Being the opening band at an arena concert can seem a little daunting, especially when the acts following are as well known as Matchbox Twenty and Alanis Morissette. When you are playing, the crowd is still slowly filing in and you’re lucky if half of them even know who you are.
“It’s a little strange because we’re sort of the welcoming committee of the night,” MUTEMATH frontman Paul Meany explained. “We’re hustling to capture people’s attention and get them to listen to us.”
Armed with a live show Alternative Press billed as the top band “you need to see live before you die,” MUTEMATH has so far been successful in that regard. Fusing elements of rock and electronica with pop sensibilities and expansive musical interludes, the band stands out in today’s music scene in large part because of its dynamic performances.
“The recording of a song is just the beginning. It’s not the end all, be all,” Meany said. “I think when you genuinely are enjoying what’s happening on stage and the connection that’s happening with the musicians, there’s an electricity that happens which I think becomes exciting for the audience to witness.”
The band’s mélange of varying styles, brought to the forefront in a concert setting, defies music’s usual conventions. Meany, who himself plays the keytar (a keyboard worn like a guitar), takes the fact that the group is hard to peg as a compliment.
“A lot of the bands that I like are ones that actually at the time were difficult to categorize. So when someone tells us that, it makes me feel like maybe we’re onto something.”
In addition to its impressive live display, the band generated buzz last year with its innovative video for “Typical,” which was shot in reverse. Like earlier videos by bands such as OK Go, it became an internet sensation, garnering more than 1.6 million views on YouTube.
But the genesis for the video didn’t come immediately. The band, working with a director fresh out of high school, was unsure of what to do for a first video. Limited by a shoestring budget, Meany confessed the backwards notion only came about after several previous ideas had failed.
“We hadn’t really seen it done as a band performance (before),” Meany explained. “So we just set up like we do, everyone learns their part in reverse, and then we just kind of built off of that. All the little eye candy things that happened around it just made it more fun. We had an exhilarating time making the video, and we’re really proud of it.”
The video wound up earning MUTEMATH a Grammy nomination, and even though it lost out to Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” the group was thrilled simply to be nominated.
“What do you know? Our first video, the director’s first video, and it culminated in us getting to go to the Grammys,” Meany said. “It was a good day.”
In fact, creative spontaneity is something MUTEMATH was founded upon in 2001. After the demise of Meany’s first band, Earthsuit, it became a crucial element he sought to more effectively incorporate his second time around.
“We did not place many parameters on what we were doing from the very beginning, and that’s actually why we started doing it,” he admitted. “We genuinely started this band on the premise of ‘Let’s just create and see what happens.’ ”
At first, it was little more than a side project between Meany and drummer Darren King, who had been a part of Earthsuit in its last days. The duo eventually recruited guitarist Greg Hill and recorded its debut in their New Orleans home studio. In the process, the band formed its own label, Teleprompt Records, and entered into an agreement with Warner Music Group in 2004, which released the Reset EP that fall. Bassist Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas, another former Earthsuit member, was later added to complete the band’s roster.
However, Warner was unsure of what to do with the band since its style was not a clear-cut one to sell. Given that Earthsuit had been associated with the Christian market, the label decided MUTEMATH would best fit in that setting. It was a decision Meany wasn’t entirely pleased with.
“I didn’t want to be forced to work with a Christian record company, which I had experienced in the past and did not want to go down that road (again),” he explained. “Our goal is just to create music that we all on some level relate to. It wasn’t about being any particular kind of band or fitting into ‘Oh, we want to be in this genre’ or ‘We don’t want to be in that genre.’ We didn’t really think that through.”
Ultimately, the two sides hammered out their differences and a new contract was negotiated. Warner subsequently re-released MUTEMATH’s self-titled full length album at the end of 2006, and it has gone on to sell more than 70,000 copies.
“Finally once we had earned their ear, earned their time to listen to what we were saying by doing it ourselves, that opened up a line of communication,” Meany said. “We just had to take the scenic route, I guess.”
Meanwhile, the band has been writing feverishly on the road while testing some of the new material at shows. Meany even admitted the band has referenced its freshly taped performances on YouTube, comparing them to the “next level of the demo.” The band has also been experimenting with acoustic guitars for the first time, which has been inspirational in sparking new ideas.
Once the “Exile in Mainstream” tour is finished, the quartet will return to New Orleans and begin production on its sophomore album. In keeping with its recent songwriting spurt, the group hopes to continue exploring its fundamental approach.
“As we’re going into this second record, it’s about the feeling that anything goes. The sky is still the limit,” Meany said. “I think as soon as you feel like you’ve locked in, you’re ruined. As soon as you think you’ve reached the ceiling of what you can accomplish creatively or what you can sing about or what kind of music you can make, it takes the zing out of it.”
For MUTEMATH, the progression will consist of expanding on and adding to the sonic palette its prior work has already established.
“In a lot of ways I think being in a band is sort of a marriage. You got to keep finding ways to reinvent it and keep it inspiring,” Meany described. “Our goal is to embarrass the first record, that’s what we’re trying to do here, and I think we’re on point to pull it off.”
Originally appeared in The Orange County Register