Mute Math Interview with Paul Meaney, Darren King and Greg Hill – September 7th, 2007

Circa September 2007 – Fazer Magazine

Preamble. Interview with Paul Meaney, Darren King and Greg Hill. When I got into the back of the London Rum Runners venue to chat with Mute Math, there were rumblings about Bjork possibly not playing the Virgin Festival the next day. If she didn’t play, Mute Math would likely be moved to the Virgin Festival main stage. So, there was discussion about whether that would be a good or a bad thing. Paul felt Bjork fans maybe would not enjoy Mute Math’s sound. We chatted about who had seen Bjork before. Which CDs of hers we all had. Paul and Darren were seated across from me, and Greg was off at the side listening in. He chirped in some comments towards the end of
the interview.

Mike: Last year Massive Attack pulled out at the last minute, and they came around a month later to make up the date. But they pulled out of the V Fest ’06 bill at the last minute.
Paul: Why did they do that?

Their Visas. Same thing that’s happening with New Model Army.
Paul: Canada is a really tough country to get in.

It is? I hear that from assorted bands. Do you find it hard to come over the border?
Paul: Yes, and it’s a shame because once you get here it’s so great. Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to get in.
Darren: They’re protecting it.
Paul: Yeah they’re protecting the goods. But yeah this is the toughest country to get in.

I think if you say ‘I’m in a rock band’ at the border, they just assume you’re puffing the weed and that’s it, they’re just going to colon search you.
Paul: (laughter) Oh man the hardest time we had getting in was when we were doing the Warped tour. We had 60 busses coming across the border and they gave everybody hell.

I never have any problems. I’m pretty clean cut though, and I come over to check out the odd band here and there.
Paul: Yeah I mean we don’t ever have anything suspect going on, but it still just takes awhile for them to let the dogs sniff our crotches and all that. Which we quite enjoy actually.
Darren: Those drug dogs are always so cool.
Paul: They’re the best. That’s the best part of coming to Canada. The crotch sniff.

So how many days off have you guys had this year in total? Because it feels to me like you’ve had about six days off judging from your MySpace tour schedule.
Paul: Well that’s about what it feels like to us too. And I don’t really know technically what it is. We just know we’ve had pockets of time off here and there you just do what you can to get caught up on bills and everything that fell apart while you were gone – wash our clothes and try to write some songs. And that’s about it. It’s been very exciting, just keep touring, going to new places and reintroducing the music.

I keep an eye on tour dates and bands that I like online, and the amount of road traffic that they’re doing. You’re ALWAYS on tour.
Paul: Yeah it seems that way. And I was definitely in disbelief when I found out we were doing a tour in the fall. But there’s always something that just seems to be building to the next step and it’s not been an exponential explosion for us but just one thing that just kind of justifies keeping the show on the road. So yeah we’re having a good time. We first put this record out ourselves independently, all we had was two months booked, and we assumed we’d go out, sell a couple thousand records to our immediate fans, come back home work on the next collection of music. But two months turned into five months and then we got some great summer slots and some festivals and Warner Brothers released the CD properly and it just kind of kept going. And then a year and a half later we’re still in the touring.

There was a little bit of a stall too, ‘cause the label didn’t really ‘get’ your album to start off with? Paul: Yeah it took a little while to get the wheels cranking and I guess to their credit we’re a tough sell and they didn’t really know what to do with this and we were kind of shelved for a while. Warner Brothers, gosh there’s hundreds of bands with their roster, not including in imprints. And there’s downsizing within the music industry. It’s a tough time to be a new band at ground zero when we first had a developmental thing going on. So I think it was very fortunate for us that we had our own label and management team that was kind of established to just work our little music world and kind of get it going. We immediately toured to get a little groundwork laid, and that was the key for us. Finally that’s what got us on the radar and ultimately Warner Brothers took notice and were able to get things set up.

Do you typically hear feedback from fans? What do they tell you that they like from your sound?
Paul: It varies.

I’m asking this cause I took a pal to see you at the Opera House when you were going around with the Cinematics and he thought you had a lot of DJ Shadow going on in your music and I never would have picked that up. When I listened to ‘Reset’ now, I can hear a little bit of that in it.
Paul: Well it’s no secret that we love DJ Shadow. He’s got a certain style that’s been very inspirational to us. Someone said one time we sound like Black Sabbath doin Porn music. What was it? One of the crew guys said that. So from that to … I don’t know. I can’t think.
Darren: It’s varied as can be. Look at iTunes and other albums people buy…

That online feature that cookie cutters the music into little sub-genres? If you like this you might like so-and-so. I always get amused with that kind of stuff.
Darren: It’s really interesting to us too.

The only new material from Mute Math recently was that Transformers song. How did that come about? Were you asked to do that specifically?
Darren: By Warner Brothers yeah, with only a few days to do it. It was urgent by the time it got to us to do that song.

How does that break down? Do you guys just run into a studio somewhere?
Darren: It’s not very glamorous. We got an e-mail, went upstairs to Paul’s house, made the song, in the course of a couple days, and then we emailed the song to whoever needed it.

Wow. High tech! And that’s what’s on the commercially released disk? The emailed file?
Darren: That’s it.

Nice. Very 2007 of you.
Paul: We didn’t even know there was a movie, until we were asked to do the theme song and they sent us the trailer. It was all very last minute, the movie was getting ready to come out. They wanted a remake of the theme song on the soundtrack.

I don’t even remember what the theme song really sounded like. I’m hip to some of the comic books…
Darren: There were several various versions. There’s a cartoon version.
Paul: Do you remember the original theme song?

The “More than meets the eye” jingle.
Paul: Yeah, it’s really quick! A minute and a half.
Darren: That’s the cartoon one, and then a Hair Metal, like an eighties band did the movie. So we took a shot at this movie and did our thing with it.
Paul: Transformers is just a childhood obsession of mine. I was all into it, so if someone could have gone back in time to a little 8-year-old Paul Meaney and told him one day he was going to get to sing on the Transformers movie soundtrack… well I doubt I’d have believed it.

That’s cool for you Paul. Look at you, living the dream! So that track won’t make it onto your next disk obviously, that was a one-off for the movie and you’re not going to stick that on as a b-side.
Paul: I don’t think so. It’s lived its life now.

Do you have a full disk ready? I’m reading postings that say that there’s something coming out in ‘08.
Darren: We don’t have it ready yet, no it’s still being written.
Paul: Still writing. Not sure when we’re going to record it.
Darren: And, we’re always touring.

Now the last time that I chatted with you, you were talking about New Orleans and rebuilding your studio there. Has that even started?
Paul: You know what, I’ve been trying to get back to New Orleans for the past year, it’s been extremely difficult which has actually been disheartening for me, being a New Orleans native. And that WAS the original plan, we were going to try to get back there, we were going to get a place set up and start recording the second record. Of course doing all the touring we’ve been doing made that more difficult, but even aside from that, I share this feeling with a lot of New Orleans natives who have kind of relocated and would like to come back, that the city has just made it impractical to do that. It’s just, property tax has gone through the roof, insurance is insane right now and it’s almost impossible to afford to move back and get a place without moving into a haunted house. So I don’t know. Real estate prices are just through the roof right now, for houses that were flooded, so I don’t know. I’m really hoping that sooner or later the city is going to begin to create some incentives for the people who would like to come back and not make it just for millionaires.
Darren: Maybe that’s the city’s plan. I just realized that.

A city-wide cleansing of sorts. I don’t know… that all sounds pretty sinister. So you haven’t laid any new material down yet?
Paul: I mean it’s all demo stuff, you know and we’ll try a new song out here and there on the tours and give it some road miles. But yeah it’s still very, just experimenting with song ideas right now.
Darren: As we keep getting more and more possessions, band gear and complimentary items, at some point I thought that it would calm down. We’ll get a bus someday maybe, and at that point it’ll be so much easier. But it’s been busier somehow, there’s been more to keep up with. And even at this point I would feel like some sort of medium level of success we’ve attained. It can be overwhelming, and we want to make a great album. We want to make the best album we can for this next album, all of us and we all four agree on that. We want to make as good an album as we possibly can.

Are you feeling some of that second disk pressure?
Darren: Yeah I think so. But the biggest pressure, or the biggest challenge comes from the fact that there are all these other things to keep going and maintain, especially in regards to touring and our personal lives and all of this, all of this.

It’s a wave you ride on. If you’re on a trajectory they kind of want to keep you riding it. It keeps you out on the road, keeps you touring, keeps you in front of people. In my opinion I think you guys have really gone from small independent release through to a release on Warner Brothers and now you seem to be heading in a direction that’s very positive for a band.
Darren: Had it progressed any faster I don’t know if I could handle it. I really don’t.

I look at bands like the Killers that went from nothing to super-stars so fast. Then how does that affect your ego, your home life, your touring life, ‘cause playing such a big capacity venue so quickly it’s got to be a little daunting. I’m looking at you guys headlining a festival tomorrow. I think you’re doing another festival on this run of dates.
Darren: Yeah Street Scene in San Diego. A couple television performances as well.

It’s pretty fast.
Darren: Yeah it’s a lot. It’s great, I love it. I love the action. I love staying this busy.

The thing you guys had just done last time I talked to you was finish off your video for “Typical.”
Paul: We’re about to do it again.

You’re going to go back in for another video shoot?
Paul: No the same one. But we’re going to do it live on Jimmy Kimmel’s show.

So you’re not going to do anything backwards this time?
Paul: We are. We’re going to recreate the video on TV, with an audience.
Darren: Yeah that’ll be aired on the 19th of this month.

That’s very OK GO of you.
Darren: That’s kind of been our take on the whole experience.

Are you going to do another video for your next single?
Paul: I hope so yes. We’ve been trying to think for a long time what the ideal video would be. Actually I don’t think, if I may, in response to what you said, I don’t know that it’s as OK GO of us as it is YouTube of us. I think that it’s YouTube that’s changed the scene. I’m excited about You Tube cause it seems to have given new life to the possibilities of music videos.

That seems to be where music videos are watched. MTV and Much Music, no offence to either of those stations, they don’t play a lot of music. It’s a lot of shows – and in my opinion a lot of bad shows. I’m 40. I can’t take VJ’s anymore, I just can’t stand it. And then to watch an hour of music videos to see one band that I like for five minutes, I’d rather just go on YouTube.
Darren: How great is it that I can pick anything that I want to see from previous decades even and watch it, and then live performances and all these different things.

And weird stuff, like credits from TV shows or Super Friends stuff. It’s nuts the things that’s on You Tube.
Darren: My favourite thing I’ve found so far on YouTube is Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street. He does “Superstition” live on Sesame Street with what, I’m imagining what has to have been just his band in it’s prime. Every musician is wonderful and there’s little kids dancing and freaking out to it. And it’s in Sesame Street, and towards the end of the video he ends the song and then brings the progression back for a reprise, and over the chord progression and the vamp of
“Superstition” he starts singing the words “Sesame Street where I want to be,” with just the most, just the dirtiest melody, the most soulful melody. It’s great. I love that. That’s my favourite YouTube clip I’ve found.

I can’t even remember that one from my childhood. And I was a Sesame Street freak.
Greg: And also I might add. Just for discovering new artists. Nothing is nicer than MySpace.
Paul: New artists and old, that you hadn’t heard of before.

Now is that what you guys go to when you’re looking for information on bands. MySpace?
Greg: Definitely I use it in the research, the bands to see how they are live, what videos they have.

What about FaceBook any interest in that?
Paul: Never been on FaceBook.
Darren:Neither have I.
Greg: I have an account.
Darren: You do? Is it pleasant? it is useful?
Greg: To me all the social networks are all the same. One more password, one more login, one more online environment to get compromised by hackers.
Ryan Shepard (Warner Music Rep): To me FaceBook is to the older demographic. Like MySpace is to our age group’s listeners.

Thanks for lumping me in with your age group there fella.
Ryan Shepard: I don’t consider you like that, but a lot of my friend’s parents are into that FaceBook stuff.
Darren: In Nashville a friend of mine put together this website which was supposed to be like MySpace without all the things you don’t like about it. And they wanted to keep it, idealistically they wanted to keep it within their friends and they made it invitation only. Paul: It’s only Nashville right. Darren: Yeah. Well I mean you can, it’s called BuddyTown but you have to be invited. Anyhow someone invited me into BuddyTown and they gave me this account and I checked it out. All my friends are on it but I was just too busy, we were making the album, so they purged me, they vomited me out of the system, I was banished from this colony. They recently closed the website down for some reason but at least in the Nashville area it became very…

Like a prejudice thing?
Darren: I think so. It was weird, it felt like, just like this experiment we did when I was in second grade where the teacher passed out coloured ribbons or something. Everyone had either red or blue, and the red people were the blue people’s servants and then the next day it was flip flopped. Did you ever do anything similar to this? It was like a racial tension – it was supposed to be an analogy, an example for a day we were the minority who was being taken advantage of. And it was awful. And us kids were horrible to each other. I was given Brianne Nichols who was my first crush. And she didn’t like me. So I gave her hell. I would like drop a book on the ground, and be like “Brianne I dropped my book.” So she’d have to pick it up, and the next day it was flip flopped I was her servant and I had to do whatever she told me to. And of course the people who were jerks the first day got it even worse the second day.

The circle is round. It all comes back to you in the end…
Darren: Did I say something wrong there? Was that ok to say?
Paul: Yeah, sure. You’re good Darren.

What time do you guys go on tonight?
Darren: 9 or 9:30. No earlier than 8:30 no later than 10:00.

Cool. Looking forward to the gig. Thanks for chatting.

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