August 21, 2015

Show Us Yours #28: Mutes

It's been some time since we've checked in on 'gazey indie punks Mutes. Time was the Birmingham, England-based act was a project propelled by just one dude, erstwhile and surnameless Johnny Foreigner guitar tech James, and its music was the stuff of gauzy dreams. That approach yielded captivating results and resulted in a couple EPs and digital singles over the last two years, many if not all of which were scrutinized in these electronic pages. Mutes' first EP as a quartet and on a proper label dropped earlier this summer, bearing a familiar name -- Starvation Age -- but a notably expanded sound. The short set presents five tracks, including new iterations of two of Mutes' more placid earlier guitar reveries, and builds to a roaring finish via an agitated, propulsive title track. With such dynamic growth on display, we thought it high time that we check in with James to learn about where the present, enlarged iteration of Mutes makes its magic, and what the rising band has in store for the future.

And an over-large tangent: our truest readers will note that this episode of Show Us Yours is not the first to feature a spacemate of Clicky Clicky faves Johnny Foreigner: way back in January 2009 in Show Us Yours 10 we featured hitmakers Calories, who at the time shared a different space with Johnny Foreigner. We suppose this is an example of high-quality acts tending to gravitate toward one another; we're told that Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam -- perhaps the most visible heir to Calories -- still practices near Johnny Foreigner (and Mutes) even now. We're grateful to James for taking the time to show us around the spot and for giving us an update on all things Mutes. Read our full exchange below.
Clicky Clicky: So why do you use this practice space? What is it about the space that makes it the best place for Mutes right now? Did you have to change spaces once Mutes became a full-band project, or are you still in the same spot?

James: We use it because we share it with Johnny Foreigner (who [drummer] Jr [also drums for]) so it's convenient and more spacious (having two kits in one room is not preferable). And it's run by a couple of really cool guys, Matt and Nigel, who rent out the rooms at an incredibly good price. There's always cold beers in the fridge, it's 24hr access and, most importantly for Josh and I, we can leave our gear there and use our own amps. If I ever have to so much look at a Laney valvestate head perched upon a generic Marshall 4x12 again I will shoot myself. I never had a space when I was doing it solo -- I'd rent the hourly room there for £5 an hour, which is super cheap.

CC: Is there an idiosyncrasy or quirk to the space that has affected the sound of one of your songs, or even the overall Mutes sound?

J: Mmm, I'm not sure. I think the general energy of the place -- the ease of access and the laid-back atmosphere -- allows you to chill the fuck out when rehearsing, which lends itself to creativity more than "we have two hours here and we still need to find some breakables." We're gonna record more with our 8-track in there hopefully -- then we'll see!

CC: You walk into your rehearsal space. What's the first thing that you smell?

J: Stale smoke and sweat.

CC: Was there some question in your mind that led you to fill out the band with additional members? And if so, what was that question?

J: I never intended to 'go solo,' it just sort of happened as a by-product of that first EP. I figured it would be a waste to put it out and sit around, so I got the sampler, watched a lot of Grimes live videos, and went for it. It just so happens that the next batch of songs I wrote needed real drums, although when I recorded Starvation Age I was still the only member of Mutes. But I always wanted to be in a band with other people. Playing solo can be a depressing and expensive experience, especially when you aren't exactly cranking out hits.

CC: Do you think that whatever we can agree to call the indie rock scene has progressed to the point where there is less bias against one-man bedroom pop bands? Do you find that folks like radio programmers and club promoters take Mutes more seriously now that it is more of the standard many-dudes-with-guitars formation?

J: I think promoters are more reluctant to book solo acts because simply put you have 1/4 the pulling potential of a full band. I played a few more solo shows when we were going through a lineup change and it reaffirmed why I stopped them in the first place -- it's a pain keeping an eye on your gear, you can't split any costs, and you rarely get paid because you don't have the manpower (i.e. Jr) of a full band. So yeah, being a full band has absolutely aided us in terms of getting shows and stuff.

CC: We spoke off-line about this, but we thought we'd raise it here as well. One thing that confused us about your terrific recent EP Starvation Age was that you recycled the title from a two-song digital release you did in 2013. Which we suppose is no worse than Weezer putting out multiple self-titled albums. But what about the title speaks to you so much that you wanted to use it twice?

J: I think I used it back in 2013 because it sounded nice, and those two songs ended up going on this full EP. But the title definitely has relevance to the release and its lyrical content. I think I came up with the title when I was going through a bit of a horrible phase of food-avoidance and just generally feeling like I was lacking as a human being. Plus I took down that 2-song thing before this was announced and I didn't really think anyone would notice (you were the only online site who covered that first release, ha).

[At this point the interview had gone somewhere unexpected. We were concerned by James' frank statement regarding his troubled relationship with food, concerned for him personally, but didn't want to delve more deeply into his private life than this interview, supposedly about his band's practice space and music, warranted. We talked this over with James, who was comfortable expanding on his remarks for publication. -- Ed.]

J: This was around 2 years ago, and it's better now. I think anxiety and a persistent uneasiness in my stomach, on top of issues I had with my own body image, all contributed towards it. I have a somewhat stressful relationship with eating, but not to the extent that I'm worried about it. I've certainly been in close quarters with people who do have more serious issues, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I love food and I hate food, too. I've put myself in positions where my appetite has been dictated by guilt rather than nutritional need and that can be particularly stressful on people you're close to. It's important to recognise these problems, I feel fortunate to be in a position mentally where I've never succumbed to it fully, but I would urge anyone who needs help, or even just advice, to speak openly about it as soon and as much as possible. Disordered eating is complex and can be hard to admit to yourself. It requires support and understanding, no matter how trivial it might seem if you're not going through it.

[Before continuing on, we wanted to amplify James' sentiment that those struggling with their relationship with food should seek help. These are real issues; food avoidance was classified as a medical condition under the latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-5, in 2013. If you or someone you know needs help, we urge you to contact a health professional. Now. And now, back to our regularly scheduled interview... -- Ed.]

CC: One of my all-time favorite bands did a non-comeback comeback record, and the last song leads with this awesome line "I have to finish this song, or the world will remember me wrong." You made a crack on the Mutes Facebook about releasing the new tune "Knotting Off The Vein" because "Death could be around the corner," and it made us wonder whether you actually, you know, consider things like mortality and a legacy and all that. Maybe you were just taking the piss (is that still a phrase people use?...)

J: I was half-taking the piss! I think when you're a band as small as we are, and unable to play as much as we'd like due to real adult life, the only thing you can do is write and release as much as possible to fill that activity-void. I also have become recently acutely aware of my own mortality, it keeps me up, so that's definitely on my mind a lot recently. I do think music, and art in general, is the closest you can come to ensuring your own immortality, provided what you're doing doesn't get forgotten with you. But it's an over-saturated space, and we're all baying for attention, so I don't know how successful anyone but the most influential of us will be in actually 'living forever through art' or something. But at least we're all immortalised on the Internet!

CC: What does the rest of the year look like for Mutes?

J: Hopefully more shows here and there, and lots more writing. We've got about 13 songs that ned finishing up, and more will be rearing their heads in the interim, so hopefully we'll be able to record again sometime soon! And sign that mega 360 deal we've all been holding out for.

Mutes plays a killer show Oct. 9 in Oxford, England with Sauna Youth (responsible for this rager earlier this summer), Poledo and Telegrapher, and the Birmingham act is also on a bill *TOMORROW* supporting Jimmy Whispers that locals should certainly turn out for. The Starvation Age EP is available now as a digital download and limited edition cassette; stream the release via the Bandcamp embed below, and click through to purchase. Also streaming below is the aforementioned, newer track "Knotting Off The Vein," taken from a very good comp recently issued by London club promoter Fools Paradise.

Mutes: Bandcamp | Facebook

Previous Mutes Coverage:
Today's Hotness: Mutes
Today's Hotness: Mutes
Today's Hotness: Mutes

Previous Show Us Yours episodes:
Shapes And Sizes | Dirty On Purpose | Relay | Mobius Band | Frightened Rabbit | Assembly Now | Meneguar | Okay Paddy | Charmparticles | Calories | Sun Airway | It Hugs Back | Lubec | A Giant Dog | Bent Shapes | Krill | Golden Gurls | Earthquake Party! | Hallelujah The Hills | Seeds Of Doubt | The Cherry Wave | Coaches | Night Mechanic | Kindling | Julius Earthling | Hideous Towns | Mittenfields

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