It was not just the smell of freshly ground coffee that had singer Matty Mullins of Memphis May Fire in good spirits. He and guitarists Kellen McGregor and Ryan Bentley, bassist Cory Elder and drummer Jake Garland were a couple weeks away from their sophomore release, The Hollow, when this interview took place, and in the midst of two back-to-back headlining tours. Memphis May Fire signed to Rise Records at the beginning of this year, having been on Trustkill Records since 2007. Not only did they change labels, but put a new spin on their southern rock-infused metalcore sound for their new album.
While on a coffee run, you could feel how even the cold weather and a non-functioning alarm clock couldn’t take away from Mullins’ excitement and gratitude for the new album and everyone surrounding it.
Give me a little on the history of Memphis May Fire.
The band started maybe a little under four years ago in Dallas, Texas with a group of dudes that were just playing southern rock. They played a few shows, immediately got a buzz and signed to Trustkill. Over the course of time, any band that starts out really fast will notice that when time starts to take a toll and some of the members might not be right for what the key member is trying to do. Kellen has always been the key member of this band and he really needed a vocalist who could work with him at his level and the same train of thought that he has.
When Chase Ryan left—he was the original singer of the band—the band went through about a 148 auditions. When I sent in my audition, I was living in Spokane, Washington. I was in local bands in Spokane and thought this would be a cool opportunity. I’d gone to the studio and tracked vocals and Kellen and I just clicked immediately. So I told my wife, “Hey babe, we’re moving to Texas in a week.” Ever since then, we’ve done a lot of touring, a lot of writing and gone through a couple member changes. We actually just got a new drummer, Jake Garland, and he’s so fantastic and we’re so happy to have him.
What is it like having back-to-back headlining tours?
Headlining is really rad but we would prefer to headline one time a year and then be able to just support bigger bands. But the way that it worked out was just the opportunity to headline the Rise Records Tour is a huge honor for us. We’re really stoked for both of these tours. Kids are coming out to the shows and we’re having a good time and our really dedicated fans have been really cool and coming out and raging with us every night.
You just signed to Rise Records and already you’re top billed for their first tour.
It’s an honor. We’ve always been huge fans of Rise and all the bands they put out. When we left Trustkill, we knew that this next label was going to play a huge part in like the next three or four years of our career as a band. It’s been really, really good so far and The Hollow is easily the best record we’ve ever done and so for it to come out on a label that we respect and trust is amazing.
Did you feel the new album was rushed a bit, being you guys just released your Between The Lies EP this past fall?
We were rushed, but it’s a lot easier to be rushed than most bands. Our guitar player Kellen writes all of our music. He’ll just sit at home for days and come out with the most incredible work, and it’s really impressive. Once he starts writing, he gives it to me to write the vocals to. While we were recording Between The Lies, I was actually writing the vocals for The Hollow. As soon as we were done recording Between The Lies we went to Orlando and started recording the new album. So it felt rushed at first, but the producer we did it with, Cameron Mizell, was so understanding if we needed to write when we were there. I think the fact that we were kind of rushed on a few things made it so we didn’t over-think anything. So it turned out like no album we’d ever done before, which is a fantastic thing. It didn’t sound like our previous records and that’s what we wanted. We want to always be progressing and changing it, keeping up with the times, with our fans and everything.
Were you looking to go in a different direction from previous releases?
We never tried to go in a new direction at all. It’s just definitely MMF 2.0 and it started with Between The Lies. I think what most of our fans don’t understand is when we recorded Sleepwalking that was nine months before I even joined the band. When I joined, I immediately flew to Seattle and tracked vocals for it. So by the time that record came out, those songs had been two years old already. There’s a natural progression with every musician, with every band over the course of a few years. So it’s not something we did on purpose it’s just the way it came out. I would say the amount of growth and progression in that few years definitely does make for a new Memphis May Fire. It’s Memphis May Fire 2.0.
Why do you feel your music has progressed in this way?
I guess it’s just that the music that we listen to and the bands that have influenced us since that record. We’ve done a lot of touring with a lot of great bands and they become some of our best friends and when that happens their music becomes a part of us too. We listen to it and we love it and we love being influenced by fellow bands along with our original childhood influences.
You’re talking about being influenced by bands you’ve toured with, so is there any pressures by other forces to try things you necessarily wouldn’t have?
No, not at all. I mean the only elements that we’ve added from bands that we’ve been influenced by are just things that we thought were really cool, that we thought we could take and make it our own. That’s how music is created. Ideas are shared and tossed around and then you put your own twist on it and then it becomes you.
The track listing for the new album is interesting. What’s the story behind it all?
I think we’ve described it a couple of times as a concept album but it’s not necessarily a concept album as much as it is just storytelling through individual points of views. Every song tells the story from the perspective of somebody different. There’s only one song on the record that’s told from my perspective. The rest of the songs are from people that I know that have gone through certain things. Every song on the record tells the story about something that makes people feel hollow inside and that’s why we named the record The Hollow. Every song name describes in one word what that person went through and the issue that the song is addressing. The very last track on the record offers hope.
What song is from your perspective?
It’s called “The Reality” and that song is my personal view on the state of mankind.
Kellen had produced Between The Lies. Did you think to have him produce the new album as well?
Kellen is fantastic. He’s producing a grip of bands in our hometown right now. The one thing that is so rad for a band to record with a producer that’s outside the band is because if there’s a part that we think is so rad and we’re kind of stuck in that train of thought, he can offer ideas and inspirations and rework parts that can really make for the song to be better in the long run. We had actually planned on doing this record with Cameron even if that record was going to come out on Trustkill. It’s been in the plans for awhile and we’re so stoked and I wouldn’t doubt it if we did our next three records with Cameron on how awesome our experience was with him.
Did Cameron bring out anything special from you guys that you hadn’t seen in past recordings?
Absolutely. What’s cool is that Kellen and Ryan are ProTools certified. So he let Kellen and Ryan do some tracking for instrumentals and it was kind of funny because they were able to teach Cameron a thing or two about the way to do certain things. Cameron pushed me as a vocalist and as a writer. A lot of the melodies on the record I reworked with Cameron and he pushed me and I am forever grateful for that because I became twice as good as a singer as I was when I first got there. We’re very thankful for the production he did on the record.
Memphis May Fire will play the School Of Rock in South Hackensack, NJ on Sunday, May 22 and the Studio At Webster Hall in NYC on Monday, May 23. More info at facebook.com/memphismayfire.