Keytar The City

22 February 2013 | 9:20 am | Chris Hayden

“I feel like I’m losing my soul with all these interviews. Let’s talk about a microphone or something.”

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On their maiden voyage to Australia last year, New Orleans-based band Mutemath caused quite the sensation. Arriving as something of an unknown quantity on the Groovin' The Moo line-up, they left with a rabid fan base, thanks largely to their epic live performance. With drummer Darren King a flurry of incomprehensible limbs, singer Paul Meany roaming far and wide into the audience with keytar in hand (and sometimes atop the crowd themselves in an inflatable boat) and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas manipulating any number of onstage synths or gadgets, Mutemath are a gear-head's dream. It's not surprising then that when Muso spoke to Meany down the line from his home, he was more than happy to get into the nitty gritty of the band's new album. “Man you have no idea how happy I am just to talk about some gear and the recordings,” he laughs. “I feel like I'm losing my soul with all these interviews. Let's talk about a microphone or something.”

Mutemath's previous record, Odd Soul, with its heady mixture of gnawing hooks and instrumental virtuosity, was a breakout hit for the trio. Released in 2011, the time has now come for Meany and co. to follow up their good work.  Working in New Orleans, as they have done for previous recordings, the band is currently in pre-production. “We're in the infant stages of it now - so writing, recording, looking for melodies, looking for sounds; the whole Nine,” Meany explains. “What we normally do is we rent a place or set up in a house and we just go to work. Right now we've set up commando-style in a makeshift studio and we're just demoing ideas into Logic. We're the kind of band that gets inspired by the sound of things so we're always mindful of that and trying to avoid that stock feeling. We look for something that pushes the song along. Production and songwriting is all intertwined with us.”

As a band now on their fourth record, Mutemath know exactly what kind of preparation has to be done in the early stages of the process. Often pre-production can be a pivotal factor in preparedness and efficiency when heading into the studio for the big show. “We try to get the pre-production as close to sounding and feeling like a record as we can. I think in the past we've had songs and said 'Okay let's just demo this,' but you find yourself not trying as hard or not caring as much and it hurts the song. Then someone listens to it and goes 'this isn't good' and we'll say 'yeah we know, it's just a demo.' So it usually helps the process when we're thinking 'let's make this as good as a record.' That's the mentality we have to be chasing the whole time.”

As far as the leg work at this stage goes however, it seems Meany would probably appreciate an extra set of hands in their recording bunker. “What I wouldn't give for a little engineer help right now,” he laughs. “I'd love to get to the point where we can have our own assistant or engineer to help us out. Running around chasing cables is not exactly the fun part. The great thing about it though, is it keeps us grounded to how it all started for us. Maybe there will always be a part of us chasing cables, soldering things together and figuring out why things don't work.”

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Looking forward, and as the songs are written and demos perfected, Mutemath will eventually have to decide whether or not they'll employ outside help for this record. Whether in the form of single or multiple producers, engineers or outside influences – the band has tried several approaches. This time around they're keen to trust their own instincts. “Every record has been different for us,” Meany explains warily. “On the last record we took it maybe eighty per cent of the way ourselves and then went to LA and worked with someone who helped us dial in what would be the singles. For the one before that (2009's Armistice) we actually had two producers. For this record I think we've found this new inspiration to see a song through to its finished place. As a new band I think we suffered a lot from self-doubt and second guessing, and needing someone to help us to actually finish a song. I think after going through that for a while you realise that you're paying a lot of money for this guy and really, his guess as to what to do with the song is as good as yours. I think having gone through a few records we've probably learned to trust our own processes – at least between the three band members.”

As intimated earlier, Mutemath are renowned far and wide for their energetic live show. One crucial element of the set is the keytar employed by Meany, an instrument used as a glorified MIDI controller to trigger pre-recorded samples. Many bands have trouble finding an acceptable way to do this without being tied to one piece of stationary gear, so the keytar, with its relative flexibility, is something of a masterstroke. Although, apparently, there were early reservations involved. “There are a lot of samples that we create in the studio, so when we started performing we were trying to figure out how to trigger them all. In the beginning, just me standing behind a keyboard the whole time didn't really seem like enough to grab attention. So we started trying this keytar. The first time though, it was like that movie Meet The Parents. There's this particular scene where Ben Stiller is at a pre-wedding party and the guy has given him some Speedos to wear. He's in the bathroom, chewing the gum and contemplating whether or not he's going to put these Speedos on and go out. That's kind of how I felt in the dressing room the first time we tried the keytar out. I'm chewing my Nicorette gum and standing in front of the mirror and freaking out. Once you're out there with it though – it's actually quite liberating.”