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

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kid Cudi Twilight
Metallica Florence and the Machine

Sound And Vision: United They Stand (And Sell Out) — Superstars On Tour Together

It official: U2 is the biggest music act on the planet! The band might not go multi-platinum like it used to, and there’s been no blockbuster single since George Bush the elder was in office, but Bono and the boys just bagged some brand-new bragging rights. In early April, the group’s 360° world tour surpassed the Rolling Stones‘ 2005-2007 A Bigger Bang tour to become the biggest money-making road trip of all time. By the time the Live Nation-backed trek”which U2 launched in 2009 to support the No Line on the Horizon album”concludes in July, it will have pulled in a projected $700 million in ticket sales.
Of course, U2 didn’t do it alone. If a GRAMMY were awarded for Best Supporting Act, Muse” who opened for many of U2’s 360° dates, including the ones in Brazil that broke the Stones’ record” would have an excellent shot. (Jay-Z did the honors in Australia and New Zealand, while the Black Eyed Peas chipped in on some US and Canada dates.) Here’s a platinum-level UK band whose slow and steady trajectory in the US has been thrust further upward by key slots on the soundtracks to the Twilight films and frontman Matthew Bellamy’s romance with Kate Hudson, with whom he’s expecting a baby. Muse could sell out big venues on its own (and did, even before U2, Hudson or Twilight entered the picture), but with the group playing warm-up act for U2, it seems almost inevitable that major records would be broken.
Two superstar acts for the price of one ticket: It’s a brilliant idea that’s spreading fast. With the international economy in shambles, and so much competition on the road, the biggest stars need to offer fans more than just the greatest show on earth to guarantee blockbuster box-office business. That’s where A-list opening acts come in. U2 could sell out stadiums and arenas solo, but why not hedge its bets by bringing in big-name support to pull some of the weight?
In previous decades, most big stars wouldn’t have been caught dead with an opening act that could possibly upstage them. They usually hit the road with bubbling-under, up-and-comers, safeguarding their own star billing while, by default, helping the upstarts bring their music to the masses. But with ticket sales skyrocketing closer to four-digit figures (U2’s $250 top-tier ticket price is practically a bargain), sometimes you need more than a name and a collection of hits to lure fans. Simply put, on their own, few superstars have the drawing power of Charlie Sheen anymore. It takes two (bankable draws) to make a gig go right.
These days the relationship between headliners and opening acts (or co-headliners) is far more symbiotic. Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks co-headlined”and sold out”the thirteen-city Heart & Soul North American tour in March and April, though she who goes on first (sorry, Stevie) is technically the opening act. Eighties teen queens Debbie Gibson and Tiffany just announced their own co-headlining summer tour (at press time, there wasn’t any word on who’d be opening), and Sade will bring fellow platinum-level GRAMMY winner John Legend along for the ride when her world tour arrives in North America on June 16 in Baltimore, Maryland. Though there is some fan overlap in all three cases, Nicks and Legend will be contributing to the financial potential of their tickets in a much larger way than your traditional opening act.
Meanwhile in the world of pop, Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj just signed a pact for Minaj to open dates on Spears’s upcoming Femme Fatale North American tour, which also launches on June 16, but in Sacramento, California. The unlikely alliance between a superstar and an up-and-comer who, at the moment, is probably just as hot, will benefit the headliner as much as the opening act. It will expose Minaj to pop fans who might otherwise know her only from her cameos on other people’s records, and it will give Spears a little bit of something that has eluded her for her entire career: street cred. It’s probably an even more winning combination than Spears and Enrique Iglesias, who had been in talks to open the tour before Minaj got onboard.
Over in the UK, Take That snagged Pet Shop Boys as the opening act on the Progress Live 2011 Tour, set to hit the road in May, despite the fact that the two acts ruled in different decades. (Fun fact: Newly returned Take That member Robbie Williams and PSB collaborated on “She’s Madonna” and “We’re the Pet Shop Boys,” two tracks from the former’s 2006 Rudebox album, and Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant sang on Williams’ early solo hit “No Regrets.”) Once again, though, the effect will be reciprocal. Pet Shop Boys will attract gays and the ’80s-obsessed, while Take That will pull in gays and children of the ’90s.
Combine and conquer! It’s a concept that for years has worked for annual multi-artist tours like Ozzfest and Lollapalooza, yearly one-off festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury that touch down in the US and UK as well as the ones that regularly land in places like Argentina and Australia, and double-bills featuring reuinted ’80s icons. Fans will hand over the cash if you give them hours of entertainment featuring a smorgasbord of talent. This, however, might be the first time we’ve seen so many superstar acts settling for the opening slot, and it’s likely just the beginning. Can Ke$ha as the appetizer for Spears’s main course in Europe and beyond be far behind?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Beat Generation: Lazerbitch

Lazerbitch are veterans of the Electronica Channel”their single “Twilight” has been rocking the Top 40 for months. This guy-girl duo are based out of Baltimore and they rep their scene HARD. No surprise as the city has always had a vibrant music scene. For those of you who only know the city as the crab cake captial of the world and from The Wire, you’re missing out. The music of the Baltimore club scene, and more recently their indie rock scene, has gone nationwide in the past few years, borne out of warehouses and artists communities. While Lazerbitch’s sound is a bit removed from those scenes, they do their musical city proud.

The duo have been producing music in some capacity since ’99 both under the Lazerbitch moniker and in other projects. Most notably, singer Libby Picken aka Zna.Queene did the vocals for John B.’s “Electrofreek”, a mix of which was featured on Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Presents mix series. Partner in crime Mad Max is no slouch either, having DJ’d at Coolworld’s Cyberfest and having released a few mixes on his own before starting Lazerbitch. Max is also the instrumental muscle of the group, playing guitar and keytar (!) for their live shows.

The aforementioned “Twilight” is a hot slab of electro-pop. The clean guitars melding with the kick drum makes it sound like an uptempo disco given a modern update. Then the synth really kicks in and the pulse starts percolating and the electro swagger leads right into the hook. Shake your booty. The accompanying video functions as both a love letter to Lazerbitch’s home town and surprise surprise, the video has vampires in it. It’s not at all corny like that other Twilight though… Not sure if Lazerbitch can reverse the current perception of vampires in the media today but at least they’re trying. You can check out the video for “Twilight” below.

Sound And Vision: Growing Up Is Hard to Do, How To Make The Leap From Teen To Adult Pop Superstar

“I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision,” David Bowie sang on his greatest hit. Sound and vision: essentials to the life of any great musician. They were the foundation of my beat — music, movies and TV — when I launched my journalism career in New York City as a People magazine writer and realized my dream of interviewing Bowie — twice. Editing stints at Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly followed. Next up was Buenos Aires, where, over the course of four and a half years, I discovered siestas, Mercedes Sosa and blogging. Coming soon: Australia, where, as I settle into this column, I will continue to explore sound and vision, and how those gifts merge to create my greatest love of all: pop music.

In pop music, as in life, getting older can by a tricky, treacherous uphill climb. Growing pains can be as hard on the eyes and ears of fans as they are on a teen star’s psyche. For every Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, both of whom emerged on the scene as wet-behind-the-ears teens and continue to flourish on the cusp of thirtysomething (Timberlake blows out 30 candles on January 31; Spears will on December 2), there’s Aaron Carter, Charlotte Church, Hanson, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, New Kids on the Block, Bobby Brown, and cut-out bins filled with other ex-chart-toppers for whom platinum pop stardom wasn’t meant to last. Brandy, Monica, Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne may still be kicking around, but the shining stars of these former teen queens have dimmed considerably.
How did the Justins and Britneys of the world do it? For all those aspiring adolescent pop-stars, the next Justin Bieber looking for a place to happen ” and even, perhaps, for Bieber himself ” here are some helpful hints.
Grow with the musical flow. Pop trends are fleeting, so if you enter the scene latching onto one, know when to let it go. Former ‘N Sync memberTimberlake, who rode the last big boy-band wave to fame, is the perfect example of someone whose perfect timing aided and abetted his staying power. Yes, talent helped, too, but he exited ‘N Sync and went solo just as boy bands were about to go out of style ” again. More recently, Nick Jonas (through his side project Nick Jonas and the Administration) and Joe Jonas (via acting gigs on 90210 and Hot in Cleveland plus an upcoming solo album) have begun establishing individual identities outside of their Jonas Brothers family act. Smart move.
Don’t grow too fast. Yes, Miley Cyrus, I’m talking to you. If your fans fall for you as a squeaky-clean teen, don’t overhaul your image overnight. So far, Taylor Swift has played it wisely, sticking with the tried-and-true girl-next-door persona for three albums. Beyoncé, who turns 30 on September 4th, hasn’t strayed too far from the 16-year-old we met when she was a member of Destiny’s Child. Even LeAnn Rimes waited until she was well into her 20s to leave her husband for another guy.
Grow some funk of your own. You can’t depend on the likes of Max Martin to keep cranking out your hits forever ” unless you’re Britney Spears. Like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson before him, Timberlake has evolved from a perfectly packaged underage singer of other people’s songs into a formidable songwriter, even helping other artists turn out great music (like “Cold Case Love” on Rihanna’s Rated R album as well as Madonna’s “4 Minutes” and several other tracks on Hard Candy). The ability to multi-task may end up working in favor of pop’s other famous Justin. In addition to being a pretty good vocalist, Bieber also writes and plays piano, guitar and drums, skills which should come in handy later on. Twentysomething Katy Perry can have teenage dreams and still go to No. 1, but Bieber won’t be able to get away with frothy pop like “Baby” forever.
When the growing gets tough, keep going. Britney Spears survived scandals, divorces and one seriously embarrassing MTV Video Music Awards performance, and she still comes out on top with her music, like her latest quick hit “Hold It Against Me.” Usher’s taken his private romantic travails and turned them into fodder for hits ” something he did most spectacularly on his 2004 Confessions album, which, in part, documented his split with TLC’s Rozanda “Chili” Thomas. Demi Lovato is the latest teen star staring down personal demons. She entered a treatment center in late 2010 to seek help for emotional and physical issues, thus avoiding any embarrassing Lindsay Lohan-style public meltdowns. Right now, her biggest career hurdle might be differentiating herself from Selena Gomez.
Ah, Selena Gomez! She’s got problems of her own, now that she’s receiving death threats on Twitter after being caught making out with Justin Bieber, which brings us to the final piece of advice: Before you grow up, don’t forget to date a fellow teen idol. Justin and Britney were once joined at the hips and lips. Nick Jonas romanced Miley Cyrus. Both Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift loved and lost Joe Jonas, though Swift rebounded nicely with Twilight‘s Taylor Lautner. It was only a matter of time before Bieber’s Romeo found his Juliet ” hopefully, without the tragic denouement.
Once the furor dies down, and it always does, this might end up being Gomez’s best career move yet. Some girls will go on hating her for it, but they’ll want to be her, too. And that, kids, is key to being both a teen star and a grown-up icon.