Quebec’s speedy, melodic punk act, Mute, has been rocking the DIY punk scene for a decade and with the release of their latest album, “Thunderblast” its clear they’re at the top of their game. I’ve personally been a long time fan of Mute so I was stoked to recently do a little Q&A with Alex who plays guitar in the band. He discusses the struggles the band has faced in a seemingly dying skate-punk scene, their latest album “Thunderblast,” and what Mute will be up to in the next year.
Read the whole interview here.
Dying Scene (Jamie Reinhart): Are there troubles being a fast punk band in Canada?
Mute (Alex): If your band expects to play in front of big crowds and get national recognition, then yes, there are troubles. Being in any kind of band is hard and a lot of work regardless. But it feels like you have two strikes against you if you’re in a fast punk band. There’s little momentum in the genre right now, in Canada or elsewhere.
What do you think of the state of fast melodic punk right now? Punk music in general?
It’s not doing very good. The fast/skate-punk scene has shrunk immensely in the last decade. Less fans, less bands, less shows, less venues and so on. It’s a vicious cycle. Younger people have many other trendy genres of music to feed on and they are not likely to get exposed to skate punk. “Older” fans that were in it some years ago have now moved on to newer interests like mowing the lawn or raising a family. They don’t really go out to check out newer or smaller bands and you don’t get to see them except at the odd Bad Religion show. Sometimes, we get asked “where are you guys from?” at shows we play in our hometown… It’s hard to blame them though. It’s easy to lose interest when you feel that there’s so little good music coming out. We’re even a little bit guilty of that as well. I used to go on punknews.org every single day. Now, it’s been months since my last visit. I’m just not interested in what they cover anymore. I got tired of filtering through the vast amount of bullshit just to find a little nugget of information about a band I like.
Here in Québec we had a really good thing going on. We saw bands like Satanic Surfers, Randy or Craig’s Brother play headlining shows of over 1000 people. It was an incredible time but it’s over; for now anyway. Bigger bands like Lagwagon or Millencolin still do fairly well. For a lot of others, they have to accept crowds and venues 3/4 smaller than what they used to get.
However, one can think about other types of music that were as good as dead only to come back years later. Metal was dead and buried 15 years ago, but look at where it’s at now. Everything comes full circle if you care to wait long enough.
Fortunately, there are still some people keeping the flame alive. Bands like IVS, Heartsounds, Anchors, Friends With The Enemy, Straightaway, The Fear, Hogwash are all worth checking out. Do that now.
Why do you continue to play fast skate punk if its not what’s popular in punk rock right now?
I don’t claim to really know what’s popular within punk rock right now. Perhaps it’s best if we ignore it. We feel perfectly comfortable doing our own thing without the need to validate our work against what is current and trendy. We spent too much time early on worrying about stuff like “is this show gonna be any good, are we gonna fit with all these bands?”. We had a phase where we’d be really concerned because we were feeling the skate punk genre was in free fall and we were scared of what effect it would have on us. We would get to play with all sorts of hardcore and emo bands and we didn’t really know what our place was in all of this. It was a bit awkward. I’m glad we’re free from that now.
Truth is we play this kind of music because we love it. We play the music that we’d like to hear. We love to play music and to play live shows. We love the energy we get from the crowd. We love the sense of fulfillment we get when we finish recording a new album. We love the excitement we get from writing new music.
It was never about fitting in with anything. It was always about playing music we love. Sometimes, people ask things like “oh guys have you ever considered trying to write more accessible music?”. We know that they’re probably joking anyway. But we answer: “Never. We wouldn’t even know how to do it”.
Musically your previous album, “The Raven,” was solid, how did you approach your last album “Thunderblast”?
With “The Raven,” we felt that we found our identity and that we had reached a kind of maturity as a band. We didn’t think we needed to change a lot of things; we had a solid musical core to build on. Not to say that we intended on repeating ourselves. In fact that’s completely the opposite. Even if we chose the same studio and engineer as the last album, we paid close attention to details to ensure that we would have a different enough album while retaining everything that we were known for. Whether it was the song order and making sure that we did not have the same kind of song at the same position as the album before, or having an artwork that was entirely unrelated to what was seen on previous records, every aspect was scrutinized.
With that being said, our goal was simple. Basically, we wanted to make a better album than “The Raven.” We could never go into a process as painstaking as making an album without knowing for sure that we could outdo everything that came before. It would have been dishonest to our fans and ourselves. Simply going through the motions is not an option for us. We always want to aim for the highest possible quality. We wanted to get better at composing music, vocals and lyrics; to write the best songs that we ever did. With “Thunderblast,” we think we achieved that goal.
Lyrically “The Raven” is a darker, more pessimistic album. What went into the lyrics for “Thunderblast”?
The band went through a difficult period before “The Raven” was released. Our previous album, “Sleepers,” was released in early 2004. More than four years went by before we were able to put out another album. During that time, a lot of discouraging stuff happened. We had an unstable line up and had to change guitar players many times. Some of us suffered injuries that threatened our ability to carry on playing music at a high level. We had scheduled recording time at a studio and got cancelled. We looked a long time before finding another suitable one. All of that stuff really held us back. On top of that, we watched the fast punk genre slowly going down the tubes. We did a few tours and the later ones were far from being successful. We never got together as a band to make money and be outrageously famous, but we felt very depressed to see that so few people apparently cared about us. That whole situation impacted greatly on the kind of lyrics that were written for what was to become “The Raven.”
Thankfully, our fortunes changed for the better after it was released. The album was met with a great deal of acclaim by fans of the genre. The lyrics on “Thunderblast” are a reflection of that more positive mindset. In some cases, they are about very precise personal experiences, or more vague feelings, left open to various interpretations by the listener. We’re not really what you can call a politically engaged band, but there are a few social commentaries here and there. “Thunderblast” may seem less dark than what we’ve done before, but don’t be fooled. Songs like “Nevermore” or “Shadow of a Doubt” come from a deep abyss of anguish and endless lamentations.
Where did the title “Thunderblast” come from? It’s not named after the femail Transformer, is it?
No, the record’s not named after a Transformer. That would have been a little bit silly. However, we were aware of it, although you’re the first person to mention it. We wanted to be able to make a connection between the title, the artwork and the music. We feel that our music is very energetic and powerful, and as such, every aspect of the album should relate to that feeling. The album’s artwork was already well underway before a title was chosen, so we knew we would have some kind of a silhouette being struck by a lightning on the cover. We spent a lot of time looking for a short (preferably one word) and catchy way to describe what was happening on the artwork. After a while, we came to the conclusion that the best possible term was “Thunderstruck”. Unfortunately for us, a much better known band already used that word with a great amount of success. We decided that it would have been unbearable to hear every single person on planet Earth telling us “Oh, you named your album after an AC/DC song”, even if it would not have been true. We had to come up with something else and Thunderblast was the next best thing.
How and where did you shoot the video for “Bates Motel”? Looks like it was a pretty hot place and it looks like it was a blast to shoot that video.
A hot place, that’s for sure! To make this video, we enlisted the help of a local collective of artists known as L’Établi. They are a group of very dedicated people without whom we could not have achieved such a fantastic result. It was shot at their work place, during a very warm evening at the end of August 2011.
We decided early on that we wanted to do a “performance” type of video. We feel that we are at our best when playing a live show and that it was the best way to display the band. We thought it was best not to bother with any kind of a story.
We really wanted to capture the energy of our live shows, so we invited a whole bunch of friends and told them to go nuts when we played the song. Well, actually we only pretended to play. But we definitely spent as much energy as if we played for real. We ended up doing more than 30 takes. Needless to say, we had heard enough of the song for a while after that night.
Why did you decide to cover Mr. Big’s “To Be with You”?
Our previous album was released in Japan and they asked us for unreleased material for a special edition. Up to that point, we had always put everything we recorded on the album and never had anything left behind. As a result, we didn’t have anything new to give them, so we settled for songs from older albums, but we felt a little bit cheap for having to do that.
When we were writing “Thunderblast,” we thought it was a good idea to plan “bonus tracks” for foreign releases. Since cover songs are a popular choice for such purposes, we decided to do a couple of these. We wanted to do a song that was known well enough, but also that was outside of the genre that people would expect us to play. We didn’t really want go with the obvious. We also wanted to choose a song that would be easy to arrange. Our own music is complex enough; the last thing we wanted was to bang our heads on someone else’s tunes. Somehow, we all liked To Be With You, and it came together very easily and naturally.
Some people that heard an early mix of the record really liked the song and suggested it be included in the regular version of the album. After thinking about it for a while, we decided to do it.
What influences did you take into making “Thunderblast”?
A lot of things! We’ve been writing music as a band for a long time, so we’ve collected a fair amount of influences along the way. Obviously, fast melodic punk rock has influenced us a good deal. Bands like Craig’s Brother, Adhesive, (old) Randy and Strung Out played a significant part in shaping the sound of the band from our very first release. Our roots are very much in those kinds of bands. I don’t think we can say that there was any influence from more recent punk bands on “Thunderblast.”
Over the years, the metal influence has greatly increased. It had always been there, but in a much more subdued manner. From “The Raven” and on, it took a more preeminent role, mostly through the guitar and solo work. Bands like Angra, Helloween and Arch Enemy have had a definitive impact on the composition of the last two albums.
Although it may not be as evident as the bands previously mentioned, classical music played a part in the making of “Thunderblast” as well. Some of the chord progressions have been inspired by the symphonic work of Beethoven and Brahms. The first few seconds of the song Bates Motel echo a very famous piece of music.
Any plans on a vinyl release?
Yes. We want to release both “The Raven” and “Thunderblast” on vinyl format at some point in the future. Actually we’ve been working on “The Raven” for a long while, but it’s proving to be much harder than we thought, for some reason. How things will unfold for that is still very unclear so we can’t give any dates now. Folks will have to be patient on this one.
We wanted to complete the release for “The Raven” before moving on to “Thunderblast”. However, we have just been contacted by a serious label who expressed a strong desire to give it the vinyl treatment. Looks like it could beat “The Raven” to the punch. Vinyl geeks stay tuned!
What are some of the plans for 2012?
We have an upcoming European tours scheduled from mid-April to mid-May. This trek will see us travel throughout most of Western Europe, including France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Italy. We’re also looking at the possibility of going back to South America later this year. Our wish is to expand to other countries than Brazil this time. We’re going to make our first appearance at the famous SXSW festival in March. We’re also planning shows in our home province of Québec for most of the year. Our van recently died so that makes longer trips inside Canada harder to schedule, but we’re working on that. Finally, like I mentioned before, we’re hoping to release some of our albums on vinyl during the year.
You guys are playing with Belvedere for their first reunion show. What does that mean to you guys?
We had already played with them a few times. We did a tour with them and Rise Against in 2005 and we also played a show in Québec City during their farewell tour. We never really expected them to get back together. To be able to share the stage with them again is very exciting to us. And for that to happen in Paris of all places is absolutely amazing. People from all over Europe are planning to attend this show. It will be kind of a punk-rock rendezvous.
If you could get one band back together for one reunion show what band would that be?
Much The Same. They already did, but Chicago is sort of too far for us to travel. We wish they would get back together for one reunion show that we could actually attend.
What bands would play your dream show?
Angra, Adhesive playing Sideburner from start to finish, Randy playing only songs from The Rest Is Silence and albums before that, Wintersun and Avantasia.
Outside of Mute what do you guys do to keep yourself busy?
All of us have full time jobs. When combining the time spent on the band and at work, there’s not much left in the end. Nothing really out of the ordinary. Watching movies, listening to music, hanging out at shows. We don’t really have exciting lives when not on tour. However, you’ll be interested to know that JP’s an avid gardener.