Rockers find success despite struggles

“My mom said I drummed on everything, all the time,” says MuteMath drummer and founding member Darren King.

He laughs as he recalls the details.

“I used forks and stuff like that. Somehow she slept through it all,” King says.

Cutting-edge rock · Grammy Award-nominated, alternative-rock band MuteMath’s 2012 tour features state-of-the-art, 3-D projection technology, with visual content crafted by drummer Darren King (center) in addition to their critically acclaimed musical collection. - Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

It was an auspicious beginning for King, but one of his biggest breakthroughs as a drummer came in a roundabout way, when he called it quits on another early passion: basketball.

“We had all these basketballs. I was obsessed with it, like every other 11-year-old during the Michael Jordan era,” King says. “I don’t think I’ve ever put so much of myself into something and had so little return. I sucked. Seriously. So I took all these basketballs, let out different amounts of air — which gave them different pitches — and then drummed on them.”

King has come a long way from then. He’s now touring the United States with Grammy-nominated rock band MuteMath, which has been lauded for its bombastic live performances, as well as its latest album Odd Soul.

King dreamed of various careers in his teenage years, including a phase in which his intense passion for Christianity led to ambitions of being the next prophet: “I wanted to raise the dead, you know, and write the sequel to the Bible.”

But it was in April 1997 that King first met future MuteMath frontman Paul Meany, whom King “really admired” from the get-go.

Their first collaboration didn’t go so well — King was fired from Meany’s band Earthsuit, which drove him to drum lessons and a greater focus on his craft.

“It was the toughest thing in my life,” King says. “It felt like the worst kind of failure.”

His brief time with Meany, however, was a relationship that paid off. Earthsuit disbanded in 2003, and King and Meany formed a duo that eventually added guitarist Greg Hill and bassist Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas.

The group has released three full-length albums: its 2006 self-titled album, 2009’s Armistice and its latest, 2011’s Odd Soul, which King notes “was a huge jump.”

“The quality of the writing is just better [on Odd Soul]. Armistice has a few songs I like. I like almost everything on [Odd Soul]. And I think we did a smart thing by producing it ourselves,” King says. “We tried to record like we play live, which is really our calling card.”

The recording of the album didn’t come without difficulty, though: Hill quit the band late in 2010 because of differences with the rest of the band.

“It was very sad for Greg to leave,” King says. He pauses, sighs. “Things were really bad during Armistice. I just thought everything had gotten way better. Gosh.

“Greg deserves so much credit for putting up with Paul and me. I think he just had the exact opposite personality to be working with the two of us. We have a proclivity for over-thinking, redoing things, picking it apart. Greg craved order and structure.”

The lack of Hill’s presence hasn’t just affected the band, but also King personally.

“The most frustrating thing is that I want to talk to him about all this exciting stuff, but I can’t. I can’t talk to him about the band and where we’re going. It’s hard,” King says.

The loss of Hill didn’t derail the band though. He was replaced by guitarist Todd Gummerman, who King says has settled in nicely.

“I can’t believe how quickly Todd’s picked things up. It’s funny: He’s like a cat on the road, just laying in the sun enjoying himself,” King says with a chuckle. “I also love touring. Your life gets put on hold, and you don’t get to develop certain relationships, but you get to wake up in a new city all the time. And this time I get to bring my wife with me.”

The tour, which makes a stop at Club Nokia on Feb. 2, will feature not only the band’s music but also spectacular visuals in the form of state-of-the-art, 3-D projection. It’s a technique King refers to as “video-matting,” which in this case will be used to project video graphics on the venue’s entire structure, not just a screen.

“I’ve been creating the content for the project. It’s going to be sick,” King says, noticeably excited.

But tours inevitably end, and King and MuteMath will be faced with a new slew of challenges, including staying afloat in a sea of competing bands and short attention spans.

According to King, the band will be heading back into the studio later this year, tasked with creating more acclaimed music and keeping audience interest high.

King tries not to worry about that, though. All the band can do, he says, is be true to itself.

“In terms of being ‘relevant’ … I don’t think we are that relevant, to be honest, but we just want to be genuine with our music. What’s good music? I can’t define it. But I justify it as ‘I love something … so that makes it good,’” King says. “I didn’t used to think that. Now, I do.”