In the tricky arithmetic of interband influence, summarizing a band’s sound is like formulating a word problem based on the answer; but in the case of the dynamic New Orleans-based band MuteMath, it's pretty straightforward: Sting-y vocals + programmed samples and breakbeats + jam-band trappings. Case closed.
But it's the smooth convergence of this hodgepodge of sound—plus a death-defying stage show (see keyboards treated like pommel horses along with other gymnastic maneuvers in the much buzzed-over video for their breast-beating arena anthem "Typical")—that have made MuteMath into a must-see live band. Singer/keyboardist Paul Meany has called their approach "making music without barriers," which sounds suspiciously like hippie talk, but actually makes sense in this context. "A lot of times when you come up with a song idea," he adds, "it's easy to put it through your instinctual formula that you lean back on. We made the effort to not be concerned with that; to take the formula barriers off and see what happens if we let one part lead to another."
Indeed, part of the attraction of MuteMath's self-titled record comes in the interplay between traditional pop-oriented songs like the romantic Police rip "Noticed" and more experimental tracks like "Reset"—a song that wouldn't sound out of place on Entroducing. Meany’s flattered by the Sting comparison, "but I wouldn't say it myself,” he says. “The best I could do is something that Sting would blow out of his ass." He doesn't think of himself as a vocalist, per se, and his musical aerobics onstage only further complicate things.
"A lot of times in a show, I have to choose between breathing and singing or letting myself go. I can't have both,” he says. “Maybe I should jog more."
But the theatrics work, and Meany, the consummate showman, scored a lot of attention for a recent keytar smashing on Jimmy Kimmel. Rock & roll, right? "That would be sad, smashing a keytar on national television being the most rock & roll thing I've ever done," he says, laughing. "And sadly, it is."
A gig recasting the Transformers theme song for the movie soundtrack and a surprising American Idol nod when contestant Chris Sligh performed "Typical" on air have brought the band additional rock notoriety—or infamy, depending on how you look at such things.
"That was surreal," Meany says. "This guy singing our song for millions of people while we were in England in a little pub singing it for a hundred."