5 minutes with Maus Haus

As a self-proclaimed “Craigslist band” with Brian Wilson, Aphex Twin, spaghetti westerns, Tortoise, Dr. Octagon, Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, ‘80s synth-pop and Miami bass among its myriad influences, San Francisco’s Maus Haus finds tension at the core of its experimental pop music. After the band—consisting of multi-instrumentalists Joseph Genden, Jason Kick, Joshua Rampage, Aaron Weiss and Sean Mabry—released its five-song Sea-Sides EP early this year, we sat down with four members to talk about the inner contention that helps create the “perfect sound” Maus Haus obsessively seeks out.

What’s Maus Haus been doing since Sea-Sides?
Jason: Working on our 50 songs.
Joseph: Yeah, we have this constant backlog. We always get to a few of them, and say, “Oh, this is great. Let’s try to finish it.” But then we get into arguments.

Joshua: Debates! Heated debates.
Joseph: It’s the same reason we can come up with things that are interesting. We all have a different aesthetic. Certain things go over the line of good taste for some, but are perfect for others.
Jason: Well, conflict is the core of all drama.
Joseph: But debating is more like a Socratic process of making your case for why this is the way the song should be. And someone else says, “No, this is how it should be.” Then, somehow, we all agree how it should be, but not always. There are a lot of songs in this nether region that haven’t been finished. They’re interesting ideas, but no one will ever hear them because they’re… controversial.
Jason: They’re like those bills that never get off the ground because there’s no consensus. This is a consensus band, and when we finally do put something out, it means we’re all on board.

Are you working on the next record?
Joseph: There’s been constant things on our radar, but now, I think we’re going to get down to business and finish a lot of the ideas we have brewing. And we have a lot, we just need to get them to the point that we’re all happy with.

What is Maus Haus obsessed with?
Joshua: That ‘perfect sound’. That sound that keeps recycling itself, keeps evolving. That sound that you can’t really put your finger on. If we agree on anything, I think that’s it. We all want to hear the newest, freshest thing.
Sean: I’m obsessed with excitement. Making music that makes me tingle, like really piercing soundscapes with synthesizers…and foliage.
Joseph: I’m obsessed with making something that sounds like you’ve heard it a million times, but you can’t tell what it is. I like that idea of making this perfect pop song that sounds strange, but yet…
Joshua: Immediately familiar and untouchably mysterious.

Is that the ‘perfect sound’?
Jason: Yeah.
Joshua: We’re of the sort that constantly shows each other the newest things we’ve found. For some other people, if they don’t know something—if it’s not a song they’ve heard, if it’s not immediately familiar—they might write it off. Until it becomes familiar, they don’t really have the capacity to enjoy it, for whatever reasons. But we fully embrace things that we haven’t heard before. We absorb them, and in turn, try to cultivate something we’ve never heard before.

Would you say you’re trying to turn the unfamiliar into something familiar?
Joshua: Exactly.

– Patric Fallon

photography by Kelly Long