2011 was an interesting year for Paul Meany, frontman for the indie rock quartet MuteMath. Not only did the band turn into a trio with the departure of guitarist Greg Hill, but Meany decided it was time for other changes as well. When work began on the band's most recent effort, Odd Soul, it was decided the remaining trio would lock themselves into a home studio and not emerge until the entire project was finished. None of the material would be road tested, as was the band's modus operandi.
Odd Soul also found Meany collaborating on lyrics for the first time ever. The resulting songs have a much more brotherly feel, more direct and less tense that what came before. Speaking from his home in New Orleans and in anticipation of MuteMath's performance Saturday night at the House of Blues, Meany spoke about the making of the band's most recent album and how they dealt with the loss of a key member.
Being from New Orleans, you must be a big Saints fan. Hey, it's been a great time to be a Saints fan after all those years of the team being bad. Basically, the team was bad for most of my life. It's nice that they have redeemed themselves.
How was your approach different on the band's most recent album? What we did was lock the door on everybody else and let the band do the things it wanted for about six months.That was the main thing. We didn't hire a producer. We had no engineer. There weren't any management people or any record company people around while we recorded. It was a very therapeutic process for the band. We had lost a guitar player [Greg Hill] going in to it. We had to kind of reinvent ourselves and we had a great time. It felt like being in the band when it first started. We wanted to alleviate ourselves from any pressure. We didn't want to come out or talk to anyone until we were done with the record. We didn't road test any of the songs. No one heard anything we were doing. Road testing songs really didn't work for us on our last record [Armistice]. When you play the songs live and then try to recreate that sound in the studio, all of this stuff starts haunting you. Differences within the band became exasperated. Someone might say that fan so-and-so agrees with me and it makes it all dysfunctional.
Is that what resulted in Greg leaving the band? That probably had a lot to do with it. But then we had to figure out how we were going to go forward. Were we going to get a new guitar player? We started having ideas and our bass player picked up a guitar and we starting cranking as a three piece and we found a lot of life. We decided to make the whole record like that.
After the record was made, you did bring in Todd Gummerman to replace Hill. Was it odd having to teach someone all of the songs? He is a talented guy and learned all the stuff on his own. He just kind of showed up and knew everything. We knew we were going into a new chapter for our band. It feels more natural to get to know someone playing music on the road as opposed to being in a studio. I'm glad we started out like that. We had our first tour with Todd back in the fall and everything is working fine.
Is it true that this was the first album where you collaborated with someone on the lyrics? The drummer, Darren King, and I sat down together and spent a lot of time writing down concepts and lyrical ideas that were interesting to us. I really enjoyed it. I had written everything up to this album and to have someone come up with some great ideas, it felt very natural for me to collaborate.
You've stated that you wanted this album to express your eccentric Christianity and weird religious roots. What are those? That was one of the things that we all bonded over when the band members first met. We shared similar upbringings in very similar circles. Eccentric Christianity is a big part of the Bible Belt. We bonded over tales of going to Jesus camps. We had fun talking about these times and thought we could make songs out of some of those concepts.
You've jokingly said that with this album you wanted to out-Jesus Jesus. Isn't that Tim Tebow's job? [Laughs] I guess it is now. He kind of took it over. That was actually Darren's quote. I think it's all a part of growing up in this part of the country.
How surprised were you when you got nominated for a Grammy? I was very surprised. It was for our video and I didn't even know they gave out Grammys for a video.
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Is the next stop to win a Grammy? Yeah, sure.
Were you ever worried that people would be turned off on the band's name just because most folks hated math when they were in school? No. As a matter of fact, when we first started out as an electronic band, we were just called Math. It was a mostly instrumental band. We wanted to get a name that didn't sound too arty and MuteMath just kind of worked for us.
MuteMath perform with Canon Blue on Saturday, January 28, at the House of Blues.