Mutoid Man: “Grief is one of those things that you gotta learn through living life”

MUTOID MAN are back, armed with a treasure trove of gnarly sounds and a newfound sense of confidence.

Words: Steven Loftin.

Mutoid Man’s third act is an exercise in grief. Certainly, ‘Mutant’’s cartoonish artwork lends itself to the band’s beginnings – a fun outlet that came at the right time for vocalist and guitarist Steve Brodsky – but beneath that, ‘Bam! Pow!’ looming giant-ant exterior lies a journey through forms of loss and out to the other side. 

That’s precisely what this project has been all along for Steve. Mutoid Man initially formed in the wake of his 2011 move to New York from Boston – the same year he released ‘White Silence’, his then-last album as vocalist with his day job Cave In. After finding himself at a loss and feeling disconnected from his beloved heavy genres thanks to the disassociation in those last Cave In sessions – along with the spectre of their 2003 major label deal ultimately not panning out – Steve felt anchored in situ. “Because we didn’t have a hit record, I felt, well, maybe I’m a shit writer?” But, soon, a freak figure would be entering his proverbial screen, one that would change his life forever – the very same who would be your first boss kill on 1990s carnage-based arcade game, Smash TV.

“Mutoid Man is very much responsible for this rebirth of having a connection to writing and composing and conceptualising heavy music,” Steve attests. His period of writer’s block ended after teaming up with Converge’s Ben Koller, who offered him the use of his NY rehearsal space. The pair soon found the framework for another side project forming. It wasn’t long before Mutoid Man eventually took on a whole life of its own (that’s not to mention that between them, they have several other projects, including Ben’s Converge day job where Steve even did a brief stint).

During this period, Cave In took an unofficial hiatus, leaving Steve’s calendar wide open. As Ben and Steve riffed around, the multifaceted method of Cave In – along with his entanglement with a major – began to fade away. “Once all that started to disappear with Mutoid Man, it was a great feeling,” he smiles, “and I let myself get lost in it.”

After releasing their raucous debut EP ‘Helium Head’ in 2013 as a two-piece, they recruited bassist Nick Cageao into the pack. Mutoid Man soon made a name for themselves with the beefed-up crushing sounds of their debut album ‘Bleeder’ (2015). As this pedigree setup barrelled through the lands, busting out 2017’s ‘War Moans’ along the way, things began to get a bit tricky. 

The gap between Mutoid Man albums is now six years. Longer than expected for most bands, but it hasn’t been a case of resting on their laurels. The pair have been equally busy with their home projects. But, for Steve, the passing of Cave In’s Caleb Schofield in 2018 had a big effect. Turning his attention back to his base band, including benefit shows for Caleb’s family, before he knew it, 2020 was here, and the world had stopped around him. It was also at this time that Mutoid Man began to have problems with Nick. 

“It was just getting harder to tour with Nick,” Steve admits, “and so everything just came to a screeching halt when we decided to part ways with him.” While hunkered away, Cave In wrote and recorded 2022’s ‘Heavy Pendulum’. There was also the matter of Ben’s injury after a “freak accident” in 2018. Suffice it to say, things weren’t on the band’s side. What had once been a project for Steve to re-familiarise himself with music soon became a thorn in his side.

I’m happy to present this new form of the band to people

Steve Brodsky

“I had this realisation like holy shit, I’m the only member of Mutoid Man that’s been at every show,” he recalls. “At some point, it felt like it was asking a lot of me, and I had to step away and divert my energy elsewhere. But it wasn’t out of spite, as much as it was a necessity. This other thing that I had built since I was a teenager in 1995,” he continues, “we just went through this traumatic experience, and we needed to bond through music to grieve in the way that would get us through it.”

But now, with album three, it’s Mutoid Man’s time to shine. Hidden beneath the bubbling nuclear goop that Mutoid Man emerged from is their secret weapon. Lying there, is a treasure chest with ‘Riff Bank’ crudely etched into it, filled to the brim with gnarly sounds that entice and encourage a wild-eyed reaction. Well, there’s a Dropbox folder anyway. “[It’s] full of all kinds of shit, from voice memos of me just scatting into a phone some riff or timing idea that I intend to transcribe to guitar at some point,” Steve laughs. “To me, in my underwear, with a fresh cup of coffee at like 7 am riffing on guitar, coming up with whatever caffeinated shit my mind wants to spit out.”

After digging around in this digital crate, ‘Mutants’ began to take life. Their new outing fizzes and sparks with renewed vigour, lighting a blaze that burns ferociously. Each word is a weapon cocked and loaded with meaning, an important distinction for Steve as his previous efforts were a removed cataclysm of impactful nonsense. 

Comeback single ‘Call Of The Void’ is one such example. Lyrically sparse, but very much “Born out of the depths of my grieving about losing my friend, Caleb. And also a very confusing time for Mutoid Man, and experiencing a sense of grieving over the loss of losing Nick from the band.” It Trojan Horse-s its message into an anthemic chorus, swiftly delivering Steve’s innermost thoughts. 

Continuing, he says: “When you make a significant change like that in your life, where you realise you’re not going to be able to work with someone on a certain level anymore, it is cause for grieving. And through the grieving process of losing Caleb, and learning about grief and just being like, holy shit, why didn’t they teach us this stuff in school? Grief is one of those things that you gotta learn through living life, and I think ‘Call Of The Void’ is a mark of that time.”

Getting the wheels back on the Mutoid Man Express was in itself an exercise in grief. “They say sometimes with traumatic experiences, if you are hit with something in a certain place, sometimes a healthy thing to do is to go back to that place and to override it with a positive experience.” For Mutoid Man, it involved going through the ideas they had “marinating” in the Dropbox. It also involved recruiting Jeff Matz (High On Fire, Zeke) into the mix. “I just knew that there was potential for it to happen in a way that would be rehabilitating,” Steve explains. “And I think Ben felt that way, too. And in the end, it seems like our instincts were correct. It just had to happen at the right time.”

The addition of Jeff has reignited Steve’s passion for the project. “Jeff just has this incredible stamina for music,” he says. Finding someone equally ready to immerse themselves into music as if it’s the air they breathe, Steve admits, “I found that to be very attractive because I have a history of just grinding people down with my work ethic,” he mentions with a self-acknowledging grin. “To a fault in a lot of cases. But I felt like, ‘Oh, shit, I’ve met my match with Jeff’. You don’t sense him burning out.”

Now three albums deep, there lies an underlying consistency to Mutoid Man that is very much a reaction to Steve’s time with Cave In. A band that morphed and contorted between sounds, with no singular design or trademark, with Mutoid Man it’s all centred around one thing: “What makes things explode with the excitement and the spirit is that Ben is excited to play whatever I’m bringing to the table. If it doesn’t excite him, then there’s no reason in pushing it.”

With their power bar now blazing at 100%, Mutoid Man are back. ‘Mutants’ is a glorious return that unpacks as much as it delivers, and, in Steve’s eyes, “There is a new sense of confidence,” he professes. “I think that’s natural. Overcoming the aforementioned laundry list of bullshit that we discussed earlier, I’m happy to present this new form of the band to people.” ■

Taken from the August 2023 edition of Upset. Mutoid Man’s album ‘Mutants’ is out 28th July.