Mute Math, originally from New Orleans but now located in Nashville, Tenn., have a different version of the independent-band-being-devoured-by-major-label story we've heard so often.
It goes like this: Singer Paul Meany and his friends created a label, Teleprompt, so that the band could release its music. They worked out a deal with Warner Bros.: The major label would help with sales, while the band could retain creative control. But when someone at Warner Bros. found out Meany was once in a Christian rock band, things started getting complicated.
"I used to be in a very overt Christian band, and I think once we started Mute Math, and there were spiritual undertones in the music--and we'll openly state, yeah, we're Christian--we watched how the Christian division of Warner Bros. just ran with it. And they ran with it faster than Warner Bros. ran with it in the general market," explained Meany.
Mute Math started being labeled as a Christian rock band; they started getting shows that were only geared toward a Christian audience; and the more Word Records, the Christian division of Warner Bros., marketed them as a Christian band, the more doors Mute Math saw slamming in their faces. Rock journalists would type "Mute Math" into Google, and links to Christianity Today and a site called JesusFreakHideout would pop up. Subsequently, no one in the secular world of music journalism would write anything about the band.
But Mute Math is decidedly not a Christian rock band.
"All of the sudden, we began to see ourselves getting pigeonholed into this particular world that we weren't necessarily proud to be associated with, because we aren't really fans of the music or fans of the cause of the music," said Meany. "We don't fit into that. We're not trying to preach through our music; we don't have some kind of evangelistic agenda with what we're doing."
Mute Math's music sounds like a collaboration between The Police and Jimmy Eat World--their debut full-length, a self-titled record that won't be released until later this year (but will be available at their shows on their current tour) moves from guitar freakout to guitar freakout, with ambient electronic spaces in between. It's mature emo--the dynamics are there, without the whiny angst. The hook in "Chaos," the first song on the record, combined with the infectious drum rhythm, lets you know right away that Mute Math means to effectively rock you, not convert you.
"We've always conditioned our show universally, and (we're) just trying to speak to human beings; (we're) not really conditioning it down to Christians, and that's what the Christian music industry does. It's for a certain sect of people. I don't have anything against that--I'm one of them--but I don't want to taper it just for that," said Meany.
So Mute Math fought back against the mismarketing. "It became that that's what we were expected to do; all our show opportunities were coming out of that, and we were like, whoa whoa whoa, we don't want to exist in this world. So we really have made an effort to try to push outside of it--this new record is not going to be on Word, and we had to go knocking on doors at Warner Bros. and say, 'Wait a minute: This is running in a whole direction that we didn't sign up for. You guys took some liberties.' ... You know, you don't want to be ashamed of your faith and your beliefs, but you don't want to be marketed by that, either. It's like, 'Can we just market this as music?' We're a normal band here; we're not trying to be the Christian version of a real band."
Mute Math severed their ties with Warner Bros., and Teleprompt is once again an independent record label. They've hired an independent public relations and marketing company; their MySpace page (music.myspace.com/mutemath) and their press materials don't mention religion. The hope is that they'll gain fans based on the quality of their music and not based on their religion.
And it seems to be working. Mute Math has more than 28,000 MySpace friends, and a major portion of their fan base has been built from that Web site. The online community allows bands like Mute Math, who don't have the backing of a record label (or who don't want the kind of support the label is trying to give), to share their music with a large number of people. The band maintains a video blog of their shows, so that fans everywhere can see what their live show is about (there's even a video of their last Tucson show, in November, at The Rock).
The band also hopes that the energy of their live show will help right the marketing wrong that has been done to them. Their new record extends their EP, Reset, that was originally released in collaboration with Warner Bros., adding more songs and textures as the album progresses. While recording Mute Math, the band didn't even consider how they would perform the songs live--the songs were built in the recording studio first.
"We challenged ourselves to try and not worry about our performance," explained Meany. "I think most bands try to capture (their) live performance on (their) recording, and record the way (they) perform. What we tried to do with this one is we're going to figure out how to perform the way we record. No limits in the recording studio, using whatever instruments, creating whatever sounds, and then we'd figure out how to do it live later."
This process, Meany said, while difficult, challenges the band to become better performers. "When you push yourself in the recording process to go beyond what you think your abilities are, it forces you to be better when you have to pull it off on stage. That's really what we've been trying to do. And it's been great--we're in rehearsals right now, and it's real exciting, because all of the new elements we're having to put into the show just make it more enjoyable, I think. It's definitely challenging, but enjoyable nonetheless. We have a basic formula on stage in the way things are set up here and there, and we've had to revoice a few things, include a few new instruments, multitask a little more. It's good. And I think it makes for a great show."
Mute Math has had to revoice not just their songs, but their image, and the band's ability to rise to these challenges is admirable. And of course, this revoicing and multitasking helps explain how the band sounds: "We're good ol' boy rock 'n' roll with just way too many electronic gadgets and gizmos, and the music we make is the result of that collision," said Meany.