Wilmington lo-fi punk outfit Museum Mouth have had an eventful last five years. Their last album, “Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig,” was critically well-received, but a family health crisis forced them to take an extended hiatus. In 2019 the band toured behind mainstream emo forebearers Say Anything and began to prepare an album of new material—its first since 2016. Then COVID-19 hit, derailing plans. Rather than despair, Museum Mouth released an 18-track album of singles, B-sides, demos and rarities early last month.
Composed of songs written between 2011 and 2019, “Crumbs in the Bed” is the band’s first album to be released without a label (its previous label, Tiny Engines, imploded last year after failing to pay artist royalties). It opens with the 2019 single “End of Days Reprise,” a glittering pop-punk earworm that serves as a showcase for the band’s newest member, guitarist Morgan Roberts. Over Roberts’ driving electric guitar riff, frontman Karl Kuehn delivers stirring lyrics about balancing vulnerability with newfound self-awareness: “I am not a loose cannon / I’m a smoking gun.”
After forming in Southport in 2011, Museum Mouth moved to Wilmington in 2013 and quickly became stalwarts of the local indie scene. Despite several lineups and label changes, the trio hasn’t lost its sense of purpose—or its sense of humor. “We finally started gearing up to get things back to normal last fall,” says Kuehn, who is living full-time back in Southport. “But, now, here we are, and isn’t it glamorous?”
encore caught up with Kuehn over email last week.
encore (e): How are you passing time during the pandemic?
Karl Kuehn (KK): I’ve actually been working Monday through Friday at the coffeeshop job I had in my early 20s. I started picking up shifts back in February, and then with the pandemic a bunch of the staff went on leave, so now I’m essentially very essential.
e: Where are you in the process of creating a new Museum Mouth record?
KK: All the songs are written and have been for a while. Morgan and I started tracking guitar in January but now everything is on pause while we all just, like … try to learn how to prioritize and maintain our sanity.
e: Without using musical terms, how would you describe the music you’re making right now?
KK: Oh, it’s so fun and beautiful. It’s a fish tank, but every corner is its own little breathtaking thing, and some of the fish are going through it, but that’s normal. Also, you’ve never seen it like this.
e: Can you tell me a good story behind any of the songs on “Crumbs in the Bed”?
KK: OMG, there are so many! We originally tried recording “One Cusp” with a producer, and at one point during tracking, he just said out loud, “This song sucks,” and I will forever cherish that amazing moment! (I actually posted little bits of intel on each song on my personal IG @lazyboneskuehn. I’ll try and dig those up and make a “highlight” or whatever out of them.)
e: You’re now established veterans of the Wilmington music scene. What’s one thing you think the scene is missing?
KK: I’m a little out of the loop when it comes to the scene these days because I live in Southport again, and have all these things that require my attention. I choose to figuratively let my hair down at home in ways that don’t involve seeing and being seen, and that works for me because I have one of the smallest plates in the business and it’s always overflowing.
I will say one thing that has always puzzled me is the lack of UNCW students who seem to care about indie rock. I mean, there’s always a select few, and they’re usually all angels and I love that, but we’ve played basements in college towns all across the U.S. and it’s like, OK, Wilmington is officially “Under the Dome” vibes.
e: What’s something people should know about being a working indie musician?
KK: It is hard to make money. It is exponentially easier if you have rich parents. And if you see music journalists on Twitter defending an artist whose parents are in a tax bracket [that’s] full universes above your own, and they’re trying to pull the “you can’t choose how you’re born” card, tell them to shut the fuck up.
e: What are each of your musical superpowers?
KK: As far as everyone who played on “Crumbs,” I’d say: Morgan has this telekinetic way with notes. She has all these amazing ideas swirling around her head, and when she manifests them, you better be alert because it’s Scarlet Witch-manipulating-chaos vibes.
Kory’s superpower is just he cannot lie; literally, if you show him an idea he doesn’t like and he doesn’t flat out tell you he doesn’t like it, his face will.
[Former band member] Graham’s superpower was he always knew what everyone else in the band was thinking or feeling in a situation, very Professor X-like: Take it in, assess it, speak with logic and reason, king.
e: If you could add one musician, living or dead, to your current lineup, who would it be and why?
KK: Taylor Swift, and I feel like I don’t even have to say why. But OMG imagine the literal headlines if I kicked her out. LMAO
e: What are some words you despise that have been used to describe your music by listeners and/or reviewers?
KK: Emo. Frantic? Emo. We got a review of “Sexy But Not Happy” [off the 2012 album of the same name] once where the writer was like, “The song has a really good beat,” and I think about that a lot. I don’t know if I despise it, or really understand it, even, but it absolutely lives rent-free in my brain.
e: What’s a word or phrase that you’d like to appear in a Museum Mouth song but have yet to use?
KK: Lady Gaga, “Chromatica.”