Mutoid Man have been around the block a few times. Its members were knocking about at the dawn of metalcore. Singer and guitarist Stephen Brodsky fronted Cave In, one of the genre’s most vital bands, drummer Ben Koller thundered away with Converge, while bassist Nick Cageao manned the sound decks at Brooklyn’s infamous loud music club, St Vitus.
Mutoid Man were born out of the depths of St Vitus, a breeding ground for bands attuned to the occult and macabre. Heavy music legends Megadeth, Anthrax, Nirvana and Joan Jett have all graced the stage and revelled in its tenebrous corridors. Marty Freidman, former Megadeth shredder, played on Mutoid Man’s latest record ‘War Moans’. They’ve come up in some good company and it’s safe to say that these guys are some pretty serious musicians, who’ve really seen some shit. That said, they are also one of the goofiest and most fun-filled bands out there, and a heavy music super group who do not possess a serious bone in their body.
Camden’s Black Heart is a relatively small, cave-like venue shrouded in perpetual darkness. It is packed to the rafters. The stench of whiskey, lager and sweat is wafting through the heavy air. Mutoid Man take to the stage - filling in for Koller, who is out of action due to a broken elbow, is Chris Maggio. Arming themselves with their weapons of choice, Brodsky growls “What’s up London?” and shreds full speed ahead with ‘Melt Your Mind’. High velocity, ripping guitar riffs and heart-racing drums is met by Brodsky’s wide-eyed maddened stares and sporadic middle finger flicking, which were a constant for the entirety of the set.
This intimate venue brings the crowd closer to the band, immersing all in the live experience, with the feeling of being a fly on the wall during one of their practice sessions. They tore through every song, kidded amongst themselves, nodding at each other in approval after a particularly tasty thrashing drum solo or torrid finger-twisting riff. Breaking between songs, Brodsky and Cageao entertained the gig goers and involved them with their clowning around and tongue-in-cheek jokes.
The purest and gravest moment of the night came at the start of ‘Bandages’ as Brodsky solemnly picked at his guitar for a truly powerful ballad where the crowd, eyes shut and hands on hearts, belted out every word. Mutoid wrapped up the show with a “butchering” of The Animals’ ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.’ Which, if you’ve followed Mutoid Man for a while, you’ll know is key to their DNA as a band, as covers play a significant role in their song writing process and helps keep shit interesting for them.
The sheer physicality of the set, combined with their candid charisma and endearingly, unfledged humour, fired up fans as they moshed and furiously head banged in unison. The occasional person spat out and burst from the pit and surfed along the packed-out crowd. The energy in the room was unwavering throughout the night.
The beauty of Mutoid Man is that despite their incredible musicianship, they refuse to take themselves too seriously and having fun is integral to the genetic makeup of this band. It was melodic metal at its best and Mutoid Man delivered everything the audience craved, with every second eagerly devoured by the ravenous crowd.
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Despite your collective experience, Mutoid Man is still a fairly fresh outfit. Is it exciting to still be discovering each other and evolving the band?
Stephen: Speaking of fresh outfit, I’ve got a new pair of pants on and I’m feeling pretty good about that.
Nick: It’s really funny, like every time we go to the airport, Steve gets stopped and we discover a lot about him going through the airport.
S: Well, the metal detector picks up strange things.
N: It’s not even the metal detector, it’s that thing that scans your body. It’s like they constantly thinks he’s smuggling cucumbers…
For some of the time writing your second record 'Bleeder' you were split between LA and NYC - how did that distance shape the record?
S: Well, Ben was living in LA for a year...
N: It was just a lot of videos back and forth, like text messages like, ‘Hey, here’s a riff.’ But I don’t think it’s really had too much of an impact.
S: It’s such a blur but I do feel like with all the texting it was getting pretty old so we needed to find a way of engaging each other. So, I started sending these guys videos of me playing songs in my underwear.
N: This is very true; I’ve seen his whole Calvin Klein collection.
How do you feel you've changed as a unit even in the last two years since 'War Moans’?
S: I think we’ve played some of our biggest shows in the past two years.
N: And I think we’ve also gone through some of our biggest personal struggles in the last two years; losing close friends, complete 180s.
S: Yeah, Mutoid Man is growing up. We’re a big boy now but he’s a growing boy. It’s interesting when you get the opportunity to play your music in a big room for mostly people who are there to see somebody else, it’s interesting to see what kind of material of yours works in that environment. It’s been a real education for us - we’ve wanted ‘all killer, no filler’ and we’ve whittled it down to what works best in a live environment. I think it’s really good for our band to feed off that live show environment. It’s really important for me to write stuff with Mutoid Man and test it on the road before we go and record it. That’s what we’re doing with this new batch of material we got kicking around - we’ve pushed back our recording dates to give us some time to just play some local shows and see how it vibes so it has more staying power and has a better chance of staying in our live set for a longer time.
Like many other genres, metal has its fair share of traditionalists who don't appreciate stylistic progress in the music they love. How do you guys balance staying fulfilled in your creative development while also hoping to keep fans happy?
S: Probably [online metal talk show] Two Minutes To Late Night, and just keeping shit fun and interesting for us. Learning the covers and blowing off steam. Like learning other people’s music and learning stuff that we wish we’d wrote.
N: That’s what ‘Gnarcissist’ was all about.
S: It’s good, like if you get a whole different set of musical DNA into your brain, your limbs, then you can start spitting out material that feels more like that, but stuff that is your own. I think doing all the covers over the past few years has been really helpful.
'War Moans' was progressive musically as well as lyrically, challenging listeners with serious cultural and societal topics; how important is it for Mutoid Man to be an outlet for these themes?
N: I think for a band to make somewhat of a progressive political statement is not a bad thing.
S: I just don’t think that it’s our forte. I think there are definitely artists out there who aim for that, but it’s really not our aim.
N: I believe in those ideals, like everybody being equal, and having their fair chance and everything.
S: Yeah, but really the best Mutoid songs are the love songs. There’s nothing more powerful than a great love song.
You previously said that the band "didn't have boundaries" when you were writing 'War Moans', never rejecting any musical inspiration as they transpired. How do the differences and similarities in your musical tastes manifest?
S: Listening to a lot of music and subconsciously absorbing stuff from all the music we like. You know, country, ambient music, death metal. Even if something is in the background and jumps out at me it can sink in to my brain and evolve. I’m writing something, I can do an imitation of what I thought I heard. But I don’t know, going back to the Two Minutes To Late Night show; that’s part of our vibe, taking stuff that’s not obviously metal and taking stuff from outside the world of heavy music and converting it into our own sonic palette. It all kind of ties together.
There's a real injection of humour in proceedings during a Mutoid Man live show. Is this the same for in the studio? How essential is having fun to the conduciveness of making your music?
S: I don’t think it’s any different from most bands. Bands who don’t have fun doing it probably shouldn’t be doing it, or they just tend to break up. I think we just have our own way of expressing fun. It’s like a microcosm of life, like if you can’t laugh and find humour in things then it’ll be a pretty painful existence.
N: I think it’s the human way to try and feel good no matter how, because everybody wants to feel good all the time, but it just comes naturally to our group of friends.
How would you describe the inspiration you draw from what's happening around you in the Brooklyn scene?
S: We got to write a record in a Brooklyn venue and we’ve been rehearsing in Brooklyn rehearsal spaces since the band formed, so there’s got to be something in the air or just the whole vibe that does something to who we are. We named our first EP after a song by the band Sir Lord Baltimore, which is a raging, wild, rock ‘n’ roll band that started in Brooklyn. If you think back to Brooklyn in the late-’60s, it’s such an anomaly that a band like Sir Lord Baltimore can make something of that quality and power in this New York wasteland. In some ways, there’s just nothing else to do but play music which I like to think about.
How vital a role does Saint Vitus play in that scene?
S: It opened when I first moved to New York about nine years ago. It’s definitely a destination point and it has established itself as a place for heavy music and alternative cultures with the kind of music and shows it has, through to the whole vibe of the place. They’ve been very generous and cool to Mutoid Man.
N: That’s where we met, and where Ben and Stephen played as a two-piece the first time and I mixed you. There’s a lot of history there for us.
Presumably the album was recorded there because you felt so comfortable there; did the fact that it was a live venue change the way you approached the music, perhaps more with the stage in mind?
N: It was actually recorded at GodCity but it was written at St Vitus
It was recorded in two weeks; were you trying to reflect that urgency in the music, or was that just how long it naturally took?
S: Well, whatever we initially booked, it wasn’t enough time to finish. It’s the natural trajectory of a band, where it takes more and more time to make a record as time goes on.
N: We’ve actually booked in six months to do the next record.
S: Yeah, I’m going to record each of my guitar strings, individually this time…
N: It won’t actually take six months, it’ll probably take another two weeks.
Tell us about your favourite NYC rehearsal spots.
N: They should all be burned to the ground, they fucking suck. They’re the size of a closet.
C: New York rehearsal spots are like New York apartments.
N: They’re expensive and they’re tiny. There’s about 80 bands in a closet and everybody has 15 cymbals and checks their kick drums for about six hours and all of them are broken.
C: In the case of Mutoid Man, there’s about 700 amps just piled on top of each other. You can’t even move.
S: It’s all about excess - our room has about seven Iron Maiden tapestries and about 40 Danzig ones too.
How did the recording process differ to 'Bleeder' once Ben was back on the East Coast?
N: Ben was never M.I.A for any of the recordings, he only just recently broke his elbow so he just hasn’t been able to play any of the live shows. But this badass here, Christopher, has learnt all his parts in about 35 seconds.
S: When Ben got back from the West Coast, everything started to sound a little bit more tan.
N: We tried to emulate Red Hot Chili peppers-– the next Mutoid record will be called ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’.
S: ‘Blood Sugar Sex Vitamin D’.
In time manning the desk at Saint Vitus what were some of Nick's favourite memories?
N: I had a lot of good times there, those dudes are some of my best friends. I got to mix so many legendary shows. The obvious one would be the Nirvana show that happened, which I somehow snuck Steve into, and smoked a joint with Butch Vig and Joan Jett in the walk-in freezer - that was pretty fucking cool. Also, there were so many shows and bands that I never would have thought of seeing but I got to see there, not even just the big ones - for instance I was introduced to YOB there and a lot of bands in our scene, who I had no idea about. But the highlight was definitely the Nirvana show, which I know is obvious but it was like, ‘what the fuck, that actually just happened?!’
S: Yeah, like Nick said he snuck me into the Nirvana show and one of my favourite moments was looking over to my left - Kris Novocelic was in front of me, who I’ve never seen before. I’d seen Dave Grohl perform before but never got to see Nirvana, so I never got to see Kurt Cobain perform, so I was really pumped to see Kris perform - but looking over to my left and seeing J Mascis standing in the centre of the room and mouthing every word and then getting up and ripping shit.
N: It was probably the closest it ever got to sounding like Nirvana, without actually being Nirvana.
S: Because he plugged in his triple full stack attack and he had the jazz master, and JMP Hiwatt. Loud as shit. And you could tell that him and Kurt were cut from the same cloth of guitar player. It was the closest thing to what the power of hearing that band in a room would be. Even Kris Novocelic, his whole vibe changed when J Mascis got up there.
N: Oh my god, and he was drinking whole pints of Makers Mark that whole night too. I thought he had a beer until somebody told me, ‘No, those are pints of Makers Mark.’ And he was drinking it like how you’d drink a beer, getting viciously hammered. It was beautiful.
Who are some of your favourite new Brooklyn/East Coast-based acts that our readers should be turned onto?
N: Moon Tooth, those two shred. Godmaker too.
Prior to the 'Brookyln Sounds' tour you just played 24 dates across Europe with Mastodon and Kvelertak, including shows in Hamburg, Copenhagen and Stockholm, Paris, and Madrid - how was life on the road and can you talk us through some highlights?
S: Well, I think this video perfectly describes it...
S: Yeah, we just did five weeks with them. It was awesome. That was a real great opportunity and those guys really made us feel at home. Their tech crew people felt like our people too, they kind of worked for everybody there and they understood the show overall and understood the vibe better. Mastodon comes from a similar world and attitude so it felt like it was a really nice union.
What has been playing on the tour bus stereo whilst on the Brooklyn Sound tour?
S: Silence - loud noises are very painful.
N: Chris complaining that half his body hurts, me vomiting, Steve reading…
After having the honour of Marty Friedman playing on your album, which other heroes would you love to draft in on the next one?
N: Working on Paul Gilbert - him and Marty trading licks back and forth, that would be cool.
S: We’ve got a wishlist going - Chris Maggio is our number one.
Chris: Aww, thanks guys.
S: Yeah Chris, Scott Kelly from Neurosis - we haven’t asked him yet but Scott, if you’re reading this, please play on our record. Block out a day in December.
N: Marty Friedman again. Steve and I went to see him again in New York at St Vitus, and he screamed at some dude and kicked him out of the show and it was the greatest thing ever. It was a real punk rock move on his part.
You have just played four of our most beloved music venues, how was the reception at each show?
S: Well, we got a chant going at one of the gigs: “Five pound Chris.”
Any favourite UK culinary delights or regional delicacies you have fallen for?
C: Curry, it’s so good here.
N: Yes, good curries, that’s what I love eating here.
Is there a difference you've noticed between UK and US live audiences?
S: Wow, man I mean it’s been pretty wild.
N: Pretty loud, like really loud in a good way where everyone is really fucking amped. I think I compared it the other day to a South American crowd where everything is just like (roars), which is really reassuring and awesome.
S: Yeah, it’s powerful and it’s really left an impression on us.
When can we expect a third album?
S: We’re aiming for 2020
N: Chris already wrote it, and now we have to dissect it.
S: We can only play it with the right side of our body because the left side of Chris’ body doesn’t work.
Can you share any pearls of wisdom for young bands on the come-up starting their touring careers and releasing their first music?
N: Don’t do it.
S: Well, I think rock ‘n’ roll is a great place for people to age, because it’s been around long enough and some of the greats have aged really gracefully into it - not all, but most of them. I feel like it’s a great retirement place to grow old for serious musicians.
C: Yeah, just get a Kangol hat, a pony tail and play the local pub.
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Words: Yasmin Cowan
Photography: Nicholas Sayers
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