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Weekend music

Mute Swan's guitars roar as the outside world fades away

Your humble local music columnist first became truly aware of Mute Swan at the recommendation of "friend-in-law" and local music superfan Mel Mason. Therefore, it only seemed fitting that I quote Mason's words when attempting to describe the Tucson band. Because, when it comes down to it, a fan's impression is the best impression — better than any carefully crafted band bio or professional press release or even a rock critic's "fair" minded assessment.

Mel Mason: "Mute Swan deftly carries the shoegaze torch passed on to them from the late 1990s. The band's humble on-stage presence is endearingly at odds with their bold output. The roaring undulation of guitar over their often understated vocals produces a forced catharsis for the audience, which helps explain why I feel intensely connected to the sound when I see them play. During their sets, the outside world fades away for a bit, and all I know is bliss."

Humble presence. Bold output. Roaring undulations of cathartic bliss.

With a ringing endorsement like that, it was time to finally check the band out, thus this week's interview topic: the gentlemen otherwise known as Mute Swan.

Mute Swan's founding members Mike Barnett (guitar/vocals), Prabjit Virdee (bass/vocals), Thomas Sloane (guitar) and Roger Reed (drums) all played in a handful of well-known, mostly psych-oriented local bands including Forest Fallows, Mombasa, Young Hunter, Peaks, The Myrrors, Burning Palms and La Cerca.

As is common for a scene as musically incestuous as Tucson's, several of these bands had overlapping members and it wasn't long before the foursome realized how well they clicked musically and started "secretly" practicing between their other obligations. After a year of prepwork and songcraft, Mute Swan made their public debut on at Club Congress in 2014, starting a run of live shows and growing word of mouth that culminated in the release of the band's freshman EP "Feel How It Sees."

Unlike more retro based '60s influenced psychedelic bands, Mute Swan's live gigs are a perfectly postmodern merging of melody, fuzz and sonic distortion with dark, meditative pulses and meandering psych-influenced meditations.

Mike Barnett: "You can't confine the term psychedelic to the genre from the '60s. Electronic music, for example, can be very psychedelic. When music is psychedelic it's referencing an altered state of consciousness. It tries to evoke a feeling of 'Where am I?' and 'What am I?'. While drugs are usually the first think people think of with psychedelic art, meditation, fever, dream, and love are just as good, if not better. A lot of our lyrics are about meditation and ego death which is probably the most psychedelic experience you can have."

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While there are definitely echoes of Syd Barretesque exploration, there's just as much Yo La Tengo, Radiohead and echoes of early brooding goth in the mix. It turns out this is no accident.

"Probably the most common love between us is shoegaze from the late 80's and early-90's: My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins most significantly. Also, psychedelic influenced rock music from the 90's like Radiohead, Boards of Canada, Spiritualized, Stereolab, Air, Yo La Tengo, The Sea and Cake, and Tortoise. The first thing we did as a band was to each pick a cover for the band to learn. That way we could see how well we played together and have a clear idea of what each member wanted to bring to the table or what direction they thought we could go. Roger picked a post-rock song called "Wires Were Towers" by Maserati. Thom picked "Rà-àkõ-st (Lindstrom Cover)" by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Mike picked "Sun Lips" by Black Moth Super Rainbow. Prab picked "Sunday Afternoon" by the Black Angels. Even though we never played these songs again it kind of established that we wanted to play songs that were weird but still very accessible.

"Our different approaches to music usually balance each other out pretty nicely. For example, Prab is very left brained and likes to find a repeating pattern with a concrete concept, while Mike tries to just feel his way through the parts of the song whether or not they conform to a pattern. Both mindsets can hurt or help the process."

A few years into the band's tenure in the local rock scene, Mute Swan has built a steady local fan base and a solid reputation for stellar live shows. In contrast to the larger independent music landscape, Tucson's music scene has been a fertile launchpad for the band.

Barnett: "For me, the (over all) independent music scene is 10 percent hit, 90 percent miss. I see good albums get no attention and bad albums go to No. 1. I'm open to hearing new music but set the bar pretty low for what's popular. Some new music I love right now is Michael Nau (who has released via Tucson's PIAPTK), LOVING (from Victoria, B.C.), and Jerry Paper."

"The Tucson music scene has always been very supportive of us. Our new favorite venue is Cans Deli, in large part because of Frank Bair behind the sound board. We miss the Red Room!"

When the band set out to record a new album, their favorite local sound man, Bair, was the first person they turned to, working with the engineer at his studio.

Barnett: "Frank is helping us craft a more intricately produced live show (and studio sound.) Our new album is 90 percent done!"

In addition to new recordings. Mute Swan is hoping to broaden their fan base this fall with an upcoming tour., first visiting the west coast this August with Portland band Candace and finishing up in September with a handful of Texas shows partnering with Phoenix band Citrus Clouds.

Tucson fans will still have a chance to catch the band before they head out on the road, however, including a show this weekend at the venue where it all began, Club Congress.

Mute Swan and Boy Pablo will play Club Congress on Sunday night at 7 p.m. Free.

The Exbats with Weekend Lovers

It seems like all of Tucson is in the throes of a summer depression of sorts as we head into the last part of July. Monsoon weather lingers and smothers, but the rain doesn't come. Or if it does, it comes in violent bursts that drive us indoors. Some of our favorite venues have closed and lots of our favorite bands are away on tour. Summer break, for what it's worth is almost over, and we all need some cheering up.

And so, thank God for Friday night at Saint Charles Tavern this week, as Bisbee's finest, the Exbats, return to town for a double bill with the smart, catchy, Lindsay Buckinghamesque indie pop of Tucson's Weekend Lovers. The 'Bats just returned from a month long west tour with The Rifle and the father/daughter duo are ready to hammer a little happiness into to your skull with their two-and-half minute punk gems just when you need it most.

The Exbats return to Saint Charles Tavern to share a bill with Weekend Lovers Friday July 20 at 9 p.m. at Saint Charles Tavern

Birds and Arrows

But wait, you might say, maybe I don't want to be cheered up! What if I want a cathartic Americana roller coaster ride of emotion mashed up with some 70s rock and roll bravado? But I also don't want to go anywhere new...

Well, as luck would have it, Birds and Arrows are playing the very same venue, Saint Charles Tavern, the following night (Saturday) at 9 p.m.

Miss Olivia and The Interlopers

Wow, you think to yourself. That Saint Charles place has really got their finger on the pulse of local music. Especially that one gorgeous, badass total sweetheart of a bartender. What was her name again? Olivia? Wait, is she in a band too?

Yes. She is. And, my god can that woman sing. Check out Miss Olivia and The Interlopers at Public Brewhouse Sunday July 22 at 5 p.m.

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Column

It's high summer in Tucson and the pickings may be slim this week, but never fear. Next week the touring bands from other places begin drifting through town once more while more locals launch or end their summer tours all for the benefit of those of us who stick it out here in the hot months. Tune in next week to hear/read all about it. And in the meantime...

Check your local listings

Friday, July 20

  • Desert Fish CD Release Party, Straight Villain, Something Like Seduction, Young Heart, Noah Rock - 6:30 p.m. The Rialto Theatre
  • Silent Planet, Comrades, Tigerwine - 6:30 p.m. The Rock
  • Jenny and the Mexicats, Santa Pachita - 7 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Lethal Injektion, Her Name Echoes, The Diversion Program, Dirty Magic, Creating the Scene - 7 p.m. Club X
  • Tombstone Rashoman Release: Xixa, Salvador Duran, Burning Palms - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Easy Money - 7 p.m. House of Bards
  • The Metros - 7 p.m. Playground Bar and Lounge
  • Mr. Free & the Satellite Freakout!, Tight Fright, The Manx - 8 p.m. Cans Deli
  • The Exbats and Weekend Lovers - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern

Saturday, July 21

  • Steve Trevino, Thai Rivera - 7 p.m. The Rialto Theatre
  • Chris Isaak - 7:30 p.m. Fox Theatre
  • Dan Simonis - 8 p.m. Exo Bar
  • Maria Muldaur - 8 p.m. House of Bards
  • Eric Schaffer & The Other Trouble Makers - 8 p.m. Sky Bar
  • Birds and Arrows - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Tight Fright with the Manx - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge

Sunday, July 22

  • Mik and the Funky Brunch - 12:30 p.m. La Cocina
  • Miss Olivia & the Interlopers - 5 p.m. Public Brewhouse
  • Andy Hersey - 6 p.m.The Parish
  • Al Foul - 7 p.m.Che's Lounge
  • Boy Pablo, Mute Swan - 7 p.m. Club Congress
  • Lovelesslust (L.A.), Deschtuco, Miller's Planet - 8 p.m.Cans Deli

Tuesday, July 24

  • Dent May with Shannon Lay - 8 p.m. Club Congress

Wednesday, July 25

  • Nylon Otters and Filthy Gorgeous! - 8 p.m. Owls Club
  • Wildspeaker with Suffolk and Skincage - 8 p.m. Cans
  • SW Singer Songwriter Showcase w/ Seth Murzyn, Josh McCormack, Michael P, Celi & Co - 8:30 p.m. Club Congress

Thursday, July 26

  • Tucson Libertine League Burlesque w/ Sugar Stains - 9 p.m. Cans
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