Muff is an Austin, TX band that specializes in noise rock which has gigantic walls of sound mixed with a lo-fi aesthetic. They move from grunge feeling moments to slick 70’s classical guitar modes all encased in a defiant, fuzzed-out, in your face noisefest. I went to their gig on January 15th at the fabulous Cheer Up Charlies in Austin, TX and they were kind enough to chat with me about their first full-length, becoming a band, and what happens next for Muff.
Hello Muff! Would you please introduce yourselves to our readers and let us know what you all do in the band?
Hi I’m Taylor Wallace and I play the bass.
I’m Nic Valenzuela. I play guitar, keys, and I sing back-up vocals.
I’m Rachel LaCoss and I play rhythm guitar and sing lead vocals.
I’m Scott Lowe and I play drums and percussion.
So, tell me about the history of Muff. How did the band form?
Rachel: So, we all went to school in San Marcos at Texas State and we all worked at a coffee shop there.
Scott: Well, I didn’t.
Rachel: Yeah, not Scott. Scott’s our third drummer.
Scott: That’s right.
Rachel: We all worked in the coffee shop together [minus Scott] and we all liked to play music together. We eventually decided that we wanted to do that with each other. So far, we’ve been doing it a little over three years.
You always have to have more than one drummer, right?
Rachel: Yes, and it’s a pain.
And sometimes bass players, but not this time.
Taylor: Yeah, not this time. I learned how to play the bass just to be in this band.
What is it like being a band in Austin, which seems to be a sea of bands?
Rachel: I think it’s pretty awesome. I think a lot of people think it would be hard to be a successful band in Austin because it’s so heavily saturated with musicians that it’s hard to stand out. Honestly, I think that it’s probably one of the best cities in the world to be a musician in. There’s always a venue that’s willing to work with you and other bands are willing to book a show with you no matter what. I can’t imagine playing music anywhere else. I love it.
I was trying to place some of your sound in my mind because your vibe reminded me of another band and I couldn’t place it. Finally, I realized that you all remind me of New York’s Dirty on Purpose. Can you talk a bit about your aesthetic and how you approach song writing?
Nic: That’s been a pretty long journey. I feel like we’ve been sculpting our aesthetic for the past few years. I think you can kind of tell the course of the band’s history through how we changed as songwriters. I feel like now is the first time that we are setting out to focus on an aesthetic. We are really starting to focus on the direction of the music as a whole, as a body of work, versus “we wrote a song” and it sounds like this and the next time we write a song it sounds different. It’s been a process.
Rachel: It has been a process. On our first album, a lot of our tracks sound pretty different when you compare them. We were trying to feel out what kind of music we wanted to write. Initially, we were just jamming together and writing music for fun. Then we started playing shows, so….
Nic: It became a bit more serious.
Rachel: Yeah. It became a little more serious. So, we were just having fun and we all love a lot of different music. With our second album we are writing right now, we are really going to hone in on a sound and we are all really excited about the direction we are going in.
Taylor: The musical melting pot is congealing into an aesthetic, if you will.
It’s kind of like when writers finally find their voice, right?
Nic: Yeah, we’ve been finding that.
Taylor: All of us really do listen to very different music. It shows in what we bring and from it, the sound that emerges is Muff.
Can you talk a bit about the approach you took to writing and recording your self-titled release last year?
Taylor: We just recorded a single [Follow] in the same space. Anyway, we have a really good friend in San Marcos named Dan Holmes and he has a wonderful home studio set up. He’s a professional musician. Very talented. Luckily we are friends with him and he’s been very nice to us.
Nic: I’ve known Dan for years.
Rachel: Yeah, and I was in a band with him.
Taylor: So we recorded our record [Muff] with Dan. We had been playing those songs for almost two years before we got a chance to record them with him. We had done a pre-EP with a friend in a slightly smaller home studio. Really, it was in his living room.
Rachel: Which was great. His name’s Mich White and he’s also in a band in San Marcos called Typical Girls and he’s in like a million other groups.
Taylor: He’s kind of a musical prodigy and coordinator. He’s a cool dude. But Dan recorded us and, how long did we take?
Rachel: It took like a couple of weekends. Since we had been playing the music for so long, it was pretty easy to lay down the tracks. We did it live. We didn’t do it track by track.
Nic: Yeah, all live.
Rachel: So, it was super quick.
Kind of like a Beatles thing.
Nic: At first, when the album was released, throughout the mixing process, you would be like “that one wasn’t my best take but everyone else sounds really good.” It’s been almost a year and now I’m starting to appreciate the quirks and imperfections.
Scott: You mentioned the Beatles. Well, on Eleanor Rigby, on the actual album take, the string are like out of tune and the take wasn’t their best. They had kind of a crunchy sound but they thought that it felt right. So you just gotta roll with it.
The human element, right?
I really love the punk aesthetic in “East Side Love”. Can you talk about writing and recording that track?
Rachel: That’s actually the second song that I wrote. It was just me and our first drummer Eddie jamming in my living room, it was such a long time ago. It’s so strange because I don’t really care for punk music very much. I grew up in Belton, TX and that was like the only genre of music. It was rowdy kids breaking each other’s teeth out at people’s house shows. It was never really my scene but I guess it came out somewhere, perhaps from being around that for so long.
Nic: The interesting thing about how we go about writing music in Muff is that Rachel comes to us with songs and they sound like something she would write. Then we kind of make that into something else. If it wasn’t us playing with you [Rachel] then maybe it wouldn’t feel like a punk song. That same energy wouldn’t be there.
You, Rachel, are the principle songwriter, right?
Taylor: I’m not sure it’s that punky of a song. It has punk elements, but it throws back to like Superchunk. Not quite pop-punk.
Rachel: And I love Mac McCaughan. I draw a lot of influence from him. So, maybe you can see that in there.
Same question for the slower, more patient “With You”.
Rachel: That’s the first song we wrote!
Nic: Yup, that’s the first Muff song ever.
Rachel: It was just me and our first drummer Eddie playing in my living room at my house. That is a really early song for us. We were trying to feel out our sound and there is a stark difference between “East Side Love” and “With You”.
Taylor: I think that with “With You”, we’ve always been pleased with the blanket it lays over you when you play it or when you listen to it. That mood is something that we’ve always kind of strived for in stuff that we presented. It’s such an early song for us, and probably the first song that I ever played on bass. We really hit our mark on that and it’s always been a touchstone for us.
For the gear heads that read our site, can you talk a little bit about the gear you use to record and use live, if they are different that is?
Scott: When I was in the studio, I actually played on Dan’s studio kit but I typically play with a Tama four piece: snare, bass, two toms. Three cymbals that are predominantly Sabian. I also have a Paiste cymbal.
Nic: I play on an Epiphone and a Vox amp. I love Electro-Harmonix. Most of my pedals are Electro-Harmonix. I don’t know why I picked them. It seems like one of those arbitrary decisions. I like the tone of the Memory Boy when I first started getting into pedals and then I thought “this brand’s cool”, so I’ve evolved my tone through their pedals.
Rachel: I play through a Paul Reed Smith SE Custom 24 and a Johnson amp. As for pedals, I have a Line 6 DL4 delay pedal, Boss BF-3 Flanger, TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, and an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi with Tone Wicker, which is my favorite.
Taylor: I can tell you all the pedals I use. It’s weird because most people are like: why does the bass player have pedals? I play on a 1980’s Peavey T40 with a cracked headstock with some screws in it and a bunch of glue. It’s awesome. The amp I play on doesn’t really matter because it’s not that cool.
Nic: I bought it from a friend of mine for like super cheap because he [Taylor] needed a practice amp basically.
Taylor: I use a lot of Electro-Harmonix pedals as well. I have a Bass Big Muff and a Metal Muff, which makes the bass really screechy on occasion.
Nic: It’s too loud!
Taylor: I get in trouble when I use it.
Nic: We don’t let him play the Metal Muff.
Taylor: I use it sometimes though. I use a Graphic Fuzz, which is an Electro-Harmonix pedal which I use as a mixer and as an FX pedal as well. I usually just use it to boost the top end. I have a phase shifter. That’s my favorite pedal. It’s the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone. Oh and the Digitech Whammy which I use to de-tune and I also use the pitch modulating. I also us a Boss Digital Delay and a tuner.
If you could have any piece of gear and price was not an issue, what would you get?
Scott: Ok, I know, I have a dream set. One of the groups I grew up listening to a lot was a group called Coheed and Cambria and their drummer, Josh Eppard, he always had a high sense of groove. He was also a hip-hop artist, so I guess that helped. He used a brand called C & C Custom Drums. I used to go onto their website while I was in high school and map out my perfect kit and see what the price came to and then silently weep in my room. It’s never going to happen! If I could ever have a kit and price was not a problem, it would be a C & C Custom drum set with all Sabian cymbals.
Taylor: Someone sponsor him!
Rachel: I’m not much of a gear snob but I’ve been looking for a nice made in Japan Fender Telecaster.
Nic: I think both of us should play Teles. I love my guitar. I saw St. Vincent had collaborated with Ernie Ball Music Man to release her own custom guitar. I love her guitar playing in that project and the guitar was aesthetically pleasing enough to me so it would be fun to own one and get to play around on it if price wasn’t an issue.
Taylor: I need to get a really big stack but I’m not super worried about that. It would be nice to have a Peavey amp to match my bass. If I could have any bass in the world, my first guitar was a 1974 Fender Mustang Tobacco Burst color with the tremolo bridge and it was my dad’s, and that same year they made a tobacco burst matching bass. My friend Sam has it. He plays in the band Tamarron. I want that bass.
So, what’s next for Muff?
Rachel: We’re writing a new album right now. We’re expecting to get it out by early summer.
Nic: We might pop out a few tracks before that.
Taylor: Yeah, we just released one called “Follow”.
Rachel: Yeah, we’ve got a few tracks recorded, getting ready to record some new ones, and release some singles. We’re going to keep gigging.
Taylor: We are going to play three new ones tonight if you count “Follow” as a new one. Next weekend is our next show. Gigging so we can make that paper so we can afford to record the next song.
Thanks so much for spending time with me and the readers of Somewherecold. Much appreciated!