If anyone knows a thing or two about necessity being the mother of invention, it's MuteMath. Not to take anything away from their talent as musicians and songwriters, but there's a certain undeniable charm to a band that uses a keytar, creates its own instrument called "The Atari" and has a drummer that tapes his headphones to his head at the beginning of each show.
Unique characteristics and quality music combine forces to create a performance that is finding its way on to many people's "must- see concerts" list. Singer Paul Meany hopes people pay attention to the music first. "I'd like to think the songs are the focus, but the live show is part of the icing and a big part of what we do," he says by phone before a recent show in Cleveland. "It feels like it's snowballing. Nothing has felt like it's exponentially blown out of the water, but it's good. Things have been happening to keep the show on the road."
While the band has been touring for the last two-and-a-half years, they've only released one full-length disc, 2006's self-titled album. "It's felt like it's been nonstop," Meany says. "We're overdue to make some new music. For a lot of people that have been with us for a while, they've been so kind to keep coming back to the shows and bringing people. We're going to start recording as soon as the touring takes a lull."
While there won't be a new record until next year -- if all goes as planned -- the band is still drawing attention for their live show and unique video for the first single, "Typical." The video was filmed while the band performed backwards. For example, singing appears normal, but paint flies off of Meany instead of being splashed on, a person jumps backwards and a keytar is reassembled instead of destroyed. (See the video at qcvibes.com)
"We figured we would set up in a room and film ourselves playing our song, but what would make it interesting is if we did that whole thing in reverse," Meany says. "The reverse concept is not an original idea by any means, but a lot of videos that have done that are our favorite videos. We hadn't really seen it done in a band performance from start to finish."
Meany says the most difficult part was for drummer Darren King. The band would watch video of their performance in reverse and try to mimic it. They practiced for a few weeks before filming. The video has garnered so much attention they recreated it for a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
For someone who only listened to Southern gospel while growing up in a religious home, Meany has crafted out a niche of his own with MuteMath's sound, which combines elements of rock, new wave, pop and a whole lot more. "There should be two categories of music -- the good category and the bad category," he says. "Hopefully, we can land somewhere on the good side of things."
He says most of his early performing was done in church (while clarifying that the band is not, and has never been, a Christian band) and that his musical liberation came with his parents' divorce. "It was a bad day for the family, but a great day for my musical education because all the rules kinda went out the window," Meany says. "I began to listen to the 'devil's walkie-talkie' which was the radio. I finally got a chance to listen to what was going on on that and it was eye-opening ... or ear-opening."
As for the band's "signatures," Meany says he's not too surprised about the focus on the keytar. His use of the keyboard/guitar combination grew out of the necessity to be more mobile while playing keyboards. "It seems like the keytar went away for a while," he says. "It got a bad rap. I'm not sure how exactly that happened, but it was sometime in the '80s. Maybe that wasn't the proudest moment for the keytar. It's one of our weapons of choice."
Another weapon for the band is their homemade noise producer, "The Atari." A long, silver electronic device, it produces electronic noises in a method similar to that of a theremin. "Darren started dabbling around with making these sort-of homemade creations and opening children's toys and taking whatever electronics he could find in it and wiring things that weren't supposed to be connected," Meany says.
The first creation was called "The Cigar Box," but wasn't durable during live shows. A friend built the new device, Meany says, which is often passed around the crowd during the encore. He notes that it recently suffered some damage during a show in Cincinnati -- the first time it stopped working in a year and a half.
The third piece of the visual puzzle is King's use of tape to hold his headphones on. The headphones, which are used as monitor and timekeeper, have been taped on since day one. "The first time I auditioned him and watched him play drums, that's what he did," Meany says. "At that time, they were these airport things. They were humongous and didn't really fit on his head anyway, so he had to duct tape them on. His drum set was set up all wrong and I just remember being floored by that audition, which only last five minutes because he broke everything he had. He also sweats profusely. His clothes barely stay on him, much less any pair of headphones. It's just one of those things -- he's gotta tape 'em on."
MuteMath will perform at Amos' Southend on Oct. 26 with opening act Eisley. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 on the day of the show. Doors open at 8 p.m. For more information, go to amossouthend.com