Mutemath (left to right)—Darren King, Paul Meany, and Roy Mitchell-Cardenas.
When their guitar player quit and their record label began counting beans and weighing losses, New Orleans polyglot players Mutemath took fate into their own hands. Damn finding a new guitarist, those dudes simply raise the collective stress level. Ditto for producers, those record label puppets whose main goal is often to stamp their sonic imprint on a band''s music while positioning for points should the ensuing release move major copies. With that in mind, Mutemath opted to self-record and produce their latest album, Odd Soul, in their New Orleans habitation, and prohibit any producer or record label rep from entering their recording realm.
“We recorded the second album (Armistice, 2009) with all kinds of self-doubt and too many cooks in the kitchen,” drummer Darren King recalls. “Lots of unnecessary worry. This time, we shut the door on all of that. When [guitarist] Greg [Hill] left, he was so worn down from the methods we employed when working, he slammed the door and was gone. Then [keyboardist /vocalist] Paul [Meany] told Warner Bros. that they wouldn''t be hearing from us while we were working on this record. We didn''t want to work with a producer. This time there''d be nothing that we didn''t believe in.”
Will Mutemath''s Odd Soul make believers of us all? Can an alternative rock band with an experimental itch survive on a major label without the guidance of an established producer or engineer? Holed up in their New Orleans house, with bass recorded in the bedroom, keyboards and vocals (along with their sparse recording gear) in the kitchen, and drums recorded in the dining room (with additional tracking at Piety Street Recording), Mutemath stared down the black hole of expectation.
“We began having fun and we indulged our curiosities,” King says. “Often I would build a track with samples (using an Ensoniq ASR-10) and then we''d start jamming. Then we''d disregard the samples and track instruments in any order, stop, jam again, pull it apart, go in separate rooms and work on it. There was real excitement that we weren''t being held up by the analysis of a producer. We pushed ourselves. We felt safe in our environment.”
“We used a Roland 2480 (running Logic Pro 9 on a MacBook Pro with an RME Fireface 800) for tracking, along with a TEAC 2-track tape machine for drums,” Paul Meany says. “We used a 4-track Tascam for processing vocals and drums as well. We had Amek pres and Empirical Labs Distressors for everything else. We bounced a lot of the tracks over to Logic for editing and arranging and used those plug-ins as well. We used the Ad-Limiter a lot, along with the Space [Designer Convolution] Reverb.
“In the end, we did final prep work and mixed half the album in Pro Tools,” Meany adds. “Those tracks were mainly mixed by Doug McKean and one was mixed by Tchad Blake. The other half of the record wound up back in the 2480 to be mixed. We''ve always thought the sound of those compressors is great, and they proved to be unbeatable, depending on the song.”
“All or Nothing” shows the new Mutemath direction, an electronic jumble of organ loops, samples and Paul Meany''s high-pitched vocal. “That was built from a Fun Machine drum machine taken from a Wurlitzer organ that my wife had,” Darren King says. “I sampled the Funmaker and built the beat out that. It''s an old early organ rhythm machine. I EQed it to get a certain sound out of it. Then I recorded real drums over it, and there''s a Moog Voyager in there as well.”
“We messed around with sounds a lot on ‘All or Nothing'' and the album as a whole,” Paul Meany explains. “Sometimes we would run the signal through a Guild Maverick amp, using the spring reverb on that for a lot of our drums. It gave them a nice crunch. We also used the Maestro Rhythm-n-Sound guitar pedal for effects. Darren didn''t realize it was a guitar pedal, and he made sounds out of it anyway. Then [bassist] Roy [Mitchell-Cardenas] plugged a guitar into it, and the resulting sounds were very interesting from what sabotage Darren had already created with it. That''s the guitar sound we used on ‘Calvaries'' and ‘Walking Paranoia.''”
Meany used an M-Audio Solaris microphone for his vocal, with little or no EQ. He and the band also favored Fender Princeton and Guild Maverick amps, the latter a workhouse for multiple sounds.
“We love running an SM 57 through an old Guild Maverick amp with its spring reverb engaged,” King says. “That SM 57 is placed between the snare and kick. That combination did the most to color the sound of the snare and the hi-hat. It creates a punchy sound and if your sound is already deadened, it adds a unique, dull color. We did that on ‘Quarantine.'' Sometimes we use the reverb, sometimes just the amp sound in conjunction with conventional miking on the snare. We used the Teac 2-track 1/4" tape for drums, and the Tascam 4-track cassette recorder, using its electronics for good drum distortion. Just to amp up the drums a little bit.”
For Meany''s vocals, he was glad the nasties, the meanies, and the producers were nowhere in sight.
“I don''t think I''ve ever done a good vocal take with a producer saying, ‘Go!''” he says. “Usually, good things happen when I''m left alone and I can experiment and listen back. I certainly pushed myself more vocally than with any producer on our prior records.
“We were burnt out with the producer thing,” Meany adds, “and wanted as few opinions as possible. Everyone always has different opinions. This record was about us re-finding our way, which is the guys in the band doing what we really believe is good music and how we want to present it. We know how to record ourselves, we know how we sound, and we know how to make music.”