Anything But Typical

While many focus on the band's videos, Mutemath focuses on the live set.

Mutemath shoots cool photos, too!
Mutemath shoots cool photos, too!

Mutemath produces videos that make OK Go look like playful amateurs. The latter are well-known for carefully orchestrated, one-shot videos that seem to go viral instantly, but look at the video for Mutemath’s 2007 single “Typical.” The band performs the entire song backwards in one take while incorporating visual elements ranging from Silly String shooting to paint throwing to the on-screen destruction of a keytar. The whole time, frontman and keyboardist Paul Meany perfectly nails singing the lyrics backwards. And, while that’s all very impressive, drummer Darren King actually learned to play his drum parts in reverse. Reverse!

The video earned the band a Grammy nomination.

The band hit another high note recently with its video for “Blood Pressure,” a stimulating clip that found its way onto VH1’s “Top 20 Countdown” at the end of 2011. And it’s not like they have a Hollywood studio at their disposal. They’ve achieved all of this with just one camera!

“So it’s whatever we can figure out to do with one camera,” Meany says. “Limitation has kind of been good for us.”

It would be easy to label Mutemath a “video band.” Or so sayeth the Viacom overlords: MTV dubbed the band a “You Hear It First” act and VH1 labeled them a “You Oughta Know” artist.

But when making its latest album, Odd Soul, Meany says, the band concentrated on identifying its biggest weakness.

“I don’t think we make dark music very well, or anything that’s very melancholy,” he says. “I like them, but they don’t do so well for us live. I think that the songs that have higher dynamics or [are] high-spirited and upbeat are the things that work for us and ultimately the ones we enjoy playing live the most. And I think our audience enjoys that the most, too.”

Because that’s the bottom line for Mutemath: the live show. In 2007, Alternative Press dubbed the group the No. 1 “band to see live before you die.” And in an effort to stay a must-see act, the band has begun focusing all its creative energy on getting the most out of concerts by tailoring the songs on Odd Soul specifically to the live environment.

“When writing Odd Soul, the thing we tried to let lead the way is our show,” Meany says. “The things we’ve learned the past five or six years on the road has allowed us to discover the things about our band that we feel we do well and what we don’t. We just try to create a song that’s sort of ready for the four guys that have to play it every night onstage.”

This ideological push also led the band to look at what songs audiences most consistently responded to.

“When we went in to make this record, we tried to take a handful of our older songs — four or five of our favorites — and said, ‘Let’s just try to write and record a bunch of brother/sister/cousin songs to these guys.’” The resulting tunes and the band’s chemistry keep Mutemath among the top live rock acts around.

“I think there’s a lot of history in this band. I’ve known Darren and (bassist) Roy for 17 years,” Meany says. “I noticed the other night we were playing a show and things were going wrong and we were trying to adjust. You can feel that intuition that’s within the musicians and the history, so everyone just adjusts together. You take comfort in that.”

Mutemath play with Canon Blue • Sat, Feb. 11, at 8 pm • Knitting Factory • $23 • All-ages • • 244-3279

Live From Somewhere @ Red Room Lounge

Sat., April 17, 6 p.m.
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is a freelance contributor to The Inlander and an alumnus of Gonzaga University.