‘Keeping each other on our toes’ An interview with drummer Darren King of MuteMath
In the middle of a tour for “Odd Soul,” the four-piece band blends ’70s flair with searing drums, pop vocals, manic crescendos and sharp-as-nails guitar work.
MuteMath is always ready to surprise with wild stage antics and swagger; its show this Tuesday at the Pageant should be no exception. I recently interviewed drummer Darren King by phone about growing up in a small town in Missouri, his work with other artists’ remixes and MuteMath’s approach to performing on stage.
Will Kyle: So you are originally from Missouri?
Darren King: Marshfield, Missouri, born and raised.
You were there till you were how old?
Marshfield sounds like one of those towns that has a Walmart, a high school and a courthouse and that’s it, right?
Yup, and a Sonic.
How did growing up in a small town affect you musically? Did you start playing when you were there?
I played in the high school marching band and I went to church in Springfield [Missouri]. They allowed me to play drums there and be pretty exuberant and didn’t try to stifle me. I recently realized they always let me play the drums really loudly and really poorly. They were always supportive, because I think they could tell I was passionate about it.
I also had a lot of time alone. I was an outsider, a weird kid, and quiet. So I had a lot of time alone to practice. I had an Australian Shepherd as a pet. When I got home from school I had a dog to greet and my first Pearl drum set I could just hit. I got a lot of stuff out of my system that way.
Besides playing with the church, when did you get in your first band?
My first band was called “Fish Gate.” I was also in a band called “Sunday Grunge,” all Christian-type bands. One of them had a lead singer, a girl; I had a big crush on her. I quit the band because I thought we shouldn’t be in a band and date. We didn’t end up dating, but we’re good friends now. I loved those opportunities to play in little coffee houses growing up.
My best friend John was a drummer too and inspired me greatly. We would always challenge each other musically, trading licks and fills. We always kept each other on our toes.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
As a kid, I originally wanted to be a Disney animator, and then I wanted to be Michael Jordan. I got these five basketballs, but they were of no use to me, as I was horrible, no matter how hard I tried. One day, I aired the basketballs up to different pitches and started drumming along on them with my feet. I realized I ought to be a drummer
Did you ever play in St. Louis when you were young?
No. I’d go to St. Louis to visit or watch the Cardinals or the Blues. I didn’t get to play St. Louis until I was with MuteMath. Our first show was at Mississippi Nights back in ’04 or something like that.
I noticed the members of MuteMath tend to swap instruments. Does that make the writing process harder?
No, it makes it more fun, because you can follow whatever whim you wish. If one member gets excited about a keyboard and that’s what mood they’re into that day, no one can get mad because they’re stepping on toes. Same thing with the drums, all the other guys enjoy the drums and I let them be a part of the ideas. Ultimately, I think it’s my job to make sure the drums are good, but the more thought by other people that gets in there the better.
So was MuteMath’s new guitarist, Todd Gummerman, featured on “Odd Soul?”
Roy [Mitchell-Cárdenas] filled in. Roy took over all the guitar duties in the studio. We tracked the drums and bass at the same time then recorded guitars on top.
Are you personally going to be doing any more remixes?
Yes, for my friend Son Lux. He did one of my favorite records of 2011. He’s a composer and an electronic artist. An icon. He did a remix of “Spotlight,” and now he’s asking us to return the favor.
How did you make the video for “Blood Pressure” where you hang in the air?
It was a trick. We’d just jump every time and cut out the landings. I directed the video along with Claire Vogel from Warner Brothers. We filmed it all in one night, and I edited it all together over the course of two weeks using Final Cut.
The video for “Odd Soul” has that same eye for glitch cuts and cinematography.
It was the same team. I edited that one and Claire filmed it.
Do you have a video that will play behind you during your live show?
Yeah, it is meticulously edited and made to go along with the music. There are a couple of points every night where the video itself gets applause from people.
“Allies” should be your next single.
We just did the video for that one. It’s not much more than a live video, but it’s out and available now on YouTube.
How is the touring for “Odd Soul” going?
We’re smack dab in the middle of it. It’s been all highs — best tour of my life. Our crew is the best crew, and the video show is awesome. The fact that we’re playing 27 songs, that’s a really long set, makes it special. The crowds also have been amazing. Paul is singing like never before. We have a lot of fun gags too. Like the moving stage, 3D video, the floating stage, all that stuff.
I don’t want to call them gimmicks, but do you worry that such stage flair can remove the musicians and audience from the music?
We’re trying to include ourselves in the audience with all those things. We’re trying to get off the stage and into the audience and perform and be there with them to make it more like a party. So it works entirely in that regard. There are also moments where we become a little bit more introverted. It’s all time and a place — a matter of designing the set so we can go in and out of those moments comfortably.
Bridging the gap between artist and audience seems to be the trick for a bigger arena or Pageant-size shows.
Yes, and that’s what we’re always striving for.
MuteMath performs at the Pageant on February 28.