"Typical" from the album Mute Math
During New Orleans-based alt-rock band Mute Math's earliest days, founding members Paul Meany and Darren King didn't put limits on the kind of music they might create. This approach yielded a sound that is not only distinctive, but hard to categorize. And for a time, it looked like the difficulty in pinning down Mute Math's inability to pin down a sound would have a negative impact on the group's career.
Problems began with Earthsuit, a Christian rock group of Meany's before Mute Math. They made one album before breaking up. The expectations for how Christian rock should sound and the messages artists should communicate didn't mesh with Meany's more open-ended and adventurous musical ambitions.
"What I felt inside and wanted to accomplish musically weren't the same, didn't work within the parameters of the business," Meany says. "I think everyone in Earthsuit felt that frustration, and we decomposed."
His response was to start Mute Math and try to rediscover the pure excitement of creating music without any agendas for what the band would accomplish or communicate. For a time, the plan seemed to be working.
In 2004, Meany, the band's manager, Kevin Kookogey, and producer Tedd Tjornhorn, formed a label called Teleprompt with an eye toward releasing an EP, Reset. Tjornhorn made contacts with Warner Bros. Records. He felt they could start out on Teleprompt, build a foothold in the market, and then move directly to Warner Bros. in hopes of achieving wider success. Things were on track until Warner Bros. heard Mute Math's demos.
"When we put together our first batch of recordings, it was deemed pretty quickly that we had no radio hits or anything that Warner Bros. could really work with," Meany remembers. "You know, it's funny because we can get into describing the music of Mute Math and the instrumentation and what we do. If you just talk about it at a base level, it sounds like we're going to be some way left-of-center experimental art band. But it's really not that at all."
The music on their self-titled debut album confirms Meany's view of the group's music. Their sonic approach creates an instantly unique sound, as it makes considerable use of electronics, techno, and hip-hop beats, and synthesizers. But beneath the whirlwind of sound, songs like "Typical," "Chaos," and "You Are Mine" make it clear that Meany and his bandmates — drummer King, guitarist Greg Hill, and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas — have a good grasp on clever arrangements and an ear for melody.
The Mute Math/Warner Bros. saga obviously didn't end with the label deciding it couldn't market the group. Word Records, a Christian music label within the Warners family, took over the Reset project, which might have worked if Warner Bros. had been willing to embrace the debut. Warner Bros. was fine with having Word be Mute Math's label.
Mute Math reacted boldly, filing suit and declaring that they would release their debut through Teleprompt and sell the disc at shows. Then things took another turn. During their first major tour last winter, the album started selling heavily at shows and online. This grassroots success didn't escape notice at Warner Bros., and the label quickly moved to resolve the impasse and bring Mute Math back into the fold.
"They were like, 'Let's make this work,'" Meany says. "And much to their credit, they apologized, and they threw the old deal out the window and said, 'Let's make the new one and the right one.' We couldn't have been happier when that actually happened."