The whole is greater than the sum of its parts ... sometimes.
In the case of Muffalo, the parts are made up of three seasoned musicians who live in different states but are willing to travel back and forth to meet up and whose legacy includes being in bands Cat Butt, Mondo Generator and Queens of the Stone Age. The parts are a lot to live up to.
Muffalo is like one of those images made up of a thousand smaller photos: up close, you can see all the individual stories but take a few steps back and the whole image becomes one rich, colorful narrative. In this case, Muffalo's 2011 debut CD, Love Songs and Battle Hymns, is a snapshot of the band to date--and Boise-based vocalist/guitarist Derek Myers is looking forward to adding more color, shading and texture to Muffalo's overall design.
Myers (Mondo Generator), bassist Dean Gunderson (Cat Butt, Jack O' Fire) and drummer Gene Trautmann (Miracle Workers, Queens of the Stone Age) have all been around the sonic block a few times. At 37, Myers--who is the music director of the Paul Green School of Rock in Boise--isn't a starry-eyed teen thinking that an A&R suit is going to have a layover in Boise on his way from L.A. to New York, wander into the bar where Muffalo is playing, and sign them to his label on the spot because of who one of them once played with.
"The reason I'm playing with these guys is not because of their past bands. It's because we share the same vision," Myers said.
That vision is, in part, a shared desire to see Muffalo succeed, in spite of whatever obstacles might be in the way.
Together since 2003, Gunderson, Myers and Trautmann found that the chemistry they had together was worth the headache of having Myers in Boise and Gunderson and Trautmann living in California. It just meant getting an album recorded was going to take some time.
Finally in 2009, they were ready to go into the studio.
"Two years ago ... we hired a producer and started flying down to Austin," Myers said. Austin was a natural choice for him: He had lived in Texas' capital city and worked at famed venue Emo's for several years.
"We started working with [producer] Hunt Sales--Iggy Pop's drummer (and Soupy Sales' son)--at 5th Street Studios," Myers said. "We had two sessions over a period of four months."
Once the CD was recorded, it was turned over to Butthole Surfers' guitarist Paul Leary for mixing. The result is a kind of classic 20th-century rock 'n' roll with a 21st-century interpretation. It's a cohesive album but it's also surprising--from one song to the next, it's not clear what to expect. For Myers that was intentional. It was less about expressing an overall sound and more about the individual elements.
"The music is song-specific, song-oriented. [It's about] living inside the song," Myers said.
Muffalo didn't want to create an image and then shape the music around it. The songs had to be their own thing.
"If you listen to the record, they're all very different-sounding songs, but they definitely go together," Myers said.
"Stitches" charges out of the gate with a Black Sabbath-y riff before quickly switching up to a warbly T. Rex rendering. "Chicken Dinner" flies an Americana flag and wouldn't be out of place on a jukebox loaded with punky cowboy tunes. "Bleeding Heart" is on the same boxcar as "Stitches," but Myers' vocals are a little farther away, leaving a slight taste of Bauhaus behind. "Battle Hymn" almost veers into metal territory while "Dirty Water" pays homage to '90s grunge.
Though geographical constraints have required that Muffalo piece together the music, it does go together. The trio's chemistry played a big part in that.
"We would be off on our own, doing separate things," said Gunderson, who works as a steady-cam operator. "Then we would get together ... and it would all jive. I was in a band in the early '90s [Jack O' Fire] that would do the same thing but with cassette tapes ... It's easier now with the Internet, of course."
But getting all of the necessary parts to coalesce into a respectable--and hopefully respected--whole hasn't always been pretty.
For one, Muffalo has been working on Love Songs and Battle Hymns for eight years.
Second, flying between California and Idaho hasn't been cheap and if Myers wants to play Muffalo songs live in Boise, it doesn't make much monetary sense to fly in Gunderson and Trautmann. Myers has to find local musicians to help him pull it off and sometimes he can't. An opportunity to open for Radio Moscow this spring fell through when he couldn't find a fill-in bassist.
Third, Muffalo had a showcase at the 2011 South By Southwest. It was not at Emo's (which might be expected since Myers worked there). It was not even in a bar. It was in an alley.
And last, according to urbandictionary.com, a "muffalo" is "any girl classified as a large or an extra large." It's not lost on others in the music industry. In March, MOJO magazine tweeted the following: "MOJO's SXSW Worst Band Name Of The Day: Muffalo or Shit Horse. You decide ..."
The name may be up in the air--Myers said they had talked about it after the MOJO tweet--but Muffalo's immediate future is not.
Myers has been booking both a U.S. and a European tour--he has dates in Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin, Germany inked. Seems no matter how many pieces the members have to pull together, they are all looking at the whole picture when it comes to Muffalo.