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Stephen Brodsky on Cave In, Miley Cyrus, Sir Lord Baltimore and Mutoid Man's New Album 'Bleeder'

Interviews

By Fred Pessaro

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Mutoid Man

Photo by Yvonne Jukes

Mutoid Man is a supergroup. Mutoid Man defies all of the trappings that come with that. But more than anything Mutoid Man is fun. At a recent "surprise" gig at Brooklyn's St. Vitus, the trio boozily ran through selections from their debut EP and forthcoming Bleeder LP all while trading middle fingers in between complex instrumentation and covering Tom Jones's "She's a Lady." No furrowed brow seriousness, despite their hardcore-meets-math complexity, just a badass riff fest and a damn good time.   

Their approach and the PMA that comes with it shines through on Bleeder, which hits on June 30 via Sargent House (get it iTunes or in physical formats), and is streaming below for the first time. Check that out in full while you read an interview with Stephen Brodsky on the past and future of Cave In, the formation of Mutoid Man, and keeping it family. 

NOISEY: What do you consider to be your first project? Is there such a thing for you? A priority?
Stephen Brodsky: By default, I’ve been doing Cave In for 20 years, but at this point it’s a little tricky to get everyone on board to do stuff for a number of reasons. A couple of the guys have pretty demanding family schedules, we don’t all live in the same area either. It’s just like anything, when you’re sort of in your own bubble sometimes it’s hard to break out of it. I think the trickiest thing with Cave In is that we haven’t put out a record in like four years so I think for that band there’s a real sort of thriving element to being creative and just sort of playing shows without having a new record to sort of promote or even a label behind us- like as of now Cave In technically doesn’t have even a label. Cave In is just sort of at this stationary point where we’re not quite sure what the next move is or if there is one at this point.

So that in contrast with Mutoid Man which is a new band, new bands have little to no baggage. And we have a label that’s- it’s not just any label too it’s one of the best labels out there- that’s totally gung-ho about the band. It’s just kind of a different scenario right now. I feel like it’s a lot easier to do stuff with Mutoid Man since we just made a new record and as far as playing music goes, I mean, that’s Ben’s gig, that’s what he does, you know? So even though he has a family schedule music is his bread and butter. I don’t know if that answers your question, but I guess it’s not more one thing taking ultimate priority over the other it’s just sort of-

How things lay out.
Yeah. The lifeline and sort of the blood is moving pretty quickly into Mutoid Man right now so I’m just kind of roling with it. 

As far as that’s concerned, clearly you and Ben must have a long history growing up together in that same scene. Such a small, tight scene, Boston in the 2000s. So many solid bands came out of that. How did you come across Nick, was that basically just living in Brooklyn?
We were talking about this the other day. I think the first time I ever had an interaction with Nick was when I was at Saint Vitus just hanging out, I wasn’t even there for a show. I remember he comes walking in to the bar from the live room and he looked really upset. I was sitting at the bar and he came up right next to me and he was like- I think Artie may have been working the bar- and he was like ‘Artie! I need a shot!’ Right next to me, just screaming at Artie that he needed a shot right there and then. He was just all pissed off and started a conversation with me randomly like "This fucking band that’s playing right now. These bunch of assholes, the fucking singer is kicking my monitors around stage and trashing my shit and there’s like fucking 30 people in there and he’s acting like it’s like the Enormodome." And so we were just talking about it a little bit and I was like "Oh, okay. This sounds interesting." So I walk into the room and sure enough there’s a hissy fit going on onstage.

That’s so funny. 
I just remembered that, you know? And he’s got sort of this distinct look so it was easy to kind of remember when I met him again probably not too long afterwards. I had a solo show booked at Saint Vitus. Just to kind of shake things up a bit, I think Ben and I were talking about "you know all that stuff we’ve been doing at the space together, let’s get up there and try some of it." So I worked that into the show and it turned out Nick was doing sound that night so we ended up playing some of the material that turned into Mutoid Man. Nick was behind the board, so technically we were all there.   

Mutoid Man

Right. 
I think Nick had even mentioned, like "if you guys ever want a bass player let me know." I think he had Ben’s email from a previous exchange but then we got looped into this thread of Nick sending us some recordings from his band Brohammer. And we were like ‘Oh shit, this stuff is pretty technical, this guy can obviously play you know?’ That’s kind of how it all started. 

Ben and I always joke that we’re the jaded old guys in the band and how nice it is to have a bright eyed bushy tailed youngster to take the edge off a little bit. At the same time, I also think Nick’s been in a club probably as much as we have. He works there full time, so he’s dealing with bands coming in and out.

Every single ego in the world. 
Exactly. So I’m thinking, well you know, our experience level is kind of on par at this point right? If you think about it that way. Man, I could not do what he does. 

As a sound guy, I know he has gone on tour with Cyndi Lauper and some of the stories are insane. 
I think she just chews up sound people and spits them right out. Like, one and done type deal. But yeah with his charm he seems to have surpassed the test there, survivor of the Cyndi world. That says a lot.

So I guess a lot of this was kind of born of the time- because Ben doesn’t live in Brooklyn anymore.
Pretty much. When I moved to Brooklyn, and he already had his gear at a rehearsal space he was sharing with some people, it was only a matter of time before I got down there with my gear which had been sitting in the closet for almost a year. And we picked up where we left off years ago when Ben was playing in Cave In for a year. We actually started to work on some new material, some of which was released on a Cave In cassingle, two songs we had written with Ben. At some point afterward Ben and I just kind of jammed randomly when I was in New York. I was in a long distance relationship up until I moved here so I was coming to New York very frequently, and we would just end up hanging out when I was in town. That was between 2007 and 2010 or 11? It wasn’t until I moved here that we started writing stuff that became Mutoid Man songs. 

My friend and I were talking about drummers in particular and, as honest as I can be, there some days when I’ll see your band or Converge or All Pigs Must Die or Acid Tiger and I can just sit there and stare at Ben Koller. He is such a phenomenal drummer. Do you remember the first time you ever saw him play?
I don’t have a distinct memory of watching him play as far as the first time ever I saw him. But I think- I’ll never forget putting on Jane Doe and hearing "Concubine" for the first time. There’s something about that first snare fill that comes in 20 seconds into the song that made me think "oh, it’s on." It’s the quickest machine gun blast that comes out of nowhere. For me, that was when Converge flipped to a whole new stature. And having played in the band for a couple years, I knew all about some of the frustrations with the drummers they had played with prior to Ben. And I had felt them myself to some degree. So it just seemed that this absolution of events when it was kind of "oh finally! This is what they were really, sort of aiming to do all along." As far as the musicality all the pieces kind of fit together.

That’s one of the things that’s really kind of remarkable about Mutoid Man. I think your band is pretty technical but in a good way. There are some bands that are so technical that song structure goes out the window in favor of whatever impressive scale they can pull off. Was that something that you were aware of? Not making your band sound like a goddamn guitar class?
I think with Mutoid Man there's definitely more emphasis on whether or not a song is good enough. There's a difference between playing technically where there's no room for imagination versus space where you're purposefully playing things down in order to let the listener imagine other parts going on. That’s huge in reggae, that’s one thing I love about reggae. Like ill put on Desmond Dekker or something and I can listen to that record, I can sing along I can make my own harmonies to it, ill make my own little percussion parts or ill sing a guitar line that aint there that just kind of pops in my head, because the template Is so simple and bare that it lets you do that.

I think that’s one thing about early rock bands from like the 60s and 70s, you're hearing this adaptation of the blues. Blues music is huge in that same sense where it's so spare and barren that you can-it's meant to be sort of listened to and maybe have the listener chime in with their own ideas and their own banter between lines. So then you have 60s and 70s rock pulling from that whole era and just amplifying it, The Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, just pillaging and raping that whole delta blues era and amplifying it. But there's still that element of space that’s being preserved. I think the attraction that we have for Sir Lord Baltimore, Captain Beyond, Grand Funk and that stuff is it's amplified high energy rock but there's still a little bit of space in there to imagine throwing in a little adlib here or there. And live that’s great too because the songs aren’t so technical that you're just completely bound to the structure that was created on the record. There's a little bit of room for messing around. 

So considering that you guys were a bit spaced out geographically when this record was in the incubation stages, how was it made?
We made the album over the winter, and it's coming out on June 30. Basically we were doing a lot of sending video ideas back and forth while Ben was living on the west coast. And there's still another 40 or 50 minutes worth of riff ideas, which are pretty much me in the morning with my guitar, just sitting in my underwear riffing and being like, "what do you guys think?!” There is a whole stockpile of material we didn’t even get around to flushing out so. 

Obviously you picked and chose the right ideas to create the record. So going into the recording, what did you want to do differently than the EP? 
Sonically it was a fluke that the first EP ended up coming out as well as it did considering we recorded the basics on a 4 track cassette at a rehearsal space that was the size of a closet. Ben was going on a Converge tour and was going to move to the West Coast soon thereafter. So we were like, "OK, we’ve gotta document this somehow.” We didn’t even have a name for the band, but at the time we were going by Narcoleptic Beagle. 

What is that? Some kind of inside joke or something? 
I think it was just a matter of how do we wanna sort this in iTunes, all these demos we recorded. So we just kind of buckled down and made some recordings on a 4 track just for the hell of it. So it was a total fluke that that ended up actually being our first release. It was Andrew Schneider’s involvement, he was the mixing engineer, that made that sound the way it did. He had some like crazy science going on where he was putting the drums through like 4 different compressors and adding samples… It was amazing.

So we knew that if we were going to make an actual proper album with Sargent House, we shouldn't do it in a rehearsal space and go somewhere that we can just be the band and someone else can be the engineer. So, we knew that much and working with Kurt Ballou was high on our list. We all have a relationship going back years and years, Ben being in Converge, me having played in converge, Cave In having recorded with Kurt, it was like a no-brainer obviously. 

Mutoid Man

Family vibes. 
Yeah, and Kurt’s also very vocal about his opinions, and for us that was something we were very open to because all of the material that we worked on only got to a certain point where it needed someone to be like "why are you doing this? Maybe try this that way instead." There was a lot of room for someone like Kurt to come in and actually seal the deal on it being good enough for Mutoid Man.

In addition, we also knew we wanted to play as a live band because the EP was tracked live. I think that kind of lends some of the vibe to Mutoid Man. And that was it. There were virtually no edits. So some of the tempo laggings or things speeding up or something sounding a little bit erratic, we just left it in all in there. That’s kind of how we play, you know? And Kurt was cool with that. 

Sometimes, especially when it comes to punk, sometimes sloppiness is sort of like a "happy accident." Even if it’s just minor stuff. I was discussing this recently about The Misfits, who aren't the tightest band on record, but that lends to the charm.
Yeah, it’s a test. It’s like ‘How bad do you want to hear this fucking amazing song?’ Alright. Here’s the challenge: you have to listen through two out of tune guitars, you have to listen through a production that was assembled in three to four hours, oh, and we just learned the song a day ago. Can you hear it? Can you hear the great song? And with The Misfits nine times out of ten it does.

Exactly. It’s interesting though that you wanted to track it live. I would imagine you guys obviously had the chance to do lots of overdubs, it was probably very complex to do it live. 
I always forget how intense recording is until I’m in the moment of doing it. And I think prior to this recording I had done most of my own engineering and recording of my own music for like several years. Even the last Cave In record we did it all in our rehearsal space. So it had been a while. Like five or maybe upwards of six years since I had been in a studio in a situation that was like the Mutoid record. And yeah, I forgot about how intense this is or how intense it can be. You know, to keep the energy up when you’re tracking a song multiple times just to get it right and in a live tracking situation we had it set up so the band was like one track, right? If one person fucked up, chances are we had to do the whole take over again. And it was kind of maddening because your bandmates are riding on you, you’re riding on them. And, you know, we had lots of cordyceps, mushrooms, and fuckin’ alpha brain, and mental stimulants, and coffee, and energy bars just to get us through it. Advil, whatever you need. That’s like a 2015 Steve Brodsky rock cocktail at this point, you know? [Laughs] Real exciting. 

So you guys just did those dates with Dillinger Escape Plan. Are you guys looking to do more dates?
Yeah, we just confirmed we’re going to do a full US headlining tour in August. We’re a new band I think it’s time to play some of the little nooks and crannies of the various armpits of America. See how we’re received out there. [Laughs]       

In addition, Cave In is doing that festival in Atlanta called Wrecking Ball.
**sings** I came in like a wrecking ball! [Laughs] Is Miley going to be there? She gonna make a guest appearance?

[Laughs] It looks pretty sick actually. I would imagine the last time Cave In played Atlanta must have been a fuckin’ long time ago.
That was 2009 with Coalesce. That was for an EP we put out called Planets of Olde. So right around that time we had these two shows through Scion with Coalesce. We actually did the Knitting Factory in LA. So it was Knitting Factory in LA, and Masquerade in Atlanta. 

You know, the first time we played Atlanta it was like the place to play is you were on the sort of underground, hardcore, emo circuit. It was the mid to late-90s. It was like playing in someone’s living room. This guy Gavin was part of organizing it and he was like the dude there with the distro, and he was carrying everybody’s records. I’m talking like, the actual emo records before it was emo with guyliner and the brain blow-out haircuts. 

One of the ways Cave In got connected with that whole thing was through the band Inkwell. Do you remember them? Philip Dwyer, he was the singer of Inkwell and he was also responsible for designing all their stuff- he might even be a graphic designer, that’s what he does for a living or that’s what he was doing for a living anyways, this was in 95 or 96. I love that band, and I remember writing actual letters to him and being like "dude, your band rules. Can I send you a demo of my band?’ I sent him a Cave In demo and he was really receptive to it. So we had letters exchanged back and forth. When Cave In was still putting out 7-inches back in the mid-90s, before we even got linked in with Hydra Head, we were responsible for designing our own records and making our own artwork for things. So, I remember it was our second 7-inch it was Cave In split with Early Grace. The record was called “Are We Still Fixable” and the design of that record was actually a rip off of some of the stuff that was going on on those Inkwell Records and it was very, very purposeful. Like, "We gotta make something that looks like Inkwell."