“We decided to go with something with a lot of colours to reflect the new tunes. It had to be really punchy.”
Inspired by the fantastical underwater art of Kim Keever, MOTB worked with three different artists before deciding that drummer Sacha would create the image – over three weeks with minimal sleep – that would adorn their third album Digital Tropics. The result is really quite beautiful and reflects some common threads of our discussion and their 600-plus-show 10-year music career: things grow organically to who knows where, quite uncontrollably, and you shouldn’t stop that.
And so, I’m told, the new album is a natural movement forward from 2013’s Trials: instrumentals have taken over and the electro-math sound has been pushed to the fore, influenced by whatever they’ve had in their heads recently. “We’re far from the times where we only listened to rock music”, guitarist Pzey tells me. Fans variously of 80s music, hip-hop and indie rock, they have let their music take whatever shape seems to fit them. He says explicitly that they don’t want to use the same formula for each album – that would be boring – and I believe them. I first listened to these guys only a couple of years ago. Their silhouetted videos for ‘Myanmar’ and ‘Mapping the Universe’ were all I knew, and so I was pretty surprised to find vocals dotted all over the rest of the record. I eventually reached debut Danger Mouth a while later, and there found what felt almost like a different band, but with “the Mutiny vibes, especially on the melodies”.
They’re not worried about fans being surprised by their turns. “It’s part of the game” to unwittingly divide existing fans with musical twists, only to find new ones. That might be something intrinsic to math rock. “It’s music that pushes the limits forward. What’s exactly in common between Hella, The Fall of Troy and Battles? Not much, apart from a certain taste for twisted melodies. But most of the people looking for interesting music to listen to will actually enjoy the three bands”. This was in response to my question of whether math rock fans could ever be as divided as, say, certain fans of Opeth seem to be over their choice to remove the death growls and amp up the prog. Contributing to this website, I often get hung up on the specifics of the very term ‘math rock’ that we espouse, but perhaps, as Pzey implies, it shouldn’t matter that much.
Mutiny On The Bounty are the third (but definitely not the final) band to be signed up to fledgling record label Small Pond, joining Valerian Swing and Town Portal. Based in Brighton, UK, and known primarily for their live videos (including at last year’s ArcTanGent), Small Pond Recordings boasts a small but impressive team, including Dave Jackson – co-founder of Destroy All Monsters but now most recognizable as the bassist of rising math-indie band Delta Sleep. That’s how MOTB first knew him. “We actually didn’t know he was part of the label”, says Pzey, until they saw the release of Valerian Swing’s A U R O R A. “[We] got in contact with them and felt directly comfortable with them. They’re a really new structure but that’s what feels exciting because they want to stand behind us. It just felt natural to release this album with them”.
It seems crazy, but one person taking on so many roles (as Dave has – musician, promoter, record producer) is not unusual. Rather than highlight limited funds and labour as factors, I’m sure everyone involved in the math rock community would prefer that I pressed the raw truth: “it’s a lot of passion, sweat, blood and tears. Music has become a story of love and friendship between bands, fans, promoters, labels and bookers”, categories that blur easily.
Even before seeing the stunning art for Digital Tropics, I wanted to know more about MOTB’s visuals. Everything about the videos and packaging of Trials seemed so meticulous and attractive – dark blues and harsh lights made for an unsettling dusk – and it was of course no mistake. “We always were pretty cautious about what we were showing to the people. We wanted the band to have a certain identity. I think every band is actually doing it”. The decision to have drummer Sacha produce the cover for the latest album was not based on any failure of collaborators to produce great art, but importantly because “it didn’t reflect the aspect of the music we were searching for. I guess we’re so demanding that when it clicks that everyone likes it then it makes sense straight away, because then no-one is talking anymore. We just agree on something and are happy with it”. Collaborations worked before, of course, on both previous albums – fans of Rolo Tomassi are likely to recognise Simon Moody’s distinctive lettering and patterns on Danger Mouth – but they are always challenges, because it’s so hard to explain what you want.
Despite the recent boom in small-scale vinyl production, visuals are often neglected when music becomes digital, meaning that people often miss out on an important element of choosing music. Pzey used to venture into record shops as a young teenager, “only knowing Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins and just taking 5 or 6 albums to listen to from the shop”, based entirely on the artwork. “And I actually have made some great discoveries this way”.