Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas [Artist/Producer]

Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas’ contributions to Mutemath’s alternative/blues-rock sound have been a defining part of the band’s success. Although he recently stepped away from his role as bass and guitar player, he’s still keeping active in the music world by releasing guitar and bass packs from his own company, Sample Fuzz Audio. As a Mutemath fan with a history of interviewing the band members, I was excited to talk to Roy about his time in the band and his sample company, both of which you can read about below.

– Hi Roy. Thanks for taking time to chat. How did you get your start in music? Did you have a church background like some of the other Mutemath members?

Unlike Paul Meany and Darren King, I didn’t have a church background. I started in music because my dad was a Texas-blues and 60s-rock musician, so I’d jam with him to things like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and The Kinks. There was also a lot of Latin music played at my house since mom is from Mexico and dad lived there for a while. Aside from that, I was in indie-punk bands since the age of twelve, and there’s a great documentary about the South-Texas music scene called “As I Walk Through The Valley“, which tells the story of the region I grew up in. It’s worth checking out.

– Is it true that the first instance of you, Darren and Paul playing together was in Earthsuit?

Yes. I moved to New Orleans to attend Loyola University and met Darren around that time. He joined Earthsuit right before our last tour. I went back to law school after that, and three years later Darren and Paul started what became Mutemath. So me and Paul always had a connection because of Earthsuit, and even though Darren was the drummer, he didn’t play in the style he’s famous for with Mutemath. That came later.

– Following Earthsuit, what was it like to play with Darren again as a part of the Ill Harmonics tour?

I joined that tour because those guys were my friends and needed some help, but Darren always said it was a pivotal time for him to grow as a drummer. Thinking back, I’d say that was when we started clicking as a rhythm section. But I never thought much of it until later.

– So when you later joined Mutemath, was the “Reset EP” and record deal with Warner Music already done?

I’d already played two shows with them before the “Reset EP” was done, so I was involved in the early stages, but my intention was still to finish law school and become an attorney. By the time I joined the band full-time, they were having some issues with Warner, so we decided to go on the road and play shows as if we were an indie band.

– What was the issue with Warner? I heard they wanted to market Mutemath as a Christian act, which is what led Teleprompt Records to release the band’s music instead.

That stuff happened before I really joined the band. By the time I joined, they’d stopped pursuing the deal and were playing as an indie band. That’s why Teleprompt was set up to press records and create the merchandise. Then we went on the road to create our own thing and Warner only started paying attention after that.

Once things took a favorable turn with Warner, what advantages did you feel being on a major label afforded you? Did they do anything tangible?

There was some promo stuff. They offered us contacts with regards to things like licensing and film, and we got a little more capital to work with. Warner brought a certain clout that helped us in the long run. However, I was happy when we went back to being independent on “Vitals” and set up our own label and distribution deal. There was so much red tape with the major labels that I didn’t care for.

Was it Warner that helped you guys get on late night shows like Conan and David Letterman?

They might have, but we’d hired our own publicists and already had agents, so the labels don’t do as much for such things as people think.

– Whether listening to Darren’s sample pack or your work with bands like Mirza Zaza, I can hear Mutemath’s sound in those other projects, so it’s clear what you guys brought to the band. The first three Mutemath albums showcased a style that isn’t as audible on “Play Dead” or “Vitals“. Particularly the sound of Darren’s drum kit is gone. Do you think yours’ and Darren’s strengths were ignored on later albums, to the demise of the band’s original lineup?

I think we all contributed a lot to the sound. We obviously went through different evolutions, but Paul was a huge part of helping us see the big picture. Even when I’d switch from bass to guitars, he’d work with me to hone my sound, which helped the final result. So you can’t undermine his contribution. I wouldn’t say “ignored”, although I have heard people say the band was over when we left since the rhythm section was a huge part of it. But I think the players Paul got for the latest tour are exceptional, and I wouldn’t say we were “ignored”. Some people said the band won’t be the same, and that’s true because there’s different people playing in it. Darren’s role was huge for our previous aesthetic, as you can hear on his solo projects, but even Paul played a big role in creating Darren’s drum sound. So we were all involved in different ways; there are synth parts I worked on that no-one knows about and guitar parts I did even when Greg Hill was there. So sometimes people minimize your role and say, “He’s just a bassist“, when in fact all of us were multi-instrumentalists. Paul even played some drums on “Play Dead”, so everything we did was collaborative through-out the years.

– Fair enough. But you’ve said in past interviews, “The process of making Odd Soul ourselves was ideal. I didn’t like having a lot of outside input on ‘Vitals’ “. Was that outside input the reason for the sound being different from previous Mutemath albums?

A little bit. “Vitals” was a very conscious effort to do something different and that effort was led by Paul. He wanted to make a synth-based, minimalist record that we hadn’t made before. To be honest, I really wanted to make “Odd Soul 2”, but it didn’t happen. You all have to be on the same page to make that type of album, and we weren’t, so “Vitals” is what happened, which was different. But I was fine with changing things up.

Regarding the outside help, we did go around doing things with different producers but ultimately we finished the record ourselves. You can’t blame anyone else for how it sounds. It’s not my favorite Mutemath record, but there are some good songs on there and I feel like we took it to another place for the live show. Even Darren brought his usual energy to that.

– Can you tell me why the band fell apart from its original lineup?

For my part, I needed to get off the road for family reasons. I’d been touring as a father for eight years and couldn’t make that type of commitment anymore. It was similar for Darren; he had to get off the road to save his family. It’s easy for the fans to forget how taxing the road can be when trying to raise kids, which is something I did for a long time. There’s also the stuff that comes with being in a band for so long: you want to try other things and people eventually grow apart. Also, touring was a big part of Mutemath, and when you don’t tour, you don’t make money to sustain your career. The touring market is also getting very saturated now, so it’s hard to maintain a band when you choose to put your family first.

– Would it have been different if, hypothetically, you guys had made “Odd Soul 2”? Would the touring outcome have been different?

I don’t think so, but in terms of band success I feel “Odd Soul 2” would’ve helped. “Vitals” didn’t do as well in the places that “Odd Soul” did. I think we lost a lot of fans with that one. They were expecting something more rock-centric and we didn’t give it to them. But “Vitals” opened up doors for us in other places, so it’s hard to tell if we made the right choice. And in either case, even successful bands have to tour, so without that we would’ve been in a difficult spot regardless.

– Let’s talk gear. Tell me about your guitar and bass chain. Why do you have the Mini Foot Fuzz, followed by the JHS Overdrive, the Twin 12 and so on?

Ultimately it’s because of the sound I want. The player is the one who creates the most tone with their style of play, but my chain is set up to bring in the effects when I need them via my looper pedal. As an example, I’ve messed around with putting a Electro Harmonix Micro Synth pedal at the end of everything so the filter acts as a gate and distorts the whole sound. I want that distorted tone to go into my delays and reverbs before the signal hits the amp.

– But you have two overdrives: The JHS Overdrive and the Twin 12.

Yes, but they’re not engaged at the same time. I have a looper which acts as a mixer by allowing me to mute pedals I don’t need. The Mini Foot Fuzz and Morning Glory are the only ones I turn on and off, which affect the whole chain. The Twin 12 is the first channel on my switcher, so it’s only engaged when I want to use it, and it’s the same with all the delays. This way I can use all three delays with the touch of a button. I got into this setup from having to switch between bass and guitar during my shows. It’s the easiest way to keep a pure bass signal that bypasses the guitar effects, but then switch back to guitar if needed.

– I see. Is the JHS ColorBox also a loop option or is it a global component?

That one is global. I’m using it as an overall EQ and pre-amp that I adjust accordingly through-out the show. It has a high-pass filter that I use when playing guitar, but I turn it off when I switch to bass. It also gives me flexibility when I’m doing something like a radio show that has terrible in-house PA. So I’d take my pedal board and guitar to the station and my sound would be half-way decent because of that.

– Was the Colorbox featured on records or is it just a live component?

I’ve used it on a lot of records. All the time.

What are some of the more creative ways that you’ve used your pedals?

I just love pedals in general. I’ve done everything from putting them on keyboards to running soft synths from them to an amp for added depth. I’ve done it with the MiniMoog Voyager live as well. I used to run my synth basses out of Logic into a Roland Space Echo and into a bass amp. We’ve put distortion pedals on snare drums and overheads too, and even vocals.

– What kinds of pedals lend themselves to vocal processing?

Overdrive pedals are an option. Paul uses a Boss DD-5 during live shows, and he also runs his Rhodes through a distortion and delay pedal. I think he used a Walrus Audio Voyager overdrive on the last tour.

– It’s hard to hear the influence of digital tools on Mutemath’s albums. What was the balance between analog and digital for you guys?

I think there’s a healthy balance between both where we benefit sonically and functionally. We always had a tape machine on hand, though not necessarily for the tape itself. We’d occasionally record drums to tape and transfer them to digital on early records, but most of the time we’d just run the signal through the machine itself and record it into Logic. Paul had a Roland 2480 to mix stuff on, and a lot of guitars and bass was played through analog amps. We also had Distressors, vintage pre-amps, the Roland Space Echo, Roland Junos, samplers, etc. So we never got to the point of someone like Jack White, where it’s all done to tape.

We mixed our records in a variety of ways. Early on, Paul used his Roland 2480 to mix and later used Logic 9 on “Vitals” and “Play Dead”. Large parts of “Armistice” were mixed in Logic 9 by Tedd T, but Michael Brauer also mixed part of it. For “Odd Soul”, we used Tchad Blake and Doug McKean. For “Vitals”, we used Mark Needham and Eric Palmquist, but lots was done by Paul and Darren in Logic 9 also.

– How did you integrate samplers into what’s finally heard on the records?

Samplers have always been a big part of our music-making process. Paul was the first guy I met that had an Ensoniq ASR-10 back in the 90s. We’d make tracks together once I bought an MPC, and Darren bought an ASR-10 also. A lot of tracks started with Darren sampling a record into the ASR-10 to create a sequence. We even sampled ourselves a few times. I’d run my guitar into the ASR-10 and Darren would sample it. Then we’d put it into Logic and go from there.

– But how would you clear the samples? 

We did clear a few things, but for the most part we would recreate the sequence ourselves if we couldn’t clear it.

– I’ve listened to the Mirza Zaza “Atlas EP”, which you produced. Was that recorded in Orlando?

Yes, it was. The studio is called Red Lion, but at the time it was just a place owned by my friend who runs an in-ear monitor company called Clear Tune Monitors. It was a fun project, and those guys are really talented. They’re Mutemath and Incubus fans too, which you can hear in the music.

Did you and Mirza Zaza record the upcoming debut in the same studio? And is there a release date?

No, we went to Madrid for that. There currently isn’t a release date, even though the album is done.

(Note: Mirza Zaza have now changed their name to “Superlaser”)

– Let’s talk about your sample pack company. What made you want to create Sample Fuzz Audio when most people are reluctant to pay for samples, and the market has tons of packs available?

It was just another way to be creative. You’re right about the quantity of packs available, but there’s only one me, so it was a way to put my sound out there. I felt there was a vacancy in the sample pack world for the sounds I like to hear, and there’s very few ones I’d use or write to. So I decided to make one myself. I started with bass guitar, and I’ve done a guitar one too. My intention is to continue to do more. Maybe I’ll do a synth pack or a collaboration with Darren.

As far as making money off of it, I’m aware there’s a lot of piracy in this business, but there are also enough honest people who’ll pay for the packs to make things worth my while.

– What kinds of sales numbers would you like to see for your packs?

I’d like to sell as many as possible, but I guess ten to fifteen for each pack is a good place for me.

– Have you had your samples in any commercials and campaigns?

I know of a producer in town who used one of my upright samples for a fairly big pop-country record.

– What kind of effort does it require to make one of these sample packs?

It takes a lot of patience with regards to editing and making the sound right, but the creative part doesn’t require much. It took two weeks to record all the samples for the upright pack, after which I went into the editing phase for another two weeks. But it’s not a workload of seven days a week or eight-hour days. I’ll spend one hour here and three hours there. Most of the effort goes into editing as far as organizing things into a usable format. The first pack took the longest time since I had to redo things a few times to get it right, but the last two packs took about a month each.

– Where did you record the instruments?

I did most of the recording at my house, but I also used a studio here in town.

– What were the techniques you used on the engineering side to capture the recordings? Did you have any help with that?

I did have some help with the editing of the first pack, I essentially used the same techniques as on the Mutemath albums in regards to amps, mic placements, gear, etc. That was the whole point of making these – I’m selling a part of the Mutemath sound for the public to make their own music. All of the samples have blends of clean and dirty signals as well as more effect-heavy versions. I’m not trying to give people the “best bass sound” that fits perfectly with a drum loop. It’s about giving people an inspiring sound that they can write to themselves. That’s how I use sample packs, and it’s how Tyler Joseph from 21 Pilots uses them too.

– Do you feel like anything is lost in terms of fidelity when it comes to sampling an instrument?

I approach my packs from the same point of view as Mutemath records, only this time I’m making loops. So the sample rate and bit depth are 48 kHz and 24 bit respectively. Most people can’t tell the difference beyond that, and I know the sounds will work for what I made them for. Are you going to make an entire alt-rock record with just a sample pack? No. But can you write music for an alt record using a sample pack? Yes, and that’s where I’m coming from.

– You’ve said that you would consider making additional packs. Any chance we’ll be getting any releases in the near future?

I do intend to make a rock guitar pack using my Galanti guitar, as well as a jazz-oriented one with a clean tone. I’d like to do a keyboard/synth-heavy one, but I’m still trying to figure that one out.

– My last questions are about specific sounds on Mutemath albums. Can you talk about how you got that big guitar sound on “Typical”?

It was a combination of a lot of guitars, and we had help from a guy called Lynn Nichols, who’s a guitar player here in Nashville. It’s hard to remember the exact amp/guitar combo, but I think it was a Gibson 335 going into Vox AC100 that was cranked really high. We also used my dad’s vintage cab that has two 15-inch Jensen speakers in it.

– The drum sound on “Break the Same” is pretty acclaimed. How did you guys achieve that?

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you because we recorded those drums in three different locations and I don’t know which one got used in the final version.

– The intro to “Armistice” features a lot of percussion and claps. How did you guys achieve that?

I know Darren recorded a lot of stuff using drum skin heads in a very reverberant bathroom. We also recorded a lot of the claps in that bathroom. I had just dived into learning flamenco music at that time, so I was heavy on making everybody clap on songs like “Armistice” and “Spotlight”.

– What kind of gear was used to build the studio you recorded in, as seen in the “Armistice” documentary?

We didn’t really “build a studio”. We just rented a house, brought in the gear we’d accumulated over the years, and bought some additional stuff that we needed.

– How was the bassline on “The Nerve” achieved?

That’s just me on a Fender P-Bass, playing around with delay pedals. The amp I used was a 70s Fender Bassman.

– What’s the synth that’s heard in the beginning of “Clipping”?

That’s the Juno 106 run through an old Yamaha delay rack unit.

– What guitars and amps were used on the “Odd Soul” album?

For most of the record, I used a 70sPrinceton amp, a Silvertone 1454, a 70s Fender Tele Deluxe, a ‘67Gretsch Tennessean and ‘60s 3003 Galanti. Some overdubs in the choruses were later done with a Gibson 335 through a Fender Twin.