Roadrunner Records granted us the opportunity to speak with Andrew “AJ” Jacobs, bassist of Mutiny Within, prior to their performance at the House of Blues Chicago. You can read our concert review at the following link.
We were pleasantly surprised that Chris Clancy, vocalist of Mutiny Within, was the one to greet us and bring us backstage. After a quick hello with AJ, we found a “quiet” place to escape the all-important sound check. We spoke with him about Mutiny Within’s musical beginnings, the band’s approach to writing music, and the ongoing debate about New York versus Chicago-style pizza.
Contrapuntist: Who or what was your first introduction to metal? And, what made you decide to pick up the bass?
AJ: Those are really two different things. I picked up the bass way before I got into metal. I did Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dream Theater. Way back in the day I had these tab books that I would buy and I learned all kinds of songs. I learned the Offspring. I learned a lot of punk and mainstream stuff. When I got into metal I learned a newer metal record, which was Children of Bodom’s Hatebreeder. That’s what really turned me on to metal. It was just so fast and technical and European. I just really loved everything about it. That was what made me want to start the band. But yeah, I was playing bass long before I got into metal. I was in punk bands. I did cover bands. I did a lot of Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and stuff like that. When we got the metal going, it was because of Children on Bodom and Sonata Arctica, who we are on tour with right now. All the Finnish, European metal bands are what really got me going.
Viola da Voce: So what drew you to the bass in particular? Why not guitar, drums or keyboards?
AJ: My friend and I really wanted to start a punk band in middle school. He wanted to play bass and I was gonna play guitar. And for some reason, at the least minute, we switched. I said I was gonna buy a bass, and he got a guitar. That is how it went down. I don’t know why.
Contrapuntist: What music were you exposed to as a kid?
AJ: My mom would play Boston and Steven Miller Band and Queen driving me to school. My dad liked Michael Jackson. The Beatles, I heard a few times as a kid. The Beach Boys. My parents listened to all that stuff. It was Queen and Boston who I still listen to today, and even Steve Miller Band. I listen back to that stuff and I think to myself, they write some great songs. So those were my much younger influences.
Contra: Did you listen to anything that wouldn’t be considered rock or metal?
AJ: Well, I guess Michael Jackson isn’t metal. [We all laugh] In middle school dances and stuff, we would listen to whatever else was going on at the time, like B.I.G. or Jay-Z.
Viola: We know that Chris Clancy has some formal musical training. We were wondering if any of the members of the band have any musical training.
AJ: No, not really.
Viola: So it is all self-taught?
AJ: Yeah. And even in Chris, his training was in opera. In college he took opera lessons, which doesn’t necessarily help him with this music. So he is very self-taught as well. He has [taken] music lessons from Melissa Cross in New York City. But even then, she doesn’t say, “Do it this way.” She will give you the tools to teach yourself. So he is self-taught as well, I consider. The rest of us, we learned from hands-on playing. I went to college and took three years of music theory, which I hated because it was all paperwork. You know?
Viola: Who likes music theory? [We all laugh]
AJ: Yeah, everyone tries to do a little paperwork and school classes. But at the end of the day, with us, it was just playing, jamming and getting it done ourselves. We really taught ourselves this style of music.
Viola: I’ve read in some of your other interviews that you have listed a lot of progressive bands, like Symphony X and Dream Theater, as influences. Mutiny Within has gone the route of having shorter, more traditional metal songs rather than longer, progressive epics. I was wondering how you chose the route of shorter songs versus epics.
AJ: We used to have longer songs and then we just decided they were just too long. [We laugh] We had six/seven minute songs, and then we got Chris in the band. The progressive songs we had, we didn’t have vocals on them. When we started to get Chris involved and writing vocal parts, it didn’t work for the music for us and for him either. He isn’t into long progressive songs at all. When we met, we basically joined forces and took these six or seven minute songs and condensed them into three-and-a-half or four minute songs. It worked better for him, and now it works way better for us.
We’ve always liked the pop structure of songs, but applying it to metal and keeping it interesting. We don’t like to copy and paste. We want to change it up every time it comes back. We just feel it works better for us. It gets to the point. I think that it is what a lot of kids, when they are listening to their metal or their music, need to hear, something right away. MySpace, you go on there and listen to a band for thirty seconds and then switch if you don’t like it. Everybody is so quick with such a short attention span, so the route we decided to take was let’s hit ’em hard right away.
Viola: Would you guys ever consider writing instrumental songs on future albums?
AJ: We really haven’t talked about something like that. Maybe we will start experimenting later on. For now, we just like writing good, catchy songs.
Contra: Your bio says that you focused on song writing before getting started with touring. Can you tell us a little bit about your song writing process?
AJ: It is never done the same way. We started like two years ago. Once Chris joined the band, we wrote about fifty songs before we hit the studio. And those came about in so many different ways. We did five or six songs through email. We would send [Chris] the music and he would send them back with vocals and rearrangements. He would mix them and email them back to us, so we did a lot of songs that way because he lived in England.
Once Chris came over here, we started working together putting songs together downstairs on the computer and recording more demos. It happened in so many different ways. It happened from Drew doing a little piano lick, and I’d say, “Hey, let me learn that.” I would learn it on guitar, put some distortion on it and turn it into a metal song with melody.
Generally, I will get the structure of the songs together. I will sit down with the guitar and jam it out. I use a computer program to plug in all the stuff and make a structure for the song, kind of like sheet music. And then I will send it out to everybody, and they all go nuts on it, shred, and write solos. Bill will put in all his crazy fills. So it happens in all kinds of ways. We get really creative with it. We never stop working on a song until they say, “You’re done. You have to stop now. We are out of money.”
Viola: Who is “they?” Do you mean the record label?
AJ: Yeah, and the studio. They’d say, “Hey guys, this the last day in the studio.” And even then, after we got home, we’d call the studio and ask, “Can you make this change and that change?”
Viola: This is kind of a weird, goofy question, but I have to ask it. We live in a town where we love our pizza, and I heard you used to work in a pizza parlor. So, what do you think of Chicago-style pizza?
AJ: It’s not that good.
Viola: You’d don’t like the deep dish, huh?
AJ: No, I like my New York pizza.
Contra: You like it thin and…
AJ: …and cheesy. I don’t know. I am not into Chicago style. I’ve tried them all. We have just traveled the country, like three times already, and I am not that into it. New York, you can’t beat it. Even the big ones, they are always boiling hot and the cheese is melting off. It’s disgusting and it’s good. [We laugh]
Contra: Mutiny Within is just getting started. What do you hope the band accomplishes within the next five or ten years?
AJ: Just establishing ourselves in the metal community and having anyone who comes to any of these shows to say, ”Mutiny Within”, and they know who it is. The whole reason we are doing this is because we want people to hear this music. We are selling our CD online, digitally for five bucks. I mean, it’s not about the money for us. It is about getting this music out there just so everyone can hear it. Hopefully everyone, or a lot of people, will enjoy it and it will help them. We worked hard on it lyrically, not just musically. We want that to connect with people. In five to ten years, I want people to feel connection with Chris’s lyrics. When the music kicks in, I want them to feel that they can release their aggression, or bad emotions, or deal with relationships or whatever it maybe. I hope in five to ten years that people will put on our CD for help like that and we can be people’s favorite band, not just a good band.
Viola: Well, if it makes you feel any better, I listened to one of your songs like five times yesterday because I was in a really horrible mood, and it helped me feel better. So you reached me.
AJ: Thank you. I feel great every night because we play these songs, so thank you for that compliment.
Viola: We really love your music. I have to be a fan for five seconds and not a journalist.
Contra: We have both been blown away by your music. We think it is very dense and has a lot to offer.
AJ: Awesome. It is an honor to even be asked to do interviews and stuff like that. And to hear compliments help to push us even further.
Viola: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you’d like people to know?
AJ: We are going to be touring our asses off for the next two years. Come out and see us across the US and Canada. We are hopefully going overseas soon. That’s it. Just come out and see us. If you love the record, then you’ll love the energy on stage.
Contra: Yeah, I was looking up information yesterday and saw you guys are coming back to Chicago a few times. I know you are coming back in May with Dark Tranquility.
AJ: Oh yeah, we are coming back a few times, so come on out and see a live show. After the show, we aren’t the type of band that sits in the back either. We come out to the merchandise stand to hang with all our fans, so come out and meet us.
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