Gearing up to release their first album in four years, Vitals, Mutemath is preparing to enter back into the musical fray. MEB writer/photographer M.J. Rawls caught up with the band to talk about their evolution, the musical themes behind Vitals, and more.
MEB: There’s been a four year break in between Vitals and your last release, Odd Soul. What is different about the band now?
Mutemath: Asides from the obvious, not much. Darren and myself became new fathers. I think we needed some time to just kind of let life unfold for a while. We’ve been working fervently but not frenetically for the past few years. Creatively, we needed to run some experiments to see where our collective heads were at and what we wanted out of this new album. I think ultimately, we wanted to uncover something that represented a fresh start for ourselves. We had to shake up the formula a bit. I think shifting the semantics of the rhythm section of our band with our bass player moving to guitar was a key move on how this album turned out. We pushed keys and synths to carry more musical weight than we normally would for the songs and used the guitar more in the role of percussion and tried to be really selective on when the guitars would stand up to play the role they usually would for us. I’m really pleased how that part of the album turned out and much credit to Roy for pushing himself and allowing the sound to evolve.
Does Mutemath take solace in giving an album a time to marinate, especially with touring, etc?
I wouldn’t say we take solace in that, but we felt we especially owed it to fans to make “the right” album. And we knew that meant making it “right” for ourselves first. We couldn’t be afraid to take chances, make ourselves uncomfortable and challenge ourselves to be better writers and record makers. At this point in our career, we knew that would require some time and not rushing, so it’s what we did. If we get the chance to make more records after this, I think we’ll evolve in learning how to find finish lines quicker for ourselves.
You guys have toured with the likes of Linkin Park and Incubus, but also Alanis Morissette early on. Do you make it a point to try to tour for crowds with different bases of music?
We’ve only made a point to tour. We’ve never really had the inclination to be very discriminating. It’s always been a sort of “go” mode we’ve been in for the past 10 years. If you liked what we did and were gracious enough to invite us out to tour with you, chances were it was on. If there were people to play for, we wanted to play for them. We just always assumed there might be some portion of people in any crowd that might enjoy what we’re doing. Over the years it’s yielded an amazing audience and we feel so grateful for the people that show up now to see us continue to play.
How does it feel having Todd Gummerman as a full time member? He’s been a live part of the band since 2012, but did he add any creative input into Vitals?
Todd is great. We love having him a part of this. He’s an insane musician and the energy and input he brought to this album was fantastic. Since Roy led the charge on the guitars, I think Todd loved being let loose more on the keys with me. We had a great time pushing each other to find the best parts.
You guys had mentioned that you recorded more material for Vitals than all of the three previous albums combined. Being immensely talented multi-instrumentalists, when recording, does that play a lot into any ideas that you guys have?
I think we got into this “all hands on deck” mode for this album. Whatever each of us were capable of doing, we pushed each other to exhaust those outputs. We wrote traditionally as a band. Individually as instrumental track makers, or everyone writing vocal parts and lyrics in singer-songwriter modes. But in the end the chemistry for Vitals came from us creating individually and sending parts remotely to each other to develop. For me, Ive learned I’m at my best as a writer when left alone, so once we found a work flow where the guys could just keep sending me pieces of the puzzle that I could work on with no one else to pass immediate judgement, things were clicking. And then when I hit a wall, we’d come together as a band to see if we could advance the ideas any further. And then I would go back home and try to push even further and revise the songs.
“Used To” and “Light Up” are very emotional songs dealing with either holding on to love or losing it. Is that more or less the theme the album is going to forge through?
The album is all about confronting endings for me. I feel like there’s so much to learn about yourself and the people you care about when you’re at these fatal places. I’m amazed at how the human instinct is to always continue on and that we can only really let go of things when we find something new to latch on to. Think about even at the most extreme point of death. It’s thoughts of an afterlife or our children carrying on that we find comfort in accepting our own ultimate ending. But I wanted to make a super colorful and vibrant album that spoke about these things in a way that left me feeling inspired and finding hope in it all. I’ve always thought our best songs are the ones that were able to articulate a picture of darkness and frame it in light. That’s what Vitals is about.
You guys have awesome jam sessions during your live show, are you planning something special for the 2016 tour run? I think this is one of the aspects that makes a Mutemath show memorable and special.
We certainly are planning to continue to push ourselves and push the songs and the show further throughout the year next year. So I’m really looking forward to seeing where things go.
How does starting your own label (Wojtek Records) feel? Are you guys looking to expand and sign acts soon?
It’s an amazing feeling, and we’re stoked to get going. My dream is to certainly be able to facilitate opportunities for other aspiring artists one day, and we’re aiming to get there. I think as we’re getting things going and building a new template for our business in this new landscape for even the music industry as a whole, we’ll probably just stick to one guinea pig for now.