Photo credit: Timothy Saccenti.
The title for MISSIO’s second album, The Darker The Weather, The Better The Man, came to Matthew Brue as if by fate. While on tour driving through Washington, the Colorado native (now a resident of Austin, Texas) saw snow for the first time in a while. “We were driving through this insane valley where there’s this massive lake and these massive mountains, and it was snowing, and I was exhausted, and I was tired, and my voice was sore,” he recalls. As he looked out the window, he was immediately grateful for what they were able to do, and the words “the darker the weather, the better the man” came to mind as he thought about his introverted-ness and habit to self-sabotage.
Depending on darkness can be a crutch, because “I feel like if I’m going through a struggle that I’m gonna be able to write better lyrics from it or I’m gonna be able to write better songs, better melodies.” Brue has now realized that that’s objectively false, but he admits that he and his musical partner David Butler have both fallen into that trap “where sometimes the darkness feels a little bit better.” On “Dizzy,” Brue sings about how “seductive” the feeling of self-destruction can be, admitting that his pain hides “behind a broken smile.” When MISSIO headed to the studio, producer Dwight Baker picked up on the phrase “the darker the weather, the better the man”; that became the first song they created, and eventually, formed the concept of the record.
MISSIO have a habit of taking simple ideas and turn them into something more substantial and more meaningful. “KDV” on 2017’s LONER was born from a Darth Vader bobblehead that sat atop a speaker; as Butler came in with a massive kick drum hit, the bobblehead shook so hard that it fell off. The resulting song talks about “killing Darth Vader with my motherfucking kick drum,” and relates to anyone who uses music to kill their demons. This album title was no different: Butlers reflects that he likes finding balance and meaning in life, even in the dark times. Sometimes the world might deal you a rough hand, but “my experience and Matthew’s experience… is that – we’re still here, and we’re still better for it, and I think there’s a lot of hope in that statement.” After the title track, The Darker The Weather, The Better The Man ends with “Esperanza En La Oscuridad,” an instrumental whose title is Spanish for “Hope In The Darkness.” It’s a meditative, near-spiritual track with no destination beyond a push to look inward and upward. “The Darker The Weather, The Better The Man” and “Esperanza En La Oscuridad” together are a reminder that “if you can find purpose in those times, to make yourself a better person and come out all the better for it, then that’s pretty much the best place you can be in.”
Before LONER, MISSIO had released several singles online; in 2017, they signed to RCA Records and released “Middle Fingers” and “Everybody Gets High” in advance of the album. Both Brue and Butler had previously spent years songwriting and working on different projects that they’d hope would resonate with people, but Butler shares that the initial goal with MISSIO was “to just do music for us,” to have a creative outlet while they both worked on other things. MISSIO officially launched with their first live performance at SXSW in 2016, and Butler says it was “kind of ironic” that when they stopped caring about what anybody wanted to hear, “that’s the stuff that started to resonate more…. The more personal you get about your story, in a weird way even if it’s specific, I think people relate to specifics.” And Brue is no stranger to being personal and specific, whether he’s writing about getting a DWI (“DWI”), how drugs have messed up his life (“Rad Drugz”), or driving a luxury car (“Audi A4″). There’s “a commonality in the human experience that you’re writing about”; the truer you are to yourself, the more people can relate on a deeper level.
For Brue, the impact they had wasn’t clear until they began to tour and meet people at shows. Having “beautiful, genuine conversations” with fans, as two strangers shared stories back and forth about what the songs meant, got him to realize that “people aren’t just listening to the songs, they have these beautiful stories that are changing their perspectives on life.” As they continued to tour and return to the same cities over and over again, the stories they heard were more intense, and they’d hear more of them – seeing hundreds of people in a room “singing our songs that we wrote in our little garage in our house” is “pretty powerful.” Seeing MISSIO live is the best way to fully experience what it means to feel the energy Brue and Butler create on stage, to come together with others who are singing along and who feel the same, and perhaps feel less alone in our loneliness. Butler waxes poetic about the beauty of a digital song link turning in to a physical, in-person interaction: when they’re face-to-face with fans at a show, “looking them in the eyes, talking to them about how the music impacted them – and that’s an amazing thing that can still happen across the world with music. It’s the power of music.”
In between albums, MISSIO released two Skeletons EPs, which each contained stripped-down versions of four LONER tracks plus one non-album track. Skeletons: Part 1 featured “Can I Exist,” which sees Brue writing to God in a desperate plea for hope. “I See You”, the third single released from The Darker The Weather, The Better The Man, comes as an answer to “Can I Exist”: here, they’re stepping outside themselves to turn to those who are struggling, and let them know that no matter what a mess they feel they’ve made, they are seen, and they’re not alone. While Brue is confident “I See You” has the potential to be the biggest song of their career, he doesn’t believe they had anything to do with it, because “it seems like it was such a gift that was given to us. When you’re an artist, and you’re a songwriter, you realize how difficult it is to have a song that comes in and swoops in really quickly and dominates everything.” After writing “I See You” in “like, fifteen, twenty minutes,” “we had to sit back and go, ‘man this is a really powerful song that I don’t feel like we worked for it; it just came.’”
But perhaps the power of “I See You” is right there in the fact that it came so quickly: a message so important, that’s so vital for so many people to hear, it doesn’t need analyzing or decoding. The song takes on a different meaning depending on who’s listening and what they’re struggling with, but for Brue and Butler, it’s sad to see just how lonely so many people are. This is “the loneliest generation yet,” as young kids struggle with depression and anxiety far too often. Many of the teens that MISSIO talks to have considered suicide, and Brue finds that “horrific.” They strive to let people know they’re not alone by being open about their own experiences in the lyrics. Showing listeners both young and old that they are seen and that they are not alone, is “the most impactful thing as artists that we can do for our fans and for listeners. That’s why the song means so much to me, personally, and I hope that it continues to spread that message around the world as people start to hear it.”
Some call them alt-electronica; some call them pop; some call them electronic – but whatever you call it, you’ll know a MISSIO track when you hear one. They don’t all sound the same – “Temple Priest” is full of twisted, dirty beats and “The Black Roses” will charge right at you, while “Do You Still Love Me Like You Used To” is tender and sentimental; but throughout, there’s a prevailing honesty and a multi-layered use of electronic textures. Brue mentions the variety of genres they grew up listening to: a shared love of old-school southern hip-hop is reflected in “this huge, big, sub-drop thing” on “KDV,” and he’ll often pull inspiration from folk songs when writing vocal melodies. When it comes to creating a song, Butler says it might be a tone that strikes inspiration, or perhaps “it’s some unique sound that evokes some emotion or a beat that evokes something, it’s like we’ve never heard it before, but we both get it instantly.”
MISSIO combine relatable songs with a real message with “the tools and the textures and the tones of electronic music,” although “the MISSIO sound” is unspoken and constantly changing. They’re both “huge electronic music fans,” but Butler acknowledges that it can be hard to find songwriting in that genre, and he and “more than anything, Matthew and I, we value songwriting.” On the Skeletons EPs, songs like “KDV” and “Middle Fingers” are stripped down to their core, played at a slower tempo with simple piano and production. Creating songs that work and still tell a story as a when all that’s left is the core is the goal; without all of the extra layers, you’ve still got a whole song.
“Middle Fingers,” which was MISSIO’s first radio hit (reaching #9 on Alternative radio), came as an assignment from Baker. Brue and Butler had largely been writing separately, and Brue’s melodies were “hooky, but they were very chunky.” Wanting to see them write a pop, the producer had them get in a room to write together and “pretend like you’re pitching a song for Britney Spears – what would Britney Spears write?” Brue admits that he “talked a lot of trash about pop songs for a long time,” but after this assignment, realized that soaring pop melodies are “really difficult to write.” The melody of “Middle Fingers” is a lullaby, the words rocking back and forth in a natural cadence. It could be considered a pop song, but like everything MISSIO has released before and since, there’s something more going on here: Brue sings about a distaste for models and superficiality, and his reality of being in recovery. Though the song is defiant, with its careful rhyme pattern, its goal is not to separate but to unite, bringing people together.
Maybe it doesn’t matter what genre you call them, and perhaps it’s just the fact that their songs touch on some hard-hitting topics but put in a way that anyone can understand. Brue and Butler are excited to see the impact this album has on people, but the best way to see what MISSIO is all about is to come to a show. Brue has spoken and written openly about depression and addiction, and the “MISSIO Mafia” have grabbed on to what he’s saying, making the songs their own. So many of us – whether we’ve struggled with mental illness, relationship problems, or troubles at home – have felt alone. And when we feel that way we can wind up in a hole, paralyzed by our own loneliness. That’s the beauty of MISSIO: whether listening to their music on our Spotify playlists or seeing them live at a show, through this music, we are all alone together.
MISSIO will be on tour this spring; check out a list of tour dates here. The Darker The Weather, The Better The Man comes out on April 12 via RCA Records; visit www.MISSIOmusic.com to pre-order the record and for tickets to all shows.