Mute Math's formula: Keytars and backward lyrics

By Carole Giambalvo, tbt* writer
Published November 30, 2007

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans-based band Mute Math was left with little else than its music to stay afloat financially.

Now in 2007, the electro-rock quartet has scored major success with a craftily choreographed "backwards" music video to their single Typical, which has been compared to OK Go's treadmill video hit. And with its animated and acrobatic live performances, it's no wonder Mute Math's been asked to play Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Voodoo and the Vans Warped Tour, to name a few.

For fans of the Police or Radiohead, Mute Math may in fact be the "Next Big Thing." Tbt* spoke with Mute Math frontman Paul Meany.

Can you tell me about the making of the Typical video? It looks like it required a lot of patience and perhaps a little pain.

Absolutely. We kind of stumbled upon that idea. The director had been traveling with us for about six months. He was just doing documentary work and was fresh out of high school. We had a shoestring budget ... and said, "Try to come up with something - this is our first video, it could be your first video." His idea was, we were going to perform the song underneath a net of Christmas lights, which no one was excited about. We said, 'Let's keep thinking." (laughs) The idea just came around to do it all in reverse, which is not an original idea by any means, but a lot of my favorite videos have done the reverse thing. We had never really seen it as a band performance, so it seemed like there was an opportunity there. We set up in a room and everyone had to learn their part backwards. And then, of course, in the spirit of a great compromise, we used the Christmas-light net, which is just a small part of the video, but I think it's a good one. (laughs)

But you literally had to learn the words backwards? "Can I break the spell" became "lleps eht kaerb I nac," for instance?

Yeah. Actually the most difficult part to learn was the drum part. I'll give Darren (King, drums) credit. Vocals were tough, but for Darren to sit down and learn his backwards-sounding drums, a whole different-style rhythm, he did a great job. We actually have practice footage of him playing the whole song backwards, which I think is very impressive. We'll probably use it as footage on the next DVD or something.

As a New Orleans band, did Hurricane Katrina change your direction in 2005?

It definitely pushed us out there. We were recording our album when the hurricane hit, so we evacuated up to Tennessee. We brought all our stuff up to where our record company is, and just kind of jammed into the studio with in-laws and dogs and kept working on the record to finish it. Of course, we're watching at the same time on TV a tragedy unfolding in our hometown. So with the prospect of not really knowing what was going to happen, we jumped on tour that fall. Because our wives had lost jobs and our comfort was jerked from under us, we felt like the band was all we had at that moment. It kind of threw us into pulling out all the stops. We actually got on the road and thankfully we haven't stopped since.

I think it's safe to say that you're the best keytar player I've ever seen. Okay, maybe I haven't seen too many. But how did you come to pick that instrument?

The keytar is many things in the Mute Math show. It started out as a practical solution to playing our music live. There's a lot of electronic elements, samples, and keyboard riffs that we create in the studio that are difficult to recreate live. It's one of those things where I'd have to go stand behind the keyboard and play these sounds or liberate myself, strap on a keytar and have a little more of a visual display. The first time I put on the keytar, I'll be honest, I wasn't sure what the audience thought. You kind of know the stigma of the keytar. Much to the credit of people, we didn't get anything thrown at us. It seemed like they were ready for the keytar, they wanted the keytar (laughs) - so we were fortunate we've made it this far with it.

What do you like to do when you're not playing music?

At this point it feels like when we're not playing music, we want to do absolutely nothing. One of my favorite things to do now is just lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling and I am perfectly content. I used to like going to amusement parks - that was my favorite pastime. I like roller coasters, but I haven't done it in forever.

We have the SheiKra here in Tampa.

Yeah, maybe I should. That could be my New Year's resolution - renew my love for roller coasters.