As Mute Math began touring in support of its latest CD, Armistice, the band faced a familiar challenge — how to rework the new songs so the four-piece band can play them live.
“Some songs are more challenging than others,” singer/guitarist Paul Meany says in a recent phone interview. “True to a Mute Math record, we definitely did not consider how we were going to be doing this live as we were recording it,” he says. But it paid off.
“When I listen to the record, I do love it and I’m glad we took a lot of the chances that we did,” he says. Chances are, any problems Mute Math went through in working out how to play the songs from Armistice live will pale in comparison to the struggles the band faced in trying to make the new CD.
While on tour behind its 2006 self-titled fulllength debut CD, Meany and his bandmates were writing songs and, in fact, arrived for initial recording sessions in New Orleans fully expecting that batch of 16 songs to make the new CD.
But when the songs floundered in the studio in spring 2008, Mute Math hit a tipping point that no group or artist wants to reach — the realization that things weren’t working, and the entire project was in serious jeopardy.
“When you put so much time, money, effort, energy into something and then all of a sudden you realize this wasn’t meant to be, and [face] the whole idea of starting over or having to shelve it, yeah, that causes tension,” Meany says. “And when you try to find what exactly is the solution to that, it doesn’t always go over well. But that’s where we were. We thought we were recording our record, but we knew we weren’t really happy with it. We weren’t sure why. Everyone had different ideas of how to get happy with it, but no one could agree.”
Things reached a boiling point one day on the porch of the New Orleans home studio, when the four band members erupted into a shouting match that culminated with drummer Darren King putting the band’s plight into stark perspective, saying the group members could either call it quits or put their frustrations aside and go back to work and write the best music they could.
Without saying anything to each other, the band members went back into the house, picked up their instruments and started playing.
Shortly before the day of that argument, Meany says, the group had already talked to a few producers trying to find the magic in the songs the band had written on the road.
One of the producer candidates, Dennis Herring, had offered the advice the band members really didn’t want to hear.
“Everything he heard, he says, ‘No, I just think you guys should start over and come up with music that you guys can quickly rally around,’ which was a new idea for us,” Meany says. “But when he says that, it was the kind of thing where you knew he was saying something right, but we immediately [resisted]. You begin to weigh the costs of that decision, weigh the fact that there goes deadlines, there goes whatever.”
When the band members, without a word, chose to go back inside the New Orleans home studio, they essentially accepted Herrin’s idea of starting over. And it wasn’t long before Mute Math started seeing signs that the group was beginning to rediscover the magic.
“We sat down and just started playing music and forgot about the pressure, the pressure of labels and management and budgets and all that distracting stuff,” Meany says. “We got into just why we got into it in the first place, just living for that moment when something comes alive in a room between four guys. That was it, and it started happening. And ‘Spotlight’ was the first song that dropped out of the sky, and up to that point, it was the best thing that we had recorded. And that wound up kind of being the gateway song. It opened up the floodgates to the rest of the music that unfolded for the record.”
Having been on the road since fall, Mute Math has not only been playing new songs in its concerts, it continues to evolve its material live, which Meany says is a key part of the band’s live experience.
“We’ll definitely be taking some liberties,” he says.
“I love that. The bands that I’ve admired over the years, that’s what I come to expect when I go to a show. I’m not really that excited about the record getting recreated anyway. It’s like, take me to some new places. Let these songs go somewhere. Anyway, we’ll be doing that. We don’t have a choice, really.”
On the Bill
Mute Math opens for 30 Seconds to Mars at the Fillmore Auditorium on Friday, May 7. Doors at 6 p.m. Neon Trees also opens. Tickets are $32.