All Adding Up

14 March 2013 | 7:15 am | Danielle O'Donohue

“We’re going to play some of these for the first time when we get to Australia. We’re looking forward to giving these new ideas some road miles."

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Australian audiences will have a role to play when Mutemath take to the stage this month. The New Orleans rockers will be trying out new material and it will be our job to separate the wheat from the chaff.

“We're at the sketch writing part where we're compiling as many ideas as we can,” frontman Paul Meany says of the process of writing the new album. “We're going to play some of these for the first time when we get to Australia. We're looking forward to giving these new ideas some road miles. We haven't done that in about five years because it's usually a curse. Usually if we play a song live before it's on a record we drop it.”

But Meany thinks it's time Mutemath break that curse. For a band who like to constantly change the way they work, road testing new material down under may provide just the spark to get this new album underway. “I think it was just being a new band, being insecure with our ideas. Hopefully now we're not just an older band and still insecure about our ideas,” Meany says laughing. “What I'm trying to say is I hope Australian audiences are supportive. They're kind of like Caesar in the gladiator days – thumbs up or thumbs down. We'll probably be pretty shy about whether it lives or dies depending on the reaction. I think we're probably going to have to give Australian audiences an A&R credit on this record.”

Last year was the first time Australians got to see Mutemath's incredible live show and the band went home with a lot of converts. But it was a long time coming. Mutemath began over ten years ago in New Orleans and have slowly been perfecting their rock to take in a whole melting pot of styles, cooked up out of the influences of their hometown.

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“The show Treme has become very popular,” Meany says. “It really is like that show. Whenever New Orleans appears in film or on TV shows, however Hollywood has portrayed New Orleans in the past, it never really connected with me. Once I saw Treme I was like, 'That's exactly what it feels like to be in New Orleans'. There's certain parts where it's music happening everywhere.”

And though the style of music that Mutemath plays may not be immediately recognisable as what people usually think of as the sound of New Orleans, Meany is happy to admit his band are fuelled by its unique surroundings without feeling the weight of responsibility for upholding the legacy of such an important scene.

“We love recording in New Orleans. We try to rent a new space every record we do. And it never fails, as soon as we start making noise, neighbours aren't complaining, neighbours are wanting to be a part of it and it draws people together. I consider myself very lucky being able to grow up there.

“New Orleans music as a whole is very accepting. I wouldn't call it pretentious or snooty or anything. But there's quite a line between, 'You're either doing traditional New Orleans music or you're doing the other stuff'. We're clearly doing the other stuff. But it's really exciting. We're going to play the New Orleans Jazz Fest for the first time this year. So there's a vague connection musically [with] what's going on. I think the spirit behind the music we try to do justice.”

Listen to the band's most recent album, Odd Soul, though, and you can definitely hear the influence of the brass bands and the idea that music is one epic release; a catharsis from the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life. “We really enjoyed letting ourselves go there on Odd Soul. I think on previous records it was kind of there but more in the background. Perhaps it just came with getting older or wanting to take the internal journey that we did on Odd Soul that came from letting our deep roots take the stage and really drive the record.”

At the start of the process for making Odd Soul the band decided they wanted to shake things up a bit. So they shut the doors to the outside world and set to work producing the album themselves. Though the process worked, Meany says it's time for a change. “We have locked the doors to a degree but the process is already different. For one, we're unlocking the doors in Australia because we're going to be letting a lot of people hear what we're up to, and it's not quite as private this time around as it was last time around.

“I like that; I don't want to get into a rut. We like to shake up the process with every record. We're doing it a little differently and we're trying not to be too precious with the ideas. We're just exploring this next chapter, whatever it may be.”

Changing the way they work every album also meant Meany has had to embrace changes as a songwriter. Last album, the singer started collaborating on lyrics with long-time bandmate Darren King. Rather than finding himself struggling to hand over control, Meany was happy to have some help.

“It was a relief,” he says. “The most frustrating times I've ever had in a band is when all the band is out in the waiting room and I'm locked in some dark corner of the studio beating my head against a wall trying to find those last few lyrics. And a lot of times that's just what you have to do.

“Darren, having watched me suffer through a few records of that and being a very good friend, he was offering up ideas and they were good ideas. I think we've learnt to work together really well.”

Rather than losing that control, Meany figures he may as well put the talent he has at his disposal to good use. “I think a lot of people don't realise Darren is a maestro musician. A lot of people see him as a great drummer but he's a key composer in all our musical ideas. He runs quality control on everything. Now we can make rhythmic patterns when we're beating our heads against the wall together,” Meany says with a laugh. “We can try and get some inspiration out of that.”

Last year when Mutemath toured Australia they were here playing Groovin' The Moo. Meany is grateful his introduction to Australia included an introduction to local music, giving the band a chance to see a bunch of Aussie bands and the reaction they were able to elicit from the crowd. “Immediately, it connects you to where the pulse was at,” he says. “We didn't know what we were in for. We were really fortunate.”

On one of the band's days off it also provided a unique experience that Meany is unlikely to forget anytime soon. “Flavor Flav was also part of that tour. A bunch of skinny white Australian, US and British artists just doing our thing and then you've got Flavor Flav and Public Enemy in the mix on the jet skis.”

Mutemath will be playing the following dates:

Tuesday 19 March - Astor Theatre, Perth WA
Thursday 21 March - Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA
Friday 22 March - Billboard, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 23 March - The Hi-Fi, Brisbane QLD
Sunday 24 March - The Hi-Fi, Sydney NSW