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Sacha Mullin

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Sacha Mullin from 2018

MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – sort of a  "highlights reel?"

Hmm. Gratefully, I've had a pretty broad career so far, but for the bulk of it, I’ve been a supporting musician and educator. As a teenager, I did some work with a couple of Japanese commercial houses and went to an arts high school called "Perpich." Then I graduated from McNally Smith College of Music with a Bachelors. (And as of this interview, the school just folded after thirty-some years? Yikes.)

Anyway, I moved to Chicago and worked with the groups Lovely Little Girls and Cheer-Accident, which most people still associate me with. I’m proud of that work. I’ve also recorded with Dead Rider, which I’m still bowled over about. They tour with a laptop with all the backing vocals playing. So, by extreme technicality, I’m "astral projecting" into their live performances, which is really a trip to experience.

But yeah, I've been honored to sing with all sorts of wonderful people, and I always look forward to the future.

Oh, and I’ve released two solo records, one of which you gave a lovely review back in the summer! Thank you, Gary!

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Forestry, baking, space science, and/or crying. Choose your own adventure.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Far too many people, but I admire a lot of friends, teachers, students. Many of Heather Nova’s albums are staples for me. Jill Scott is an absolute revelation, and Kate Bush has always been with me through thick and thin. (I’ve always liked how Alison Goldfrapp refers to her as "good ol’ Kate.") Joni Mitchell’s someone I studied in-depth in college, and she hasn’t left me yet. I fell in love with David Sylvian a few years back on a friend’s recommendation. And no sacrilege intended, but someone sign me up for membership at the Church of John Coltrane, please.
MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
Early on, I'd covered Rickie Lee Jones’ “Company” at a gig, and an audience member came up to me afterward having just attended a funeral, and said I made them feel less alone. I can’t imagine having the will to go to a show after a memorial service, but to be able to share experiences through sound is really something. That was a real "power of music" moment.
MSJ:
What's ahead for you?
This is so dangerous to answer, because I’ve got a lot of ambition, and once you put something into the ether and it doesn’t pan out, someone inevitably goes, “well, where is it?” But I will say I’ve been working on new songs, that I’m really proud of them, and hope to have a new solo album within the next year — because there isn’t any way I’m going to let another four or five years pass me by between records. (Famous last words, right?)
MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
I seem to get this "theatrical" tag thrown at me, which isn’t my intent at all, but I can understand it superficially. Same thing with the 80s tag. I can see in an alternate timeline that I was probably a short-lived one-hit wonder male pop crooner in the 80s. Truthfully, I'm not all that into most musical theatre. I like some, but (other than some Sondheim chord choices) it's not much of an active influence. But I do love a lot of 80s music, so that one is more or less accurate, I suppose. So...what can you do?

If I were to present my own adjectives… somewhat jazzy, depressing, too many harmonies? I'm really selling this aren't I. (laughs) I guess I’m no better at this myself.

MSJ:
Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
My friends and I have an ironic Countess Luann fan club. How Outer Limits would that be to do a collaboration with her? There was a news "article" about her recently that said something like “despite arrest, the 'Money Can’t Buy You Class' chanteuse will still star in her own cabaret.” That, in itself, is amazing. It seems hazardous to open that worm-can, but my dark sense of humor wants in on that atonally-listing-things-instead-of-singing dance nonsense.

With more sincerity, it’s been a lifelong dream to sing for a Yoko Kanno soundtrack. Her ability to bring out the best in a singer is just something, so just throwing that out into the universe - but otherwise, nothing terribly specific. There were a couple of collaborations that fell through for Duplex, but maybe they'll happen in the future. Who knows? I’m generally pretty open to collaborations, no matter how "out there." And I’ll forever have the backup singing bug. I just rewatched that k.d. lang MTV Unplugged special from the 90s, and just marveled at Linda Kidder and Sue Leonard holding down the fort. I want that gig. So if anyone’s looking, you know where to find me!

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
This is a pretty nuanced subject, and I’ve a lot of thoughts about it, but I think I tend to lean towards help. I think going into being a professional artist is like signing up for a loss. If you actually make any money doing it, that’s great, but ultimately, the goal is to make sure your art, your expression, is heard. Does it suck not making money? Of course. But if you’re going into it strictly financially, then that’s your own bag. Still, that said, wouldn’t it be lovely if streaming services actually gave out deserved royalties?
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I say "go for it." I don’t really think I’m in a space where anyone’s really bootlegged my solo work, but I guess once that happens, I’ve "made it."
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Ha, I’d rather keep my nemesis to myself, and just let them live their life, than fight them in unflattering spandex.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Oh boy. Um. Okay. Gail Ann Dorsey on bass, Arnulf Lindner on cello, Steve Gadd on drums, Ryuichi Sakamoto on keys, and Solid Gold-era Marilyn McCoo on vocals. They can all stand on their own, but can also listen to what the music needs, and bring out the best in each other.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
I’m more of a small-venue kind of guy, but it would kind of cool to have a super-random roulette of acts. I’m going to hit shuffle on my iPod ten times. So we’ve got Suzanne Vega, Nine Inch Nails, Janis Ian, Aimee Mann, Judas Priest, Kendrick Lamar, Wendy & Lisa, The Bad Plus, ...do you think we could get Wendy Carlos to give a recital? What about a projection screen of the Archies? I quite like “Sugar Sugar."
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
You know, I recently found a copy of Chris Isaak’s Heart Shaped World at a Goodwill, so that’s been in rotation. And Meshell Ndegeocello via my roommate.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I’m on my second read of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. It’s a real feel-good book, as you can imagine.
MSJ:

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Lisa Fischer. It’s hard to describe just how fulfilling and moving her performances are. She’s been working with a group of musicians called "The Grand Baton," and they’re incredibly sympathetic with each other (which you may have gathered by now is a quality I admire).
MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
Raffi! I kid you not! I wrote a poem about Clifford the Big Red Dog, and my first grade teacher, Mary Weekly, sent it in to the school district’s newspaper. I became the first if I remember right. I was offered a few different prizes, but I picked tickets to Raffi. Who can resist a good round of “Down by the Bay?" It’s where the watermelon grows!
MSJ:

Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?

I really want to get a Q-Chord! I know it’s not exactly new by any means, but I went on a recent YouTube-spiral of people playing it. It’s an instrument that borders on the hypnotic and absolutely absurd.
MSJ:

Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

No, anything I like, I’d hardly feel guilty about. I’ve made mix CDs for people with Gil Scott-Heron and Girls Aloud. If it’s good, it’s valid. Well, ...wait, I admitted to Countess Luann earlier... Let me back myself up.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
I don’t think I’ve ever been the cause of a Spinal Tap moment, thankfully, but one of the weirder moments I’ve experienced was being hired as a singer at an important political breakfast thing with all these US senate members: 8 am. I had to crash-course learn “God Bless America," so whenever that sort of last minute thing happens to me, I tend to seek out the most absurd version I can so it'll stick in my brain better. So that morning, I was mentally singing along with a clip of Jessica Simpson chewing gum. Then a top banking executive gives this spiel to the room about how he wants to help the community. It turned out the seating arrangement had us sitting next to each other, and as he came back to the table, he picked at his aristocratic plate of steamed fish for breakfast, and in an about-face and snarky tone said, “I just don’t get poor people, you know?” F***ing surreal.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
I covered Donna Summer’s “Dinner With Gershwin” on my first record, so I guess Donna and George should be at my Ouija dinner? I’ll bring my mother Sharon for the third guest. She’s a great cook, and I probably need at least one other living person besides myself to complete the séance magic.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Is it weird that for such an awe-inspiring moment to occur, I’d want to have quesadillas? Would Gershwin appreciate pico de gallo? We’d also have to have apple charlotte for dessert with good-quality black coffee. Apple charlotte is the best.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Just what I try to remind myself of every day: be kind to yourself and those around you. And to quote Mission Hill: "It takes all kinds of fruits, to make a fruit cup."
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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