Photo of MUTEMATH's Todd Gummerman & Paul Meany performing on 'Late Night with Seth Meyers,' by Lloyd Bishop
More than 11 years after the arrival of their debut EP, Reset, New Orleans alt-rock outfit MUTEMATH is getting back to "the essentials" with their newly released fourth studio album, Vitals.
"We just emptied the tank," recalls frontman Paul Meany, speaking with Variance ahead of the album's release. "We needed some new energy. And it’s not like we consciously set out to do something opposite of our past material. But as it turns out, this album seems more connected to our old stuff, to our first EP."
Indeed, in what seems like a clear full-circle moment on the new album, the title track is an instrumental cut, as was the title track for the Reset EP.
The break between this album and 2011's Odd Soul was "a painful gap," according to Meany. But he insists it was necessary. "We needed to get away from the studio and everything. We’ve been a band for over 10 years and it was good to step away and then make the right record."
According to Meany, the band felt themselves falling into patterns leading into the record. "Everyone does their thing, you draft up these ideas, create these songs, call it MUTEMATH and you go live. And it’s another cycle," he says. "It was important for us this time to challenge those patterns."
The musician says he found himself listening to Steely Dan and Pink Floyd as he went into the studio, acknowledging he ended up "appreciating [their music] more than I had before." But perhaps an even greater inspiration came from The Police, specifically the band's 1980 album, Zenyatta Mondatta.
"I think I listen to that album every time we go back in the studio," Meany reveals. "Because I’ve always thought of it as a benchmark of what I hope our band can do. I think for all of us in the band, it really meant something this time. It’s groove-oriented pop songs but it’s also bold and stretching out musically, and it’s not rushed. We’re motivated by that."
While MUTEMATH is certainly at the start of a new chapter, Meany says they're still juggling their "ambitious side" with their "passion for music," something he admits is difficult at times.
"It’s a tricky balance when you can’t project to business partners, such as record labels, that you’re not commercially minded. But it’s not what moves us."
"There's part of you that wants to play Madison Square Garden or Red Rocks," he says. "It would be wonderful. But at the end of the day, you’re just following your intuition." He continues, noting: "We're not that methodical as a band. And it’s probably why we’re not with Warner Bros. anymore. It’s a tricky balance when you can’t project to business partners, such as record labels, that you’re not commercially minded. But it’s not what moves us. You have to follow what moves you, and for us it’s a passion for music and playing music with each other."
Although not necessarily motivated by label metrics, Meany says he's had to learn not to stress about fans' reactions to the music. But at this point in his career, he says he's now just "grateful for the fans who follow us from record to record," recalling an incident during a listening party for their second album, 2009's Armistice, in which a fan's feedback caught him by surprise.
"This guy came up to me afterwards with tears in his eyes," he remembers vividly. "I was immediately touched, thinking, ‘You work so hard in the studio and hope it connects with someone in this way.’ But he looked directly at me and asked, totally devastated, ‘Do you think you guys will ever record anything like the first record again?’ He was so disappointed over what he had just heard. And it hit me that there’s just no way you’ll ever be able to connect the dots for people with every new album, so that can’t be the motivation."
And perhaps that revelation is what's brought the group to this very moment, to Vitals, a project Meany simply describes as "the essentials, a rediscovering of the spark."
"That's where we found ourselves," he says. "The older you get, you’re saying goodbye to youth—and that’s where we all are as a band. But it’s that substance. It’s what keeps you pushing, moving forward. It's what keeps you believing tomorrow’s going to be better than today. Instead of reflecting on the glory days, you can believe the best is yet to come. I think that's exactly where we're at right now."
Vitals is out now and MUTEMATH's performance of "Light Up" on Late Night with Seth Meyers can be seen below.