One thing Mutemath drummer Darren King has learned over the years is that sometimes you have to listen to The Boss. Though King was raised a devout Christian, he isn't talking about God.
"I love this thing I heard Bruce Springsteen say once," King said. "Before he goes on stage, he tries to remind himself of two things: The first is that he's about to do the most important thing he does. And secondly, it's just silly; it's just noise; it's just for fun. We call it 'playing' music for a reason."
Talking with King, you get the sense that Mutemath's career path might have looked a bit different had the band kept these ideas in mind from the beginning. Between 2009's tumultuous Armistice recording sessions--the band spent weeks fighting over creative differences and crumbling under the weight of massive expectations after the breakout success of its self-titled release--the album's subsequent failure to gain any real traction with fans or critics, and the sudden departure of longtime guitarist Greg Hill in 2010, it has been a rough few years for the band. According to King, the entire sequence of events was anything but enjoyable.
"I'd certainly prefer to never make another album like that again," King laughed.
After enduring these hardships, it's something of a surprise that Mutemath's latest album, Odd Soul, works so well. The band's fourth studio release (and third full-length) injects life into the group's music once again, recapturing the spirit and verve that were found in abundance on the band's first two releases, Reset EP (2004) and Mutemath (2006). Mutemath got the band on the cover of Billboard and garnered it a Grammy nomination for Best Short Form Music Video for the track "Typical." And Odd Soul is shaping up to receive similar critical accolades.
Entertainment Weekly wrote that on Odd Soul, the band "spice their post-Radiohead space-rock sound with flavors of home: salty blues guitar on 'Odd Soul,' greasy jazz organ on 'Tell Your Heart Heads Up.' The result is like The Bends on Bourbon Street."
The album is a simultaneous mix of hypnotic and off-kilter beauty that features frequent unexpected starts and stops. Odd Soul's 13 tracks are influenced by a host of genres like rock, pop, soul, electronica, gospel and even blues. King said the band wanted to be more authentic with its sound this time around.
"We wanted to play the same way we would live and tell our story," King said. "We started to be more honest, more forthright with our experience. We wanted to see if the more specific we got ... the more specific storytelling, the more specific emotion that's involved in what we do, the more opportunity other people would have to connect with it and the more meaningful it could be."
But in order for Mutemath to be more genuine with its music, members had to examine the past and how they've changed since their childhoods growing up in devout Christian households.
"A lot of it comes from a place of us as kids ... trying to be perfect and trying to impress God, trying to be good people and trying to impress other people with how good we were and all that stuff," King confessed. "The song, 'Walking Paranoia,' is about me as a kid confessing my sins to strangers and doing all kinds of weird things in an attempt to try and be a good Christian kid because I wanted to be special. I wanted to save everybody."
This feeling of pressure helped form the basis for the band's aptly named first single from Odd Soul, "Blood Pressure." The track is a hip-swinging, toe-tapping rock track with rhythms and sounds that mirror someone's emotional state by thrumming and boiling during the verses before exploding in choruses like "Blood pressure / Do Better / Keep rising / Blood pressure!"
"That one came about through reminiscing about the ways families work, and it was as much through observation as it was from personal experience," King said. "If you watch a film like Jesus Camp, maybe you've seen someone like that or been there yourself, where you're just absolutely burning yourself out trying to be perfect."
Accepting the fact that they could not be perfect was a cathartic process for the band members, and it shows in the devil-may-care attitude that the album possesses. From the frenetic garage rock of the title track to the almost acid jazz sounds of the instrumental track, "Sun Ray," Odd Soul goes wherever it wants, convention be damned. Toss in the '60s-style rock of "Prytania" and the epic space funk of "Quarantine," and you have an album that is as explosive and diverse as a fireworks show, which is appropriate given the pyrotechnics and energy the group's live shows are known for. A Mutemath concert is loose and fun, and such attributes were on display during the band's recent video shoot for "Blood Pressure."
"We improvised a lot," King laughed. "It was definitely spur of the moment. We had so much fun making the video. I've learned that that's how video shoots are supposed to be, and that's how working in the studio should be. The more you find yourself laughing, probably the better."
Thank God these Odd Souls have found their way back to having fun doing what they love.