Catching up with Museum Mouth
By Brian Tucker
Kory Urban was ready for the Family Bike tour to be finished. Urban, bass player for Museum Mouth, is referring to MM drummer and singer Karl Kuehn’s other project Family Bike that recently released a debut album. Urban was understandably excited, Museum Mouth recently signed to Max Bemis’ (Say Anything) Rory Records, an imprint of Equal Vision Records. Urban and MM guitarist Graham High had completed bass and guitar demos for the upcoming MM album before Kuehn left to tour.
“We want to hear what these songs are going to sound like with vocals and all the whistles on them,” Urban said. “If Karl gets to go out on tour that’s always a good thing because it make shim a little less crazy.”
Making heartfelt grungy punk with pop aesthetics underneath, the band has three full length albums and two EPs and played big festivals like Fest! and Hopscotch. Last year they released Alex I am Nothing which just saw its second pressing via Self Aware Records, a Charlotte based label that also produced a cassette-only release of 2012’s Sexy But Not Happy. It’s been a good year so far.
There are examples of smaller bands signed to a label with negative results or the band sounding different as a result, it doesn’t look that way for Museum Mouth. The signing to Rory Records was serendipitous, or rather, the happy result of an internet error and Kuehn tweeting about it. After a song posting error on the Punk News website, MM caught the attention of Bemis.
“A few months later we got an email,” Urban said. “Bemis really liked (us) and would we like to talk about a record deal. We were like, what?”
Bemis was impressed that Kuehn was able to get quality recordings using old GarageBand software and making albums mostly in his father’s basement in Southport. For the new record, the label sent them an iMac.
“I’ve been listening to (Say Anything) since high school,” Urban said. “They’re a huge part of us learning how to write songs. It’s interesting to hear from someone whose music you’ve respected for so long.”
Signing with Rory Records means greater exposure and Bemis’ name opens up a new listeners. Bemis has faith in their pop-punk lo-fi sound as the label is letting them record the new album on their own.
“It’s such an important part. We grew up listening to and playing with bands that sound like that. It just sounds cool.”
Urban met Kuehn at an Against Me! show at The Soapbox and when MM needed a bassist later he joined. They bonded easily and their musical tastes came into focus one afternoon driving to band practice. Kuehn switched the radio station, found Maroon 5, and assumed Urban didn’t want to hear that. Urban did.
“(Kuehn) said, okay, you love Against Me! and Maroon 5? Those are two really polar opposite things,” Urban recalled. “The fact that we both liked them was a weird, a shared mutual interest in two very different things. It was something that I picked up on pretty young. All my favorite musicians had bizarrely diverse music tastes and so I wanted to (too), so I started listening to everything, whether it was pop music or the heaviest, grandest, guitar music.”
A pop sound is part of their music; one need only hear the infectious “Sexy But Not Happy.” Equally potent are honest lyrics and albums born from three individual’s styles of writing. Urban notes he and Kuehn attached themselves to brutally honest songwriters.
“I think it’s hard to be honest with your internal thoughts and not touch on some sort of adolescent experience. When you’re a teenager your thoughts are so immediate and reactionary maybe, and when you channel that you want to be very honest with yourself, even if you’re saying stupid things.”
Museum Mouth will playing July 11th at Bourgie Nights along with ILM’s Pet Names and Chapel Hill’s The Color Exchange.
Additional Q and A with Kory Urban
How did you become part of Museum Mouth?
Urban: Museum Mouth came together before I was in the picture. It was Karl, Savannah Levin and Graham High learning how to play guitar and bass. It was largely Karl wanting a band. Savannah who played bass for a long time decided she didn’t want to do music and to travel any more. She bailed and it was a weird period where they didn’t have a bass player. Graham and Karl were writing songs but not really doing anything with them.
We first met at an Against Me! show at The Soapbox in 2009. It was when Museum Mouth just happened. We had a mutual friend named Jason that used to book shows in Wilmington. We would open sometimes. I’d do a solo show for a touring band, sometimes Museum Mouth. We’d see each other at shows and hang out.
Karl started SWTHRT. He just wanted to make more music but Museum Mouth started happening again and he asked me to play bass for them. They were both happening for a while, and Becca (High, Graham’s sister) who was in SWTHRT went off to college and Museum Mouth became more of a focal point for Karl.
(But) Karl and I first met at the Against Me! show and Savannah was there. We were hanging out at the front of the stage, talking about music. Towards the end of the set Savannah got hit in the head and knocked out. Laura Jane Grace (Against Me singer) stopped the set and said people can’t be doing punching each other in the head. Leaving the Soapbox I saw them and a few months later I was hanging out in Karl’s basement playing music. For a while we were doing small house shows in Southport.
MM is pop and punk but not slick or too obvious. Is that hard?
Urban: Oh no, the big thing is that all three of us write. We’ll write a riff or something and the other two will build on top of it. The record is made out of three people’s very different styles of writing. It just happens super naturally that some songs are real fast, rippers and others are more grooving or slower tempo.
Will the band get to tour more?
Urban: We’ve never been able to tour as avidly as a lot of musicians get to because I was in school for a long time and Graham had a full time job. I graduated and now I have a full time job. Without the support of a label and doing it on our own was never an option. Now that we’re getting help and not throwing all our money into the band, hopefully it will be feasible for us to tour more frequently.
How excited are you?
Urban: It’s real crazy, the way it all unfolded. And the fact that it’s Max Bemis, the brain trust of Say Anything. I’ve been listening to that band since high school. They’re a huge part of us learning how to write songs, because their songs are written with word structures and crazy bridges that don’t sound like the rest of the song. It’s interesting to hear from someone whose music you’ve respected for so long and is all of a sudden, I like your band, because he heard it on the internet.
It’s a funny story, Punk News website posted about us occasionally and they post about a lot of bands including Say Anything. They were trying to post a stream of “Crocodile” or “Alex Impulse” from our last album Alex I am Nothing. Instead of embedding “Crocodile” they embedded “Hebrews” from the new Say Anything record. There was this headline that said ‘new Museum Mouth song’ and you clicked on it and it was a Say Anything song.
Karl tweeted about it and it was re-tweeted. A few months later we got an email. Max Bemis said he really liked us, and how would we like to talk about a record deal kind of thing. We were like, what? It’s definitely more exposure. The fact the name Max Bemis is attached to it is a whole new world of people are going to be interested in it. We gained more followers in various internet things than we have in months.
Is there an intimidation factor at all about stepping things up like this?
Urban: Not yet it doesn’t. But I’m kind of slow to realize what’s happening in my life. It’s like a month into me doing something and then, (I realize) this is really crazy. A month from now I’ll realize how crazy all this is. We’ll go play a show and I won’t realize how crazy it is, playing with someone cool. Karl is wigging out and after the show I’m thinking, wow, that band is awesome. I can’t believe we played with that band. All the people there…we’re all our own people for sure. Karl is very excitable. Graham and I are very stoic.
What’s the best show you played?
Urban: Let’s see, we’ve definitely had some real fun house shows. The last one we played at The Mattress Fort (in Raleigh). Every one living there throwing a party on Friday night, they’ve all graduated and moved to other parts of Raleigh. It was where we shot the Sexy But Not Happy video. Every show we played at that house was just incredibly fun. It was like being in a weird teen sex comedy movie where people are making out on tables and people are flying off tire swings in the front yard.
Did Alex open the door to more fans or solidify your fan base?
Urban: I think it made sense coming after Sexy. It’s a little more technical, the record as a whole. It isn’t all super fast songs. Sexy isn’t either, but Alex has more pacing to it. I think people who were already into to the band definitely got more attached to the band. When you’re more honest in your songwriting people are going to love it or hate it. The people who love it really do love it.
Is new material already written for the new album?
Urban: We demoed out everything, twelve songs. They’re pretty much done, some holes to fill in. Alex was never supposed to be a concept album. It was written when Karl was going through this stupid situation he had put himself in. So this record, I don’t know, there’s central themes, but not of its concrete. Maybe the central them is how un-concrete it is. It definitely has similar vibes throughout the record. I don’t know that I would call it a concept record.
Was it harder to mace Alex given the constraints of those songs?
Urban: No not at all. The fact that Karl had gone through this weird situation and had such an outpouring of music was, he basically he wrote this whole record. Graham and I had written a few guitar parts. A lot of times I’ll come up with guitar parts and send them as demos to Karl. He’ll chop them up in GarageBand, arrange them, and move parts around. We’ll either collaborate on lyrics or he’ll already have them done. That’s a lot of what happened on Alex is that he already had so many lyrics already done. We helped fill some voids but that was a very Karl-driven record.
They gave you an iMac and said go make a record. Is it that simple?
Urban: It’s been easy so far. We talked to a lawyer one day for two hours. That was the most difficult part. I don’t think it’s normally that simple. As far as Museum Mouth, nothing ever normal ever happens to us. It’s cool for once – this one not-normal thing is actually just super easy. Its, we’ll help you pay for this record and you guys can just do what you always do.
Self Aware Records did a second pressing/cassette release of Sexy But Not Happy.
Urban: We had been talking to Josh and Sarah about something to do as a first pressing of Sexy and there was talk of doing it on vinyl but it was just too costly. So we did a tape because we wanted to have some form of physical release. The first time you do vinyl it’s expensive because the plant has to make a plate. Once you have the plate it’s a lot cheaper to do a re-press.
The Valentine’s Day song covers you’ve done each year, will they ever see the light of day as an EP?
Urban: I think sooner or later we’ll combine them all and put them out. It would be awesome to out them out on a pretty, clear pink seven inch. We haven’t talked about (a new song) much because so much has been going on.