It would be easy to dismiss Nick Cageao as a hired gun. After all, he didn’t join Mutoid Man, the psych-metal side project-turned-full-time-stunner from guitarist Steve Brodsky and drummer Ben Koller, until after the band released its blistering, ornate debut EP, Helium Head. But even the fact that Cageao is able to keep up with Brodsky and Koller (formerly of Cave In and Converge, respectively) on songs they wrote is enough to garner him at least as much respect as any bass player gets from the music press. And even a cursory listen to Mutoid Man’s new full-length, Bleeder, makes it obvious that Cageao isn’t just filling a hole: He’s become an integral cog in the Mutoid Man mayhem machine.
Though Cageao is relatively unknown outside of Brooklyn, where he works as a sound engineer at the much-lauded Saint Vitus Bar, his bandmates couldn’t be more famous. In the scene in which Cageao grew up, the pair are on the cutting edge of hard, fast and technical musicianship.
“They’ve been heroes of mine since I was fourteen,” says Cageao. “Ben was my favorite drummer for forever. And Stephen…It’s kind of been like a dream come true.”
Cageao met his bandmates through his day job, when he ran sound for one of Koller’s side projects, All Pigs Must Die.
“I was immediately captivated by this drummer,” says Cageao. “I remember I said something like, ‘You’re really good at drums, but you’re no Ben Koller.’”
Despite the odd look the drummer gave him, it was another twenty minutes or so before Cageao says he realized it actually was Koller.
“I don’t know if he thought I was fucking with him or just an idiot,” says Cageao with a self-effacing chuckle.
Nonetheless, Koller appreciated Cageao’s engineering abilities and had him work sound for other shows around town. Then at a solo show Brodsky played at Saint Vitus, Cageao was behind the board when Koller hopped onstage for the final five tunes, songs that eventually became the bulk of Helium Head.
“As a little joke, I said, ‘Hey, if you ever need a bass player, give me a call.’”
In fact, the band was considering adding another member to its rhythm section. Soon after the show Cageao, got an e-mail with some tracks and a note from Koller that said, “Hey, can you learn these?”
He did, and the three began almost immediately to collaborate on new tracks while touring for Helium Head. The collaboration wasn’t without its hiccups, though. As old friends, Koller and Brodsky work well together because each is familiar with the other’s way of doing things. Cageao admits that he took some getting used to for the pair.
“I have a weird approach,” says Cageao. “I’m a bass player, but I come from a very neoclassical, death-metal-y background. Most of the things I learned on bass I took from a guitar player’s technique. My technique is completely wrong. For one thing, I start with the upstroke. Steve’s like, ‘Uh, why does that sound weird?’ and it’s like, ‘Oh, because I’m doing it wrong.’ But it lends to the creativity. Once we got together in a room and jammed, it came together pretty quickly.”
For his part, Cageao couldn’t be more proud of the contributions he made to Bleeder. The opening track, “Bridgeburner,” showed the other bandmembers just what Cageao could bring to the table as a writing partner.
“It started out with them sending me a clip of some video-game music,” says Cageao. “I was kind of stoned, and they were like, ‘Rip this off.’ Within five minutes, I made an iPhone video of the song, and they were like, ‘Holy shit!’”
Cageao even got to break out some of his metal chops on the song “1000 Mile Stare.”
“The thrash part at the end, we were in the studio in Long Island City, and I was like, ‘What if we took an Anthrax riff and just … (Here, he makes the crunchy sound of Scott Ian guitar part).”
Although he’s happy with his own role in making the record, Cageao is quick to praise his bandmates, as well.
“I think Steve is really, really brilliant,” says Cageao. “Steve has the best right hand of any guitar player I’ve ever played with.”
Brodsky and Koller’s talent, he says, is in their ability to experiment with odd sounds and structures and still make music that resonates.
“[Steve] is able to make weird things catchy,” says Cageao. “People want something to grasp onto. It’s cool to be nerdy musicians and still have people be able to tap their toe to it. That’s what those two monsters are completely brilliant at.”