July 6 2011 10:27 AM

Cult artist John Maus just wants you to enjoy the music

Photo by Claire Titley
The phrase “cult following” isn’t often meant literally when people discuss music nowadays. All due respect to black metal and Justin Bieber fans, but the expression is thrown around a bit superfluously. The blogosphere would pretty much have you believe that every lo-fi band from Williamsburg, N.Y., already has a fan base that rivals The Grateful Dead.

But John Maus (pronounced like “mouse”) is the real deal—he’s well on his way to becoming something of an indie-pop pied piper. During the past six years, he’s released three albums of immensely dense and sometimes disturbing synth-pop that has garnered him, well, a rather cultish following.

I became familiar with Maus’ catalogue in 2007 (and his stint as a member of indie darlings Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) after hearing his single “Do Your Best” in the trailer for the Chloe Sevigny film Lying. But I didn’t realize how many people loved him until recently, when I posted something on Facebook, not about Maus, but about the new Theophilus London album, Timez are Weird These Days. A local musician left an acerbic comment, saying that London, a rapper who’s music is about as stylistically different from Maus as it can get, stole the name of the album from a Maus lyric.

At the time, I shrugged it off. But talking to Maus from his home in Austin, Minn., I realize now that my Facebook friend may have been on to something.

“You know, he’s been wanting to collaborate for awhile, but we haven’t found time,” Maus says of London. “If that’s the case with the title of the record, I think that’s great.”

So, what is it about Maus’ music that gets people so worked up? Why have his fans set up website forums to dissect his songs? Why are his peers naming albums after his lyrics? It may be that Maus’ music, lyrics and even his Ian Curtis-like baritone reflect the wistful feelings of being young and free while also tapping into the listener’s sense of nostalgia. The songs, while mostly danceable, perfectly channel the feelings of dread and uneasiness that comes with not knowing what’s next—a feeling that starts at adolescence and most people never get over.

“What I’m after lyrically is whatever the conventions of this pop language would seem to demand,” Maus says. “Those themes are about love and eternity and those kinds of things. I agree with the adolescent thing. Adolescence versus grand maturity.”

While Maus’ influences range from Bach to Cobain, his music also reflects the decade arguably known for producing some of the best synth-driven, angsty teen anthems: the ’80s. He might describe his recently released album, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, as a “good consummation” rather than the breakthrough he anticipated, but it’s undoubtedly his best album so far.

“I think of it more as a necessity that arises out of the material, as opposed to some kind of catharsis or expression of myself,” he says. “I was hoping that something radically new would unfold, but that’s not what happened. A consummation is what happened. And I’m comfortable with that.”

And that’s just it. Maus isn’t trying to change the face of music forever or one-up his idols. He just wants to use his musical template to craft pop songs that hopefully people will like. If you’re like me, his music might make you do all of the following: 1) Look up the first person who broke your heart on Facebook (where are you, Angie Salazar?), 2) Watch Pump Up the Volume and 3) Dance around your place like a 14-year-old after a raid on Dad’s liquor cabinet (I’d suggest the song “Believer” for that one).

If that’s what this cult is all about, then sign me up.

“We have so few places that we can really appear as we actually are,” Maus says. “I know that’s an old-fashioned way of putting it, but there are so few places that we can truly be ourselves. But art is one of them.”

John Maus performs with Puro Instinct and Geneva Jacuzzi at The Casbah on Tuesday, July 12. mausspace.com