Interview: Matthew Mulnix is an atypical solo musician
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Matthew Mulnix’s sophomore release, Relative North, blurs the lines between poppy singer/songwriter and indie-emo in the vein of Somos, Have Mercy, and Can’t Swim. Mulnix emulates the emotions conveyed by those bands, but with “more of a pop stricter that’s more accessible to the average 40-year-old listener.” Adding to his scene cred, though, is the dynamic way in which the music is presented, as well as the fact that the album was produced by Travis Hill of Microwave.
When it comes to writing music, Mulnix compared his process to “building a house. And I’m the main architect so to say.” He pointed to the way Max Bemis has taken the reigns on Say Anything, especially as of late, as a form of inspiration, though Mulnix appreciates the additional collaboration with his own drummer and producer. The general process is “starting out with guitar and then [seeing] how can I make the other instruments interesting—and go in and out with hills and valleys of dynamics, and louds and softs, so that you’re constantly listening.” Mulnix mainly performs solo and acoustic, so these intentional intricacies help keep the audience invested in the music.
Another interesting factor that comes into play during the writing process is Mulnix’s perfect pitch. “When I was 9 years old I lost part of my vision to Stargardt, which is the kid version of macular degeneration. So I can still see, but I’m not allowed to drive and I use voiceover on my iPhone,” he said. Mulnix began playing saxophone by ear before transferring to guitar, eventually going as far as teaching lessons. The real perk of the musical ear training is being able to easily pull out information such as key and chord structure. “I can do that for my students,” he said. “When they come in and they want to learn ‘Enter Sandman’ it’s not just about ‘fret here and number here,’ it’s about ‘this is in the key of E minor and then it has a modulation up to F sharp’ and stuff like that.”
This theory further influences Mulnix within his own music; he is always conscious of how the instrumentation can reinforce his emotional output. This is in contrast to bands that stray towards a math rock structure. Mulnix thinks, “’How does that portray the emotion in the lyrics?’ rather than ‘How does that impress the average listener musically?’” He feels that in the end, “the average person is listening to the lyrics and the emotion, not the structure.”
One of the standout tracks on Relative North, “Your Whisper”, tackles the topic of sexual misconduct within the music industry. The second chorus of the song uses clever word play to call out a long list of offenders: “Neck Deep drowning in your former friends / cuz there’s No Good News for us to represent / Set It Off sitting on your Front Porch Step / Slaves to Austin Joneses never broke a sweat.” While these issues have been coming to light at an even greater pace within the last year, these lyrics were actually written in 2015, though not as a way to cash in on a hot topic. Mulnix hopes this song will shed a different light on the subject and empower victims to continue to speak out. “It’s really great, all the women in the punk scene that are standing up for that.” He pointed to the Missaligned Podcast, organizations like Punk Talks, and people like Autumn Lavis, a victim of Front Porch Step, as positive forces. Mulnix stated, “If it moves towards female empowerment and equalization in the scene that is full of mostly dudes and bros, then that’s a great forward momentum to have.”
Spreading an even wider net, Mulnix’s recent inspiration has come from the likes of nothing,nowhere., who, Mulnix said, “does emo rap similar to the same scene in SoundCloud as Lil Peep, who just recently passed away, but he does it in a melodic, guitar-based structure that is mostly singing.” With Warped Tour coming to an end and all of the issues with sexual misconduct, Mulnix feels that “the scene is in a really weird place. So we’re gonna need some crossover, pop structure people to revive the scene and hopefully take it with them on their rides up.” This is something that came into play in Relative North through occasional flourishes of electronic 808 beats, but is something that Mulnix hopes to explore more in the future. The variety and sincerity found on this album is impressive, and as the scene’s pallet continues to expand, there’s no doubt that Mulnix is well on his way to creating his own niche.
Scott Fugger | @Scoober1013