Muzz Break Down Their Self-Titled Debut Album Track by Track
Interpol’s Paul Banks, The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick, and Bonny Light Horseman’s Josh Kaufman give us the details on their first LP together.
We’ve come a long way from the early-’00s New York City garage rock revival—while groups like Interpol and The Strokes are still releasing records, it seems their individual members have just as much success as solo artists or with side-projects which, in some cases, involve members of the Wu-Tang Clan. What’s most interesting, though, is seeing this clique of long-time pals branch off and start new bands with each other as less of a supergroup relying on name-recognition than an earnest jam-band mentality.
The latest of which, Muzz, compounds the immediately recognizable vocals of Interpol frontman Paul Banks and the similarly familiar drumming of The Walkmen’s Matt Barrick, with the additional contribution of guitarist Josh Kaufman from contemporary folk newcomers Bonny Light Horseman. The result is a surprisingly comfortable pastiche of the three artists’ distinct sounds, compounding the uneasiness of Interpol, the playfulness of The Walkmen, and the tranquil twang of BLH.
The recording of Muzz, the group’s first album together, was a few years in the making, and who better than the group’s three members to walk us through the twelve songs’ inceptions? Stream their LP below—which dropped on June 5 via Matador Records—and read on for the songwriters’ insight.
1. “Bad Feeling”
Paul: Josh and Matt wrote and recorded this song (without horns) one afternoon when I had left the studio in Woodstock to drive back to NYC. They emailed it to me with the rest of the music we had worked on together in that session. It spoke to me immediately. I felt it was like a song for your pocket. Like Will Oldham’s “I Send My Love to You.” It sounded like a sigh.
I waited until I felt inspired to write the lyrics. That happened at the beach after I visited with a surf bro—an American named Joey—who lives in Central America with his wife and child, and who at that time was preparing to move completely off the grid—deep into the wild—to run a remote surf lodge. And he was ecstatic about it. The opening lyrics and the chorus are directly inspired by Joey, in honor of the monumentality of his hope.
Josh: “Evergreen” was built around a slide guitar instrumental that I had written and recorded years before we started actively Muzz-ing. It was a tune that Matt and Paul both dug and we had a blast layering onto the recordings I had in the archive. Love the Flutes by Stuart Bogie on this and the sweetness of Annie Nero and Cassandra Jenkin’s chorus harmonies. I had always imagined just muting the melody line and letting Paul construct something new there, but when I heard him sing to the slide melody it really unlocked the whole jam. Amazing rolling groove by Matt here as well…kinda love that it just goes for a while at the end. I am literally singing into the pickups of one of my old guitars for those little background patterns.
3. “Red Western Sky”
Paul: “Red Western” was written and recorded up in Woodstock at The IsOkOn. Fairly early on. We improvised the beginning as part of a jam, and then Josh sat down at the piano and fleshed out the chorus progression, and then I wrote vocals all in the same day. I remember sitting in the control room listening to Matt lay his beat down, and feeling an upswell of excitement—a sudden sense that the song was destined to be dope. Later we added horns, which were such a great addition on this track.
The song had a dusty mood of Americana to my ear, musically. So when I sat down to write vocals I just immediately saw myself as a character on a highway in Nevada—going west with the sunset as a guide. Spirit quest, Jim Morrisson shit. That’s what informed the lyrics. I think there’s some Cormac McCarthy influence as well.
Josh: This song got me thinking about our band’s ability to spontaneously compose songs together. It’s the first of a few that were concocted through a vibey jam resulting in a tune. I remember this one moving very quickly. I was strumming Paul’s Guild in some alt tuning that I now forget, Paul improvised that guitar arpeggio, and Matt moved the whole groove along with his breezy shaker tom-tom, kick pattern. After that we added an old Crumar which has those sweeping brass filters on it, bass, and a couple other textures, and Paul wrote his vocal line and lyrics to that… “Hey mom, I made it so your light burns / Hey mom, I’ve changed.” Nice one, PB!
5. “Everything Like It Used to Be”
Josh: “Everything Like It Used to Be” is another jam that is based off one of my older demos. In the original version I had all of these strange samples of people sighing on the backbeats going into the choruses. Paul liked those, but after hearing his voice on the track we decided to remove some of those (as he likes to call them) “ice-y modern details” in place of a more classic track—strings by Rob Moose are always really special, and he really built on the emotion here. Matt and I re-cut the rhythm track in the same room to get a sweet and blurry bleed between the instruments. As with a lot of art, while it moves through time, it takes on new meaning. That occured unpredictably fast here with the line, “I want everything like it used to be,” which started to feel like a relatable lifeline at the onset of the current health crisis.
6. “Broken Tambourine”
Josh: Funnily enough, Paul was asleep when Matt and I cracked open “Broken Tambourine.” It was recorded early spring up in Woodstock, NY—hence the babybird songs built into the piano track. Dan Goodwin (our renaissance man engineer/co-producer) brilliantly set up and tracked Matt and I writing this song while we had the porch door open, so it’s a piano, drums, Catskills nature “live-off the floor” kinda sound. PB walked in as we were finishing and loved the feeling of the track, he made a few suggestions and then got to work on the vocal immediately. This track also deals pretty directly with isolation and feels particularly connected to the pandemic moment we’re all going through.
Matt: Josh and I recorded the basics for this song at my practice space in Philly in 2015, a couple years before we would get together with Paul and really start working on the Muzz album. We tried rerecording it a few times, but the original demo had an energy that was hard to beat so we ended up building on that. The vocals for this one were the last thing we recorded for the record, so this one is full circle.
8. “Chubby Checker”
Paul: This was a piano riff I was playing around with in the studio, and Josh said, “Let’s record that!” So we jammed it out with Josh on keyboards, me on piano, and Matt on drums. And we recorded to one mic. Then Josh layered the guitar parts and bass on top. His first bassline reminded Matt of Chubby Checker—hence the name. But we scrapped that bass take anyway and got the current one instead. We kept the nonsense working title because we like a little nonsense here and there.
The piece has a unique atmosphere and tone for the record. But it reminds me of Can for some reason, and that makes me happy. The song lived as an instrumental for, like, a year. The only part I wrote at the time we recorded was “Back on your feet how you planned it.” Then at the last minute I finished the words—maybe the last day of recording. One of my favorite tracks.
9. “How Many Days”
Matt: This was one of the earliest songs to come together for the record. During a Banks and Steelz soundcheck in Phoenix, I was messing around and playing this beat—and Paul started playing a chord progression from a song he had already demoed. There was just one thing missing: a ripping Josh guitar solo.
10. “Summer Love”
Matt: A deep cut but one of my favorites. This one started from one of Josh’s demos. Great fluting by Stuart Bogie. I was trying to mimic the sound of an old Rhythm Ace drum machine with real drums and percussion. I like how this one is relaxed and just rides out on that main vibe and vocal line. Was really fun hearing all of Paul’s vocal ideas on this one.
11. “All Is Dead to Me”
Matt: Most of the album we recorded upstate at the IsOkOn with D. James Goodwin, but this one was done at Silent Partner, a studio Paul and I started in Philly. Josh was on tour and we went to the studio the day after his show. He went straight to the Hammond organ and made good use of the built-in reverb, while I wailed on a strange-sounding cymbal covered in duct tape. When he was gone I got to sneak in a couple guitar licks, but later he put me in my place with a ripping guitar solo. Love the brass on this one by The Westerlies.
Paul: This track was just a guitar sketch and lyric that I had laying around. We tried to build the song into something longer and more complex structurally, but ultimately settled on the original minimal form. I tracked the guitar and the vocal at the same time, so the recording sounds and feels really live, I think. Then Josh layered guitar and bass; Matt played to it; and then The Westerlies played horns and voila, that’s how the song came to be. Josh says the song is “funereal,” which influenced how he wanted the horns to sound: a little durgey, a little somber. I think it works nicely.