In 2007 I saw Mute Math play 54 times. I followed their tour bus in a blue van all across the country, from New York to Los Angeles. You’d think I’d get bored with the routine after the first dozen shows, but it was the exact opposite. After all, Alternative Press named them the “One Band You Need To See Live Before You Die.” See for yourself on Thursday, January 15 when they perform "Spotlight" (from the "Twilight" soundtrack) on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." By the way, Mute Math’s drummer, Darren King, grew up in Springfield and Marshfield. He’s a large reason behind the band’s success. He’s a total maniac when he plays the drums— and makes Keith Moon look utterly boring.
Also: Hometown musician Jeremy Larson will be joining the band on keyboards for "The Tonight Show." He just released the full-length Salvation Club and it’s getting rave reviews all over the world.
Since they’re both hanging out this week I called them up and got some exclusive news about the new Mute Math record and Larson’s plans for 2009.
Interview with Darren King:
Where are you and what are you doing today?
Darren King: At the moment I’m in New Orleans, La. Currently I’m watching Animal Planet, but in a couple hours we’re going to rehearse to play our song "Spotlight" on Leno. We’ve been spending every evening this week rehearsing at this rehearsal space called The Music Shed. This will actually be the first time we play this song for a live audience.
Are you guys still recording the new record?
DK: We’re taking a break to get ready for this TV show and we took a break for the holidays. But once we’re done with that we’ll get back to recording in hopes of having everything done in March so that the album can come out in August. It has taken way longer than we would have ever imagined but we’re just not done with it yet.
What’s your favorite thing about the new Mute Math songs?
DK: Our first album was full of songs from a broad span of time. Some of the songs first came about in a previous band. This is actually the first album we created with all four of us together at the same time. I suppose my favorite thing about it is that it’s all a collaboration with the four of us. I think it has made for something better. We all four like different kinds of stuff and that at times can weed out certain ideas that are either weak or just don’t fit. I’ve enjoyed the democratic approach that we’ve taken. Greg and Roy are more a part of it than the last time.
What’s your favorite thing about performing on a national TV show?
DK: Playing on national TV shows has so far been one of the more exciting things that we do. It’s really a strange feeling because we’ll rehearse the song three or four times that day at the studio. Other than that we spend the entire day just waiting. Then suddenly we’ll go play that song for three minutes and it will feel like the fastest three minutes of my life. Then it’s over and it’s on YouTube for however long after that. So it’s about as nervous as we ever get. But it’s totally a blast.
Haven’t you spun the wheel on "The Price is Right" a couple times?
DK: Indeed. When we played (for late night TV's Craig) Ferguson, his studio is located in the same complex as "The Price is Right." Both times we played on his show we would sneak throughout the building and find different sets. All of "The Price is Right" games are just tucked away in this giant storage shed. We went and played a little Plinko and spun the wheel a little bit. That’s always fun.
How many beats per minute is "Spotlight" and is it one of your hardest songs to play live because it’s so fast?
DK: I think it’s 152 and we actually have one song faster than that on the new record. For a drummer, that’s a pretty easy song to play. I’m excited about it because Roy (bass player) is playing guitar. We’re actually going to get a couple friends to join us on stage. Of course Jeremy (Larson), as you know. And also a couple of friends from the band Club of The Sons. So far it seems to be the kind of song that you can let loose pretty easily in and just have fun with it.
What do you miss most about being in Springfield?
DK: I was actually just in Springfield for the holidays. I have moved to Tyler, Texas to be near my girlfriend. Thankfully, I have found one of the few cities in America -- besides Springfield -- that has an Andy’s Frozen Custard, so I’m squared away there. I just miss my friends and family. Every time I go back I pretty much do everything I can to see all my old friends from school and from growing up. That’s the main thing. And some good Chinese food.
Where’s your favorite place to eat when you come back?
DK: Canton Inn on Sunshine. Are you familiar?
Yeah, of course.
DK: Canton Inn on Sunshine is a special place for me. I use to eat there all the time when I was a kid. I almost always seem to end up at Mille’s Turn of the Century Café. My dad is always taking me to new places. But I’ll have to go with Canton Inn. We’ll let that be my classic.
Interview with Jeremy Larson:
What have you been up to lately?
Jeremy Larson: I’ve been focusing a little bit more on string arrangements for other bands. I did string arrangements for the new Mute Math album. Darren’s girlfriend, Stacy (Dupree), is in a band called Eisley and I’m hoping to collaborate a little with them. And it looks like I’m going to be going to Italy at the end of March to do a few shows over there.
How long did it take you to write and record Salvation Club?
JL: Most of the songs were written in Nashville while the Mute Math guys were out on the Matchbox 20 tour. They let me stay and write at the house where Darren was living in at the time and they were doing some rehearsals there. They left some of their recording gear and I combined that with my gear and went there for about two months. I think about 80 percent of the album was written there. To answer your question, most of it was done in about a two-month period.
Were parts recorded in Springfield?
JL: Yeah, I did some overdubbing when I got back to Springfield. I had Jeff Smith do some last minute touch-ups and some mastering on it just to make sure it was listenable.
Did you record all of the instruments yourself?
JL: Um, yes. There were two girls who did backup vocals on the album. A girl named Kelsie McNair and another girl named Sarah Morris. Other than that, yeah, everything else was me.
How long have you known Mute Math and how did the Leno thing come together?
JL: Strange enough I met Darren at the Mudhouse probably six or seven years ago. We just had some mutual friends and he’s a person who likes to walk up to strangers and just start talking to them. We started talking about music and we kept in touch for a while. At one point I actually auditioned for Mute Math to be their bass player, which didn’t end up happening obviously. But Darren and I have collaborated on a few other things. And Paul (Meany), the lead singer, did some mixing on my last album. The Leno thing…I just got a call from Darren a month ago just asking if I’ll be free this month and I was originally supposed to be in Atlanta working on another album, but that got pushed back. He said they needed someone to play keys and do some backup vocals. That’s basically it. We’re in New Orleans right now. Today will be our last day rehearsing and I think we’ll fly to Los Angeles tomorrow.
Your shows are really powerful, but they're also kind of mellow. What's it like to be a part of Mute Math’s energy level on stage?
JL: It’s fun for me because most of the music that I write is really slow and it’s a different kind of energy. It’s been really fun for me during rehearsals to be a part of that because it’s kind of what they’re known for with live shows…how much energy they create. It’s nice to have an outlet like that. It’s a little vacation for me.
What are the chances that Darren will do something crazy on the show, like break something or just freak out on the drums?
JL: (laughs) There’s a pretty good chance. I’m hoping it involves him injuring himself to a small extent. Whatever it is, I’m sure something will happen. I’m hoping for a broken finger or something that will be fun to watch on YouTube.