Mutemath drummer Darren King talks stage tricks for St. Petersburg show, playing with Kanye West
By Jay Cridlin, Tampa Bay Times Pop Music/Culture Critic
Mutemath drummer Darren King is tinkering with his latest ambitious invention: the high-five drum solo.
"I've got these gloves, and the gloves have drum triggers in them," he said, calling from a tour rehearsal in Nashville. "So for a few people in the front row, they put the gloves on, and then I've got these really nasty sounds, real mean, aggressive drum sounds that I do a little solo with."
It's the latest stage trick for a guy who always brings a bag full. Since forming in New Orleans in 2002, Mutemath has evolved into some of alt-rock's most exhilarating and experimental performers, selling propulsive songs with wildly interactive shows.
At any given show, you might see singer-keytarist Paul Meany do a handstand atop his piano or leap into the pit aboard an inflatable raft. Or King might lead a second-line march into the crowd or scale a ladder in the audience for a drum solo.
"For us, with the live show, the decision we make at some point is: Do we want to make money, or have a crazy production?" King said. "And we always decide, let's have a crazy production. And the reasoning behind that is, if we do a good enough show, and it's memorable, then we'll get to do another one someday."
On this tour, in support of the band's fourth album Vitals, the key new element is a light show that's "very meticulously choreographed and synched to the music," King said.
For this album, that makes sense. Vitals largely ditches the guitar-heavy, garage-blues-influenced rawness of 2011's Odd Soul, and the frenetic rock pulse of earlier singles like Typical and Spotlight. Instead, the band embraces atmospheric keyboards and synth drums — a challenge that King said he welcomed.
"We wanted the drums to play a supporting role and less of a lead role, and I'm thankful for that," he said. "I put a lot more of my time and energy into the actual chords, melodies and production than I even did on the drum performance."
For King the most fun drummers to watch are those who bring personality into performances — guys like Keith Moon, Levon Helm and Yogi Horton.
"I care more about emotion and style than I do about the accomplishment of a certain acrobatic," he said. "They're more interesting people, and it came through in the performance. It came through in the way that they set up in their instrument, it came through in the way they played it."
King's inventive musical mind has led to new opportunities around the music industry. With singer (and brother-in-law) Max Bemis, King recently co-wrote, -produced and -performed Say Anything's new album I Don't Think It Is.
He's also found himself at the beck and call of another musical heavyweight: Kanye West.
After getting a call to recreate a specific sample for West and Travis Scott, King started getting texts late at night, "saying some files were on the way, and they would ask me to do my thing. I've probably done that eight or nine times."
Some of King's playing ended up on Real Friends, a track on West's new album, The Life of Pablo. The rapper even invited King to come out to the studio for a session.
"Being with Kanye in the studio is everything you possibly hope it could be," King said. "He is full of energy, full of confidence, full of excitement. He's really fun to share ideas with and play stuff for. And he's brutally honest."
King has always had a healthy respect for artists who challenge him to keep evolving. He credits Meany for pushing him to keep fresh and dynamic — "to self-criticize without it being debilitating," he said. But he also gives credit to his parents, who encouraged him to just have fun.
"Nobody ever ruined the drums for me," he said. "My mom and dad bought me a drum set, and they just let me go to town. I played it at church, I played it at school, and it was only ever just fun. I got addicted to it; it became my outlet; I could take it on when I was lonely and bored. I could go let it all out, and there's nothing better than that."
Contact Jay Cridlin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.
"c. Tampa Bay Times 2016"
. if you go
The band performs with Nothing but Thieves at 8 p.m. Saturday at the State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $23.50 and up. (727) 895-8305. statetheatreconcerts.com.