Mutoid Man, a new group featuring Cave In's Stephen Brodsky and Converge's Ben Koller, came about through mutual respect. After sharing a tiny rehearsal space in Brooklyn, the two veterans of the Boston metalcore scene decided to continue what Brodsky refers to as a "cool chemistry" when Koller toured and recorded briefly in Cave In and when the two full bands worked on a side-project called Verge-In.
As Brodsky explains in a recent Exclaim! interview, "Having the Cave In experience with Ben and also the Verge-In experience, where Cave In and Converge wrote and recorded some stuff together, all of that was really positive, and Ben and I have just always had a mutual musical respect for each other. And we felt like once we were living in Brooklyn together and sharing a practice space, well, why not just get weird at the rehearsal space and see what happens?"
The result is Helium Head, a seven-track album being released Friday (November 29) on Magic Bullet Records and streaming now below. Teeming with bluesy riffs, firing-squad drumming and chaotic time signatures, the album was the result of two like-minded high-volume dudes challenging each other in a tiny rehearsal space.
"We just went down to the rehearsal space and started throwing ideas at each other. We both like to play very loud, so that part was easy to coordinate," laughs Brodsky. "So the material is meant for that environment and that vibe, and it was just really fun and quick, too, because when you're just working with two people there's a back and forth that happens very quickly."
Both busy musicians, and with Koller touring with Converge and his other band All Pigs Must Die, the two came up with the Mutoid Man material casually over the course of a year. The basic recordings were done on Brodsky's four-track, with all the remaining tracking done in the small rehearsal space in less than two weeks, then mixed in four days.
Surprisingly, drummer Koller was the driving force behind the songwriting process rather than guitarist/vocalist Brodsky, something that was a welcome change for the prolific songwriter who has recorded several solo albums under different monikers.
"Ben is really intuitive with songwriting, so his creative direction with the songs was very heavy-handed, all the way down to the vocals and the artwork, so it was good," explains Brodsky. "I just brought the riffs and tried to keep up with all the curveball ideas that he was throwing at me and if a riff was too standard, we'd decompose it and snap it out in a different time signature, and I'd feel like parts of my brain were being rewired as I was trying to understand and do what I can with my fingers to make that kind of stuff happen. It was challenging and really fun and that was the working environment for a year."
Able to follow Koller's lead, Brodsky says the process was a welcome change from his other bands and projects, where he normally does the lion's share of the writing.
"It was kind of a relief, actually. Just being more of a transmitter for someone's ideas than actually trying to create the transmissions myself," he says. "It was actually a really enlightening process in that way. I think because I'm 35 and I've done as much as I've done for someone my age, so I tend to either burn out or I repeat myself… or, I'm a guitar player! Guitar players are lazy, man [laughs]. I'm no different. When I write songs I like to get the ideas that are very basic to the song and sometimes I'm content with that, for better or worse. So someone like Ben pulls me out of that comfort zone."
The duo recently added another element to the Mutoid Man equation, bringing in bass player Nick Cageao, head soundman at Brooklyn club Saint Vitus Bar and bassist for Bröhammer, to play live shows and write new material with them.
"He's really the perfect, mutant-minded individual for this kind of stuff because he's very easily wrapped his head around what was going on. We played our first show with him and he's definitely on board to do more," says Brodsky. "And we've actually started writing some stuff together, too, which is very cool. He has a music school background as well, so I'm around these two people, and for lack of a better word, I feel like the Neanderthal in the creative equation. But everyone is excited about the idea of where to take the sound that we've started with and trying to push it a little bit more, especially having other people in the mix."
Brodsky says that he and Koller, both children of the '70s and big fans of classic rock, let a lot of those undertones creep into the Mutoid Man songs. In fact, the last track on the album, cleverly titled "The Manimals," is the duo's interpretation of the Animals' '60s hit song "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
"Well, if the Animals were into drop-tuning or something," laughs Brodsky.
As for his main gig in Cave In, Brodsky's unsure right now what the future will hold for the band who last released 2011's White Silence, although all of the band members remain in close contact.
"I live in New York now and those three guys are living in Boston, so it's been hard to coordinate everyone getting on the same page, for one reason or another. Sometimes life takes over, for instance [Cave In drummer] JR [Conners]' family just had baby number two so they've got their hands full… But, yeah, there's nothing on the docket anytime soon, but we still remain very close with each other as friends, so that's kind of where it's at right now."