For two years The Mutations have brought the coast to the landlocked, picking up some well-deserved acclaim along the way. Having performed in nearly every venue in Knoxville, the act looks to increase its emphasis on out-of-town romps and unveil its debut full-length before the end of the year.
From its surf rock sound to its projected stage backdrops and recorded intros taken from ’60s beach movies, The Mutations transport audiences not only to a sun-soaked summer locale but to a bygone era. The band tells that its collective fascination with this music and its corresponding presentation was sparked after watching Portland trio Guantanamo Baywatch. But perhaps the band’s most surprising inspiration is winter. It was a fateful winter day that the group took in the impactful show before beginning initial practice sessions, and a longing for warm weather continues to fuel the band’s sunny tunes.
“We all went to a show together and saw this band called Guantanamo Baywatch,” recalls bassist/vocalist Joel Thompson. “That pretty much spawned our idea to play this music together. We started the band in January so we probably saw that show in December. It was literally like we saw that show and a couple of weeks later, started playing. ... We were dreaming of summer, so we had to make it ourselves.”
“We actually started the band in the middle of winter,” says guitarist/vocalist Harold Heffner. “I remember walking to (guitarist/vocalist) Tommy (Goss)’s house in the snow in January. ... We tend to write faster songs in the summertime, just simple, three chords, fast. We were doing some acoustic stuff in the winter. We did Sam Cooke for Halloween.”
Using surf riffs as a jumping-off point, The Mutations’ catalog incorporates everything from instrumental surf guitar tunes to sitcom cover medleys but is most recognizable by its crisp, precisely executed, three-part doo-wop-style harmonies reminiscent of The Beach Boys or Weezer’s better days. While many aspiring bands seem overly fearful of “pigeonholing” themselves or creating a distinct sound, The Mutations have established a well defined style without creative limits.
“It’s just to build ideas,” Thompson explains of the band’s surf direction. “Lately what we’ve been writing is pretty broad. We love a lot of different types of music, but mostly when we come together it’s in an effort to play some type of rock. I’m sure we’ll continue to change the way we write songs as we continue living and experiencing new things.”
“Even when you just say surf music, people have different ideas about what that even is,” agrees Heffner. “We feel like we can do a lot of stuff within the surf genre. It makes it easy.”
This year The Mutations anticipate a lengthy tour of the East Coast, including a Georgia surf fest in support of its debut full-length release. But despite its warm melodies, the act has yet to make it to the coast, playing the bulk of its out-of-town gigs in the Midwest, where its sandy anthems provide a welcome escape.
“We were in Kansas and it was snowing all day,” drummer Scott Kapuscinski says of a recent tour. “The show was all right that night. Someone wrote ‘Mutations’ in the snow. We drove to Texas the next day and said, ‘We’re not getting out of the van until it’s summertime.’ Fortunately summetime was in Texas.”
With seven songs in various stages of mixing, the act is roughly half finished recording its first full album. Recording with The Royal Bangs’ Ryan Schaefer at their practice space, The Mutations jokingly suggest naming the debut “Greatest Hits” as it will cover the full span of the band’s two years of material, minus the songs offered on its existing EP.
“The Bangs are recording right now, and between their recording and us being out of town on tour, we’re gonna regroup and hopefully start working on the rest of it next month,” says Heffner . “The plan is to get it out by the end of the year. It went pretty quick the first time. We’re writing all these new songs, and we have all these old songs we haven’t done anything with. We want to get those out and out of the way so we can write a second album.”
Saturday night Mutations will perform for the eighth biannual Exam Jam. The show takes place at Relix Variety Theatre and proceeds benefit WUTK. Other performers include Crumbsnatchers, Gamenight, Big Bad Oven and Criswell Collective. Doors open at 9 p.m. and admission is a donation of $5.
The Mutations are also scheduled to play May 11 at The Pilot Light.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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