Alright, let’s just get this part out of the way: Muzz is a new band comprised of three gentlemen you probably know from other bands. Paul Banks is the singer in Interpol, has a project with The RZA called Banks + Steelz, and has released records as a solo artist. Matt Barrick played drums for Jonathan Fire*Eater and The Walkmen, and you’ve likely seen him on tour with Fleet Foxes. Josh Kaufman is a third of the folk group Bonny Light Horseman and has his producer mitts all over esteemed recordings by The National, Bob Weir, The Hold Steady, The War on Drugs, and many more. Paul + Matt + Josh = Muzz. OK, phew.
So how did we get here? Why, casually, of course. Banks and Kaufman have been friends since their formative teen years, having attended high school together overseas before separately moving to New York City for further study. There, they independently crossed paths with Barrick while running in similar music circles and shapeshifting scenes. Some years on, they each remained in touch: Barrick drummed in Banks + Steelz and on some of Kaufman’s production sessions; Kaufman helped on Banks’s early Julian Plenti solo endeavor; various demos were collaborated on; a studio in Philadelphia was co-bought; “what if”s and “we should”s were tossed about. By some accounts, Muzz recordings date back to 2015; cosmically speaking, though, the seeds were planted long ago. Either way, when the opportunity to make music as a trio presented itself, the gentlemen pounced.
“We found a spot that represents what the three of us love, so it was a collaborative production,” Kaufman says. “Finding a place where we met aesthetically was really cool, especially at this point in our lives. I’m not surprised that Paul and I are in a band together after all these years; what I am surprised by is that my favorite drummer is the guy who brought us back together to make music. He’s this rare rock drummer who came out of the D.C. hardcore/ska scene and swings like a jazz drummer. Matt was the magnet.”
Banks elaborates: “I love The Walkmen and every band Matt’s been a part of; he does things on the drums that are so subtle and tasteful it gives me the warm fuzzies. And since we were kids, Josh has been a real inspiration to me, a talent on some other plane. As a producer he creates an environment where other musicians can shine. There’s a creative overlap we share that revolves around Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, The Stones, and Dylan that I haven’t really had an outlet for all these years, so this is us exploring that.”
“Josh has more training as a theory musician while Paul comes from a different perspective,” Barrick says. “You never know how Paul’s gonna approach a song, lyrically and melodically, so it’s always unusual and exciting. Everyone is open to everyone else’s ideas. I think three is a great number of people for a band. We all had a big hand in everything.”
With that level of creative chemistry in the lab, the only foreseen hold-up would be one of timing. Due to the sheer weight of the trio’s independent obligations, the Muzz project took shape at a simmer. Multiple sessions were held over the years at various practice spaces and studios like Barrick and Banks’ Silent Partner in Philadelphia and Kaufman’s preferred Isokon in Woodstock, New York, with his regular engineer Dan Goodwin filling in as co-producer on the album. A typical session incorporated demos that Banks or Kaufman brought to the table with room in place for any member to build upon an idea as he felt, or with a new skeleton composed during a jam in the live room. Barrick and Kaufman tended to work on music in the early parts of the days, and Banks would join them to add lyrics and melodies on top or in tandem. In a first for Banks, the lyrics were not entirely his domain, as Barrick and especially Kaufman contributed words to certain songs and helped shape things vocally. The band always recorded as they rehearsed, lending a freshness to the material that also benefitted the patchwork schedule.
“It’s genuinely collaborative, a three-headed monster,” Banks says. “We generate music together, and songs come from all directions. No one person is calling the shots, it’s equal-everything.”
Sonically, the band aimed for a timeless tone, one that would make the music hard to place when viewed from some distance. In fact, the band’s name holds a meaning that serves to describe that very feeling. “We didn’t want the record’s era to be overly identifiable, so we used traditional recording methods with a live, analog feeling,” Banks says. “It’s a little more naked and open at times. Josh uses the word ‘muzz’ to describe a texture of sound he likes in certain older recordings, so it’s his attempt to put a term to a subtle analog quality. It became very married to our sound.”
“The music has this weird, super removed vibe but is also personal and emotional at the same time,” Kaufman says. “Whether it’s Paul speaking in character or it’s the backdrop to a movie that’s not really there, that’s something we were going for. If something felt natural in a simple way, we left it. I’d never heard Paul’s voice framed like that—a string section, horns, guitars—we know none of that is visionary but it felt classic and kind of classy.”
The resulting songs are dark and gorgeous, expansive and sparse, like Cormac McCarthy prose stretched across a cowboy painting of a sunset. “Bad Feeling” chimes and slinks with a touch of Bryan Ferry panache as Barrick’s kick drum pushes the tune along and Kaufman’s Rhodes fills the space. “Evergreen” features Banks’s vocal doubling down on Kaufman’s gorgeous slide guitar melody, and “Patchouli” and “Summer Love” burrow and twinkle psychedelically. There are upstart rockers like “Red Western Sky” and “Knuckleduster” and jazz-beat drum showcases like “How Many Days” and “All Is Dead To Me,” but no matter the sonic direction Muzz go, they go there as if effortlessly and with maximum emotional, cosmic charge.
“I don’t ever write with the intention of giving records an overarching theme, as that feels very limiting,” Banks says. “But looking back, I think the through line for me is meditations on mental health, and the quest for happiness and the way in which the mind can play tricks on us. But, ultimately, the music speaks for itself. We have a genuine, organic artistic chemistry together. It’s partly a shared musical taste from youth, as with me and Josh, but then it’s also the souls of my friends that resonate with me when expressed through music. I think it’s cosmic.”
released June 5, 2020
Muzz by Muzz
Produced by: Paul Banks, Matt Barrick and Josh Kaufman
Co-Produced, engineered, mixed and mastered by: D. James Goodwin
Recorded at: The Isokon, Woodstock, NY
Additional recording by Matt Barrick at Green Banana and Silent Partner, Philidelphia, PA and by Josh Kaufman at The Boom Boom Room, Brooklyn, NY
All songs by Muzz
All brass arranged and performed by The Westerlies
The Westerlies are: Andy Clausen, Willem de Koch, Riley Mulherkar, and Chloe Rowlands