Thursday, February 14, 2008
Mumlers Features In San Jose Mercury Sun News & On NPR.org.
WORLDS OF SOUNDS
S.J. band Mumlers finding audience for their innovative songs
By Shay Quillen
After years of playing in rock bands, Will Sprott wanted to try something different.
"Every band I was in was just guitars and bass and drums," says Sprott, the lead singer and creative force behind the Mumlers. "There's whole other musical possibilities, worlds of sounds, and I wanted to mess with them."
Sprott's sonic experiments turned into the Mumlers, which quickly became one of San Jose's most talked-about bands. The septet marks the release of its first full-length CD, "Thickets and Stitches," with a show Friday at the Blank Club.
Sprott, now 26, played in local rock bands such as the Entertainment Committee, but he says it was an awkward fit.
"We practiced at 4,000 decibels, and I can't take that," he says. "I have very sensitive ears. They would always get bummed on me because I'd have earplugs and a scarf wrapped around my head."
He wanted an outlet for the songs he was writing - idiosyncratic numbers informed by Dylan and Cohen and Waits and classic soul - and he began making recordings with jazz drummer Andy Paul, a friend since their days at Bret Harte Middle School in San Jose, and multi-instrumental virtuoso Felix Archuleta.
Classically trained musician James Fenwicke came along with his French horn, and Mercedes El Vencere showed up with her tambourine and an infectious laugh. Entertainment Committee member Paolo Gomez came on board with his stand-up bass. Finally, Müller (ne John Blatchford), who engineered the demo, signed on with guitar and woodwind chops and the ideal attitude for this band.
"I just love making music," he says. "I'm not scared to pick up an instrument I've never seen before and try to make something out of it."
The versatile lineup gives Sprott a rich musical palette.
"He's a musician hoarder," Gomez says. "He likes to hoard all the musicians and then arrange them like army men."
Though the group formed casually with no commercial expectations, things changed in 2006, when the demo earned the band the chance to perform at the Bleeding Edge Festival at Villa Montalvo - alongside established acts such as Yo La Tengo - and to receive free recording time at Brett Allen's SnowGhost studio in Whitefish, Mont.
"I was blown away by their music," says Allen, one of the festival's curators. "I thought Will's songwriting was completely original, and his lyrical imagery was fantastic. I really liked the jug-band ruckus sound that they put across. . . . I thought that there was a looseness conveyed that you don't hear on a lot of modern-day pop records."
That vibe carries over to the band's debut CD, recorded at Allen's studio, which has hosted such notable acts as Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement), Brightblack Morning Light and Matmos.
"Shake That Medication" is a ramshackle funk jam about using a Prozac bottle as percussion. "Hitched to the Sun" hints at country. "Whale Song" is a solo acoustic gem.
The band practices Sundays in Müller's basement in downtown San Jose. Members trade instruments like baseball cards. Sprott murmurs approval and makes gentle suggestions at the end of a take. In one corner, El Vencere, Archuleta and Gomez giggle like kids in the back row of class.
"We have a very lighthearted relationship," Sprott explains later. "We're not very businesslike when we get together, usually."
The band has become something of a media darling in its native San Jose and has made inroads into San Francisco, where it is returning to the Noise Pop Festival on Feb. 27. But the rest of the country remains uncharted territory for the band, which is still being booked by Sprott.
"It's really interesting just to go through this whole process of putting it out and letting the music into the world and just seeing what it becomes," he says. "I'm totally fascinated."
Meanwhile, Sprott keeps writing songs, including a lovely ballad to be called "Don't Throw Me Away" or "Change My Mind" - he's not sure yet. And the band's top scrounger, Archuleta, is in search of new ingredients.
"He's getting a tuba, which is going to be amazing," Sprott says excitedly. "Those things wrap around your whole body like a boa constrictor."
NPR.org Second Stage Artist
The Mumlers are a 7-piece acoustic group from San Jose, Calif. making cozy tunes rooted in early blues, jazz and folk.
NPR.org, February 13, 2008 - The Mumlers are a 7-piece group from San Jose, Calif. with a love for loose, jangling rhythms and easy melodies. Despite the group's size, it's an intimate sound with a comfortable mix of accordions, gently strummed guitars and muted horns that borrow elements from early blues, jazz and folk. The Mumlers have just released their debut CD, Tickets and Stitches.
Like many of the tracks, "Red River Hustle" has a dark under current with tales of lonely hearts and lonely towns inhabited by the ghosts of what might have been. The lyrical musings of songwriter Will Sprott are enchanting with clever turns.
The Mumlers get their name from William Mumler, a 19th century engraver from Boston who started the "spirit photography" craze, telling customers he could capture images of their deceased loved ones.
Upcoming Mumlers live shows:
02/15 San Jose, CA @ The Blank Club
02/22 San Francisco, CA @ Thee Parkside
02/27 San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
03/28 Davis, CA @ KDVS (on air performance)
03/28 Sacramento, CA @ Fox & Goose
04/12 Santa Cruz, CA @ The Crepe Place