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MUTO talks beginnings, breaks and his new EP before riding the wave

15 September 2017 | 9:19 am | Freya Dinesen

Electronic producer MUTO took some time to chill with us and chat about his career breaks, production developments, tours and highly anticipated new EP.

Hollering from Sydney Northern Beaches, mighty morphing electronic producer MUTO is currently making some pretty massive waves in both Australian and international electronic scenes. Right in the midst of a pretty hectic tour schedule that includes support gigs for CROOKED COLOURS in addition to his own headline shows, MUTO sojourned on our Brisbane streets to perform two super swell showcases at BIGSOUND last week.

At just 25, Miles Davidson has fast ascended EDM’s competitive ranks after conveying his musical talents into the world of electronic production just a few years ago. With the wind in his sails, MUTO navigated through seas of vying artists to unearth his signature sound and quickly earned his place as one of Australia’s most aspiring up-and-comers.

The young producer has captivated the electronic domain with a combination of bootlegs, remixes and a handful of sublime original releases, clocking in over three millions plays in his relatively short time online. MUTO’s leading singles ,‘Through the Fog’ and ‘Wildfire’, also seized the attention of other electronic producers and procured him support shows alongside other local legends by the likes of FLUME, ODESZA and YOUNG FRANCO and more.

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The release of his latest single, ‘Say Nothing’ featuring Brisbane vocalist Emerson Leif, marked a shift in dexterity in MUTO’s already oozing production prowess, foreshadowing a fresh persona in his new upcoming works. This unveiling of a more refined sonic vision was paired with the announcement that he had signed with the European arm of Virgin/EMI, while also being picked up by the same booking agent as FLUME, DISCLOSURE and SBTRKT.

MUTO’s biggest breakthrough can be seen on the horizon just weeks away, kicking off with a sold-out European tour with Odesza at the end of this month and before the release of his debut EP in October. Even in this transition from “one to watch” to stellar international artist, Davidson is delightfully humble and took some time to chill with us and chat about his career breaks, production developments, tours and highly anticipated new EP.

How’s BIGSOUND been for you [so far]? There are a lot of great artists on this year’s line-up, have you had a chance to see anyone?

BIGSOUND’s been good! It’s been kind of cool seeing so many live music venues in close proximity to each other and being able to walk down the street and see bands playing everywhere. I’ve only seen a couple of showcases [so far] but they’ve all been pretty cool, but it’s kind of a weird vibe though… it’s very much a chin stroking kind of crowd, you know? It’s not like they go there to dance, they go there to judge! I saw Thandi Phoenix - she’s on the same [publicity] roster as me with Positive Feedback and she did a great job and has an awesome stage presence. Willaris. K crowd had a huge crowd at TBC! I think it was his birthday and he’s been a resident DJ there for a while too so he’s got a bit of a following here, but he’s definitely got his own sound and I think he’s going to do really, really well. Tonight I’ll just be going back to my apartment and preparing for my first show and getting everything ready for that, so I won’t really have a chance to see many artists until after then.

So, in regards to going home and preparing: what does that look like for you? Do you need to get in the zone before you play a gig?

Well, I’ve done a few gigs now so I’m kind of aware of what [the process is]… The set is curated to run more or less the same way every time. With my music, it’s not easy to just chop and change songs where I want to because the tempo varies so much between every song and so does the key, so it has to be quite well planned out from the beginning. The set will usually run that way because I literally can’t do it any other way - it has to be curated for it to flow the way that it does. The confidence in knowing that order is comforting and I know what I’m doing, so then every time I play a show I’m just a little bit more confident. I obviously want to keep building on the live show as time progresses, but it’s early days and I’ve only played a handful of shows now so it’s getting a lot easier. There is always nerves before every gig though, you don’t really know what the crowd will be like or what the setting is and how the line-up before you will set the mood. There’s a lot of factors that go into it before you even get on stage and that changes every time you play a gig too.  

While you’ve been producing for a few years now, it was you more recent tracks ‘Purple Heart’ and ‘Through the Fog’ that put you on our Purple Sneakers radar and really broke you into the scene in a big way. In a nutshell, can you tell us who MUTO is and what it is that you do?

That’s a broad one! I guess for me, I try and be as diverse as possible with my production, I don’t really want to bottle myself into any kind of genre. I always want to keep it interesting and experimental and come up with new ideas for each track that I do, but still kind of give each song a sense of similarity between them. It might be a very subtle thing, but I want it to sound like it is me in some context… It’s hard to do, being diverse as well as keeping the sound you know people know you for, but also trying to push the boundaries as well is the main thing for me. I guess I never want to produce the same sounding song every time, I want to mix it up with doing instrumental stuff and featuring vocals as well. Just looking at the stats, ‘Through The Fog’ is one of my early instrumental tracks and it’s actually done better than any of my other songs that I’ve got out so far. I want to keep doing stuff like that but I also like writing with vocalists so I still want to be able to release stuff with them, more on the pop-py side but have an experimental avenue that I can explore too.

What inspired you to start producing? Obviously you draw influence from a lot of genres and intriguing sounds. How did you first begin writing music?

Well, my dad’s a producer. He’s always been a music dude: he’s been a producer; composer; artist… everything that is music he has done! That’s always been in my family, and he encouraged me to learn instruments from an early age, but that didn’t really translate into electronic music until I was into my late teens and I was really into listening to electronic music. At the same time, Harley - my best mate who everyone knows as FLUME - was getting right into it and making a lot of progress. That was really inspiring. He had all the tools for me to be able to get into it myself, so he encouraged me to have a play around and I thought, “Yeah cool, this is fun.” I was in a sort of boring place in my life and I needed to have an outlet for creativity and do something that was not monotonous and not just working pay cheque to pay cheque. I needed something else and I thought, “I can do music, I could do this.” So, I got a little loan out and bought some equipment and gave it a real go. Harley gave me the real tools to begin with, and then I just practiced and practiced and practiced for years! Then I did an [unofficial] remix of Justin Timberlake by downloading the acapella and the response from that was pretty overwhelming. It was a good little boost for me to believe I could do this, although it was a slow incline after that… I had to build up my catalogue of tunes before I could do anything more with it. But, I spent the next couple of years just writing and figuring out how to work things. After I got discovered by Of Leisure, it was a pretty quick turn around to get stuff out and build a profile.

A while back Flume reposted your work and skyrocketed your exposure on Spotify and in the EDM scene. How important is it to have someone who’s at the top of their game to throw a shout out or get behind you like that?  

It is huge. I don’t think I’d be anywhere close to where I am today without the help and support that he’s given me. Regardless of what industry you’re in, I think it’s a lot of who you know and not what you know, but it is going to come down to the music in the end too. Even if he was "shouting me out",  it wouldn’t get anywhere unless the music was good enough. For his own integrity, he wouldn’t be sharing it if he didn’t think it was good enough to shout out either, he wouldn’t do that just to help a friend out. It was a pinnacle moment for me to have him get behind me, and that got 2 or 3 million plays in a couple of months. If he didn’t do that I don’t think things would be like they are now... It’s kind of heavy in that sense. We do need people who have more of a leg up in the industry to help you out, but on the flipside you would be more driven to make it happen and that in turn could spark more creativity if you didn’t have that. I don’t know… I do recognise that it was a big help to getting from a starting point to getting the ball rolling.

So you guys have been friends for quite a while then?

Yeah, since we were about 5 years old! He’s probably one of my closest friends, if not my closest friend. It’s mental seeing his progression!

And you’ve recently supported Crooked Colours on their national tour, and are doing your own headline gigs around Australia surrounding your showcases here at BIGSOUND. How has it been developing your work into shows and playing in so many diverse environments?

It’s been good and bad, to be honest. The Crooked Colours tour was great because they were ticketed shows and the people that were coming to those shows were paying to see the artist and in being made support [the enthusiasm] trickled down in a sense. I was playing to crowds that were excited to be in the venue to begin with and be supportive of the music that I was doing. Around that, I’ve been doing more club shows, and I don’t think they work as well with the music that I do. It’s kind of hard when people rock up and they don’t really know who’s playing, and the club might have artists or DJs playing bangers and heavy tunes and then when I jump on with my headline slot and my music is a lot more tame… You know, it’s a live set and it’s not a DJ set where I play thumping tunes for an hour. It’s a lot more curated than that and that can swing either way.

I think the ones that work better are the ticketed shows because there is more of a crowd that want to see the music rather than rock up to a bar and just want to dance. It’s a big difference when my music is a bit more out there and not really sitting in a club realm, it’s more in an experimental sort of scene.

And you’ve got a big European tour coming up supporting ODESZA…  You must be pretty stoked for that?

I am stoked. It is pretty overwhelming, really. They reached out to me personally and said, “Hey, come play Paris with us,” and then it turned out that they have the same booking agency as me in Europe so we managed to wrangle the whole European tour which was incredible! I’m excited and nervous and every other emotion about doing those shows. As I’m sure you can imagine, they’re pretty sizeable shows with a lot of people there, which won’t be something that I’m used to. I’m pretty grateful to just be on that line-up, it’s going to be an epic experience and I can’t wait to get over to Europe! Let alone playing with Odesza in Europe as my first international gig.

This booking agent that you mentioned is the same one for Disclosure, Flume and SBTRKT as well, but you’ve also just signed with the European branch of Virgin/EMI too, which is pretty damn cool! How do you feel that will impact your live performances and professional developments as an artist?

I think it will be really helpful having such a big label over there pushing my music, and it will open avenues to getting feature artists and tapping into their market. I think that will be great for the next step. Obviously, I am releasing an EP in October and after that it’ll be great to have a whole new avenue to explore with those guys and tap into a new market over in Europe. It’s just crazy how fast everything’s happened in the last year. I’m excited, I’m just trying to keep up really and I’m happy to be on the ride.

Yeah for sure, that’s awesome! So the EP is seven tracks, and we’ve recently heard the first taste of what that might sound like with ‘Say Nothing’. I really love the soft complexities of its synth textures and subtle syncopations from so many different instrument timbres that came through, it sounds really funky and organic. I do like your earlier stuff as well, although this feels like a natural progression from some of your previous tracks and sounds like you’re finding maturity and creating more of a stand-out statement.

Yeah… The ‘Say Nothing’ track was a lot more reserved for me. The vocal that I got was so beautiful and awesome, so I needed to give this track enough space for the vocal to breathe and do it’s thing and not try and over complicate it. The vocal did a lot of the work and I think I just wanted to complement that rather than try and fight it… A lot of my other stuff is more complicated and synthy and weird; I just wanted to take it back a notch and acknowledge that simple is good and effective. Just let it be rather than push it into something it’s not.

On the EP there’s a lot of stuff that has elements of my older style of production, which is more busy and crazy, and then there’s other tunes that are a bit more reserved as well and I wanted to balance it in that sense.

It was kind of phenomenal how you were able to balance that much space with so many things going on there. Were there any driving factors for you when you were writing these new tracks for the EP?

Yeah, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to look at my production and see what it is that I like and what direction I want it to go in, then push it in area where the production can be more simple too. I want every element in my records to stand out and to have a whole bunch of elements and crazy stuff going on in there too, but I also want to take a step back and make every element count, so I guess that was the thought process behind that. I wanted to focus on that a little and make an easy listening song rather than it just be too crazy. ‘Through The Fog’ was a lot more experimental and weird, so with future tracks I want to be a little more reserved and simplify things. It’s important to have some space in a track and have everything breathe.

You’ve had quite a journey between when you first started out and your aesthetic now sounds a lot more spacious with different complexities to it. Are we going to be seeing a bit more of a mix of that with your EP next month, or is it going to be more along the lines of ‘Say Nothing’?

I think it’s going to be a mixture of both. It’ll have some ~chi~ and some chill stuff, which is more along the lines of ‘Say Nothing’, but then there’s also some experimental and instrumental things on there as well which does follow on from tracks like ‘Through the Fog’. It’s going to be a bit of a balance, and I’m always going to keep that mindset.

Lastly, what do collaborations bring to your music: Do they influence your writing and production style? Obviously you tailored your latest track to fit around softer and gentler vocals in support of that, does collaborating change the way that you think about writing?

It does. If you’ve got a track, say and instrumental piece of music, you might have an idea for a vocal in your head. But then, when you get sent a demo for a different vocal and they sing a completely different melody from what you had in mind, it makes you rethink your entire outlook on the track. It can be really good because sometimes you get ideas back [from other people] that you might not have thought of and that trump your ideas majorly. It’s great because you can feed off of that and take the bits that you really like from these demo ideas and turn it into something even better. When I’m on my own all the time, I’m kind of just trusting my own ear so it’s really nice to have collaborations with other artists because it freshens it up for me and I get more excited about it.

Muto's remaining tour dates:

Sat, Sep 16th | The Helm, Maroochydore, QLD

Wed, Sep 20th | SoSueMe @ Beach Road Hotel, Bondi, NSW

Thu, Sep 21st | Strawberry Boogie, Wollongong, NSW

Fri, Sep 22nd | Cats @ Rocket Bar, Adelaide, SA

Sat, Sep 22nd | Listen Out Festival, Melbourne, VIC

Fri, Sep 29th | O2 Forum, London, UK **

Sat, Sep 30th | Elysee Montmartre, Paris, France **

Tue, Oct 3rd | AB Main Hall, Brussels, Belgium **

Wed, Oct 4th | Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands **

Thu, Oct 5th | Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands ** (Sold Out)

Sat, Oct 7th |Astra Kulturhaus, Berlin, Germany **

Sat, Nov 4th | This That Festival, Newcastle, NSW

** Supporting ODESZA

Photo by JOSEPH CRACKETT/ONLY ODD for Purple Sneakers