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— by James Montgomery, with reporting by Christopher "CJ" Smith

The keytar was invented in 1978. And it has never, ever been cool.

For more than 25 years, the motley keyboard/guitar mash-up has been front and center in countless new-wave acts, hair-metal train wrecks and, well, John Tesh concerts. But now, the much-maligned instrument is in the midst of a mini-renaissance, thanks in no small part to Paul Meany, frontman (and lead keytarist) of New Orleans electro-poppers Mute Math.

"I know one of the leading magazines just put out a survey of the dorkiest instrument of all time; the keytar came in at a whopping first place," Meany laughed. "Second place was the gong. I'm proud of that, actually."

And who wouldn't be? Thanks to Meany's meaty keytar lines, Mute Math — also made up of guitarist Greg Hill, bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and drummer/ sample manipulator Darren King — are poised to break through to the big time with a headlining tour and an electro-riffic debut due next week on Warner Bros. Records.

But you can't blame them for being a bit hesitant about the whole thing. After all, this is the second time they've stood on the precipice of major-label stardom. The first time — well, it didn't go so well.

"We originally had a deal with Warner Bros. — kind of a developmental deal," Meany said. "We were a very new band, we had just done an EP, we had just started playing shows, and I guess there was a lot of question of what to do with us. And it was kind of a clichéd scenario: The regime that signed us winded up getting fired right afterwards, and the new people that came in didn't know what to do with us. We were kinda just left in that no man's land."

And so they decided to tour that no man's land — over and over again. And at each stop, they sold copies of their EP, Reset, eventually moving more than 30,000 units and winning over a loyal army of fans.

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And suddenly, Warner became interested in Mute Math once again, despite the fact that they had started taking their electro-leanings even further on their LP, exploring ambient post-rock and anthemic arena bangers.

"The label we were assigned to had pretty much lost interest in what we were doing and wasn't interested in the record that we turned in, and we were kind of in limbo," Meany said. "But then, when we got out there and started playing live and selling records, they started listening again. We did everything on our own terms, just went out and promoted our music and created tours, and people actually showed up. That's what we spent the last year doing — really trying to make the most of that — and it's worked great."

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On September 26, Warner will re-release the band's self-titled LP. Mute Math have already begun writing material for their sophomore album, which Meany said will feature plenty of keytar — and lots of other spacey elements.

"We have plans to do a concert from space," he said. "I think it'll be possible in the next five years. Maybe we can tie it in with the MTV Moonman. MTV Moonman, Mute Math performing from the moon — the possibilities are endless."


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