Interview: Muuy Biien Emerge from Tumultuous Times for ‘Age of Uncertainty’

"I really honestly believe we were the only two people fist-fighting in Canada"

muuy biien interview

Muuy Biien have a busy 2016 ahead of them. The Athens, Georgia punk quintet has a new LP (titled Age of Uncertainty) and EP on the way. On Tuesday, the band begins a tour that takes them across the country, including four shows at SXSW (see all of Muuy Biien’s tour dates on their Facebook page).

Muuy Biien’s last release, 2014’s D.Y.I., is characterized by stabbing guitars, introspective ambient interludes, and driving punk songs that are catchy and unsettling in equal doses (listen at Muuy Biien’s Bandcamp page). The album’s title (and title track) are both a sardonic twist on the punk ‘D.I.Y.’ ethos and a disturbing command to ‘do yourself in.’ I spoke with Muuy Biien frontman Josh Evans and guitarist Robbie Rapp via telephone last week. The two discussed their past work and the process of making the forthcoming Age of Uncertainty from a “healthier, more self-assured place.”

Dan Redding: What’s the current status of the band going into this upcoming tour?

Robbie Rapp: We’ve got an LP that we’re hoping to release soon, and an EP as well.

Does that LP have a name?

RR: It does. It’s Age of Uncertainty.

Do you have a release date yet?

Josh Evans: No, that’s kind of what this tour – we just signed with this booking agency Billions, and they’re in charge of this tour coming up, and we’re going to be touring a good bit in the next two to three months. We’re doing South by Southwest, which we’ve never done before – we’ve kind of avoided it, honestly, up until now… A lot of the shows that we’re playing is us trying to get in front of the right crowd and the right people so that we can figure out a good way to put out this album. The last two records that we put out were put out by this label in Athens called Happy Happy Birthday To Me. They’ve been really good to us, and we still communicate with them, and they’re really helpful, and I think now we’re trying to branch out a little bigger. Yeah, we’re really excited about the LP; we’re playing a lot of those songs on this tour. It’s definitely a departure from what we had been doing before, but I think that as you listen to our releases, none of them really sound the same, but they always sound like us.

RR: A natural progression.

Well while we’re on the subject of your progression, I want to ask a few questions related to D.Y.I. That album has this suite of instrumental songs called ‘Cyclothymia,’ which are really beautiful. What is cyclothymia?

JE: Cyclothymia is a form of bipolar disorder that I feel like is very common amongst myself and some of the people involved in the group. It’s not that extreme, but there is that high and low that comes with bipolar disorder but it’s less extreme. I think a lot of people have this condition without knowing it. For the album [D.Y.I.] at least, that was a very weird point. For me, lyrically, it was very dark. It was a very shitty time. I was doing a lot of inward thinking. From doing that, I discovered this term, this condition. I liked the way the word sounded, I liked the way it looked. As I started looking into it more, I related a little to that.

So this wasn’t something that you were clinically diagnosed with?

JE: I don’t think so – I just noticed similarities in my personality at the time.

The themes on the album are very dark. There are depression and bipolar issues in my family – so the album cover of D.Y.I. is especially intense. What was going on in your life that you were struggling with that this darkness was coming out of?

JE: I had the obvious relationship stuff, and everyone involved in Muuy Biien was involved in a lot of bands at the time. It was just a very weird point in our lives, we were all equally fucked up in some way. A lot of drugs. It was a weird time.

RR: We recorded the record at a friend’s house – it was Toby, he was our old rhythm guitarist-slash-bass player… It was his house, it was this isolated, two-story house on the edge of this lake. We were all isolated there working on it, and I think that may have lent to – maybe not cabin fever, but… It lends to drinking too much, you spend that much time with five guys in a closely-knit environment like that…

JE: At least when we were recording that stuff… There was a lot of people in and out of the place, it was definitely a small party all the time. With all of us being in different bands at the time, there was a lot of personal drama with certain people… It was just a very weird time. Personally, I was more focused on Muuy Biien being something that I started and invited these people to come help me take it over and work on it. Just having all those people there, and the drama of being in other bands, on top of a bunch of other ridiculous bullshit that was going on at the time… that went into the writing as far as the lyrics go. Tensions were high.

What’s a typical night for Muuy Biien after a show?

RR: It depends on where we are for sure. Being in Madison, Wisconsin – I don’t know how that’ll compare to New York, you know? It depends. I intend on taking it a little easier this time, compared to the last two tours we did. Maybe the first tour we did, which was back in 2014, that was our first time on a two-week tour, and we played CMJ, so there was sort of a celebratory air. That was the first time that Xander and Josh had been to New York – after a show at the time it was a party, meeting up with friends…

JE: A lot of it’s also trying to figure out who’s floor we’re sleeping on also. That can turn into a party in itself.

What story from that tour was told the most amongst the band?

JE: There’s one that I can think of. Xander plays guitar in the band… He was the original member next to me. He kind of started [Muuy Biien] with me. We lived together off and on, and we’re really close. But we’re also the only two people that will physically fight each other. There’s never any real reason… it’s always the stupidest shit. There was a night in Toronto, Canada… We did a show – it was an awesome show, every band that played was incredible. After the night was over, me and Xander were drunk standing on the sidewalk outside of this club. Jacob, who plays drums, and our friend Annabelle, who’s in this band Mexican Slang, they went to go pick up the van, which was two blocks away. I couldn’t tell you what was said, but something was said in the time it took them to get the van and pick us up. When they were coming back around the block, they saw me and Xander just swinging fists at each other on the sidewalk in Toronto. As nice as everybody was in Canada when we went – I know that’s kind of a stereotype of Canada – but I really honestly believe we were the only two people fist-fighting in Canada. And of course we’re American, and we’re from the South. It was ridiculous.

I guess sometimes you gotta just let it out.

JE: That’s a testament to how close we are… If you can’t swing on your buddy, then who can you swing on, you know?

Josh, how is your hip recovery? You broke your hip, right?

JE: Yeah, and my leg. It’s fine, it depends on the weather… I can’t sit Indian style anymore, comfortably.

Does that explain why I saw YouTube videos of you seated during a performance – was that during your recovery?

JE: Yeah – all those shows were probably like three months after the injury. The thing is, a couple hours after I came out of surgery, they were already like, let’s get you on your feet, let’s get you walking again. They start physical therapy very, very fast… I couldn’t walk for like six months without the help of a crutch. We did a tour about six months after I hurt myself, and that was kinda weird – there were times when I could tell something just didn’t feel right. But now it’s fine. I’m just not really looking forward to the older days. I’m not really looking forward to being an old man – that’s where it’s probably going to fuck me over the most.

Is Age of Uncertainty a dramatic departure from the old material? Does it follow the same format of having these atmospheric songs that punctuate or frame the punk rock songs?

JE: For this album, there isn’t a series of ambient tracks…

RR: The ambient elements are within the songs… It’s all blended together.

JE: Musically, there’s not really any fast songs on the record. The rest of it’s very mid-tempo, I’m singing more, there’s not a whole lot of shouting.

RR: This might sound corny or cliché, but whatever we’re writing is a reflection of whatever we’re into at the time, or what we’re going through, and forever reason, the way the songs sound, that’s just how they came out – very natural, very organic, wasn’t really contrived or thought out… just an extension or a progression.

JE: It’s a lot different, but it still sounds like us.

You described being holed up in this house when you made D.Y.I., which sounded intense; what were the conditions that this new album was recorded or written under?

RR: This next record is the second time we worked with an outside producer, [it was produced by] David Barbe, we worked with him at his studio… That definitely changed it, because you work at a different pace when you’re on the clock working with somebody on their time with their equipment. So the conditions were pretty different.

JE: We had already recorded every single song for the album – we had demoed them all. So going into the studio was very quick. We had already played it, we had already recorded it, so we knew what we were doing. But we also did this album on eight track reel-to-reel. So, us demoing them and already recording them helped on the clock – this was tape, you have to get it right. There wasn’t a lot of room for editing.

RR: It’s gotta be mapped out and you have to strategize how you attack each song.

JE: I think that the process for this record – it was very positive. It was very positive, and everybody’s head was in the right place. There wasn’t as much anxiety and neurosis as there was before – at least in the recording process. It was definitely more of a positive experience than the time before.

RR: I would agree. We were starting some of those days at 10:00, 10:30. You can’t get much done when you’re hungover at a studio, and you’re paying… There was a heightened sense of purpose – we wanted to be professional about it. Like Josh said, everyone’s head was on straight. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to do it, I don’t think. Had we been in the same mindset as we were for D.Y.I., going into a studio setting, I don’t think we would have got the result that we did achieve with David, because we would have just been too scatterbrained.

JE: We had the songs, and we had our shit together on this one. D.Y.I. was kind of written as it went on. I think it was four sessions over the course over like eight months. That’s kind of ridiculous.

Coming from this background where you guys have done a lot of self-produced DIY material, what is the approach to working with an outside producer? Are you reluctant to have someone else’s fingerprint on it, or do you welcome collaboration in that form?

JE: We were really excited, because David Barbe approached us about it, and kind of threw it out there. We had already had the songs demoed, and we were trying to figure out how we were going to record it… He came to us and was like, ‘Hey, I have this time this summer, would you guys want to work with me on whatever you’re doing next?’ It didn’t take that long to decide that that was the right move. We all were kind of like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ David Barbe’s done a lot of great stuff, he’s still a fan of music, he still goes to shows, he’s a very supportive person. Having him also was a very positive influence on us getting it done and taking it seriously, and using our time wisely, and not getting too wrapped up in outside shit.

If you could look forward one or two years, what would you envision for the band? Are there goals that you foresee?

RR: Oh, most certainly.

JE: The most obvious thing is that we would just be playing music as a means of taking care of ourselves and living.

RR: I know that we’d very much like to go and tour Europe. And having the financial means and label support to do that. Honestly, just finding a record label that is going to be helpful in retaining our rights as an artist… It’s basic things. Pretty standard stuff.

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