Stephen Brodsky: “There’s definitely some love for pop-punk in the world of Mutoid Man.”

Written by Interview

It started as a sunny day in the wine capital. The night that followed in Bordeaux, people had their faces melted by one of the best metal live acts of recent years: the astonishing Mutoid Man. Restless frontman Stephen Brodsky — also known for his stellar work in Cave In and Old Man Gloom and regular stage appearances with Converge or Quicksand — took some time in his busy schedule to sit outside of the I.Boat venue with us to enjoy the sunlight, and discuss songwriting, his many influences, love for the 80’s and why Converge will never be overrated.

The first thing that comes to people’s minds whenever I mention Mutoid Man is how much of a playground it seems to be for you, compared to all your other projects. I was wondering if you felt the same way, and whether this band was created for this purpose or if it just happened to be this way.

Stephen Brodsky: I guess part of it comes from the fact that it’s a newer band. It was formed in 2012-2013, so we’ve only been doing it for about 10 years. I think in comparison to other bands and projects that we do, it probably carries less baggage.

That’s precisely what I wanted to touch on: the legacy you carry on with all the bands the three of you have been involved with (Ben Koller plays drums in Converge and Jeff Matz is High On Fire’s bassist). Do you feel like there is less pressure and you can just go in whatever direction you want with Mutoid Man?

Stephen Brodsky: It’s possible. I didn’t even think it would turn into a band when Ben (Koller, drummer) and I first recorded what became the “Helium Head” record. I thought we were just having some fun, throwing around riffs and song ideas in this cramped little rehearsal space and maybe we would put it out as a cool recording project. But Ben suggested finding a bass player, playing some shows and giving the band a “real name”… other than what we were calling it back then, which was “Narcoleptic Beagle”. It just sort of became its own thing. So that might have something to do with it as well. There is just really little in the way of aspirations at the foundation of the band beyond just putting out cool music.

“Musically, Mutoid Man is Ben Koller’s playground and I try to keep up as best as possible.”

Can we talk about the influences that got you started? It feels like Mutoid Man is going all over the place. You can touch on any genre. When you started it, did you tell yourself “with this band, we set no boundaries and go wherever we want”?

SB: As far as boundaries go, I sort of leave it in the hands of Ben. He is the foundation of the band, being a fantastic drummer and also a great songwriter in his own right. It’s in the way he arranges things and the way he cherry-picks bits of song, ideas and a section of a jam or even conceptualizing a song, whether it’s via time signatures or a certain feel. Musically, it’s his playground and I try to keep up as best as possible.

When I first heard about Mutoid Man, you were playing as a backing band for the “2 Minutes To Late Night” show. What memories do you keep from then, and most of all, how did you manage to put out such a great cover of “Purple Rain“?

SB: I met Jordan (Olds, 2MTLN founder) after he had seen Mutoid Man play a show and he hit me up as he wanted to take guitar lessons. From what I recall he was interested in finding his way around playing in drop tunings, as that’s a thing I do a lot with Mutoid Man and my other bands. I then realized he’s a great guitar player in his own right. He didn’t really need to take lessons from me, but that started a friendship. During the second lesson — at the time he was working at Vice — he told me he was hoping to pitch an idea for a metal-themed show. There wasn’t anything like that at the time. He had this idea of modeling it after a classic talk show like Conan O’Brien or Saturday Night Live. And usually, there’s a house band. He pictured Mutoid Man being the house band, and that’s how it all started. We keep fond memories of that time.

“Nirvana is probably the band that inspired me the most. It seemed like getting my friends together in my neighborhood to do something musically was suddenly possible.”

What were your influences and music heroes as a kid?

SB: One of the first ones was Slash. Growing up, I did not know how to fit in, I was rather shy so when I saw him on MTV in the late ’80s, I was like “if I could play guitar even like a smidgen as good as that guy does, maybe I’ll have a chance in this life“. Later on, I would say Nirvana is probably the band that inspired me the most. It seemed like getting my friends together in my neighborhood to do something musically was suddenly possible. They made music seem like it was available for anybody who felt passionately about it, people who wanted to throw their hearts into doing artwork of the musical type.

I would say, as far as hardcore music goes — as you know, that’s a huge part of my life and helped me sort of figure out, not necessarily who I am, but like how to behave, how to treat people, how to interact with people — the band that got me into hardcore was Converge. Before that, I did check out stuff and it was either too macho, too linear, too sort of “middle of the road” or it wasn’t musically developed enough for me. But Converge felt like it took all these cool influences from outside of “normal standard hardcore” standards and did something fresh and interesting. And it made me want to do that as well.

“Converge felt like it took all these cool influences from outside of “normal standard hardcore” standards and did something fresh and interesting. And it made me want to do that as well.”

That’s a great list of influences! I would like to discuss your new album “Mutants” and the few things that struck me. The album is filled with little dissonances and very unusual guitar playing, a lot more than on your previous records. It’s always been there but it feels like omnipresent this time around.

SB: I guess it’s been there from the beginning, but it could be the production that makes things shine a little bit differently on this record. It’s one of the first records in a long time that I’ve done where you’re hearing just a single guitar performance. So maybe that just makes the listener hear things differently. I’m not quite sure, but also having Jeff (Matz, bassist) in the band kind of levels things up. It pushed our musical abilities even more as he is just such a fantastic player and a writer in his own right. We just kind of had a new person in the room to vibe off of, with a whole new set of tricks that he could bring into the band. And yeah, it was exciting for us. I think it’s probably just a combination of things that make this record sound a little different, but it’s still very much a Mutoid Man record.

What about vocals? I feel like you have been trying to use as much of your vocal range as you possibly could. Ben and Jeff are also helping out a bit more with backing vocals. What direction did you go for this time around?

SB: Lyrically, I was going through the process of leaving New York City, which I had called home for 11 years. The way that I write, what I’m saying and what I’m trying to say, all inspire the sound of the voice. Once I felt like I had that to talk about, then it became “what’s the best way to present this”. I was listening to a podcast about Metallica’s Black record — Bob Rock was talking about how he viewed James as such a great singer, but he didn’t feel that he was recognized for that. If you listen to all the previous Metallica records, there’s not much in the way of vocal harmonies. It’s pretty direct, but a lot of the vocals are doubled. That was part of Metallica’s vocal sound. Bob Rock was like, if he can just get a great vocal sound for James, then he can do so much more with the vocals as far as production and stretching his range and experimenting with different types of expressions. That stuck with me, so I approached Kurt (Ballou, producer and recording engineer) with that idea: I just wanna build a sound in your studio that feels great to stand in front of the mic, hear the voice in the room, hear it coming back through the headphones. And it just makes me want to sing. And I want to build the mix around that. Kurt was on board with that, he felt like we had something cool going on. It sort of inspired me to use my voice a little differently than on previous Mutoid Man records. I was trying to push my voice in ways that I hadn’t before and sort of add an edge to it. Experiment with adding a little bit of grit and distortion for maybe a few words in a line or an entire line. It kind of opened up something new and exciting for me.

“I always have had a soft spot for Green Day. So definitely some love for pop-punk in the world of Mutoid Man.”

When I listen to Mutoid Man, there is often a call back to the 80s and it feels finally okay to say “let’s be super catchy and not always go for something edgy”. How do you feel about that, and the fact it might be the first time in decades that it’s acceptable for metalheads to like this era?

SB: I was born in 1979 so all through the 80s, I was a youngster, like a human flesh sponge just taking in whatever was on the radio or MTV, so I can’t help it with the 80s. Instead of trying to shy away from certain influences, especially now that I am 44, I find that it’s just better, easier and more genuine to embrace those things. Not everything about the 80s is great. There’s a lot of garbage too. Just like the 90s which people glorify. It’s just a condition of being human, too. It’s either bedevil, mean or enshrinement, either you see something as total garbage or you worship it to the point where something can do no wrong. And it’s all about trying to find the good things about whatever influences have come across and cherry-picking the good bits. I don’t do it alone either. That’s the great thing about having a band. We all kind of chime in and chisel away at this thing to be what it should be. So there’s a little bit of 80s in there. Again, I can’t help it. I lived through it for better or worse.

I read somewhere that you sort of embraced your pop-punk influences on this new album, hence the super catchy hooks, almost poppy choruses throughout the record.

SB: That’s a good observation. Jeff and Ben especially have a soft spot for that stuff. I’ve really taken to this one record by Me First And the Gimme Gimmes where they play this kid’s bar mitzvah.

“Ruin Johnny’s Bar Mitzvah”.

SB: That’s it! They do all these great covers. The way that they cover the stuff on that record, in a way I think we try to find our version of that spirit when it comes to approaching learning other people’s songs.

Mutoid Man would fit well on the Punk Rock Bowling lineup.

SB: There’s that type of energy in Jeff and Ben’s playing especially, that I think would resonate with fans of that music. And I always have had a soft spot for Green Day. So definitely some love for pop-punk in the world of Mutoid Man.

Find Mutoid Man on Facebook, Bandcamp, Instagram. New album “Mutants” is out now on Sargent House Records.

Last modified: 21 February 2024