By Jim Schutze
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DJ Shadow was like the Mozart of sampling," Mute Math's keyboardist/singer Paul Meany says earnestly. The New Orleans musician says Shadow sparked his musical interest as a teen and continues to influence Mute Math's experimental rock sound. "There was a little record DJ Shadow put out called Endtroducing," he says. "I heard it back in 1997, and it was one of those life-changing moments. My opinion, when DJ Shadow came out with Endtroducing, it took all the elements of that time in hip-hop and just took it to a whole new level. Everybody has a record that they listen to and all of a sudden the way you look at the world changes, the way you look at music changes. [Endtroducing] was it for me. You have to understand that my first instrument was a sampler. I've always loved electronic music, and that's definitely a part of what Mute Math does. All the guys [in the band] have samplers. I don't think we try to imitate DJ Shadow, but we are definitely influenced by [him]. You gotta go to school to learn how to use these things, and I think DJ Shadow definitely taught the master class on sampling."
Meany and bandmate Darren King started Mute Math in 2001 as a long-distance writing collaboration. With keyboardist Meany in New Orleans and drummer King in Springfield, Missouri, the two sent demos and song ideas back and forth until it was apparent their songwriting project was growing into a band. By 2003, the pair had added guitarist Greg Hill and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas to form Mute Math.
Before heading out to perform, the group went into the studio to forge their own unique sound, something Meany has called genre-less "music without barriers." The result was experimental rock, rock with elements of jazz, new wave, psychedelia and electro.
"I tend to use the word 'experimental' way more sparingly when it comes to describing our music," says Meany. "There is a small part of experimentation that happens, but I think the connotation of saying 'experimental music' paints a picture that is far more avant-garde than what we do. Essentially, at the end of the day, we're pretty much writing pop songs. It may drift off course from time to time, but it's pop. I think that what we've tried to do is to bring some new sense of musicality as to how we approach our music and not be afraid to stretch a little bit."
Mute Math released their first EP on Warner Bros. in 2004, but in January 2006 the label refused to release their debut CD, Mute Math. The band and label sued each other, finally settling out of court, after the group sold 10,000 copies on the Internet themselves. That September, Warner Bros. officially released Mute Math.
The CD's first single, "Typical," spawned an unusual video. Meany jokes that the concept for it—being filmed backward—came after the band rejected all of the director's ideas, and the director rejected all of the band's ideas. "We basically said, 'OK, how can we do this in the most difficult and unexpected way?' We settled on filming backward."
In order for their movements to synch up to the soundtrack, the group learned their parts in reverse order. Singing, drumming, guitar licks, everything was reversed. The finished product shows the band members obviously moving backward, but somehow singing and playing "forward." The effect is comical and intriguing.
After closing out their tour in New Orleans, the group begins work on a 2008 release. "As we've been traveling these last few years we've been assimilating all these fragmented ideas," Meany says. "So we're looking forward to decompressing off the road and putting all these fragments together. Hopefully, it will all be done and ready to go by next year."