For Paul Meany and band, calling themselves MUTEMATH — in all caps, mind you — is more a style choice than rock star arrogance.
While the jury’s still out on whether the band will ever reach the top tier, MUTEMATH has made enough noise over the past four years to warrant a thumbs-up for dependability and a sound that is a cut above the norm, thanks to Meany’s clear, distinctive vocals and an arresting meld of electronica and rock.
The making of 2009’s "Armistice" showed the band at a crossroads. Heated arguments between its members — front man Meany, Greg Hill, Roy Mitchell Cardenas and Darren King — leading up to the sessions in the recording studio nearly caused band members to split, but a basic agreement to "put up or shut up" helped keep them going through the intense recording process.
The band had already built up a bit of a reputation. In ’07, MUTEMATH received a career-boosting Grammy nomination for the inventive music video for "Typical" (shot in reverse with many props and much energetic tomfoolery). And the first single, "Spotlight," from the 2009 album "Armistice" got a coveted spot on the "Twilight" soundtrack in late ’08.
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They’re also big in Japan, and that’s where they’ll be coming from, after gigs there and in South Korea, before they do their debut concert here on Thursday.
Meany says they’re looking forward to visiting Hawaii for the first time.
Three days later, MUTEMATH will do a showcase gig at the Lollapalooza outdoor summer festival in Chicago. (A live DVD, their latest after ’07’s "Flesh and Bones Electric Fun," is expected to be released in the fall.)
Any former rifts have mended within the band — they gathered last weekend for King’s wedding.
MEANY, speaking by phone earlier this week from his New Orleans home, said they all live fairly harmoniously in the Big Easy.
"I’m originally from here, and the other guys sort of gravitated here from places like Missouri and Texas 10 years ago," he said.
Even though MUTEMATH doesn’t have a sound that’s connected to the Big Easy’s tradition of groove ‘n’ vibe, "the city is sort of all-welcoming," Meany said. "To be quite honest, the atmosphere here is conducive to all kinds of music. You would think it would only be natural for us to be connected to the roots scene, but you can hear it’s obviously not that.
"In fact, I grew up resenting (the roots scene)," Meany said, "although I’ve grown in my appreciation for it as I’ve gotten older." He received traditional schooling in the piano, although his tastes and musical desires ran contrary to what he was taught.
"But I can’t deny New Orleans is in my blood," he said. "There are a lot of musical heroes here, and when it comes to groove, Roy (Cardenas) and Darren (King) have taken to heart bands and people like the Meters, Johnny Vidacovich and Stanton Moore. But we like to take liberties with our own music, don’t stick to any formula and try not to be afraid."
DURING the mid- to late 1990s, Meany found a kindred spirit in band mate King.
"While every music student I knew was eating, sleeping and drinking the typical music of New Orleans … I wanted to learn how to make music like A Tribe Called Quest, the Chemical Brothers and Bjoerk. When I met Darren, we had very similar tastes. We were big on DJ Shadow and Roni Size, and that’s where we connected. We wanted to mesh that world with a more organic sound, which has been the template of MUTEMATH."
Making "Armistice" was a challenge, Meany admits. "It was the first time that we went into the studio as a four-piece band to make songs from start to finish. … We went the scenic route on a lot of songs, and in order to decide, we had to record hundreds of tracks and tons of versions of songs. … It was a group effort and it taxed us all."
It took outside producer Dennis Herring (who has worked with Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse and the Hives) to help edit the band’s ideas "and identify what each of us was good at," Meany said. "That’s hard to discover for yourself. He came in and helped us resolve where to go if we hit a creative wall."
One of the songs from "Armistice" that Meany said he loves to play live is the title track. "It ended up being a great song that was the last to make on the album. We knew there was something missing — and it finally came around that we wanted the Rebirth Brass Band to play on the track. It wound up to be quite an experience. We didn’t let them hear the song, we just told them what key it was in, and it ended up being the perfect ingredient.
"It’s a tricky song to do live," he said, "but it’s the kind that pushes us to be that much better as a band."