Drummer Darren King
After Mute Math played two awe-inspiring shows at Orlando’s The Social during the second annual Anti-Pop Festival, I scheduled some chat time with frontman Paul Meany. Unfortunately, the long tour and demanding onstage performances had taken their toll on the acrobatic artist leaving him without much of a voice. Drummer Darren King pinch-hit for Paul and spoke with me while driving from Orlando to the band’s next show in South Florida.
Your live show is one of the best that I’ve ever seen. What live bands inspire you?
The best show I ever saw was in New Orleans, that’s where I’ve seen a lot of the great concerts. It’s kind of fun, most of the great live concerts I saw were on the fly, ya know, just a moment that happens- like I found out about the show right before it happened. There was this one time, it was just a boring time in my life- we hadn’t really started Mute Math yet and our other band was kind of dying down, it was this awkward transistion. I found out, while I was working at this clothing store one day, that The Roots- which is one of my very favorite bands- were playing at the Essence Festival that night. The Essence Festival, if you’re familiar with Essence magazine, it’s entirely for African-American people, so the festival was also the same. I was, I think, the only white person in the entire Superdome. The Roots played on this side stage, they did 2 sets. All together they played for, probably, three hours and I stood at the front of the stage and watched their drummer Qwestlove- he’s my favorite drummer. The guy who does all the vocals, Black Thought, was amazing- all the musicians were wonderful. The amazing thing was that they did a different set each time and they did different versions of each song. The way the started the second set was they did this chronological montage of rap music from “Rapper’s Delight” all the way to Nelly’s “It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here.” It was awesome, the crowd was crazy!
Another one was the first time I saw this New Orleans artist called Quintron. I saw this band called Godspeed You! Black Emperor at this (club) that Hurricane Katrina took out. I saw, just recently, Imogen Heap in Canada. I got there late, but Canadian people are so sweet and they gave me a free ticket to go in and see the encore. She played my favorite song of hers… it was this gorgeous theater. It was really special. A few of my favorite artists I haven’t gotten to see yet, but I’ve seen some good ones in my day.
Are you still living in New Orleans these days?
No, the hurricane picked us up and moved us to Nashville. Greg stayed behind. He had flood insurance, and it ran out a week before Hurricane Katrina, and the flooding stopped a quarter-mile from his house… so Greg believes in Jesus. Yeah, he’s really lucky, he’s really thankful. It’s funny ’cause whichever direction the rain comes matters, ’cause there was a lot of rain damage to his house, but insurance covered that. I think Paul’s planning on moving back to New Orleans soon, but I have no place to lay my head right now. Soon I will, but right now I’m just on the bus or at my girlfriend’s house in Orlando, or my Mom’s in Missouri, or at the studio.
So your girlfriend lives in Orlando? Is that why you guys did the two nights here instead of somewhere else?
Yep, that’s exactly why we did the two nights- so I could be with her. You bring up a good point, I don’t know why we didn’t do a whole week residency! Then I could just be with her, and do a show every night. I don’t know, I think it must get old to her though- watching me play every night. So I try to switch it up. (laughs)
Going back to New Orleans for a second, how has the musical climate bounced back after Katrina?
It was hurt. It seemed like right before the hurricane there was this burgeoning scene of really unique, quirky bands… One was Mr. Quintron, I think he still lives there… also more bands were touring through New Orleans, a lot of great venues were popping up. More than just the bar-hopping, or touristy, or Top 40 scene there was a new music scene there, but now it’s no longer like that. It got set back a few years, that’s all.
Did you guys participate in Voodoo Fest recently?
I will say this, Voodoo Fest was a wonderful thing. It really helped ’cause we were able to, for once, go to the city and see our families. It was a real morale builder for the city. I wasn’t sure what to think when they reopened the Superdome because of all the bad things that had happened there recently. It seemed strange to have so much celebration in the Superdome. But in the City Park, which was beautiful with all of those live oak trees, I didn’t have any negative associations so it was really just a celebration and everybody was in good spirits. And it was well attended, which was good.
Does it effect your performance going from a small, intimate club like last night’s show to a large stage like the Voodoo Fest?
It doesn’t change your performance except for how much space you have to move around. But the amount of people you have there drastically changes your performance. If there are a lot of people there I always end up playing harder- I always overplay. (Voodoo) really was a wonderful show show- Paul’s grandpa came out and played the Atari for us. We had a blast- we really did! And to play outdoors was wonderful, it was really a beautiful, gorgeous day… This tour’s been strange because we’ve played some really small places in cities we’ve never been to before, but we’ve also played some big places in cities we’ve been to often. To go from one to the other makes me grateful. There are a couple of guys on the crew, young guys who’ve never done this before, who get real discouraged at the small clubs ’cause we can’t set our lights in it and it gets real cramped. I don’t mind it, I like it.
When did you start duct taping your headphones onto your head?
Do you believe I did that whenever I first auditioned for the band. It was a previous band (Earthsuit) I had auditioned for, because I was a big fan and admirer of Paul and all of his work a lot and he was a friend. I had started making little tracks off of equipment and I would send that to him via mail. And we would work together, collaborate, like that. Then when their drummer left the band, he decided to allow me the chance to audition, so he sent me a cd of one of their live shows as well as a cd of their tracks to play along with.
I listened to those tracks and played along, and I found it easier to find a way to secure my headphones. For a little while I tried this wrestling helmet, but it was far too hot. Another time I would try to wrap a cable around my head in a certain way, and that was even worse. I remember my girlfriend Megan came out to see me at one of those shows and I went out to say hi to her- and we weren’t dating yet- it must have been the most unattractive sight. It probably have set back our dating for good a year because my face was all red and purple, and plus I had this curly mullet. The lead singer of the band had cut it with fingernail scissors. I had wanted to impress this band so bad that I let them give me an “edgy” haircut. It was this curly mullet- it looked more like a rattail. We called it the “Chastity Rattail” because we just knew that it would prevent me from getting any attention from a girl that would lead to any sort of activity. Indeed, I found myself being repulsive to all of the ladies. I was an abomination to the entire female nation. (laughs)
But then you cut your hair, and wrapped your head in duct tape and all was well.
Yeah. A little hair cut, little duct tape- fixed me right up. (laughs)
What album, or band, made you change from hearing music as a form of entertainment, to hearing it on a level that made you want to be involved in it?
Personally, it was Paul’s previous band. I met him when I was 14. I really admired all of the guys that I’m now in a band with. Greg and I grew up together, and he was always in bands, and I went to every show he every played except for one. Paul’s band… getting to see and meet people who played in bands I liked personally- that made me want to be in a band more than any cd. When I was a kid I was big into Weezer and The Cranberries and even swing music- Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway. I also really had a big love of classical music. After my parents divorced, my father would take me to the Little Theatre- that’s what it was called- in Springfield, Missouri… He’d get me a seat in the box seats, which I thought was really special. I went back to it recently- have you ever gone back to a place that was so big to you as a child- and it really was tiny, it was a tiny theater. It has a balcony but it’s small. It’s a dream of mine to play there someday, in a band, in some capacity. I hope I get to.
What is that instrument that Paul plays during the encore in “Reset?”
It’s called The Atari because it has a sound chip in it that’s taken from the original arcade Space Invaders game. I, after seeing Mr. Quintron & Miss Pussycat in New Orleans, he had this instrument called the Drum Buddy. It uses light and photo cells to alter the pitch and oscilators- and all that dorky stuff. Afterwards I was inspired, I wanted to learn how to build electronic instruments. I built this thing and it broke, so we found a guy in NY who built it again and we broke that, so we sent it back and he reinforced it. We’re gonna try to find more stuff like that.
Your tour’s almost over, what do you have planned for after that?
I’ll stay here in Orlando for a week, with Megan, then we’ll go play Jimmy Kimmel. After that we’ll spend a week writing new music, and then in January we go on tour opening for a band called The Fray. It’ll be a really exciting thing, I’m really looking forward to that tour.
Well, thanks again. I really was blown away by last night’s show.
Thank you, Jen. That’s kind of you.
To see photos of Mute Math’s live show go to www.jencray.com.