Kay Dargs

Hot Mulligan on Coca-Cola, Midwest Living, & Seamless Music

An album, a themed tour, a growing fan base… Hot Mulligan are on fire… and not just because they are, evidently, hot.

Self-proclaimed “Number 1 Hot New Band” Hot Mulligan is back and better than ever. Their new album, Why Would I Watch, proves that they are doing the emo thing unlike any other band right now. (This also shows through their insane popularity.) The record has a lot of substance to it – humor, energy, emotion, and everything else that a fan of punk music could ever ask for.

The band is performing as part of the Sad Summer Festival all summer long, including stops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We had the chance to interview Chris Freeman, guitarist and vocalist for the band, to set the Sad Summer stage and highlight Why Would I Watch. We discuss that new record, coming up with crazy song titles, growing up in the Midwest, and so much more.

Why Would I Watch is available everywhere now! How are you feeling?

It’s good and well right now. It’s un-exciting because I’ve been home for like a month since it came out so we haven’t done anything to celebrate it together, but I’m exciting to play it and play some new songs after years and years of playing the same ones. 

That’s fair. Seeing these new songs being sung back to you will make it feel like a new album era. 

Yeah, it kind of feels like that right now where I know people like – because I see people saying it online – I have no idea where it goes from here, you know?

Exactly. Hot Mulligan has slower songs that build and explode, but the fans adore that. On this record you have “Cock Party 2 and on the last EP you had Please Don’t Cry, You Have Swag.” Tell me about writing those kind-of ballads that explode into chaos. 

I think that tempo and feeling of song we do is one that comes really natural to me musically. We’ve been going there since “[I Fell In Love With] Princess Peach,” one of our earlier songs. It’s just kind of something that comes out of us. It comes so natural and then we’re like, “Oh, what do we do now?” Then the song becomes big and that’s something that happens on its own – we never really think to try and write one of those songs, but suddenly it exists and we’re like, “Ok, well, we’ve got ourselves a ballad now let’s write a bunch of songs that aren’t ballads!” [Laughs]

I love it! Going back to what you said earlier about how sometimes you don’t know what is popular with the fans until you play it live, it’s almost strange to be at a Hot Mulligan show and a song like “Princess Peach” comes on and people go just as apeshit, if not more, for the slower, ballad stuff. 

It’s definitely interesting! They’ll be angry moshing for like a few songs, then we go with this slow kind of cornier song and you can see the mood switch, but they’re obviously just as excited. That’s an interesting duality to have as a band.

One thing I want to talk about, specifically with you, your guitar parts are very noodle-y, complex, and layered. You also sing over those. Every Hot Mulligan album has had your vocal parts. Is it tricky to sing and play guitar when the riffs are that complex?

Ok, so I want to add a disclaimer and not take all the credit. Our other guitarist, Ryan Maliicsi, is especially more of a shredder than me. That being said, we do have these dueling noodle parts going back and forth. At first it is really difficult but after a few times playing things and practicing together, something about it becomes automatic. 

I think the difficult part in doing those things is that I’ll be cool with the guitar parts jamming at home and I’m cool at singing it in the car, but then when I go to put it together I start thinking about it and – with everything I do in life – as soon as I start thinking about the action of doing it I’m suddenly incapable for whatever reason. Even just playing the guitar, if I start thinking and trying I can’t do it anymore. I just have to find something in me that just lets go of all thought and somehow I do it and it’s fine, good, and works. If I start to think about how I do it I can’t do it anymore. 

Another question I wanted to ask about this new record, how come “Drink Milk and Run” was not on it? I know it was a huge single for Sad Summer last year. 

When we recorded that song, it was during our first sessions for the record. We knew we wanted to drop a stand alone single beforehand. When we chose that song we obviously really loved it. That’s why we chose to put it out on its own. We were like, “If this is the single from the record, too, then we blew our load too early. When the album comes out it’s not as exciting as you’ve already heard. What some people are going to say is the best song is like half a year in advance. If we need another song on the record to make it whole then we’ll put it on, but we really don’t want to.” When we wrapped it up and were picking the track listing we were like, “I think we have enough to not need to put the song on the record,” so we didn’t because we didn’t want to spoil ourselves. 

When you announce a record, that’s a big thing. With any band the announcement is probably just as important, if not more important, than the actual release date. You want to spread that out into two categories of brand new music and also a while later, brand new album. 

Yeah! I feel like if we put out “*Equids Sunglasses*” half a year before You’ll Be Fine came out, then we did the regular single rollout and dropped the album, then you’ve heard everyone’s favorite song before the album even came out and also heard half the record at that point. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to remain fresh. 

After hearing the record, I have to ask you about the tracklist. The first six songs flow into each other better than records I’ve heard in the last decade. Tell me about how you determine that album pacing from song to song. 

We kind of tried to have these blocks a little bit. There’s almost like a checklist of certain things we want to accomplish with our track-listing. Track 2 [“It’s a Family Movie and She Hates her Dad”] has to sound like a single: our most radio-sounding of the record. People are accustom to hearing that. We’ve had Track 2 as singles for past two records. Track 1 [“Shouldn’t Have A Leg Hole But I Do”] it has to sound like Hot Mulligan as soon as you hear it. I don’t think you want to put on a Hot Mulligan record and then wait for Hot Mulligan to happen, so that first song just comes out the gate as us. We want a single in the late half of the record so it’s not front-heavy. We just kind of sprinkle some stuff around and play with different orders and listen to it a couple different ways… trying to make sure we have an ending. 

As far as the transitions and stuff go, all of the other albums we’ve recorded the songs and we’re like, “Alright, the song’s over,” and this time we just finally had the budget to give ourselves the time to add these flares and transitions. We’re all fans of records where you listen to it and it’s this seamless piece of music, so we wanted to take our stab at that. 

I’m speaking from a fan here, as well as a professional: it’s impressive that you can probably sandwich tracks one through six, put them right next to each other, make one long song, and it would work just as well as putting those songs individually on a playlist. 

Yeah, well, we try to have some peaks and valleys in there. Those first those songs? Those are some hot, spicy, fast songs for us. Then you get to four and it’s like, “Alright time to go a little artsy fartsy on your ass.” I think that’s kind of what we did on You’ll Be Fine, too, except those songs were a little more mid-tempo right out the gate. That punchy energy then you get to Track 4 and it’s like, “Ok, I showed you big muscles now check out how emotional I am.”

The reason why it’s refreshing is you’re increasing intensity so by the time you finish Track 3 you need a breather. You invented post-emo as you say, but a lot of critics do believe that math rock with hardcore vocals is so new. How did that term post-emo start and get labeled on you?

[Laughs] Well… shit, man…I have to decide which route I want to go with this! If I want to really commit to the bit or if I want to confess… there’s no one here with me who is going to tell me what I can’t say. We basically just fucking came up with that shit and no one had done it before! [Laughs] I don’t know how – it just started as a joke because we’re not a traditional pop punk-sounding band. We get posted on the pop punk forums, they’re like, “I don’t know why you’re posting this! This isn’t New Found Glory!” Then you get posted in the emo forums and they’re like, “This isn’t real emo, post it in the pop punk forum!” It’s not screamo either. We’re like, “Fuck, man, if no one wants us we gotta… we’re post-emo! If you want to join the wave just start saying that’s what you are and it works.” 

I firmly believe it! People need a genre to call something when a band like yourself is so hard to label, so make something up and lean into it!

We missed the emo revival thing and it’s not truly, solely Midwest emo music either, so it’s post-emo! It’s emo, but after all the other emo so far! It’s not a wrong definition. 

I feel like you guys could tour with American Football and then also go on tour with Neck Deep and both of those things wouldn’t be out of left field. 

That’s the exact lane we want to put ourselves in. It’s cool to hear you say that! 

You guys grew up in that Midwest area, though. How would you say that’s defined you, now that you toured the world?

I like the Midwest because it’s so wholesome. The people, the service, and everything is kind, quaint, modest. There’s definitely a big ego out in that world, but it doesn’t come through in this scene of it. It’s normally the guy whose like, “I work at the saw. You gotta be a man. Puff out your chest. Eat your beans. Get your chili,” type of stuff.  You experience that stuff growing up and it makes you feel ‘other-ed’ – and I think that’s why Midwest emo can even be a genre because of that stern ‘Be Man, Get Some Balls’ mentality that hurts people. People get hurt and they need to find this ‘other thing’ to suite themselves with or be accepted to, because you’re being shunned if you can’t bench press 200 pounds. 

It’s really cool. I would say it’s tied to tradition, which is interesting. I feel like we should kill tradition and embrace change and progression. The Midwest does not seem to progress that much outside of the cities. They really take pride being the same generation over generation. “I did what my daddy did and he did what his daddy did!” It feels like a place in time to go to the Midwest somehow. 

I’ll admit, I haven’t spent too much time in the Midwest, so hearing you say that is actually very interesting. I’m from the Boston area originally and now living in New Jersey. 

If you’re from the Boston/New England area, you guys are all hot heads and mean [Laughs].

Yeah, we say what we want, whenever we want.

I just did an interview right before this and they were talking about being from Jersey and if I liked it over there. I’m like, “I don’t mind rural Jersey…”

I’m not hating on Jersey or nothing, but I just want to get a Coca-Cola from the store and the cashier for whatever reason needs to make me feel like I’m stupid. I can’t just enjoy myself buying a Coca-Cola. If I want this Coca-Cola, I have to be willing to accept that this guy is better than me. 

[Laughs] That is so funny. To go off that, after living in Jersey for six years I went to Illinois and I was in a suburb at a 7/11. I ordered a coffee and the cashier goes, “How are you doing today?” and it took me back! I was like, “What did you just say to me?” almost like a reflex.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about in the Midwest. I live in California now and they’re not mean over here, but everyone who is working kind of seems like they’re not working. They’re super passive. They don’t really talk to you much, but they’re not mean to you. In the Midwest, they might be at a slower pace, but its because they’re like talking to you about what Jimmy down the street did earlier today, if you heard what happened in the news, and how it’s 70% humidity. 

I digress! Obviously you get a long of questions about your song titled because they’re awesome!, but I want to know, how o you make the song titles? Do you have lists that you draft out? Is it a spur of the moment thing? Is it over the record’s recorded you just go crazy? How does that process work.

Yes… [Laughs].  It’s all of the above. Sometimes we’ll just say some shit in a conversation and we’re not anywhere near recording new music again, so you’ll add it to the list. That’s a song title. I’ll start notes with these crazy sentences or out of context things. We’ll pull from that later. Next time we jam, if we don’t know what to name a track, we open up this list.  Sometimes we’re starting the song, about to record it, and make the file for it on the computer and it’s like, “Oh! You’ve got to put the name in!” It is then that we’ll just spew some bullshit. 

The only rule that we have is that someone else outside of the band can say something and we can hear that and say, “Oh, that’s a song title!” Then we can make it a song title, but if anyone outside of us suggests it – “Perhaps it should be a Hot Mulligan song title!” – you’ve immediately killed any chances of it being one. If you said it should be one, so we can’t do it.