5 bloggers, 5 questions, 1 band, hand-picked by the MWA writers. Welcome to FIVE x FIVE. This week: Chicago rock trio, Mutts.

One of Chicago’s hardest working bands, Mutts released two full-length records, a handful of music videos, and played over 250 shows – all in just the last two years. Showing no sign of slowing down, the trio recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording and production of their fourth LP. Amid the settling dust of SXSW, Mutts’ drummer Chris Pagnani was kind enough to answer a few of our questions for this week’s FIVE x FIVE.

I’ve been following you for quite some time now but I’m curious what your first band practice together was like. Instant chemistry or a lot of ideas to work out? | Alyssa Welch

My first practice with Mike and Bob took place maybe a month or two after the Pray For Rain CD release at Sub-T, back in December of 2011. I had heard from mutual friends that Mutts was in need of a drummer, so I called up Mike, and he asked me to come down to their practice space to jam. He gave me maybe four or five songs to focus on in advance, and I spent some time preparing, although I was such a fan of the band’s already that I was familiar with a few of the tunes, one of them being “Terranaut.” That’s really the only song I distinctly remember playing at my audition because I felt like it went really well; the three of us playing together felt very natural.

The other dudes must have been happy with the first day as well because, when I met up with them the next day, Mike had already made me a copy of the key to the practice room. The only other thing I remember about those first practices is that we did three days back-to-back to try and get me up to speed as quickly as possible (because there were a few shows scheduled in the following weeks), and during the second practice I clumsily hit myself in the face with one of my drumsticks and broke my glasses. Whoops.

Last year you played over 150 shows, that’s one every 2 or 3 days… How do you guys keep your live set new and exciting? Both for yourselves and for the fans that come out to all your local shows? | Dan Jarvis

While we have a handful of songs that typically make their way into our set on a regular basis, we’re lucky to have enough songs in our catalog (three LPs and three EPs) that keeping our set fresh isn’t all that difficult anymore. Mike, Bob, and I all will trade off set list writing responsibilities and try to balance our handful of standbys with songs we haven’t played in a while in order to keep ourselves feeling challenged.

Plus, having our unplugged record, Object Permanence, really opens up a lot of possibilities for us when it comes to what the live show will look like. Whereas at one time, all our loud, fuzzed-out tunes were the standard for us, we now have the option of doing an all-acoustic set, an electric one, or some hybrid of the two as we’ve been doing most often within the last year. I really like the idea of the people coming to see us not always knowing which version of Mutts they’re going to get.

I most recently saw Mutts at MPMF last fall. What I love most about the band is the live energy; you’re explosive. Where does that come from? What are you tapping into? | Amber Patrick

My motivation comes from my view of us being the underdogs in many situations. Every show, to me at least, is its own challenge because, as much as it pains me to admit this, we’re not always playing to a “willing” audience. When we play for the first time in any city, that’s not a Mutts crowd we’re playing to, so how am I going to win over the people spending their one precious free evening that week in a dive with some band they’ve never heard of? That’s what I’m thinking about.

Mike, on the other hand, said he thinks of the opportunity cost of playing music versus working some shitty cubicle job. We could all be doing a job we have no interest in doing and feel totally stuck, or we could do the thing we love most which is playing onstage with other musicians. The three of us have all had to work full-time gigs that didn’t quite feel right, and we know how lucky we are to get to play in front of people who are interested in what we’re doing musically.

You’ve pressed all your full-length albums to vinyl – is there a reason you feel that this is important or is this something you think is standard practice now with vinyl’s return to popularity? | Patrick David

Several years ago, I read an interview with Jeff Tweedy from Wilco where he said something along the lines of if you want people to continue paying money for music then you need to give them a physical product that is worth buying. As vinyl nerds ourselves, it’s important to us to invest a few extra bucks in vinyl that looks unique (like the first pressing of our Separation Anxiety LP which is half clear and half translucent green), and we’ve gotten a really great response from the people buying them, some of whom don’t even own a record player! We’ll still carry CDs, though, because while some fans might just want the mp3s, a lot of people still value album art and liner notes, much like we do ourselves.

You mention that thematically Fuel Your Delusion is about “America’s Next Top ______ (something).” What we can expect musically from the LP? Did the unplugged style of Object Permanence effect your approach to writing the music? | Eric Slager

Mike has been saying that this new record is our “mutt-iest” yet, and he’s right. After getting to experiment with a completely new presentation on Object Permanence, we really felt free to do whatever we wanted with the songs on this record. Whereas with the last one, we had to preface it by saying, “This is our unplugged experiment,” the new songs were written without any sort of boundary for what we “should” do — we have both some of our fastest and slowest songs on this upcoming record, and we have acoustic instruments like Bob’s upright used alongside side the plugged-in instruments.

Now that we knew, “Oh yeah, we can totally do an acoustic version of Mutts,” we wanted this album to be the sum of ALL the things we’re capable of as a band, at least at this juncture. We’re really happy with the way it’s coming together and are actually a little surprised at how natural the process of integrating all the different parts of our sound has been.

For more information on their Kickstarter campaign, check out our Mutts’ edition of Crowdfund Crawler.

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