Darren King of MuteMath
For MuteMath, the making of their second studio album “Armistice” could easily be filed under “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Pushed to their limits when producer Dennis Herring stepped in and instructed them to scrap what they had and start from scratch may have been the best advice this band has ever received. The band picked up their instruments, started over, and in that moment they reinvented themselves. While the overall process almost lead to the demise of the band, when they finally finished up, they were left with an album that they were all proud of and were happy to call their best work to date.
Blending rock, electronica, pop and alternative styles of music MuteMath create a chaos inspired soundscape that take their fans on a musical journey that truly comes to life when the band hits the stage. If a band is only as good as their last show then MuteMath gets better every day. Their live performance, quickly coined one of the best in the business, is where the band truly thrives.
Consummate road warriors, the band has been on tour since the August release of “Armistice”. Currently out in support of 30 Seconds To Mars, MuteMath has a new live DVD coming out later this year. Drummer Darren King recently called in from the road to talk about their journey.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
Now that “Armistice” has been out for awhile, I wanted to ask you to reflect on it a bit. A lot was made of the infighting that went on in the band during the writing and recording process, in hindsight, what did you take away from that experience?
There’s an analogy I use regarding the making of our second record. You might have heard about this in the news. There were some JetBlue flights that after landing on the runway at JFK airport were left in a snowstorm, stuck on the runway for nine and a half hours. MuteMath was actually on that flight. We landed in NY on the icy tarmac and we just sat there. The bathrooms didn’t work on the plane and we just slept and waited until we were finally allowed to exit. After going through that, air travel doesn’t scare me at all. Just put me in the overhead compartment at this point, I feel like I’ve been through the worst of it. Making the second record was a bit difficult and I felt at certain points that we were working at a slower pace or having to redo things more often than usual, rehash certain things. There was more than just the pressure of making the record. It was a busy time for us personally and individually and it all added up to a lot of pressure – it was a tough time. After being through it and making a record that I genuinely like and am proud of it does give you a certain invincible feeling, you’re not afraid of a little discomfort, nuisance or boredom.
So wait, the JetBlue part, was that just for the analogy or were you actually on that flight?
We were on the flight. We flew from Chicago to NY and we were going from there to Europe the next day. That was only the beginning of our travel woes, it got worse from there. It was this perfect storm of travel where everything went horribly wrong.
The band was very honest about the hardships you went through, that’s not something that we as music fans always get to see, why did you decide to let fans see that side of you?
I suppose the internet has made us all feel more anxious to share the intimate details of our lives. We just thought it was an interesting story. If anything, just what had happened felt more interesting than saying nothing. It would be so much worse to make up something that worked.
Growing up, you went to a church that had a drummer that was always playing loud and proud – is that when you decided you wanted to play drums or how did you fall into it?
There were a few things that seemed to all work together and point towards me playing the drums. Even from the time I was very young my mom would get mad at me for putting marks in all the cabinets from drumming on them with forks and knives. Being raised in a protective home in the middle of Missouri didn’t provide me a whole lot of opportunities for the type of music you find out about as a teenager growing up in a big city. I loved The Beach Boys, I loved Mozart I loved Benny Goodman – whatever I would find in my Dad’s cassette collection and I always gravitated towards the drums. There was a guy who played drums at my church and it was so emotional and really tasteful and he definitely inspired me. My best friend growing up was the son of our high school band director and since he knew we were best buddies he let us both play in the percussion section together. We always had a friendly rivalry and that also inspired me. Lots of things inspire me – our guitarist Greg was in a band prior to MuteMath and I was a big fan, I went to every show they played. He was the drummer in the band and I loved to watch him play drums.
So the first song that you ever wrote together as a band “The Fight” was just made available to fans. Can you tell us a little bit about the song and why it’s being release now?
Yes, the first song for the four of us. We had written songs before that as a three piece or a two piece group when we were first starting out but that was a song that we came up with not too long after Hurricane Katrina. When we first wrote it there was an initial excitement even from record labels that were courting us at the time but for some reason we didn’t complete it. We felt as though we grew in a different direction but now suddenly it felt appropriate to work on the song again.
You recently posted a video on your website saying that the plan is to start on your next record when this tour wraps up. Have you stated writing at all or did you decide to wait until you could concentrate full focus on that?
Actually just a few days ago Paul showed me a new song idea that I’m really excited about. We’ve got a lot of things brewing. It’s going to be a busy year – I’m going to get married, and we’re going to make an album hopefully, and then we get to go to Japan and I’m looking forward to it all. We’ve taken some time to be involved in our personal lives and some time away from the band for awhile and it will be good for us to get back into it.
One of the things that I find so interesting about the dynamic of the band is that Paul also has some roots in drumming. How does his love for percussion and attention to the drum details impact you? Is it a positive influence?
The attitude I tried to develop during the making of the second record is that I would welcome input from anyone. I would allow anyone to mess with the drums and what I do but ultimately I was just going to make sure that I liked the end result. I was going to oversee it all and I feel like I learned a lot from that, a lot of good things happened. A different person will always approach things from a different perspective, they’ll uncover what role your instrument can play in a song and sometimes a person’s idea might seem counter-intuitive to you and for that reason off-putting initially or even silly but when you start to mess with it you find out there’s something good in there. That can happen especially with a producer. I can trust my band mates input a lot faster than anyone else’s because we’ve gone through an awful lot together and they make it a lot easier to entertain than anyone else. Even a stranger, or someone who doesn’t know anything about music will have some interesting insight.
Having seen you live a few times, I’m always entertained by watching you duct tape your headphones to your head..not being really versed in musical technology at first I thought that was just to keep them on from your active live show, but..there’s actually more of a purpose to them isn’t there?
Yeah it serves a few purposes, one it blocks out a little bit of sound on the stage so that I don’t lose my hearing as quickly and the other is it allows me to hear the sequences that we’re playing along to and the other musicians. That’s a tradition I started even before I auditioned for the band, it allows me to move around, I didn’t want to have to sit still.
The band sort of started as a long distance collaboration between you and Paul where you would send him music, he would add his two cents to it and back and forth it would go. How did that then evolve into the band as we know it today?
Yes, I was living in Nashville and Paul was in New Orleans and we sent each other music through the mail. Eventually I moved out to a little house in Louisiana and it was a starting over period for the band. For Paul it was a tough time, a lot of his ambitions were experiencing a set back and for me it was just the first chance I ever got to do something I wanted to do for a long time. So I feel like my naiveté at the time was probably helpful just to keep things moving and to enjoy things. I would get so amped up over any little advancement.
So do you not get excited by the little things anymore?
No, you don’t. It’s true, the first time you play Letterman, you’re taking in every single detail and everything is noteworthy, you’re taking pictures of the dot on the ground where Letterman stands. You’re just trying to freeze every moment and then the second time you play you feel a little more accustomed to it and it never feels quite the same. It doesn’t scare me, I’m not afraid of ever running out of those things because those aren’t the main reasons I’m in this band anyway, those first experiences are always great and they really can give you a shot in the arm at the right time but at the same time there’s plenty of things we haven’t done.
Speaking of things you’ve done, since you’ve released this last album, what has been the most rewarding moment for you as a member of this band?
I think that probably a good live show is always the most rewarding thing. When that goes off well it seems to be the ultimate culmination of what we do. If we do a headline tour and we really connect with a group of people in a great venue with great sound and it all comes together, that’s the moment. I love playing festivals. Growing up in a small town in MO, any international travel is a big deal for me and I feel deeply rewarded whenever we get to do that. Even completing the second record was a great feeling – I will confess that I cried.
Tears of joy I hope?
For the most part.
I’ve seen the band described as “experimental” on many occasions..do you think that fits and do you like that description?
I like it, sure. I think we’re mildly experimental at best. You’ve got some big shoes to fill if you’re going to say you’re experimental. I don’t necessarily use that word to describe us but I don’t mind people saying it. We do try to keep things interesting and I suppose that could be a subjective term because if what’s conventional to you is to try to make an introspective six minute electronic song, then it can be very experimental to write something very catchy and immediate, and that can be very intimidating and scary so experimental is a moving target for me.
The band has a DVD that’s coming out soon, what can you tell us a little bit about it and why we as MuteMath fans need to have that?
I’m really excited about it. We played a show in Atlanta at The Tabernacle, one of my favorite venues in the country. We had a wonderful crowd there that night. The first DVD we did was in Los Angeles for a good number of people but it wasn’t one of our wildest crowds of the tour. This new DVD documents our live tour for the second album and we really tried to go all out for the show to make it special. We happened to catch a very exuberant and responsive crowd that night so I’ve seen a few of the songs, we’re mixing the audio right now, and I’m very excited about it. Did I sell it?
Hey, having seen you live before, I was sold already.
(Our best wishes go out to Darren and his future wife – Congratulations!)