When MuteMath passed through Tulsa roughly a year and a half ago as part of the CD release tour for its self-titled album, the band was at in impasse with its record label, Warner Brothers. After an extended dispute over the band's market positioning, the group decided to release the disc independently, selling it exclusively at live shows.
The tour was originally planned for two months with hopes of possibly selling a couple thousand copies of the disc. As it turned out, the band's grassroots internet marketing campaign and energetic live shows started a buzz that resulted in a number of sold-out club shows and CD sales that approached nearly 1,000 copies per week.
Over the course of time, a two-month tour stretched into five months, and then the band moved on to the summer festival circuit.
By the end of the summer, the label dispute was settled and Warner Brothers gave the disc a proper release, with national distribution, in September of 2006. Since then, the band has continued to tour incessantly, building its fan base and the buzz around the CD and frenetic live show. In fact, Alternative Press even awarded MuteMath the top spot on its list of "Top 22 Bands You Need to See Live Before You Die" in the July 2007 issue of the maagzine.
If you've seen the band in action, you already know that the excitement over its electrostatic alt-rock is more than just hype. The disc's textured layers and ambience truly come alive when the band recreates them on stage in a performance that harnesses an energy level that is both explosive and hypnotic.
The buzz has grown to a fever pitch since March, when the band released the video for "Typical" on YouTube. The internet release of a video may not sound like much until you see it--a clip for which the band choreographed its movements in reverse, in order to synch with the music when the footage itself runs backwards.
More than a million online views later, the video has found its way into rotation on MTV, MTV2 and MTVU, and the band has appeared on late-night TV as musical guests for David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Craig Ferguson. The band even performed live (and backwards!) on Jimmy Kimmel Live this past September.
With all of the media attention, one might think that MuteMath is becoming one of the hottest selling bands in the country, but according to keyboardist and lead singer Paul Meany, "Things have not exponentially blown up..."
"The tours are going great, and a few radio stations are starting to come on board," he continued, but he also went on to say that he feels a "sense of global skepticism, and I don't know why."
Perhaps it's due to the band's sound (a genre-bending mix of electronica, reggae, dance beats and rock) and the fact that upon first listen, many people aren't sure what to think of it or aren't interested. Once they hear it live, however, most listeners quickly go from ambivalent to fanatical.
What initially began as a two-month tour has become nearly two years on the road--a trek that has seen the band tour Europe twice and cover the U.S. roughly eight times.
As a result, Meany said, "I've met a lot of people who said they heard about the band two years ago and just didn't get it, but after coming through town two or three times, they finally came out to see us live and the light came on."
While I will admit that the band's debut EP Reset didn't do much for me when it came out in 2004, the new disc grabbed my ear and my attention immediately. According to Meany, that is partly because the EP was primarily written by himself and drummer Darren King. The band was filled out and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas joined the group after the disc was completed and the ensuing tour was a time when the band to really started learning about itself.
"When we started writing the new record, we went back and listened to the old shows and focused on the sound and what our strengths and weaknesses were and used that to help decide what we wanted to do," said Meany.
He also shared that while listening to those shows and how the band had grown, he realized "the chemistry between Roy and Darren really is the heartbeat of the band."
While MuteMath's rhythmic qualities definitely play a key role in the band's sound, they aren't the whole story. One of the things that impresses me most about the latest disc is its dense, layered soundscapes. As such, when I finally got the chance to talk to the man behind the music, I had to ask, how do you create or envision something this elaborate?
According to Meany, it's a collaborative process.
"We start in the electronic world," he said. "Everybody brings sequences and samples, then we blast it through the speakers and play over the top and see what we get."
The band then records what its played and sometimes even samples that and adds it to the mix as the song structure starts to build and the group tries to figure out what works and what doesn't.
"All the guys usually come in with a load of ideas," Meany told me, "and we end up mediating to get everybody's part in. If anything, we usually end up having to decide what to take out or strip back so it doesn't sound too cluttered."
Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the recordings themselves is that the band is able to recreate them in a live setting. Even if you haven't heard or been impressed by the album, MuteMath's high-energy live show is nearly certain to win you over. Part precision musicianship, part improvisation and part polyrhytmic/electronic freak out, it's like witnessing a small explosion of action, lights and sound.
If you haven't yet seen MuteMath in concert, now is your chance. The band returns to the Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main, this Friday night, November 9, at 8pm. Texas-based indie-pop act and critical darlings Eisley (yes, they're all related) will open the show, and tickets are $18.25 in advance or $20.25 at the door.
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