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White Men Can Drum

Mutemath
Apr 19th 2012 | Bryget Chrisfield

Mutemath drummer Darren King tells Bryget Chrisfield that failed aspirations to follow in Michael Jordan’s footsteps made him the stickman he is today.

I am in my bunk on the tour bus getting sick in Boston, Massachusetts,” Mutemath's drummer Darren King replies when asked to reveal his exact location. “I feel my throat getting sore and my eyes getting dry and – well, that's what happens when you're on the road. I think it's all these meet and greets after the show. We've been doing this thing where we shake a lot of hands and meet a lot of people and whatnot.”

It's the tail end of Mutemath's American tour at the time of our chat (“We only have about nine more [shows] to go, we've done 21”) and King is in a reflective mode. “It's been the best tour of my life, actually, hands down. It's really been special for me.” There's a video on Mutemath's website, 'Making Of 2012 Spring Odd Soul Tour', which reveals an incredible video wall structure. The band are planning on lugging the full production over to our shores for their upcoming tour, yes? “Well,” King hesitates, “sadly, because every city is so far apart, we're having to fly from one city to the next so we won't be able to bring the big video walls. We are bringing a lotta lights and we're bringing a lighting guy with us so the lights'll be special and specific to our show. And I have to be honest with you, some of our most special shows are the ones where either we don't have all that fancy video stuff or where that fancy video stuff breaks,” he laughs.

There has only been one gig “so far” where gremlins invaded the system. The band were playing in Minneapolis “and the entire stage just lost all electricity during the song Blood Pressure,” the drummer tells. “The amps were still on for some reason, but the PA shut down – it was just the drums and the amps. And we kept playing, we didn't stop and the crowd filled in – they sang as loud as they possibly could – and to be honest with you it became this really magical moment: one of the more memorable moments of the tour.”

While we're on Blood Pressure, what an amazing song! Lyrically, it's pretty much a collage of nagging questions to get your blood boiling. So what situations tend to get a rise out of King? ”Sports. I get really – I don't take it too far, it doesn't ruin my day if a team I like loses. I find I draw deep and emotional analogies for everyday life in sports and so I can get pretty fired up over great performances, but just great performances in general. I'm pretty emotional; I get it from my mom. I cried watching a spelling bee one time.” A spelling bee? “I did! Yeah, it was the national spelling bee,” he stresses. “The little kid, he won and there was this – the look on his face when he won, I just got really amped up on it, you know? And I'm that way.

“I get that way about sports because I'm not good at it. I dreamed to be Michael Jordan as a kid and I tried so hard. And I was horrible; I was horrible at basketball. So I took my basketballs, and I took the air out of them until they had five different pitches and I started playing drums on 'em. And I would drum on basketballs for hours. My mum was very patient with me and then they eventually bought me a drum set.”

Mutemath frontman Paul Meany reverted to a childhood hobby while working out the ideal 3D structure on which to project video mapping for this Odd Soul Tour. “I was over in the corner saying, 'Paul, maybe we should do this,' I was trying to download programs like Google SketchUp and stuff to try and draw it,” King recalls. “I tend to prefer the old piece of paper but, you know, Legos are great too. Paul just stopped it for a moment and said, 'Gosh, this is what I used to do when I was a kid. I used to make Lego stage set-ups and pretend like I was performing on 'em. And I'm still doing it!'”

On the experience of hearing one of their songs performed on American Idol (contestant Chris Sligh performed Typical), King confesses, “That was weird. But I got to meet the drummer who played it afterwards, we talked about it and that was really – I mean, I met him years later 'cause he plays for Jay Leno now so we talked about that and, yeah! That was funny. The irony of it is that that guy was playing the song for millions of people while at the same time we were playing it in England for about 200.”

Odd Soul is Mutemath's third studio release and their first self-produced effort. King agrees that not having to share acclaim for the success of this album is “real special”, but adds: “Really the main joy in it is [that] every night I get to play the part that I wanted to play, the drum part that I thought would be the most fun for me to play, and [I] didn't have anyone else dumb it down or adjust it and change it. It was just the three of us, you know, and there's this different thing that happens whenever Paul, Roy [Mitchell-Cárdenas, bass] and I work together, just the three of us, 'cause if we criticise each other or have a suggestion it always comes along with the understanding that we've been through thick and thin together already, so they're on my side. So that was the delightful thing about working without a producer, I think. The bad thing was just the extra work: all of the engineering and setting everything up and all that. And also the fact that we didn't have any budget to do it – we did it on our own money, no borrowed money from the label or anything and at Paul's house.”

An air mattress contraption, complete with LED lights, allows Meany to play Jesus and walk on water, or rather on a sea of punters' heads. Surely this could be stowed away in the overhead locker for air travel? “Well we might be able to bring that, that could probably fly pretty easily,” King muses. “Yeah, I think you're right. We'll bring that, we'll bring that.”

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