'Think You Know Andy?! Trust Me, You Don't Know Jack!'
Andy Mullen is about as capricious as an artist can be. Challenging the definition of “songwriter,” he is more a true storyteller than your average pop star, embracing the title of “folk music’s newest smart ass.” This NYC-based singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist has written an album of compact, finely crafted songs that are at once urbane and folksy with an old-time-y feeling, yet completely contemporary. These tunes, featured in a Songwriter's Hall of Fame New Writers Showcase, have been lauded as “songs that are crafted with a generous serving of intelligence, a heaping portion of humor and a splash of perversity.”
Despite still “hanging onto my twenties with both hands,” MULLEN writes with the experience of someone who’s been around a lot longer. In “Brooklyn Rain,” a two-minute gem, he relays a conversation between a father and son, perfectly suggesting longing and regret - like a fleeting thought, or well, the rain. However, MULLEN’s just as adept at displaying a wicked sense of humor as in “I’m Sorry, Jeanie,” wherein he sings about being over-served at a party, proceeding to insult the guests but in the end, still hopes everyone had a good time. “Who of us has not been in that situation?” he muses.
MULLEN’s distinctive voice is the factor tying all his music together. Whether the song requires a little country twang, the slurred speech of a saloon song, rushing a phrase in double-time to get everything into a bar-line or soaring blues-inflected notes, MULLEN covers it easily. He claims a wide range of influences, sheepishly admitting to having listened to Billy Joel and Broadway musicals “... until I got a clue and started listening to Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, and that opened up a whole new can of fish for me. Folk, jazz, real old-time stuff, which all fit in very nicely with my desire to be an old man.”
Although MULLEN as narrator often hangs back and takes a writer’s approach by not interjecting himself into the proceedings, his recordings and live performances take a different line of attack. On his second album, I Wish My Name Were Jack, MULLEN plays at least 10 instruments including guitar, piano, percussion and mandolin. And at his live performances, MULLEN is decidedly extroverted and irreverent, getting the crowd to sing along with a chorus, or chatting with audience members between numbers, often leading shows into surprising, humorous directions.
Chatting recently with Andy, and noting that it's been stated in his press that he likes writing about "people who have modest addictions - as most all of us do," I first wondered what would his be?! "Ah - there are a number of them! I am a man who pushes the envelope. People have said about me that I'm the kind of guy that not only goes into
the lion's cage, but sticks my head in his mouth, and tickles his
privates. I come from an Irish family, so, of course, I like my drink.
As my Dad says, "You can't drink all day unless you start in the morning."
I have also struggled on and off with cigarettes. More on than off. I'm
working on that one. Such a stupid habit. And then there's the
unmentionables, which we will not mention. But, I guess, according to the
experts, I am clinically insane."
And just where does one find such an inner musical level to work upon
in these challenging times of ours in the first place?! "I guess I'm a musician because I HAVE to be. It's what I do, and what I
do best. I'm a teacher by day, and I like it a lot. But I LOVE music.
I'm happiest when I'm playing music."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of
buying the new CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "It is a cross between Bluegrass and Jazz. That is to say, I use acoustic
instruments - guitar, banjo, mandolin - but I don't restrict myself to the
harmonic limitations of Bluegrass music. Like in life, I push the
envelope with the boundaries of my genre."
Your album title 'I Wish My Name Were Jack' is an interesting
choice, but perhaps it originates from a more personal standpoint for you
... and do you honestly wish such a thing?! "The short answer is, it's an exaggeration of me, or, who I was, or who I
could be at any given moment. These guys I'm writing about - Jack, Ray,
etc. - are alter-egos, of sorts. They are the guys who "come out of me"
after I get a few cocktails into my system, and lose the clean-cut look.
So, "I Wish My Name Were Jack" is really about the raving lunatic that is
hiding behind the domesticity and the tie I'm supposed to put on every
day. I wish I were living this life at times. But it's always nice to be
able to walk away from it. Jack is the guy I can blame all of my
less-than-upstanding behavior on. He gets to do the stuff that I don't get
to do as often as I'd like to."
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated Andy
Mullen at his musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "Well, to me, there are two sides to Andy Mullen: the humorous, smart-ass side, and the longing, emotional wreck. The lines get crossed sometimes, which I am a big fan of. Finding the comedy in tragedy, and vice-versa."
"So to answer your question: I think that "Brooklyn Rain" best captures
the sensitive side of me. "I'm Sorry, Jeannie" catches me at my most
What is your personal affiliation with NYC and how do you see its
progress re: the mental and physical rebuilding these five years on? "We have come a long way in a short amount of time. I have lived in New
York City for 5 years, so - according to Carrie Bradshaw vis a vis Sarah
Jessica Parker - I still can't technically call myself a New Yorker. But,
I still remember 9/11 like it was the day before yesterday. And I think
having lived through that day - and sticking with this town! - gives me
the right to call myself a New Yorker, despite what Mrs. Broderick thinks.
And you can print that."
Noting that you are "still holding on to your twenties with both
hands," I'm wondering what happens when you reach your thirties? Do you
anticipate a change in your lyrical style perhaps? "Thanks for reminding me! Thirty is right around the corner. Sigh. That
being said, I don't have the wisdom to know what the future will hold. I
wish I did, as I could make a lot of money with my bookie. I can only
base the answer to that question on how I have grown so far. I think my
writing has changed a lot over the last few years. I used to approach my
lyrics with a lot of metaphor and symbolism. To a fault. Recently, I
have been a bit more literal. Almost to a fault. So, perhaps my thirties
will yield a bit more of a balance between the two."
On this new album you get to play at least 10 different instruments,
but which is your favorite to perform along with given the choice? "Well, that's not an easy question. You cut to the core of me! Honestly,
my dream job would be to sit around all day, and learn new instruments.
That is such an exciting process for me. One of the benefits of being a
teacher for most of my twenties has been the ability to teach! It
transcends the classroom, and facilitates teaching myself: setting up
practice routines, researching relevant literature, making connections
between instruments, etc. If I HAD to give an answer, which I'm guessing
I do, I think I have the MOST fun playing guitar."
If you could cover any '80s (possibly cheesy!) pop song, which one
would it be ... and why?! "There's just something about '(You Can) Call Me Al' by Paul Simon. I have NO idea what that song is about. (Who is Al? And where does this Betty lady come from?) But I think I'd like to make it a country song. I might
do the slap bass sound on a kazoo. (First I have to learn how to play the
kazoo, though...and with a full time job, a relationship, the pressures of
the music business, all the instruments I have to practice, and a modest
drinking problem...who has the time?!)"
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Frankly, I am tired of the way that penguins have been treated in the movies and mass media. They are always the subservient waiters, and that is NOT a fair representation of the penguin species. I started an organization to further my cause - The People's Opposition to the Ostracization of Penguins (P.O.O.P.), but it failed to catch on. Human beings are so self-centered."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Andy's new CD, just answer this easy question: What is Andy's "other" day job?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before October 15th with your answer and the subject title 'CONTEST: ANDY MULLEN SIGNED CDs' to: email@example.com
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