Ever so gently, The Muteflutes have turned up their volume.
The Grand Rapids indie-folk-rock group started out simply, with just acoustic guitar, two-part harmonies, and an occasional piano line or harmonica quietly breathing life into the songs of primary songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Micah McLaughlin. Yet as the group has grown in size, and the supportive community around them has expanded beyond close friendships, house shows, and word of mouth excitement, they’ve gone with a bigger, more Americana sound.
“Our first album was really driven by a singer-songwriter feel,” McLaughlin said of The Muteflutes’ debut full-length, 2012’s The Ballad of the Rebel Grape. “I had been holding on to some of these songs for five or six years, so these songs already had their own personality. We recorded them the way I had been playing them for years, the band added the texture and depth and some killer parts, but it ultimately felt like songs that I had written that we played.”
A performer and songwriter since his late teens, McLaughlin met bassist Adam Thompson through an alternative church called Lighthouse, where they began performing some of his songs. Wildey came on, joining the band together with McLaughlin’s wife Erica, and former drummer Chad Houseman. Later, when Houseman and Erica McLaughlin left for other pursuits, the group called upon longtime friend Levi Gardner to play drums, and he soon suggested they add pianist/vocalist Marie Dornan, who he’d met at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville.
“For better or worse the church has been the starting point, subject matter, and place of common ground for us,” Aaron Wildey said. “Micah, Levi and I met through various small groups and eventually decided to live together in intentional community under one roof. It was a full house with two married couples with one child each, four bachelors and a single mom with a four-year-old. We wanted to learn how to live in and also give to our community. What we didn’t realize was that it would be hard enough to not leave messes and dirty dishes.”
That sense of working with one another and caring about building community continues on The Muteflutes’ new album, American Dream, which they’ll release May 10 at Billy’s Lounge.
“The American Dream is something that brings up a picture in your head when you hear it,” McLaughlin said. “For many Americans it brings up the idea of plenty. A nice house or a good job. This album really calls to question what that dream means in 2014. Things look really different in the world today compared to when our parents and grandparents were growing up. Jobs aren’t as available and higher education isn’t guaranteeing a good job like it had in years past. We are watching our friends get creative in starting their own businesses, growing their own food, and reconnecting to what it means to be a community. The album paints a picture as to how we are seeing this transition show up in our country today.”
“The same shift in cultural values that is driving more people to buy food and goods locally, is also driving them to be more engaged with local music,” Adam Thompson added. “It’s great.”
The band pushed their creative boundaries on the new album as well, drawing on everything from singer-songwriters and indie-folk artists as influences, to vintage R&B, post-rock, and even some funk and EDM as soul nourishment.
“I think the reason we play and write good music is that we just love doing it,” Levi Gardner said. “We are all married and four of us have kids, so as individuals and as a band, we wrestle with pretty big topics. Despite that, we laugh a lot whenever we are together. This is the first band I’ve been in where there is no musical weak link – everyone here is both technically proficient and engaged in the process so we are working with a large palette of options. Also, we drink a lot of Honey Whiskey: that’s a strength if ever there was one.”
The Muteflutes like playing at more intimate venues – places like Salt of the Earth in Fennville, or Billy’s – spots where people go to listen to live music rather than bar chatter.
“We are saying a lot in our songs, and in these venues, where the lyrics can be heard, I think the music touches a deeper place in people,” McLaughlin said.
“I think what draws such a wide diversity of fans to our music is the depth, honesty and relate-ability of our songs,” Marie Dornan said. “That, or our tattoos.”
On their way to “world domination,” The Muteflutes will release American Dream May 10 at Billy’s Lounge. The band will play New Holland Brewery June 27 and Frederik Meijer Gardens Aug. 12. For more, click over to muteflutes.com.–Eric Mitts