy with it I think, but I don’t really go looking for it. I’m not really seeking approval from anyone. You know, even if I like getting good reviews and people telling me they like the new record, it doesn’t really matter so much for me anymore, I can’t really say why. I love it, you know, and that’s all that matters.¦If you go on the Internet looking for some type of approval you’re gonna end up with a lot of shit too, and I don’t really need that in my life right now, to be honest. (more…)

Exclusive Q&A: Learning Japanese with Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsMe First and the Gimme Gimmes is a band that really extends itself into places most bands aren’t willing to go, both literally and musically. Drawing its members from various punk bands like NOFX to Swingin’ Utters, the supergroup also specializes in covers from a variety of wildly different artists ranging from Elton John to Boyz 2 Men.  In preparation for their third tour in Japan, the Gimmes Gimmes released the album Sing In Japanese where the band covers a multitude of classics in the realm of Japanese punk bands. Vocalist Spike Slawson sat down with OurStage to explain what makes a good cover, the difficulties a band faces when touring abroad and his thoughts on the Japanese punk scene as a whole.

OS: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have always been characterized as a punk supergroup. When you first started, was it difficult to manage all the different elements that each member brought from their respective groups?

SS: Initially, it gelled right away, because I think a lot of people weren’t necessarily convinced they were right yet.

OS: The band pretty much exclusively in covers. What do you think is the most important element of making a good cover?

SS: Fidelity to the original, but with a new group of people in the room where it sounds like a different take to it. Carbon footprint, I don’t know.

OS: Has the band ever attempted to play original songs or has it been only covers?

SS: Only covers, only ever covers.

OS: Was there a specific reason for that?

SS: Well, I don’t know. It’s sort of like a process of elimination. There’s too many options in music, at least in my mind, where we would have no idea where to go. Making it only covers or making it only a certain style of music, it narrows the range a little bit. It just makes it simpler. Often the best song on a lot of these pop punk bands’ records was the cover, you know. Or like the only good song. So why not do a band of that? And several of us wanted to play out in a band that was less serious and the quickest way to get a live set together to play out was covers. (more…)

Exclusive Q&A: Future Islands Gaze Out 'On the Water'

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsFuture Islands is one of those few bands whose bizarre name is actually very indicative of the kind of music they create. The group has become known for their unique post-wave synthpop sound, centralized around the haunting vocals of Samuel T. Herring, that makes you feel as though you’re stuck on a cold and deserted island filled with alien technology. Getting their start in North Carolina as fellow art majors at East Carolina University, Future Islands ultimately moved to Baltimore to become regulars of the indie community there. However, for their recently-released album On the Water, the band made a pilgrimage back to their roots both physically and musically. To tell us about this voyage back in time, vocalist Samuel T. Herring and guitarist/bassist William Cashion took some time to take us inside their creative process and how they were able to incorporate outside elements into their latest work.

Future Islands

OS: You’ve described On the Water to be a concept album about “two parallel journeys”one physical and one psychological”. Does this tie into your own experience as a band or as writers?

SH: Well the concept came secondary to the writing and recording of the songs, a definite afterthought in finding the common thread that tied the songs together to form the album. I do believe in those parallel journeys, however, in that this album moves us through a landscape while also on a journey for something internal from that external change. It definitely ties into my personal experience. Those songs are of my life, and my own questions and hopeful answers. I think it’s pretty indicative of our writing process too, creating first and finding the meanings later. Instead of over-thinking, and putting process before inspiration. The journey is inherent.

OS: The opening track starts off with ambient sounds”is this intended to set the mood for the entire album? Where did those sounds come from?

WC:  I have a fancy little hand-held digital recorder, and one night Chester and I went “sound hunting” around Elizabeth City.  The sounds at the beginning of the record were recorded across the street on the docks.

SH: We all had those recordings in mind and set aside for that purpose. It may seem redundant for some, but for anyone that grew up near the water or had a dock close to home that they would walk down to, it’s an essential form of nostalgia that sets the tone for the album.


Exclusive Q&A: Passafire Reignites with 'Start From Scratch'

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsThe effective blending of two genres is never an easy task, especially when it comes to the smooth stylings of reggae and the rough intensity of rock. Arguably, the only major band to really have a lot of success blending these specific genres of music was Sublime. Enter: Passafire. Since their formation in 2003, the band has maintained the balance between the two wildly different elements in order to create a truly explosive live act that has dazzled many. With their latest album Start From Scratch, which debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard Reggae Charts, Passafire has taken leaps and bounds towards proclaiming a new leader in the musical style that Sublime helped to popularize in the ’90s. Drummer Nick Kubley stopped by to give us some backstory behind the creation process of Start From Scratch and the magic behind their live shows.

OS: You started your own label FlameGuy Records when recording Start From Scratch. Was this due to a desire for more creative control? Or did you just feel like it was time to strike out on your own?

NK: It was more to strike out on our own. We’ve always had complete creative control. We just wanted to do our own thing and be in charge of every aspect of putting out arecord.

OS: What does your new keyboardist Mike DeGuzman bring to the band?

NK: Mike brings the possibility of doing more. His level of skill as a pianist and multi instrumentalist has opened a lot of doors for Passafire musically. Now that we have Mike, we feel like we can really push our sound.