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Interview with Chicago musician Sacha Mullin

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It's rare to be gripped by new music these days. It is for me, at least. There's so much of it, coming at us every day from every direction, and a great deal of it isn't interesting enough to persuade us into a second listen. That's why it's particularly affecting to come across someone like Sacha Mullin. From the first moments of Whelm, Sacha's debut solo album, you know you're in for listening that will allow you to temporarily escape from the gray norm. The singer-songwriter's snaking, soulful vocals bolster music that's often dark and fragile, sending you on a journey throughout the course of Whelm's ten tracks.

Moving from Minnesota to Chicago sometime in the recent past, Sacha has been part of the locally-based avant-rock group Lovely Little Girls. On this solo release, he's backed by prog/metal band Guzzlemug. No matter the collaboration or project, it's clear from Whelm that Sacha is a musician worth your attention.

Sacha took the time to answer some questions to give us deeper look into Whelm and what's behind his music in general. Read on, and then be sure to further explore his music for yourself.

FK: There’s a lot of emotion that comes through on these songs, particularly the way you sing. What inspired the sounds we hear on Whelm?

SM: To be blunt, I was coming from the point of view of recovery. It was like all at once that I'd attended a sequence of funerals, been overcome with debt, was romantically interested in dead ends, and was being emotionally abused by several people close to me. I felt simultaneously fragile and angry, and I think that a lot of that anger was at myself for not coming to my senses sooner. I'd moved to Chicago to try and restructure myself after having a nervous breakdown. I'd never been that vulnerable. Naturally, it was a real party. (laughs) I wrote and produced this record out of need, really, and I tried my best to make a sonic imprint of how I was feeling. It's pretty claustrophobic, don't you think? All those voices? The character in which I sing just follows suit to the songs.

It’s genuinely tough to describe the sound of the album, at least in a way that probably does it justice. There’s a lot of unexpected turns. Was it important for you to make an album with a unique style or is it something that naturally happened?

Hm, well I suppose there is always that motivation to sound distinct. But really, I was writing based off of mood, and where the songs wanted me to go. I had made the conscious decision to only include songs that spilled out, so nothing too labored. That way I could feel comfortable with it as a body of work. There are so many albums out there that drench themselves in sound effects to excuse iffy songwriting, and I didn't want to have one of those.

You worked with the band Guzzlemug for this album. How did that come about, and what do you think the collaboration brought to the material?

Shane and Charlie were friends of mine in college, and I obviously met Tom through them. They're so talented and thoughtful. When the opportunity to make a record came about, I needed musicians and I knew that I could trust them with my material. Shane and I worked closely to produce the majority of the record, and I'd like to think having 'metal' musicians playing 'pop' tunes brought out the weirdness in a good way.

I read that you hear sound as color through synaesthesia. What are the colors of Whelm?

Is that still in my press release? Oh dear! (laughs) Overall, I hear a lot of violets, blues, ...sometimes deep green. "Braggers" is chiefly mustard yellow.

What’s your favorite track from the album, or the one you’re most proud of? Why?

"Night Owl". Hands down. There was this painfully long stretch where it felt like that one was going to be an unstable mess, but it ended up working itself out. It's also lovely to have my friend Sasha Gibbs singing alongside me. Her voice is brilliant.

How did you decide to cover the ‘80s Donna Summer track, “Dinner With Gershwin”? It’s definitely a different take on the song and a pretty unpredictable choice for a cover, especially considering the sound of the album.

When I was a kid, my parents played a fair amount of Donna Summer. I'm not really one to react so emotionally to celebrity deaths, but hers hit me pretty hard. It's so unusual to feel the loss of a memory. I was visiting my grandmother around that time, who incidently also just passed, and was playing around with some Donna tunes on her piano. My grandmother insisted I record that one, and I relented. It felt appropriate to do it as a subtle tribute. Plus it's such a relatable tune, and terribly quirky. I couldn't resist!

Your bio lists the likes of Kate Bush, Scott Walker and Siobhán Donaghy as influences. Who’s one artist you’re inspired by that people would probably never expect from listening to your own material?

Bette Midler or Pantera. I can't tell if I'm kidding, either.

What’s the most important thing you’d like people to take away from listening to your music?

You know, I'm more than aware it's a cliché, but if my music has touched somebody, or made them think, then I legitimately feel like I've done my job. I've had several people tell me that they love a certain sound, a harmony, or related to a certain lyric. I get really blown away by small comments like that. It's thrilling.

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