Mute Swan is a fairly new local rock band. They've only played one show to date and have not issued any recordings. The quartet's relevance lies within its artistic greatness rather than popularity and how Mute Swan represents a watershed moment in the coalescing of Tucson's thriving neo-psychedelic scene, and how rapidly it's progressing. Along with likeminded acts The Night Collectors, Burning Palms and others, Mute Swan is a group of young musicians focused on redefining what psychedelic rock sounds like and the clarity of vision needed to succeed creatively.
Formed by bassist/vocalist Prabjit Virdee and guitarist/vocalist Mike Barnett in late 2013, and featuring Thomas Sloane on guitar and drummer Roger Reed, Mute Swan came to exist by combining overlapping members from the local bands Peaks and Mombasa.
Barnett says, "I was playing with Mombasa and Prabjit started playing synthesizer for the band and then I started playing with his band, Peaks. Once Mombasa ended, we decided to start something new. That was last fall. Roger was the drummer for Mombasa and Tom was the guitar player for Peaks, so the band is kind of, like, half of each band.
"We had a strategy that, at first, we were gonna play a bunch of covers. Each member would pick one song so we could play better as a group. After that, we just started bringing in batches of new songs, trying them out, throwing them away, and then bringing in a new batch and trying those out until we had a bunch of songs that we liked." In previous projects, Barnett had typically brought completed songs for his band mates to work out, but as all of the members consistently stress, Mute Swan is about challenging its members' notions of writing, playing, and presenting music.
"Between the three of us," — Barnett, Sloane, and himself, Virdee explains, "we work in different dimensions, and we don't really think on the same level. So, someone will have a cool musical thing and someone else will arrange it in a different way. It takes time and a lot of file sharing. We make sure to record it all and then we listen back and think about what we can do for 10 minutes straight — if we can play a song for 10 minutes straight, then we know it's a good sign." Barnett adds that repetition and the discipline that comes with it are prime factors in determining a song's worth, saying "we don't want to pin an image on ourselves before we have a clear idea of what we're going for. ... One thing we try to do is to try to put ourselves in weird places. The repetition thing is a tool we use to take the music somewhere new. Taking our time is very important."
Mute Swan has a rigorous rehearsal schedule, practicing for hours at a time. When I attended a recent rehearsal, the group had started two hours prior, and Barnett's first words upon my arrival were "let's try the set backwards," an indication of how the band explores its current five song set from multiple perspectives. In a converted garage in a quiet west side neighborhood, Reed, Sloane, Barnett, and Virdee played as though it was an actual concert, filling the space with disorienting locked-grooves and intertwining melodies. Virdee speaks abstractly when describing the musical territory Mute Swan explores: "We're trying not to take the simple structures from the rock canon; we're more interested in being free with all of those things. We're listening to old music, new music, just always asking questions. I've been putting myself through ... diligent practice on different instruments, like drums. We want to be more open with each other, like having two people on keyboards or tow drummers. Being flexible will hopefully help us find what we like.
"I'm excited about finding limits. Without limits, you can open every box, turn every knob, open every door. But with the limits, it's something that can tune you in to something special. ... For me, 'psychedelic' means being on unsure footing, unsure about where the sounds are coming from, how the sounds are being made. It's an artistic license. Things unfold as they go on. At each station, things grow and become clearer."
As the band prepares for its first release, to be recorded over the summer, Barnett lays out Mute Swan's bottom line, saying "The whole idea is that we're trying to make stuff that we would genuinely like listening to, not anything that we'd try to get other people to like. It's a tricky thing, but that's the goal."