By Brian Tucker
It’s been a long time coming but local punk band Museum Mouth’s new album Alex I am Nothing was released May 27th on Charlotte’s Self Aware Records (vinyl, CD and digital download). Recorded towards the end of 2012 and into the following year, Alex is a concept album detailing being obsessed with someone and that relationship never going to happen.
A few months back singer-drummer Karl Kuehn described Alex I am Nothing as the most mature work they’d created, musically and in terms of subject matter. It was recorded and then the project files were lost. Faced with re-recording or jettisoning everything they ended up bringing some of those songs together with new ones.
“Just self-recording the thing,” Kuehn said. “I’m glad it happened like that because we really got to take our time.”
The new album shines a spotlight on extremely personal moments, begging the question about the difficulties of playing these songs night after night and possibly being removed from them. On previous albums/EP’s the band’s songs have typically been overly personal but playing the new songs was “a little daunting” at first.
“But I think that was mainly me just psyching myself out,” Kuehn said. “A lot of our songs are super personal; some are just more cryptic or vague than others. Getting up in front of people and whining loudly about your failing love life isn’t really a new thing for us. It’s just a bit more specific and a lot more blunt now.”
But it’s the up close and personal aspect of the band’s music that helped grow a fan base and the attention of Self Aware Records. Owned by Josh and Sarah Robbins, Self Aware first heard about Museum Mouth after an article on the band in Shuffle Magazine. Josh, originally from Wilmington, was booking a showcase in Wilmington and invited them to play.
“The first impression of the band was we really felt they fit in stylistically and idealistically with what we were doing with Self Aware,” Sarah said. The label stayed in contact with them, with an eye on releasing something by the band in the future. They added a Museum Mouth song (“Golden Bones”) to the Self Ware music label sampler last fall with plans to release their next full length.
“Karl and the band have a way of connecting with people through their songs and personality,” Josh said. “It reminds me of the first time I heard punk, everything they do seems to come from a sense of childlike wonder. I think people really sense that and are really drawn in by it.”
Kuehn recalls writing the album as being fun and easy but being so open was a little harder. As a warm up Kuehn recorded what he calls a “barely rap” album under the name OK McQueen last year. That album served as a device to being a more open an honest songwriter.
“People responded pretty well to that which I think made me more confident in the lyrics on Alex I am Nothing, Kuehn said.
In the credits Ke$ha is thanked, and not as a joke. Kuehn, an unabashed fan of pop music and Top 40 radio, cites lyrics from the song “Last Goodbye” where she sings “When I was lost, I found you/When I was broke, you bought me shoes.”
“It kills me,” Kuehn said. “It’s perfect. And honestly, I just want someone to feel about our lyrics the same way I feel about those.”
Time will tell but he most likely has done that. On opening song “Alex Impulse” there’s a line in the middle that goes “You reassured me that I had gold in my bones, and I didn’t deserve to spend my whole life alone.” It’s not cutesy, its words of support, and it’s a piece of the heartache to come. Side A of the album is about a doomed relationship and making sense of it. Side B is about acceptance, that things are not going to happen. That’s something heavy to sing about show after show. It’s also sharing yourself with fans and strangers as a piece of art ushered into the world.
“I’m super proud of it,” Kuehn said. “I think it’s a really solid, well thought out piece of music and I think the album art is all very fitting. Also, I’m really interested in how people interpret the story this album tells. One reviewer already said he saw it as a break-up album before he read up about it online. I think that’s a cool thing.”
More with Karl Kuehn
Why did you think the album would never happen?
Kuehn: I joked about the record never happening mostly because it took such a long time to make. I mean, we recorded a whole album at the end of 2012 with a friend named Derek and ended up losing all the project files. That’s kind of a huge setback – do we re-record it all again? Do we scrap it all and start over? Some bands probably break up over stuff like that.
But we ended up carrying over a few of those original songs into a crop of new ones and self-recording the thing. I’m glad it happened like that because we really got to take our time and I’m stoked on how it all finally turned out. And yeah, we totally would have self-released it had Self Aware not been so sweet and helpful.
The more you play do you feel different or further away from the subject matter?
Kuehn: Yes, to a certain degree. I mean the time-place-situation I had put myself in while I was writing this record is long gone and so are a lot of those feelings, but it’s not like my life has done a complete 180 or anything. I’m still painfully single and constantly battling the fact that I have a crush on everyone so…
How was writing this album different than before? Was it harder to be so open?
Kuehn: Writing this album was actually pretty fun and easy, I think. I don’t know. I can’t remember. We actually wrote and demoed all these songs near the end of 2012 into the beginning of 2013 and just worked on making sure we loved every part of them before we started tracking them for real.
I’m super proud of it. I think it’s a really solid and well thought out piece of music and I think the album art is all very fitting. I don’t know, I’m just really, really proud. Also, I’m really interested in how people interpret the story this album tells. One reviewer already said he saw it as a break-up album before he read up about it online and I think that’s a cool thing.
How did Ke$ha influence this album?
Kuehn: Well, I’ve always been pretty unabashed with my love of pop music and top 40 radio and I think Kesha is putting out some of the most quality tracks in terms of honesty and relatability. She’s got a lot of secretly sad songs in her discography and they all have things that make them feel real and her own, I really dig that.