Santa Barbara’s pub rock pioneers, The Mutineers, recently completed From the Dirge to the Dance, a new album of eight tracks, recorded in live takes at Playback Recording Studio. The band has performed some tracks off The Dirge live in recent months, and it’s impressive to see how their sound has developed in such a short time span. The newly recorded versions contain the spirit and punch typical of a live Mutes set, yet sound noticeably tighter and more textural.
The Mutineers started as singer-songwriter Brian Mathusek’s solo project in 2007 and has since grown into a four-piece ensemble, featuring Mike Astudillo (guitar), Merry Young (drums), and Terry Luna (bass). Their country/folk/Americana/punk sound — a mix of scrappy, stein-swinging anthems peppered with a few ambient, slow tracks — is grounded by the band’s constant energy, string talent, melodic harmonies, and strong rhythm section. By way of visceral folky lyrics, the Mutes offer happy music about hard times and the people living through them; these characters, like those in Springsteen’s and countless other folk songs, represent those groups oft overlooked in today’s media landscape and viral marketplace.
The band will be hosting a CD release party this Friday, April 15, at the Creekside Inn. Big Jugs, a raucous dirty country band, and Chris Story Xxxperience, a one-man masterpiece, are also slated to perform. Surprise events are said to be in store as well, so you can trust me when I tell you, this is a night not to be missed.
I recently trekked over to Playback Studio to chat with the Mutes about From The Dirge to the Dance and their upcoming tour. Here is what they had to say.
You’ve been performing these songs at shows for the past few months. Did anything about the music change once you entered the studio?
Brian Mathusek: We had a four-song EP ready to record for over a year, and we had been playing most of the songs live as a three-piece. But initially, I was tied up with the recording of City of Blight with The Depths, so we put The Mutes on hold. Once that was completed, we were ready to move forward with The Mutineers, but we encountered another diversion. Terry, who also plays with The Depths, finally convinced us that it was time to shed the dinky stripped-down style and add some bass to the mix. He signed on and we spent the next four months reinventing our old catalogue to make room for his stand-up bass. As we developed the rest of the tracks for the CD, it was essential to play them live and understand each of our roles, since the relationship was somewhat new. The band has really changed since the last recording, so it was helpful to introduce the new lineup and songs live before the latest trip into the studio.
What was your favorite part of the recording process?
Mike Astudillo: My favorite part of the recording process was listening to our takes and looking at the music from a different perspective. You get to be the performer, but also the audience. You start to hear the things that work and think of what could work better. It’s always a blast to be in the studio creating music with people. I truly enjoy the isolated time where you are just focused on the project. It’s like any creative process or think tank. You and the people around you are totally focused on this piece of art that will be the album. That creative energy takes on a life of its own, and that’s when really amazing things can happen.
Terry Luna: I enjoyed performing together in the sound room — way more fun than mixing.
How did recording in live takes turn out?
BM: Challenging and satisfying. We wanted something brutally honest that would mirror our live sound, so we recorded all of our main instrument tracks together and in the same room. The vocals were done separately, but we tracked all the harmonies together to get the most cohesive sound. We did a couple of our guitar solos separately, but for 99% of the album, all of the instrument tracks are live and in one solid take. The room vibe is unmistakable.
Merry Young: I really liked working with the whole band in the same room. I think it helped us all work together better, and I felt a real sense of responsibility for getting a good take and playing the best I could because everyone’s performance was at stake.
TL: I think the live takes helped us focus on our performance as a group, as we tried to make every take perfect for one another, as if it were a live show. The performance aspect is what brought out the hard work and creativity in each of us.
I’ve noticed that you are able to paint vivid portraits of entire groups of people by just focusing on one person. On “The Dirge” you highlight issues surrounding war and the economy by telling the story of one old man. Why do that?
BM: I wanted to avoid the liberal bleeding-heart bullshit and just embrace the perspective of an older man. “The Dirge” is a song about death, and it’s easy to incorporate the reality of war into that. It’s not necessarily an anti-war song — it’s a song about someone whose life has been affected by war.
Merry, describe the work that you did in designing the album art? Why did you decide to design a band crest?
MY: We were brainstorming cover art ideas and decided we wanted a really strong graphic that would be good for screen printing. I think Mike first mentioned the idea of a family crest, so I looked into it and it took off from there. I researched the elements of a traditional coat of arms and created our own based on things that represent who we are and what the music is about. I did a lot of meticulous work in [Adobe] Illustrator, recreating Brian and Mike’s actual guitars, the ivy represents lasting friendships, the seraphim are the supports of the crest, and I like that they represent feminine strength too. All of the symbols mean something to us. We screen print our own shirts by hand and make each individual CD package by hand too, so this whole project is a real labor of love.
Tell me about the tour you’re planning in May.
BM: We are heading up to Ranch Fest, near Camas, ID on May 27. It is an annual party hosted by the awesome band Finn Riggins, who often tour through SB. We will stop in Salt Lake City, UT the night before at Bar Deluxe, then play at Rontom’s in Portland, OR on Sunday, May 29. These dates will be bookended with shows in SB, Ventura, Bakersfield, and the Bay Area, along with some other semi-local areas yet to be announced. But, the promo kicks off with three days in April, starting with Sans Souci in Ventura on Thursday April 14. Our CD release party will take place the following night, Friday, April 15, at The Creekside Inn in Santa Barbara. And we will head out to Bakersfield to play at Sports and Spirits on Saturday, April 16. All in all, we will play about 15 shows between April 14 and June 9.
Mike, you have emphasized that the Mutineers started with group of friends that became a band over time. How did that special bond impact the recording of the album?
MA: I think that bond that we all have helped the collaboration of ideas. We know each other so well as friends and would never judge or dismiss anyone’s input. We create better as a group of friends and musicians than as individuals. That kind of connection between people takes time, and I think that because we were already so close as friends before we became a band really helps our creative process. That kind of bond and unity I would hope shows itself in the album. I hope the listeners feel like they are part of that as well.
The Mutineers celebrate the release of From the Dirge to the Dance with a CD release party this Friday, April 15 at 9 p.m. at the Creekside Inn (4444 Hollister Ave.). Big Jugs and The Chris Story Xxxperience open the show. For info, call or visit reverbnation.com/themutineers.