A Conversation With Shawn Mullins

In 1998, Shawn Mullins catapulted out of Atlanta, landing on the Billboard charts with the ubiquitous “Lullaby.” Every time you turned the radio on, there it was:  “Everything is gonna be alright, Rockabye…”  Go ahead and sing it.  You know you want to.  Mullins took it straight to #1 on the Billboard Top 40 charts, staying there for three weeks (eight weeks on the Adult Top 40 chart).  Its astronomical success led to an impressive string of hits (“Shimmer,” “Everywhere I Go” and  “Beautiful Wreck”), all of them brightening up an otherwise listless and flailing radio zeitgeist.  But for every bullseye hit, there would be overlooked gems like “Time” or “We Run,” astounding songs that made the hits pale in comparison.  The kind of songs that make fellow songwriters say “I hate Shawn Mullins” and quit.

The most astounding part of all this?  He’s done it for 22 years (since his debut in 1990).  He’s released 18 albums, every one of them full of poetic, painstakingly hand-painted, 3 ½ minute pieces of modern art.  Songs that actually mean something.  Things we wish we could say.   Things that need to be said.  Soaring melodies tailor-made for the top of your lungs.  You’d think he could put out a less-than-stellar record every now and then.  Even Dylan has Self Portrait.  But no, he continues to bogart all the talent, 22 years in.  It’s almost embarrassing.

He recently worked with the Zac Brown Band, co-writing their massive hit “Toes.”  His newest CD  Light You Up is every bit as fresh and invigorating as his breakthrough hit Soul’s Core.  Opening track ‘California’ is the most succinct (and subtle) observation of America’s dark and sinking gravitational pull since…well, ever.   “No Blue Sky” (originally recorded with Matthew Sweet and Pete Droge as The Thorns in 2003) is simply devastating:  “There’s no blue sky in my town lately/Everybody looks at the ground.” Hear it to believe it.  Simply put, singer-songwriters don’t come any better than Shawn Mullins.

Here’s the best part:  He will be in my area locally at The Warehouse At Mt. Victor on November 1.  Trust me, Bowling Green KY:  Mullins is as good as it gets.  You want to be there.

On October 22, I had the opportunity to speak with him in Atlanta.


Michael:  I understand you have a son now.  Does that give you a different perspective on your own parents?

Shawn:  Oh, yeah.  I was just thinking about that.  I had a strange dream the other night that my dead father…I don’t dream about my dad very much, we didn’t have a great relationship. But I had that dream the other night and I remember my Dad leaning over while I was sleeping and kissing me on the forehead and telling me I was doing a good job.

Michael:  That’s an awesome dream to have, though.  

Shawn:  It really was.

Michael:  You’re doing something right.  You almost have to be.

Shawn:  I hope so.  I’m sure trying.  I love doing it.  It’s the greatest thing, you know?  Wonderful.

Michael:  Well, it’s an honor to speak with you.

Shawn:  Oh, well, thank you.  I’m glad to speak with you, too.

Michael:  Is this your first time coming to Bowling Green?

Shawn:  You know, as far as I can remember, I have played in Kentucky, but not Bowling Green. So I’m excited.

Michael:  Is this acoustic or full band?

Shawn:  It’s acoustic.  I’m going to have Tom Ryan with me,  playing a little bass here and there,  but it’s just going to be a very stripped down acoustic storytelling kind of thing.  

Michael:  Light You Up, did that come out about a year ago?

Shawn:  Yeah, that’s about right.

Michael:  Nothing but rave reviews all over the place.

Shawn:   Oh, well, that’s good.  You know, I never know anymore about making records.  I never did, really.  I just kind of do what I do, but it’s nice when people enjoy ‘em, that’s for sure.

Michael:  You know, the first track “California”  really stood out for me.

Shawn:  Oh, good.  

Michael:  Correct me if I’m wrong, and I know the song is about California, but is the song really about America?  Am I reading that wrong?

Shawn:  No, I think you’re right on the money.  

Michael:  if you were to subtitle the song, would it be “How the west was won and where it all went wrong”?

Shawn:  Yeah, or” How the west was lost”.  It feels to me like, and I think I’m right, that the rest of the world kind of looks at California like it represents America…and maybe it does.  As far as fashion, music, all these cultural things that people kind of identify with America other than maybe war.  And that’s the kind of stuff that attracts a lot of people to Hollywood to begin with, you know?  When Chuck Cannon and I were writing that, we were really having fun with it.  I had the first line, but…I can’t remember why, but we started talking about songs that we love that represent other things and for some reason—you’re gonna love this—”Little Red Corvette” came up, by Prince.  And so Chuck Cannon and I started laughing about that song, about…what it really means, and…you never really know with Prince, but you kinda get an idea it’s not really about a car.  Literally, that gave us the red Trans Am line, because we were taking a break from writing.  We were like, why don’t we describe them through their cars…what would they drive?  Maybe she would be in an El Camino…but the red Trans Am was kind of a fun thing to throw in there.  But that was literally because we were…brain-farting along, talking about other songs.  I always like that, when that happens.  The little happy accidents.

Michael:  “Hotel California” is kind of a cliché now, but it’s kind of the same vibe, how everything just fell apart.

Shawn:  Oh, yeah…I’m infatuated with California and L.A.  Always have been.  I’m infatuated, but I really don’t want to be there very long.  It’s kind of like going to see a horror movie or something.  I’d like to be able to leave when I’m ready.

Michael:  Or watching a car crash.

Shawn:  (laughing)  But I enjoy it.  There are such cool people out there.  There are great pockets of artists out there.

Michael:  Well, tell me about “No Blue Sky.”  I know you’ve cut that before, but this particular recording hits me pretty hard. 

Shawn:  Oh, good.  Well, I thought that The Thorns version of it—Brendan O’Brien and Herb Gardner really know how to mix, they’re great mixing engineers—but I never really liked the mix on that song on The Thorns record, because the melody wasn’t as easily distinguishable.  It was so tight harmonies, that…

Michael:  It was hard to pick out.

Shawn:  Yeah, and I also thought we did it too fast.  And the strings on it kind of lushed it out a bit, and I love Paul Buckmaster’s strings…but I felt like it was a little bit over the top.  It’s not really what the song—for me—meant.  So I wanted to try it a little bit different, more stripped.  And that’s how we ended up with that slower version of it.  

Michael:  So where did that song come from?  What made that song come about?

Shawn:  9/11.  My A&R at Columbia Records was looking out the window and seeing it go down…and people I knew that lived in New York, I talked to them the day or two after, a week after, whatever.  And my brother was actually in the Pentagon when it hit.  A career Navy guy.  And he made it, he was in the other side of the building.  It was just a wacky, crazy, obviously horrible thing.  But that’s what it’s about to me.  Now, there’s 4 or 5 writers…but to me what it really meant was that aftermath of people walking through all that months after trying to get their lives back together.  And there’s literally no blue sky.   




Michael:  “The Ghost’ Of Johnny Cash.”  Tell me about that one.

Shawn:  Yeah, well, Phil Madeira and Chuck Cannon wrote that one.  I can’t claim that one.  That’s a good one, though.

Michael:  Your performance on it is exquisite, it really is.  You nailed it.

Shawn:  Thanks, man.  Some of the lyric content I would never even have in my brain to put in there…his vocabulary’s really big.  

Michael:  Did you ever meet Cash?

Shawn:  I never did.  I just did a show with Rosanne and that was really fun.  She’s a sweetheart.  But I never did get to meet Johnny.  I’m pretty good buddies with Rodney Crowell and of course he’s got tons of those stories.

Michael:  I can only imagine.

Shawn:  Oh my gosh.  You know that one story when he first got invited to Jamaica with Rosanne, to go to down to Johnny’s house?  

Michael:  No.

Shawn I’m guessing it was in the early ‘70s, I’m thinking that’s about right, and Johnny had invited Rodney and Rosanne to come to Jamaica to the house there and hang out.  And I don’t know if you’ve ever interviewed Rodney or if you know him, but he’s the most gentle, sweetest guy, you know?  So you can imagine how this went down.  He said, “You know, me and Rosanne have been sleeping together and it was the ‘70s and everything, so I was just going to be upfront with Johnny about that when we got there.  And let him know we’re going to be sharing a room, you know?”

Michael:  I can tell where this is headed already, man. (laughing)

Shawn:  (laughing)  He said they sat down in the living room and Rosanne went to do something in the kitchen with June and it was just him and Johnny.  And he said, “Well, Mr. Cash, I just want to let you know that I care a lot about your daughter and…we’re sleeping together, so we’ll be sharing a room.  Will that be all right with you?”  And Johnny said, “Son, I don’t know you well enough to miss you if you were gone.”  (laughing)

Michael:  (laughing)  One sentence and it’s all over.  

Shawn:  But no, I never got to meet him.  I would have loved to and I’m a huge fan.

Michael:  I know you’re a Kristofferson fan.  Do you have a favorite Kristofferson record?

Shawn:  Oh, yeah.  Jesus Was A Capricorn, although the first 3 are all great.  The first one they ended up renaming Me And Bobby McGee and Jesus Was A Capricorn and The Silver-Tongued Devil.  All three of those records I grew up with and they were just so much a part of me learning how to tell a story and communicate it.  The whole talking through my songs, so much of it is Kristofferson and those kind of writers like Shel Silverstein.

Michael:  My favorite Kristofferson record is A Moment Of Forever.  You remember that one?

Shawn:  Oh, I love that record.  That’s the Don Was record, right?  Didn’t he produce that one?

Michael:  Yeah.  Beautiful.  

Shawn:  That’s a beautiful record.  That’s about the time we met, I think.  We’ve gotten to be good buddies over the years, but I think that’s about the time.  I gave him a record of mine in ’94 that I put out on my own.  I met him at the King March in Atlanta.  And I never expected him to call me back.  You know, he’s Kris Kristofferson.  But then a couple of months went by and I got a phone call and it was him.  And he was so nice.  He said he’d listened to my record several times and he had all these details of the songs.  He just loved what I did and he told me to never quit.   And he even went so far as to saying “Hey, look, I’m calling you just to tell you to never quit and never give up, ‘cause you’re a great songwriter.  I don’t have anything to offer you other than that. But I just wanted to tell you that.”  And I was like, “God, you just don’t know how much that did for me.”  

Michael:  Yeah, that was plenty to offer.

Shawn:  It absolutely was.  About 4 years later, things hit for me and his daughter became a big fan of mine.  And all of a sudden, I was invited to the house, instead of just running into him at the King March, which is really cool.  They’re a wonderful family.  And I just saw him a few months ago, when I did The Tonight Show with him.  We did an Amnesty International song together and that was really cool.  Me and him and Jonny Lang and a bunch of folks.  

Michael:  Your version of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ is as good as Cash’s.  

Shawn:  Oh, man.  Thank you.

Michael:  I’m not exaggerating.  I don’t know what it is…it’s hard to go wrong with that tune, though.

Shawn:  That’s a good one.  It sure is.

Michael:  That’s my segue into Soul’s Core.  You had a pretty good run on Columbia, but did you ever get the feeling that they didn’t really know what to do with you?

Shawn:  A little bit.  They talked like they did at first.  You know, it’s not one particular person or a company, it’s just kind of the way that works.  They need a product to be able to…the easiest way to sell that record was through a hit song.  I only had one really big hit song on that record…the rest of the record was pretty stripped down…it certainly wasn’t single material, it was more stretched-out stuff.  Kind of oddly-composed, where some of the songs didn’t go verse-chorus-verse-chorus.  At that time, I didn’t know any different.  It was the 8th record I put out on my own.  I had no idea I would ever get a record deal.  At that point, I was “Gosh, I don’t think that’s gonna happen”.  I was almost 30.  So yeah, I think to some degree they got it.  But they also have to go where the money’s coming in, so they saw that the money was coming in with that one single.  In fact, especially out on the west coast, the imaging and stuff was always weird.  I’m a T-shirt and jeans guy.  They were always wanting to put me in a silky shirt or something.  (laughing)

Michael:  Did they try to get you to do dance remixes or the *NSync duet?  

Shawn:  I think they knew better.  I did a lot of shows with those kinds of groups.  I had a number 1 hit right in the middle of Backstreet Boys, *NSync, Britney Spears, so I was doing shows with all of them.  Sometimes they were those big radio shows.  There’s one at Madison Square Garden every year.  And it was terrifying, because it was just me and my guitar on this little satellite stage in front of 25,000 kids.  But they loved it.  They loved it.  I’d do my little thing and all of a sudden *NSync repelled out of the ceiling in astronaut costumes.  (laughing)  I found myself being the oddball.  But I think what was cool about being able to pull off a solo thing is that they can slot me into these things so easily.  And I told John Mayer that when he first gave his demos to Columbia that got him signed.   One of the first things I said was “Man, always know that it’s going to help you that you can pull this off by yourself.  You’ll be going to 4 or 5 radio stations every morning and playing that same song, but it’s really gonna help.  ‘Cause a lot of bands can’t pull that off.”  You’re just gonna get way more exposure, you know?  And of course, his success eclipsed mine by far.  But he always really wanted more than I wanted.  He wanted to play stadiums and I never wanted to play stadiums.  It’s terrifying.  You either have that or you don’t.  Springsteen has that, you know?


Michael:  Under The Velvet Sun…this is just my observation, but that one seems slicker, smoother, more expansive.  Was it your idea to do it that way?  Because that’s not a jeans and T-shirt record.

Shawn:  Well, here’s the thing that happened with that one.  I delivered a record that I liked and they didn’t like it.  The record that I delivered didn’t have ‘Everywhere I Go’, ‘Up All Night’.  It didn’t have those two on it specifically, which were the singles.  And so if you take those two off, it’s a little less slick already, just because of the material.  But then, Chris Lord-Alge mixing the record probably is what gave that extra gloss.  He was kind of the guy at the time.  I’m sure he still is, to some degree.  The two Lord-Alge brothers, it’s kinda most everything you hear on the radio.  But I’m sure you’re right—it’s a bigger record.  It certainly was a bigger budget record.  

Michael:  It has a certain sheen to it.

Shawn:  The thing I knew going into that was that it would get slicked up.  So I tracked all my vocals with a distressor compressor limiter on the vocals.  And God, Chris  just about went through the roof when I gave him the vocals already effected and he couldn’t take them off.  And I knew he’d make my voice sweeter… there’s gravel in it.   But you know, it’s just spiting a radio mixing guy.  I don’t like the way the radio sounds.  I listen to an old AM station here called The Voice Of The Arts.  You know, it’s just a different thing.  To me, pop radio in general, whether it’s country, hip hop, rock, whatever it is, whatever is the most popular format, they all have this kind of SSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHH thing in it, like…it’s just from slamming everything.  And I just don’t like that.  I like dynamics and music.  

Michael:  Well, I just feel like I’m being screamed at.  I just want people to calm down.

Shawn:  Yeah, I know.  (laughing)  But I think that, sure…there are periods where records were slicker than others and I’m sure I was being influenced to stay on the map, so to speak.

That may have not been the way to go, you just never know.

Michael:  Do you go back and listen to your albums once they’re done?  A lot of people don’t.

Shawn:  Not unless I have to.  Now, I have been listening to Velvet Sun not too long ago because I was working up some older stuff from it.  And the whole time, I’m just like,”Oh man, we should have done that…that’s not a good lyric right there…”  and it just becomes…not fun.  I just try to…look ahead.

Michael:  Yeah, you could second guess yourself into oblivion.

Shawn:  Yeah, totally.  And I write slowly, really.  Most of the songs…they don’t come real fast, most of the time.  

Michael:  I notice you’re doing more co-writes than you used to.

Shawn:  Yeah, with selective people.  There’s certain people…[where] the gifts are exchanged in that perfect kind of way.  Like Chuck Cannon and I, for instance.  It feels like a really great match naturally, you know?  We both write both lyrics and melodies, but Chuck’s so fast with lyrics.  He’ll spit out a whole quatrain of lyrics and they may not need to be trimmed at all, they may be so good…and Chuck’s a real hard rhymer.   He’s real old school that way.  He learned that from people like Rodney and those older Nashville writers that are very serious about their craft.  I’ve really, in the last 3 years, longed to become one of those guys more than ever, you know?  And really get into the dissection of the lyric and making it as best as you can.  And you can go too far with it, but you always know when you have.  You know, “Oh, boy”– I try to paint with oil paint and it ends up being brown.  You just went too far, you didn’t stop.  

Michael:  Well, you’re toying around the edges of country music now.  There’s Zac Brown and Chuck Cannon.  Have you thought about doing a full-blown country record?

Shawn:  Well, I guess the problem with that is, in Nashville I think they see me as—people really welcome me in there very well, I feel totally like a long lost cousin when I come there to write and hang out–but I think they see me as an outsider in a way.  I can’t really think of what country music is, first of all, anymore.  So the fact that some of the things that I wrote on the last couple of records are country songs in the sense that John Prine or someone like that’s country…you know, am I gonna sing about pickup trucks and how country I am?  I don’t know.  That’s the thing I started to get really tired of hearing about is how “country” everything is.  Which is interesting, because it’s so not country.  I think I have too many judgments of the industry…to put on a cowboy hat and just do it.  I don’t…feel good about it.  But I do like writing it, and my goal is—I certainly don’t want to sound egotistical when I say this—but I think part of what I’d like to do is be a part of a movement of songwriters that are taking it a little more seriously in bringing back the real stuff in country music, you know?   And I’m a city boy from Atlanta, but I grew up in the country, too.  I grew up in the mountains of north Georgia as well.  And I love it.  But I like the real stuff.  Merle Haggard…

Michael:  You’re speaking my language now.

Shawn:  And it’s funny, because everything’s categorized, but to me it’s just like Louis Armstrong always said:  It’s just two types of music– good and bad.

Michael:   So tell me how “Border Song” with Elton John came to be.

Shawn:  Well, you know who Ed Roland is?

Michael:  Yeah, Collective Soul.

Shawn:  Yeah.  Well, I was renting some gear from Ed to make Velvet Sun.  And I was renting his studio gear and we had padded this warehouse space where I was making that record.   And he came over one day and we were working on a piece of gear or something and he said, “Yeah, man, I got Elton coming by in a couple of weeks to do a song with me.”  And I was like, “Are you kidding me?”  “No, man, we’re good friends.  He’s a great guy, you know?”  I said, “Man, I’ve been wanting to do “Border Song” for years.  Do you think it’d be worth asking him?”  Ed goes, “Man, nobody asks him to play on anything.  He would love it.  Let’s go out to dinner.  What are you doing Friday?”  And I said, “Nothing.  Let’s do it.”  So we all went out to this fancy restaurant.  And it was a little weird, you know, having to meet Elton John in a fancy restaurant and the whole thing was a little bit…not as comfortable as I wanted.  But he was very nice. He kissed my then-wife on the mouth. (laughs)  I was blown away by his presence and just how friendly and funny he was.  And I asked him, “Would you be into singing and playing on one of your songs?  I was thinking about recording it.”  And he was like, “Yeah, absolutely.”  It was two or three days later he came in and knocked it out.

Michael:  You know, I read an interview with him one time and he said he would love to play on other people’s records, but nobody will ask him because they’re too afraid to.

Shawn:  That’s exactly what it was, and if it hadn’t been for Ed saying “Don’t be afraid to ask him, ‘cause he gets his feelings hurt because no one ever asks him…”  And he’s such a damn good…I mean, what a fine piano player.  He had all that Dr. John kind of thing…

Michael:  Yeah, you can tell gospel music is…to his core.

Shawn:  Yeah, he was a real pleasure to meet and hang out with a little bit.  I didn’t get to know him very well, but…nice cat.

Michael:  Did you go to college for a music degree?

Shawn: Yeah, I did.  Not a typical music school, but I did.  I went to North Georgia College…and didn’t really know what I was going to study.   I always…you know, I wanted to do music.  And they had a little music program, so I ended up with a Music Education degree.  It did help me a lot, I have to say.  I skated by in my audition to get into the music program, but I couldn’t read music at all.  And so that was what I learned for the next four years, was—when they opened up a hymnal to any page, I could sit there and play it for you from sight, which I never could do because my ear was so trained already.  So yeah, I enjoyed it.  I spent a little time in the Army, ‘cause they helped me pay for college.  And then I pretty much…hit the road.

Michael:  And have been on the road ever since.

Shawn:  (laughing) It’s starting to settle back a little bit now.  

Michael:  A three-year-old has a tendency to do that to you.

Shawn:  Yeah, and I love it.  I don’t want to be away from him.  

Michael:  Do you have any words of advice for people getting into the music business right now?  I know it’s tough.

Shawn:  Well, I think people shouldn’t be afraid to do as much of it on their own as they can.  And the first thing I would say is you really want to study that craft.  You know, if you want to be a great guitar player, then you become a great guitar player by just doing it all the time.  And the same thing with writing songs or singing or whatever they want to do.  It’s literally the more you do it, the better you get.  And then the other thing I would say is don’t be afraid to do as much as you can without cutting up that pie early on.  It helped me to spend 10 years independently.  I learned a lot, and so by the time all the labels and the publishing companies and managers and booking agents were after me, I was lucky.  I was in kind of a position of picking at that point.  And it was somewhat luck, but it was also experience mixed with the luck.  But these days, everybody knows that a label can only do so much, ‘cause they’re struggling, too.  So do as much as they can on their own, and get it out there however they can, ‘cause that kind of word-of-mouth and word-of-ear and all that is really still the best way.

Michael:  Do you have a favorite record of all time?  The house is burning down.  What do you reach for?

Shawn:  Well, that changes sometimes.  I think right now it would be either Stardust by Willie Nelson or It’s A Guitar World by Chet Atkins.  

Michael:  Okay, I gotta tell you that second one I’m not familiar with, but the first one…I’m the biggest Willie fan on earth, so I’m with you on that.

Shawn:  Oh, isn’t that a good one?  All those classics…the way they were recorded and…hey, have you ever noticed that—about a year ago, I was looking at that album artwork and it’s big enough that I could see on the bottom…

Michael:  Susanna Clark?

Shawn:  Do you know who that is?

Michael:  Is that Guy Clark’s wife?

Shawn:  Yes!  

Michael:  Yeah, I didn’t know that until like a year ago, myself.

Shawn:  That’s what happened with me is that I was looking at it and it said ‘Susanna Clark’ and I was like “well, I know she paints.  That’s gotta be.”  

Michael:  They really didn’t publicize that.  

Shawn:  Yeah, isn’t that something?  And you look at that artwork now, and it’s a really cool painting, but it would never fly now, you know?  They would never let you put out a record with just a starry night on the cover. 

Michael:  Every single note on that record is achingly beautiful.

Shawn:  I know.  I love the organ and the use of the harmonica with the organ…that’s a really interesting thing that you don’t hear a lot.  Now listen, that other one is It’s A Guitar World.  I think it’s about a ’68 release.  And it’s Chet Atkins playing with all these different international musicians around the world.  So there’s like a Japanese cat and a Flamenco guy…but they’re doing these really great songs.  Classic songs, you know?  Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” is how it starts off and it’s really great.  But check that out.

Michael:  I will.  I’ll look that up.  Do you ever have writer’s block?

Shawn:  All the time, yeah.  I mean, I get it more than I write, you know?  I don’t like to call it ‘block’, because it’s really… ‘life’ just gets in the way.   

Michael:  So how do you get out of it?

Shawn:  I stop watching TV.  What happens is whenever I’m not writing and I’m feeling the need to write, I just stand back and evaluate what I’m doing.  And I’m not reading[I’m not] taking in the actual words that I need.   Hank Cochran told me–years ago, I did just a quick little radio interview, he had a radio show down in Florida he was doing—and he told me, and I swear I’ll never forget it ‘cause I’ve used that ever since—he said, “You have to pour words in so that you can pour ‘em back out.  You have to read.”  It’s just the biggest part of being a writer.  And then I read Stephen King’s own writing and he said the same thing.  

Michael:  Words of wisdom.

Shawn:  Yeah, that’s what happens for me is that I discover that I’m just being lazy and I’m not using my eyes in the way I might take words in.  

Michael:  Well, my biggest problem is all the distractions.  The Internet and smartphones and this that and the other.  I just can’t concentrate.  My attention span is so short.

Shawn:  Oh, yeah.  I’m still a fan of books, so when I’m reading I’ll try to actually just get a book in my hands instead of looking at one on a computer.

Michael:  Right now, what are you listening to?  Any particular record?

Shawn:   I’m listening to my friend Max Gomez.  He’s gonna have a record out soon.  He’s from Taos, New Mexico.  And he’s really so good His favorite writers are John Prine and Johnny Cash and people like that.  

Michael:  Well, he’s on the right path.

Shawn:  Yeah, he just signed a deal with New West and we’ve written a bunch together.  So I’ve been listening to his new release.  Jeff Trott produced it.  [It’s a] cool little Indian Americana record.  Kinda got a pop blend to it, but it’s got a real earthy feel to it as well.  And I’m listening to the latest John Hiatt, Mystic Pinball, which I like a lot.  And I got some great recent vinyl from Wax’N’Facts.  An old Fred Neil record that just got released, the reissue, the one that has ‘The Dolphins” on it.   I think it’s just called Fred Neil.  And I got Heroes by Willie Nelson on vinyl.  

Wax’N’Facts has got a great vinyl store here in Atlanta.  I think it’s been there since the late ‘70s, at least.  

Michael:  You know, vinyl records are really picking up in sales.

Shawn:  You know, that’s what I hear…I think certain markets around the world are really getting into it.  I heard the last Jack White that was released on vinyl sold like 50,000 records just in the UK.  50,000 is a crazy amount…I may have the wrong number, but I remember it being a ridiculous amount.  I was like “Wow, people are getting back into vinyl”.  

Michael:  How old are you?

Shawn:  I’ll be 45 in March.

Michael:  Okay, I just turned 45 so we’re the same generation.  We grew up with records, you know?  You flip it over, you look at the artwork, you pull that middle thing out and it’s got all the lyrics on it.  I miss that.

Shawn:  Oh yeah, me too.  That’s why I think I still get ‘em.  I don’t listen to many CDs anymore.  I’m either going on iTunes–which I don’t like as much, the sound quality—but I need to upgrade my record player.  I don’t have a really nice system right now.

Michael:  Yeah, me neither.  It’s left over from high school.  

Shawn:  (laughs) That’s cool that you’ve still got that player, though. 

Michael:  Yeah, it’s retro.  Hey, I saw a video of you online and you were talking about how you listened to punk bands when you were in high school.

Shawn:  I listened to a lot of different things, but yeah.  I think there was a couple of years, at least about a year in high school, where I think it was literally…watching MTV and going ‘Eeewwwwww…this is starting to get really gross.”  At first it was really cool…  Bands like The Ramones, just badass rock and roll bands was all I was really searching for.  AC/DC I  loved.  But to me…all that’s just rock and roll.  I love Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys.  I never really did get into death metal.  I wasn’t as much into that, but it was really more of a sonic thing.  I didn’t like the way the records sounded.  I like a kick drum to sound like a kick drum.  You know what I mean?

Michael:  it’s all so muddy.

Shawn:  Yeah, plus a lot of the metal bands, even back in the ‘80s, Metallica started taping a half-dollar to the kick drum mallet to get a ‘click’ attack rather than a BOOM.  And you have to do that, because everyone’s playing so fast, there’s no room to hear a BOOM.  There’s no room for a boom.   It has to go ‘click’.    And so that kind of stuff, I never really dug.  I always liked space.  Highway To Hell-– which is just as rockin’, but there’s this bad, huge drum sound and guitar sound in it.  It’s like there’s space in-between, where you can feel it, you know?

Michael:  Yeah, I want to look down at my shirt and see it pulsate.  That’s the way it was meant to be played.

Shawn:  Yeah, but I love the Talking Heads…world music…anything that challenged, at different times, what’s going on…

Michael:  What are you working on now?  You’re in-between records.  Are you just writing songs and playing shows?

Shawn:  Yeah, I’m writing some songs and doing a few shows.  Until that run I’m starting in Bowling Green, I don’t have any shows until then, actually.  So I’m going to be working on my set and getting it worked up for my little tour.  I’m not writing as much as I want to write, but I’m writing really well right now.  It’s just slow.

Michael:  We’re looking forward to you being here in Bowling Green.  This is going to be great.

Shawn:  Well, thanks.  I hope you come up and say hello if you can make it to the show.

Michael:  I was going to ask you exactly that, if it’d be all right.

Shawn:  That’d be great.  I’d love to meet you, man.  I’ve enjoyed talking to you.

Michael:  Yeah, this has been a great conversation.  I appreciate it.  I hope I didn’t take up too much of your time today.  I apologize if I have.  

Shawn:  Not at all.  I enjoyed it, Michael.  Thank you so much.

Michael:  Listen, be careful out on the road and God bless.  Take care.

Shawn:  All right, you too, Michael.  

You know what to do:

Tickets for Shawn Mullins are $25 and can be purchased at http://www.thewarehouseatmtvictor.com/    

or call 270-904-6677.


~Michael Franklin

Michael Franklin is the Media & Reserves Specialist at Western Kentucky University’s Visual & Performing Arts Library (VPAL). Michael is also a professional musician and sound engineer. He is currently recording his 6th CD with his best friends Screenlast 6.0 and Audacity Sourceforge. He thinks Iggy Pop is the greatest singer in the history of music. If you disagree, you’re wrong. You better ask somebody.

Contact Michael:

Blog: http://pointlessendeavor.wordpress.com

Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.