Mute Choir


The music of Mute Choir is, above all else, about freedom. Freedom to live your life however you choose, and freedom to follow your creative vision wherever it leads. But in order to develop a concept of freedom, one must experience its opposite. Mute Choir’s debut album Behind the Bars is partly about that as well, and the clash between those two forces is palpable within the music—a distinctive blend of untamed electro-rock and introspective balladry with an eye on the ever-elusive goal of making dance music with a message. That message is in large measure the story of how the group’s figurehead Sam Arion has reached this place. Born in Iran and raised in the Toronto suburbs Richmond Hill and Newmarket, he escaped to the city at age 18. More recently, he had a taste of success as part of a band signed to a major label. While most young musicians would salivate at such an opportunity, for Arion the demands of that situation soon ran counter to his musical philosophy. The only clear solution was to make a clean break and take full command over his artistic output. Thus, Mute Choir. As a first taste of the album, the single “The Pedestrian” encompasses Arion’s evolution as a songwriter, discarding traditional pop and rock lyrics for more psychological concepts. “As I found my voice as a writer, one theme that kept cropping up was the divide between my artistic passion and what’s always been expected of me as a result of growing up in the suburbs,” he says. “Specifically, ‘The Pedestrian’ is about someone at age 30 looking back at how they traded their teenage dreams for safety and comfort, yet they don’t know who they really are. I never wanted to be that person.” Indeed, throughout Behind the Bars, Arion brilliantly weaves together many musical threads, from the deft dynamics and time changes of radio-ready tracks such as “Behind The Bars” and “MineField,” to the hypnotizing synths on “Us/Them” and particularly the epic, seven-minute “Election Season” with its multiple sections. The fact that Arion was able to accomplish all of this ostensibly on his own backs up everything he says about his drive and devotion to his muse. “I’d say that 98% of this album was made by me alone on my laptop at 3 a.m.,” he admits. “I’m not a great drummer so I had to get a friend to do that, but I wrote all his parts. As soon as I started playing music when I was 13, I immediately wanted to learn how to produce because I never wanted to be in a situation where someone else was telling me how my music should sound. What’s most important to me is not feeling like I’m faking it, not just with music but all aspects of my life. That’s what this album represents most—it’s a true expression of who I am.” Arion has labeled his sound “post-electronic” as a nod to his musical split personality as a balladeer and experimentalist. Although he admits his songwriting has always been generally infused with melancholy, incorporating electronic and dance elements became almost like meditation in allowing him to lose himself in the music. “Growing up in a generation musically dominated by EDM, I saw how powerful the ability to make people dance can be,” Arion says. “It brings music into the physical realm. I want to bring that out in people, I want people to lose themselves in the music the same way I did making it, but not necessarily as a means of escape. It’s also very important to me to have lyrical content and themes that also allow listeners to think and reflect on their lives.” Now that the album is completed, Arion’s next challenge is taking it to the stage and creating a communal experience. As Mute Choir moves toward becoming a fully functioning live unit, it’s also staring down the dichotomy of changing from a one-person outlet of expression to breaking down the barrier between the stage and the audience completely. Arion says this is a crucial lesson from the EDM world he’s tried to incorporate, and will continue to develop. One certainty is that Mute Choir will grow from the seed planted by Behind the Bars. As a snapshot of the human condition from its least photogenic angle, its songs are a timely reminder that the only thing that ever holds us back from doing what we want to do is ourselves.