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Interview: Hot Mulligan (Sad Summer Fest)

Are you stoked for Sad Summer Fest yet? We’ve had the chance to talk with Taking Back Sunday and Sincere Engineer, but we have one more special chat right here, right now, as we gear up for what’s going to be one of the most fun shows of the summer. Happening at The Andrew J. Brady Music Center on July 19, this one’s a banger start to finish.

I’m really excited to share my chat with Chris Freeman, guitarist for one of the most exciting bands on this year’s lineup, Hot Mulligan. Straddling the line between The Wonder Years and Pianos Become The Teeth, with a little noodly math rock thrown in because, hey, why not, Michigan’s Hot Mulligan just released their latest LP, Why Would I Watch. Check out my discussion with Chris below.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us! SUPER stoked to finally see the band play in a couple weeks.

First, I want to talk a little about the new record, Why Would I Watch. It seems like a pretty natural evolution from where the band started, just kind of bigger, louder, more intricate, well produced. Can you talk some about the process of getting the new record made and where you think it might stand out against the rest of your discography?

The past two records we did before this newest one, we had written them in my parents basement or other practice spots before we went to the studio. When we did get to the studio, we had like, you know, our set amount of time and you would record all the songs and then maybe leave early if we're done in time, without like a second thought about having any more.

But then we started touring a lot, so that wasn't really an option for this record, to find a block of time in between tours, and then write songs and then go do it all in one session. So we spent like a year in between every tour we're doing, like either a couple weeks or month-long sessions at the studio without having any songs before. Going in to just wake up every day and try to write something new and record it, and we came up with a lot more ideas than what made the record and then ended up with those 12 songs that we were really happy with.

And I think you're right that it sounds like a natural progression from what we've done before. But I think this time obviously after having two records under our belt, we've got, like, you run into your tricks you do all the time and sometimes you're like, OK, that's not inspiring now. So we try to take a couple new twists and turns and whenever we would do that, we would make sure we really lean into it, because sometimes there would be some resistance and we'd be like, oh, we, we don't do that. Like, we don't sound like a band that does that, but then we'd find ourselves in the same spot, so we tried to lean into the differences on these songs.

So I have deep ties to New Jersey. I lived there for about a decade and still have some really great friends up there. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the song “Gans Media Retro Games,” which is an actual store in Hopatcong, where one of my good friends lives. I think you also recorded in Hackettstown, if I remember correctly? I used to live about 20 minutes from there. Outside of just being a place where you recorded an album, do you all have any other ties to NJ? What was it like to spend some time there versus Michigan? I know for me the difference between NJ and where I am in Ohio is pretty crazy, just in terms of the people and the culture, etc.

Actually, we recorded in Hopatcong, too.

Oh, you recorded in Hopatcong! I used to run around up there all the time. When I lived there, I didn't live far from any of that. It was pretty cool. So outside of, just like being the place where you recorded the album and kind of spend some time, you know, do you have any other ties in New Jersey?

Well, that's where we did You'll Be Fine, as well, our second record. And then I actually lived in New Jersey for about. Almost a year during the pandemic with my friend and producer Gary Cioni, who plays in Crime and Stereo. And then I wanted to learn more about audio engineering and stuff. So I actually lived with him and his wife and his dog and cats at his studio and spent some good time there.

Very cool! You know, being from the Midwest and I know you guys are from Michigan, was there any sort of culture shock? Because New Jersey could be pretty different from kind of like where we grew up? And I think you guys are out of Lansing or or you know somewhere in that area of Michigan? And is there anything that you miss from your time in New Jersey, even though it was during the pandemic? So I'm sure it was a little strange during that time.

Well, I don't know. So I grew up in really rural Michigan and we ended up recording in pretty much rural New Jersey. And I also lived in rural New Jersey. So it wasn't… It's really not that much different, but if you start going into like the city and stuff like that, and then you just want like a candy bar or something, those store clerks are fucking mean to you, bro. I don't miss that.

I'm like some guy with a Midwestern smile and, like, overly polite. I like that more than “Please get the fuck out of my store.”

Looking back at some of the tours you’ve done since the band’s inception in 2014, what’s always so great for me to see in the scene is that progression for bands as they jump from tour to tour, bigger, more far-reaching, a little more diverse, etc. You went out with The Wonder Years - who I hear a lot of in what you do - but also Carly Cosgrove, who, to me, play a sort of distilled version of what Hot Mulligan does. How was it for the band kind of acting like a sonic bridge between those two bands?

Well, so bringing out Carly Cosgrove was The Wonder Years’ idea. Before we even did the tour of their singer, Dan asked me who would want to bring on there. And I think he brought them up right away. And that was like, the first, maybe the only band, he brought up. I'm like, “Yeah, that band. That band's great.”

But we've always kind of tried to bridge that gap a little bit. not. Not on purpose, I guess, but I'm like, you know, I grew up on The Wonder Years, like that was like my favorite band in high school. And our singer, Tate is really into that screamo revival and I am, as well. But he even gets a little into that, the screamo world where it's basically iPhone recordings of just shouting over like nonsense type music. But it's super emotional. So there's always like, alright, I'm trying to accomplish what I like in songs, but you all want to accomplish what you like in these songs. So we just kind of blended our tastes, and they do have this Midwest Emo mutual spot for us.

Every now and then, I kind of tiptoe back into that like scramz and screamo realm, and I'm always kind of like, that's just been a fascinating thing that just never went away. It just kind of keeps happening and bands keep tapping into it and then you see it kind of peak itself out and bands like yours and and and others. Where you're like, “Oh.” Like you can kind of hear those little bits and pieces of influence, it's pretty.

Yeah, yeah. It's a fun world.

I’ve started to unironically assert that I am, in fact, and Elder Emo - born in 1981, graduated high school in 2000, I got to see the Vagrant, Equal Vision, No Sleep, Drive Thru thing happen in real time. So when I hear that an “Emo Revival” or “Whatever # Wave Emo” thing is happening, I kinda just chuckle because it never really went away, it’s just evolved, right? Looking at bands like Hot Mulligan, and Carly Cosgrove, or Free Throw, or Mom Jeans and Ratboys and the list goes on and on, it feels to me like using Emo as a catch-all is kind of pointless now. What’s it been like coming up over the last few years and seeing what’s happening now play out? And not just play out, but being an active part of it all?

Well, yeah, I agree with what you said, that it kind of like never goes away, and that there's always new bands pushing it forward and stuff, but it seems like it just happens at the right time, where it feels like there's an end of an era with certain bands and then, like, “Oh, is this moment over?”

So emo is this very specific thing, but everybody's been, like, building on it and changing it and letting it evolve. And it's not just this, like, niche cultural thing anymore. It's definitely more expansive.

Yeah, I think that's… I mean it's natural and it's, like, wrong at the same time, but it doesn't throw me off in any way because like I said, I was really into that. The 2010's pop punk era, during that time, for whatever reason you would put Man Overboard and Citizen and Title Fight all on a show together and you'd be like “Oh, it's a pop punk show.” But Title Fight and Citizen just weren't ever pop punk bands. You just say that they are because they're part of this encompassing group of friends.

I mean it essentially comes down to… So, like, yeah, when they'll say like we're emo or, we're Midwest emo. But a band like Mom Jeans is also Midwest emo, and we don't really sound that similar. Or maybe it's even hard to find the traces of that. It’s kind of just takes on it, like it becomes a scene more than it does a proper classification of the music that's being made.

OK. That's a Super fair point. I like that a lot. With Sad Summer Fest, I love that we’re getting a sort of cross-generational look at what emo, indie, and rock looks like now, because we’re getting to see bands like Taking Back Sunday and The Maine who both embrace where they came from and how they started, but haven’t really let that get in the way of evolving or changing in ways that make sense for them. Then there are up and comers like Mom Jeans and Sincere Engineer, and for some, your band, who will be an introduction to this really sonically diverse look at where things are at the moment. Do you have any expectations for how it all might go, or, I guess, what do you want to see and experience with a tour like this?

Well, we did the tour last year and we never got to do Warped Tour or that outdoor festival stuff because we're late to the party. So I really enjoy the parking lot. Everyone is parked next to each other and outside doing stretches or something, or just like drinking under a tent and stuff. So I'm really excited to hang with everyone backstage, but I think it's also, yeah, it is this cross generational thing this year and I think that's a new world for this tour, because last year the I think the oldest band was like Mayday Parade that was on the tour. They've got years and stuff on us, but it makes sense. You know, that fanbase kind of grew into this new one that is happening, too.

But Taking Back Sunday as the headliner is one where there's definitely a couple generations of this kind of music. And then it twists, it turns, it takes off underneath that. And then newer bands like Cliff Diver and Sincere Engineer at the bottom of the lineup, which are even newer than us, so I'm really excited for that.

But I don't really know what to expect. We're playing bigger rooms this year. They’ve got the amphitheater type vibe, obviously to accommodate for Taking Back Sunday. So it'll be interesting because even when we've played with bigger bands like that in the past it's been on even bigger outdoor festivals, where there's no hope for an amphitheater - you're just in a field. So I'm interested to see how it goes.

Interestingly, TBS just released a single today, so did Mom Jeans, Sincere Engineer dropped a new single on Wednesday and announced their next record, and your new one just came out within the past couple months - really exciting time just for bands on this tour. Does that add to the energy and anticipation of the tour, do you think?

Well, I mean damn, dude, it sounds like everyone got the memo except for us that you're supposed to drop music like, immediately before.

I know I saw the Mom Jeans post yesterday and the Taking Back Sunday post. I wish maybe we would have, like, saved a song or something. I mean, that's good for everyone that a bunch of other bands are releasing music at the same time. And I think that shows that all the bands are excited about this opportunity to tour together and expand fan bases and want to bring the best of the best and the newest stuff on the tour.

One thing I like to talk to bands and musicians about right now, who are on the road or are releasing new music - the landscape has changed pretty dramatically over the past 10 years, especially these last few because of the pandemic. And I think that’s also fundamentally changed the relationship between bands and musicians and their fans. Social media connected everyone in a really powerful way through the ups and downs of the pandemic - what was your experience like when everything ground to a halt, and what are you feeling now that things are moving and bands are on the road again? What else do you think has changed, for better or worse?

Well, I think for the worse. We definitely lost a lot of people who were working at venues around the country doing pretty important jobs, like stage hands and production managers and stuff like that, because they thought their jobs weren't coming back. So they're like, “Well. I gotta pay the bills,” and you know, the venues can't exactly offer these benefits for everyone to get everyone paid through the pandemic if they're contract workers. So coming back out of the pandemic is, like, everywhere you would show up, you'd be with some guys that you maybe knew from the past, or you get a lot of new folks who don't have the experience of doing this yet, but then you just need someone. So things are going wrong and things are a little stressful and you're like, “Dude, what's the problem here? Why aren't things running smoothly?” And then they’ll say something like, “It’s my first day. I have no idea what I'm doing.” And it's like, you know, you get your experience and stuff like that, but I think a lot of bands definitely encountered that, maybe more so their crew, who had to deal with that more than some of the bands themselves, but that for sure.

And then during the pandemic, I mean we kind of just shut the fuck up because we put out our record like a week before global lockdown, right? And we're like well. We were going to get together and do something. Try to promote the album and do videos and stuff like that. But now we can't see each other, so we kind of just sat on her asses and, like, prayed - I don't mean prayed, prayed - but, you know, hope that the record would do well, and it seemed to during the pandemic,.And then I was online a lot because, what could you do? But nowadays I'm kind of just trying to stay away from that. It's kind of weird out there now. People say weird things. Make a couple of death threats, stuff like that.

I mean, dude, I'm going to thank Elon Musk for one thing, and it’s that he's made Twitter so bad that I don't want to use it anymore because it's not like a fun scrolling experience. You know his wrong moves have benefited me personally.

So outside of the tour coming up what's next for the band, for you guys?

Well, we got a European headlining tour coming up in September, and the When We Were Young Festival later this year. And you know, a couple of other things that I can't talk about yet because I'm not supposed to. We're doing the things you would expect, I guess, after an album. Which it doesn't sound super fun to say it like that, so maybe we gotta, I gotta throw a curveball or something in there.

Like what are you doing, you know? Exactly what you think we're gonna do.

Yeah, that'll be that'll be the lead quote for this, then. “We're doing exactly what you think.” Well that was pretty much the interview! Is there anything else that you want to add or mention?

No, please, just like, “heart” the songs on Spotify, because then the algorithm likes it more.

We are all subject to the whims of the algorithm. So yes, we will definitely mention that.

It's true.

Thanks again to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions! Get ready to have some fun or be sad or both at this year’s Sad Summer Fest, happening July 19.

Hot Mulligan’s newest, Why Would I Watch is out now on Wax Bodega. It’s a ripper.


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Interview: Sincere Engineer (Sad Summer Fest) 

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