Matty Mullins made a solo album. The news surprised and delighted hardcore followers of Memphis May Fire when the singer made the announcement last week. While the Warped Tour mainstage act he performs with doesn’t identify as a “Christian band,” their frontman has been increasingly bold about articulating his own faith in interviews, in lyrics and onstage. Created with producer Cameron Mizell (Sleeping With Sirens, Capture The Crown, the Word Alive), Mullins’ self-titled debut indulges his love of Christian contemporary pop, but with a refreshingly unique personal perspective and sense of musical adventure. We caught up with Mullins shortly before Memphis May Fire started their South American tour.
Why make a solo album?
MATTY MULLINS: I was really into bands like Underoath and Blindside in high school. I was introduced to the scene through bands in the metalcore genre, and I’ve always loved that music. I’m grateful for everything we’ve done with Memphis May Fire. But I was also raised on Christian contemporary pop music. My mom started taking me to concerts when I was 6 or 7: Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, MercyMe… Those are my deepest roots.
How’d you make the time for this album?
Memphis are very busy, and when I’m home from tour, I want to spend all of my time with my wife, running errands for her, having dinner with her and just being together. When we were in the studio making Unconditional, I started talking with Cameron–an incredible producer and even better dude–about doing something that was just the two of us. Having him dive in on the instrumental side, then I’d write to it. It was just a fun thing to talk about. But as we got closer to finishing the Memphis record, I started thinking more and more about going home and hanging out with my wife but also trying to make this solo album with Cameron.
So I called up Rise Records and I said, “Hey, guys, I’ve got this passion to do a solo album. If you want to put together a budget and give me a record deal for one album, just so I can get this out of my system, I would love to invite Cameron up to Seattle”—which is where I was living at the time—“rent a studio and just spend my time during the day working.” I could still have my nights with my wife. It would just be the perfect situation. They were really excited about the idea. I have a great relationship with [Rise Records VP] Sean Heydorn. He was really into it. It was all ready to go within a matter of days. But it was surprising how much more quickly things get done when it’s just you and the label [Laughs.]
How long was Cameron with you in Seattle?
The original idea was actually just to do an EP. We didn’t have a whole bunch of time. We wrote, recorded, mixed and mastered it in just six days. It just came out so amazing. We were so pumped on the EP, the chemistry between us and the way the songs flowed. Within two weeks of finishing, we were like, “Let’s turn this into a full-length!” Rise was down immediately. So I took the rest of the advance I had left for the EP and used it to build a studio in my house, the house my wife and I bought when we moved to Nashville. It literally has no functionality without Cameron, because I don’t know what I’m doing with recording gear [Laughs.]
I bet you’re still like a kid in a candy store in there, though.
[Laughs.] Any chance I have, I want to fly Cameron to Nashville and just do anything we want; not just the solo stuff, but when we track vocals for the next Memphis record. I can track those at home now, which means extra time with my wife. It’s just a huge blessing all around.
I flew Cameron to Nashville and in two weeks we had finished the 11-song album. Working with Cameron one-on-one, getting to exercise that side of me musically… It was one of the best experiences of my entire life. Rise wasn’t worried about how it would turn out. They know how well Cameron and I work with each other, so they knew it would be a solid record. I have to give Cameron so much credit. I I've never been someone who is really good at writing instrumental tracks from start to finish, and that guy's got so much talent in that area. People listen to the albums he’s produced in the metalcore scene and they don't know how much of the writing he actually does. He’s got a huge passion for pop music, too. I told him there were no boundaries. It’s kind of all over the place, instrumentally, which I think is really cool.
If you’re going to make a big stylistic shift, I don’t see why more musicians don’t just do side projects, or solo records. It’s way easier than risking your band’s signature sound.
Totally, man. Memphis are a big part of who I am, but it’s still just a part. I’m not ashamed of what I was raised listening to. I just never had an outlet for it. It’s like therapy, getting to do a record like this. All of these parts that were caged up in me, I’ve let them out.
Who knows, someday when Memphis slow down, it will be good to have something else.
I’m never going to tell God what he can and can’t do, so I won’t say Memphis aren’t going to be the next Metallica. But I will say there’s a chance that we won’t be. I have the ability, the means and resources to do something like this solo album, so there was absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t have made it. But I want to make it really clear that Memphis are my priority.
Let’s talk about the first track you’ve released, “My Dear.”
A lot of people want to be in love with God, they want to have that fire, but they focus on the rules and the “religious” part of it. “I have to do this and this to earn this and that.” Let me tell you something about the Christian religion: It’s the only religion in the world that claims you don’t have to do anything to earn your place with Jesus. He created you. He defined you. He earned it for you. He came down and paid the price. God doesn’t want religion. He wants a relationship. “My Dear” is my perspective on who God is and about deciding to trust Him.
You’ve already made a music video for “99% Soul,” right?
Yes, about a month back. I shot it with Nathan William. He did the video for Tenth Avenue North’s “Worn,” where the singer is sitting in front of a tree and the leaves are floating. I told the label I wanted to shoot a video and the timeframe I had to do it in. They actually recommended Nathan. I watched the video for “Worn” and I was like, “Yes, please!” I was riding around on a moped in Hawaii and I FaceTimed with Nathan. I had never talked to him, texted him or anything before. I FaceTime him and I’m just like, ‘What’s up, dude? You want to do a video for me?’ And he was like, ‘Uh, yeah, sure!’ We became good friends right off the bat.
The song is very poppy, very catchy. The melodies are easy to remember. Earlier in my life, I focused so much on worldly things, like, “If I had more money…” But I want to be “99 percent soul” and only 1 percent body, in terms of how I’m living my life. I want my mind and my days to revolve around things of the spirit, not of the flesh. That’s when I feel like my life here on Earth has the most purpose. When I realize how the years in a physical body aren’t as important as the soul.
The older you get, the faster it all seems to fly by.
Yes, totally. A lot of people always say, “When I get to my deathbed, I want to look back and be proud of the person I was.” That’s cool and everything, but I have a hard time visualizing that. What I want is to wake up and be stoked on the person I was the day before. I don’t want to wait till the end of my life. I want to live in the spirit. I want to feel the presence of God in everything I do. I want people to see the love of Jesus in me. That’s what that song is about.
The record addresses how superficial we can be sometimes, how we might judge someone based on how they look without knowing what’s going on for them inside.
I’m 26, and I’ve seen how beauty is perceived totally differently in different cultures. It’s been different in America over the last few decades, too. Look at what a beautiful woman was in the 1940s. Then look at what a beautiful woman is in 2014. It constantly changes, based on our culture, the time period, the generation. So if you’re judging people by how they look, you’re just a product of your place in time and the generation you’re in. Jesus didn’t judge people based on appearances. He was hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. Who are we to not give someone the benefit of the doubt? To not love them when they don’t love us? It’s such an important idea, and it’s something I’m realizing more and more in my life.
The record will surely connect with people in the Christian contemporary music world. But what about secular fans fed up with religion who don’t want God in their music?
It’s a big weight to hold, seeing all of the negativity around Christianity and all of the people who claim [to know] Jesus but don’t represent Him at all. I would like for people to see this record as something different in all directions. I’d like to be the first singer on the shelves at Christian bookstores that’s covered in tattoos; the cover of the album is a picture of my tattooed hands.
A lot of people are saying drugs are the answer, because they can help you cope, or that drinking alcohol excessively puts you around girls that are willing to do whatever; it will make you feel confident or take away your anxiety. But when you allow Jesus into the deepest parts of you that you aren't willing to show the world, because of your insecurities, you realize that he knows the number of hairs on your head. He knows your heart. He is so infatuated and in love with who you are. You don't have to get up and put a mask on to be his favorite.
Everything you do for the world that makes you hate yourself, you can take that off, you can be just exactly as you are for the God that created you, and that is so much more than just enough. It's incredible that you can find your deepest fulfillment in Him, and then you can go out to the world and be yourself, and be confident in that, and you can be excited about that, and you don't have to be looking for acceptance, because you're already accepted by the only person that acceptance matters from.
How do you hope this record impacts your younger fans?
I want kids to go to school and be like, “Matty Mullins just put out a record that’s all about Jesus! I don’t need to hide my faith anymore. I look up to him so if he’s flaunting it, I can flaunt mine too! If he gets flack but doesn’t care about it, then I shouldn’t care if I get flack. When I need encouragement, I’ll look through that lyric booklet and know that someone is struggling with the same things I do and he is looking to Jesus. That’s enough for him, so it’s got to be enough for me!” I’m just stoked. I can’t wait to share this album with the world. ALT