Ohio's Mouth of the Architect latest release, Path of Eight, explores what might happen to us after we die. Based on a story written by vocalist/keyboardist and co-founding member Justin Watkins, the album "is not meant to be death and destruction everything's terrible type of record," according to guitarist Steve Brooks. "It's supposed to be more of a third eye opening type of record." Because there are a variety of characters involved in the story, members trade off vocal duties throughout. Guest vocalist Shannon Watkins adds her voice to "The Priestess," giving the affair more than a touch of the divine feminine.
Progressive rock was another touchstone, as one can hear via "Fallen Star," the penultimate track. Brooks says that it was initially known as "The Yes Song" for its proggier tendencies. "Our goal used to be to hurt peoples' ears," Brooks told Nisey. "But we've given up that goal and now we're like, "You know what? Songs are meant to be enjoyed."
The material was written with all members in one place. No one was allowed to bring outside riffs and, once the writing was completed, the quintet tracked songs together. This allowed for a more cohesive end product and a more unified feeling than the members felt they had via 2013's Dawning.
Brooks, who joined the band in 2006, points out that there have been changes internally as well. There are day jobs, marriages, military service, and, now, mortgages. Brooks spoke with Noisey from his home in Michigan the night before he and his wife, Emily, were to sign closing papers on their first house. Stream Path of Eight below, and cop it from Translation Loss Records on October 7 (preorders live now).
Noisey: Mouth of the Architect has always come off as a band that's deeply self-reliant. Has that always been your intention?
Steve Brooks: That's been our philosophy since we've all been playing music, since we've all been 13-14-15-years old. There was a time in the early years of the band where there were opportunities to go and record at different studios or work with a particular engineer. We took advantage of that but we've always though that we can do it. We can record ourselves and promote the records. We're very DIY. I prefer to do everything in-house: Do all the artwork in-house, do all the recording in-house. There's five of us in the band and we're all musicians and artists. You might as well take advantage of your skill and your craft and your art. At least that's my philosophy. I'm the band dad.
For you, what does being the band dad entail?
It entails a lot of bullshit I don't want to get into. [Laughs.] We've all had our point in time when we've done the band dad thing. We've all had our point in time when we've been crazy, drunk irresponsible messes as well. When I came in, Greg Lahm, the other guitar player, was taking care of all the business and doing all the booking. Then Dave [Mann, drums] started doing more. When Greg left, Dave didn't want to do it anymore, so I kind of took up the reigns. With this record, we've been trying to split it up more. I need to work a full-time job. I was getting ready to buy a house, getting married. So we hired a booking guy. Dave started dealing with merchandise and the label more. I'm a little less of a band dad [now], but they still call me Dad, 'cause they look to me to know when we're supposed to be at a show, whether we have a trailer booked. All the details.
You've been in the band for 10 years at this point and you were all friends before. Is it the friendship that's held everything together?
There have been a lot of ups and downs with Mouth of the Architect. I don't think any band goes on for as long as we have without ups and downs. We've gone through a lot of different members. There's been, what? Fifteen bass players? Five different guitar players? I do think that us being friends has helped, although we've gotten into fistfights, people have been arrested. We've broken bones on the road. I think the reason that we get through it all is because of our friendship and because we love playing music. That's just what we do. I think we've all given into the fact that we love playing live, we love writing songs, we love making records and we want to do it for the rest of our lives. That, along with our friendship, is what has kept the band going for so long.
You're also not stuck in that cycle of being on the road for 300 days out of the year, making an album in one month, then going back on tour. It seems like going that route, living on the road, is a great way to grind yourself down.
In 2006, right when I joined the band, we did burn ourselves out. We were on the road a ton. It was really difficult for everybody. We were not in a good space, mentally, because of that. Going out on the road for nine months out of the year is not good for you. It's not good for your health, it's not good for your wallet. After Greg left the band, we got Kevin Schindel in as a guitar player, and talked it out and decided that we were not going to do that anymore.
We decided to focus our efforts on writing music, staying sane, and making sure that we are able to do our craft, which means being able to hold down a job and have the cash flow to make this happen. We said, "Let's settle our asses down, make sure that we can continue to do this, let's make a writing schedule and a tour schedule that doesn't have us killing ourselves."
In 2006 to 2008, right before and after Quietly came out, pretty much all we did was tour. We lived in a house together. It was called The House of the Architect. We were basically squatters. We had no electricity. We went home every night and got whiskey drunk. Our friends would bring over some candles and televisions and we'd smash the televisions. It was just a bad time. We got all that out of our systems after Quietly and decided that we were going to calm down. We've had to deal with a lot of blows that life has dealt. I joined the military and was gone for a year on deployment.
That's certainly an unusual turn in a band's history.
We were basically homeless and I got tired of living my life like that. Living in a van and in the shell of a house three months out of the year with no power, being totally self-destructive alcoholics. I wasn't able to have a relationship with my longtime girlfriend, who's now my wife. I said, 'I love playing music, I love you guys but I gotta get out of here."' I left. We were in Dayton. I moved to Michigan with my girlfriend, Emily, and I joined the military. A year later I was being deployed to Kuwait.
It wasn't super crazy dangerous. I drove a truck and would run missions up into Iraq. I was a 240 Bravo machine gunner on top of a Humvee. It was an experience! [Laughs.] It allowed me to gain control of my life again: I stopped drinking so much and doing crazy drugs. I got some discipline and put some money in the bank. That allowed me to buy gear for the studio when I came back. It just really needed to happen. If it hadn't, we'd probably all be dead at this point.
It put a strain on the band, though. Nobody expected it to happen. When I told everyone that I was leaving and joining the army they didn't know what to think. They didn't understand at first. You don't expect a musician or artist to join the army as an outlet. But it worked out for me.
I'm happy for you, though; it sounds like these changes have worked for you.
Thank you. We're actually all in a pretty good place right now. Everybody in the band is in a better place than we've been pretty much our whole lives. Since we've been kids. Dave has his own glass blowing business. He blows pipes, bongs, ornaments, everything else you can think of. Evan [Danielson, bass] has his own drink business. He does specialty cocktails, works a lot of weddings and events like that. Jason [Watkins] manages a specialty beer and wine and deli place. That allows us to live normal lives and be happy.
Path of Eight follows a specific concept; how did you decide to focus on that particular story, and how did it evolve as you worked on the album?
It's Jason's concept. He's been wanting to do a concept record forever. We've always said, 'Nah, we don't want to fuck with that. Let's rock.' This time we said, 'OK, Jason. We're down with the concept idea.' He wrote a short story. There's a few different characters and the different characters are voiced by different people in the band. It's about what might happen after you die. It's not meant to be death and destruction everything's terrible type of record. It's supposed to be more of a third eye opening type of record. We're already talking about a new concept for the next record.
"The Priestess" features Shannon Watkins on vocals—how's that partnership come about?
She has a beautiful, amazing voice. She's an amazing person. She and Jason have been together for seven years. She's been a big influence on him and on all of us. If there was a band mom, she'd probably be it. She takes care of us. When we're around she says, 'You're staying at our house. I'm cooking you some food and I'm making you a bed.' It took a little persuading to get her to do the record because she's a little uncomfortable with her singing. But when she gets into the studio, man, she just kills it. I think we tracked five or six different takes, right in a row. It was basically up to me in editing to piece it together and make it fit. Luckily, she gave me a lot of really good stuff to work with.
Listening to this record and knowing a little bit about the changes you've all gone through, it occurs to me that the fans are probably growing along with you.
I think so. I hope so. That's what's happening for me. I don't have any control over it though. My musical tastes have definitely changed. Just like my tastes in art, my tastes in movies, food, drink. We've grown up. I'm getting older. We used to be totally nuts. Our own health didn't even matter. Our viewpoints are changing.
MOUTH OF THE ARCHITECT on tour:
10/5 Cleveland, OH - Now That's Class http://ticketf.ly/2bfKEBZ
10/6 Brooklyn, NY - Saint Vitus *^ http://ticketf.ly/2aXr39h
10/7 Boston, MA - O'Brien's ^ http://tktwb.tw/2bbSD68
10/8 Baltimore, MD - Sidebar ^ http://bit.ly/2aXTYQ6
10/9 Philadelphia, PA - Kung Fu Necktie ^ http://ticketf.ly/2bvRgzQ
10/10 Richmond, VA - Strange Matter * http://ticketf.ly/2aSxsEg
10/11 Raleigh, NC - King's * http://bit.ly/2bru578
10/12 Atlanta, GA - Drunken Unicorn * http://bit.ly/2b9062S
10/13 Savannah, GA - The Jinx * http://ticketf.ly/2c7coJp
10/14 Nashville, TN - The End * http://bit.ly/2bgqHin
10/15 Louisville, KY - Mag Bar * http://bit.ly/2bo1lii
* w/ Netherlands, Zvi
^ w/ So Hideous, Zvi
Jedd Beaudoin is evolving on Twitter.