Mute Witness is big on harmonies … and named after a Morrissey song!
Tino Marrufo is super-sized. He’s a big presence—both in the flesh and on the local music scene. The 34-year-old drummer is arguably one of the best in the North State, having played with a wide range of Chico musical groups, from scare-rock group Horror Horror Horror to bluegrass-country outfit Northern Comfort to practically every jazz combo in town: Basically, “Every band that [drummer] Clint Bear wasn’t in!”
Marrufo has an amazing quickness and rhythmic fluidity on the drums—not what some might expect from such a bear of a man. He sits on his drum stool as solid as a tree trunk while his wrists and hands fly.
Despite appearances, he’s actually more of a teddy bear. Marrufo was recently sitting on my living room couch chatting, along with his bandmates, about his newest musical project, Mute Witness. Marrufo, who also sings (not an easy task while playing drums), periodically flashed his characteristic broad, beaming grin while his eyes twinkled behind his black plastic-framed glasses in response to something his bandmate said.
It’s clearly a good-vibe situation between Marrufo, guitarist/singer Rett Mathews (deerpen, Petticoat), guitarist/singer/bassist/keyboardist Ryan Maker (Squirrel vs. Bear, Petticoat, Gorgeous Armada) and Daniel Nelson, a self-described “newbie” to music performance, on bass, keyboard and vocals.
Named after a Morrissey song, Mute Witness is anything but mute. The members were fun to talk to—even “Rett-icent” Mathews had a fair amount to say once he got started on the topic of songwriting.
The band came together in the summer of 2007, and tore it up at a recent gig at Nick’s Night Club. The crowd was already warmed up by opening indie-rock band The Shimmies, and Mute Witness kept the party going with its infectious original tunes with three- and four-part vocal harmonies and varying time signatures that sometimes, as they point out on their MySpace page, “sound like something you’ve heard before.”
In the case of “Dogs"—a super-catchy song with the great repeated line that you keep waiting to come back around again: “She make ya feel like a dog"—the something you’ve heard before is a bass line reminiscent of Paul McCartney’s in “Come Together” and Beatles-like vocal harmonies.
And in no way is that a bad thing.
The members of Mute Witness play well and their vocal harmonies work. Nelson, a sound engineer who only played music at home before joining, explained: “It was immediate from the first time we rehearsed that there was a really good chemistry. It just clicked.”
Mathews and Maker write most of the songs, and Marrufo (who is finishing up a master’s degree in music at Chico State) and Nelson have nothing but high praise for the duo’s songwriting talents.
Maker admires Beach Boys’ harmonies, and takes the lead in working out Mute Witness’ vocal parts.
“It’s great to be in a band where all four people can sing, and sing pretty damn well,” said Maker.
The band is currently working on a five-song EP with audio engineer (and Machinegreen guitarist) Evan Sanchez.
Maker is looking forward to changing things up at Mute Witness’ upcoming Café Coda and Valentine’s Day Nick’s gigs by playing drums for a little while. And listen for a secret cover tune from the band as well. ("We always play a secret cover,” says Nelson.)
The band has been known to throw in “Blue Orchid” by the White Stripes or the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”
Marrufo beamed like a proud father when speaking of his latest project.
“I’ve been told our music is really epic,” he said. “At the same time it’s an excellent collaborative experience to work with good musicians. It’s an opportunity to do something good, as far as music goes in this town. It’s like it’s our baby, and when we perform, the music is all grown up.”