Ever hang out with the members of Tiny Moving Parts? Hailing from the seemingly American arctic region of Minneapolis (well, this time of year, at least), the trio’s enthusiasm for everything is seemingly boundless, always warm, friendly, happy to be where they are. Never too-cool-for-school or hyper-concerned about things they can’t control. There’s not a bad bone between the three of them. You get the feeling that if someone were to come after them for a fight, they’d successfully duck punches for half-a-minute, laughing at their assailants before successfully restraining and reminding them, “Dude, you’re going to be fine, but you’re gonna have to settle down, OK?” Hell, look at vocalist/guitarist Dylan Mattheisen’s amp grill: It’s covered in smiling Photoshopped puppies.
It’s curious how the warmth that TMP convey in real life is a huge dichotomy to some of the sentiments of their music. On Swell, the band’s fourth full-length, Mattheisen and the brotherly rhythm section of Matthew (bass) and Billy Chevalier (drums) have ramped up their penchant for strong vocal hooks, with blink-and-miss-’em math-rock shredding and random noise woven into the album’s 10 tracks. Ably assisted by producer Greg Lindholm and some guest vocals from Jetty Bones vocalist Kelc Galluzzo, the Parts are tempering their technical proficiency while seeking to refract positivity to their audiences. Indeed, some of the lyrics here are a tough listen (especially “Wildfire”), but the members’ musical interplay offers up some incongruent optimism. It’s a weird mix to convey, which is positively fine; TMP fans know exactly what it feels like.
Jason Pettigrew spoke with Mattheisen about the layers of mystery involved on Swell, the motivations behind the lyrics and the only thing they want to achieve at the end of the day—besides not having people front about knowing their early stuff.
The cover for Swell looks anything but: the dismembered hand with stitches, broken fingers and a bent cigarette. Is that an inside joke? Or would a heart with large nails pounded into it be a little too obvious?
DYLAN MATTHEISEN: We wanted [the artwork] to represent the album. The whole record is about trying to look on the positive side of things when you’ve hit a bump on the road or if you’re in a dark spot. That show of the hand giving the “rock on” sign that everything is OK, despite stitches and broken fingers, and you’re trying to stay positive.
I liken the art to skateboard videos. When you’re successfully pulling tricks, they’re great. But when you do the kind of epic fails that end up in Thrasher’s Hall Of Meat, well, that’s pretty cool, too. Kinda.
[Laughs.] Yeah! It’s kind of entertaining! Exactly.
How does Swell rate in terms of difficulty to make?
The only reason it was more difficult was because we were so happy with our previous release, Celebrate. We felt the pressure because we always want to one-up the previous release. We needed to kick it in gear and give it 110 percent. Other than that, it didn’t affect us that much. The only option is to keep doing what we’re doing. We felt we needed to have the pressure in order to write the best songs we could write.
What exactly inspires the longing and psychic excavation on the album? On “It’s Too Cold Tonight,” there’s that line, “I gotta be worth something, I gotta be,” which sounds like something everyone may have said into a mirror at one point in their lives.
Honestly? When it comes to lyrical content, it just feels natural to write the way that we do. Overall, we’re pretty happy, optimistic guys, but we do get down in the dumps and get bummed out. With lyrics, it’s just nice to connect with listeners. When you’re performing a live show, you’re singing your heart out, and [when] you see people singing along, that connection is incredible. We just want to make sure that we can affect people in a positive direction. It’s a win-win: It helps us out, too. Long story short: No one’s alone; we’re all here together. Let’s have a good life and try to keep our chins up, y’know?
We talk about dark things, but it feels good to get it out. These songs are our outlet. When we go out on tour, and we see people who get our lyrics tattooed on them, knowing that we’re all in this together is really a beautiful thing. Pretty cool.
Are there ever disagreements or discussions with Matt and Billy over lyrics?
Not really. They don’t say anything like “don’t say this thing” or “don’t do that.” It’s a trust thing between us three. When we write songs, I’ll come up with a guitar riff and bring it into practice the next day, and they’ll flat-out tell me, “No, that sucks” or “that’s pretty cool” or “that needs work.” I write everything, but they help me construct it.
You’ve said that the one song that gave you the most problems to record was “Applause.” Was it easier to write or record?
[Laughs nervously.] Before we went into the studio, we had the whole song written. We were like, “Oh yeah, this is going to be one of the bangers, definitely a single”—which it was. But when we got into the studio, the recording simply wasn’t going smooth. The instrumentation was great, and we were really excited about it. But it was one of the first tracks we did, and the vocals just weren’t there, so we sat on it for a few weeks.
We recorded 14 songs for the record, so we figured we’d just replace it with another song. Before we deleted “Applause,” we listened back to it and thought, “Oh man, this is such a great song. We just gotta fix the chorus and make some changes to it.” I feel we had to get away from it and to have that nice break. Because the more I thought about it, it kept eating me up and making it worse. We thought we were 100-percent set before we went into the studio, but that change made the song better.
What’s the best compliment Tiny Moving Parts have ever been given?
You know when people say, “You changed my life”? Every tour, I hear that from certain fans and really, that’s something that never gets old. I remember when I was growing up, there were bands who changed my life, for the better. Not only have we put on a good show for people, we’ve dug deeper mentally. I think that’s the coolest compliment you can ever get.
Now what was the most sideways compliment you’ve received?
[Laughs.] Now that’s a good question! It’s kinda cool: There are some fans who come to the shows, and they’ll bring up stuff. [imitates cocky fan.] “The Moving To Antarctica EP you guys did in 2010 is way better than your new stuff.” Which is like, songs that were done before we made This Couch Is Long & Full Of Friendship in 2013. That was the record that kinda got us on the map a little bit. But [Antarctica songs] I wrote when I was 18, and there’s no cohesion; it’s all part here/part there and a lot of yelling. We had to start somewhere. I’m very touched when people hear about that somewhere, but when they say that it’s better than our new stuff, I’m like, “Oh, well. Thank you? I guess?” [Laughs.] It’s cool, I get it. But the new stuff we put a whole lot more time into!
You three are genuinely the nicest guys on Earth. If I had been slaving over a record for weeks at a time and somebody said that to me, I’d be like, “When I’m done with you, you’ll be paying for your dentist’s next big vacation.”
[Laughs.] Yeah, people trying to look cool by saying that they were into us since way back when. You always hope that the new records and songs please as many people as possible. You can’t please everybody, and we know that. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing because we love every part about being in a band. We just want to tour as much as possible and be happy. Alt
WATCH MORE: How to be Swell