Q&A with Christian solo artist, Memphis May Fire frontman
By Joshua Maloni
You would expect the quintessential, Good Friday-dropping, Easter anthem of 2021 to come from this tatted-up dude, right?
Well, if Jesus didn’t care about how a person dressed, did their hair or inked their body, then why should anyone else? If what matters most is what’s on the inside, then why shouldn’t “Show You The Cross” be written and performed by the lead singer of metalcore/alt-rock band Memphis May Fire?
Still have your doubts?
Wondering how someone could exist in such seemingly different worlds – and why a rock star would be so upfront about something not always considered, well, cool?
“Five, six, seven years ago, whatever it was when I was prepping to put out my first solo album, you know, everybody was – the answer would have been, ‘Don't do that. Don't openly go out and put out Christian music. Don't openly talk about your faith for people who don't want to hear about it,’ ” Mullins said in a phone interview earlier this week. “Christ did anyways (laughs). You know what I mean?
“God had made such a huge impact in my life – and was the source and the reason for life – that I wasn't going to keep that to myself. I relate this to having the cure for cancer and staring a cancer patient in the face and being like, ‘Well, what if it offends them?’
“It's like, I just – I didn't care. I wanted to share this part of my life, and I wanted to share who I really am at heart. And if that's offensive, then that's OK, you know, because this is who I am.
“So, the things, the balance, the ‘What should I do and what shouldn't I do’ – I mean, that's long gone, and I think people just kind of know that this is who I am, and that's here to stay. I'll always kind of share both.
“It's funny too, because, you know, even though the band's not classified as a Christian band, I think all of our listeners, for the most part, know that I'm a believer. That, from a lyrical standpoint, a lot of our songs are directly correlated with my faith, as well, in the band.
“And so, this summer we have two festivals booked: And one, the first day, we're playing with Disturbed and Korn and like a lot of very big metal acts. And then the very next day, we're playing with Jordan Feliz and Skillet, and headlining the rock stage of a festival there.
“So, it's really funny because I just – I do both – and I love doing both.”
More from Mullins in this edited Q&A.
Q: A lot of the musicians I've been talking to lately are in Nashville. I love Nashville; I've visited there several times. But is there something in the water, man; what's going on? Why is everybody heading out to Nashville these days?
Matty Mullins: Man, it's crazy. I'll tell you what, I feel like, from seven years ago when we moved here, to now, it feels like a completely different place. Even all the way out here where I live (in a suburb), we have a lot of farmland that's been developed and now it's turned into a real city – a population that will actually show up on Google (laughs). It's been crazy, man, but also a blessing at the same time. The more people that move here, you know, talented and ready to work hard, is more opportunities for all of us to write together and hopefully create great music.
Q: That is something else that I've noticed a lot within Christian music of late; there does seem to be a lot of collaboration. Is that new, or are we just hearing more about it these days?
Matty Mullins: You know, it's definitely not new. I think that maybe these days people are just willing to share a little bit more behind the scenes about the people they work with.
I think more from behind the scenes, in general. I think the way that media is consumed and the way that music is consumed, I think 20 years ago people knew nothing about their favorite artists. It was just whatever you heard them say on stage. But now it's like to develop a genuine fanbase you almost have to show them every aspect of what your life looks like on and off stage, you know?
And so, there's just a lot to it. There's a lot going on and, if you're gonna write with somebody and document the process and show a little snippet on Instagram of your co-writing, it's that much more enticing with the people that are going to consume the music.
Q: So, I'm watching the video for “Show You The Cross,” and it's a great song – and it's a nice setting. But I also thought, “This is very 2020. He's all by himself; he's socially distanced; there's no one around him.” For you as an artist, how have the past 12 months been?
Matty Mullins: Oh, man. Yeah, a lot of ups and downs. My wife and I really went through it, you know like a lot of people did, and it was a crazy time. But having the time off the road, you know, because I play in a band as well. And we've been together for 15 years, and been touring all over the world. And so, to have forced time off was scary at first, and then really ended up becoming a blessing for the music that we could create. And if it wasn't for time off the road, I don't know if I would have ended up in the writing session that “Show You The Cross” came from.
It was definitely different; it felt different. But at the same time, more time to work on music, and more time to spend with my wife and just focus on things around the house that we usually wouldn't get to, because I'd be on the road. It has actually ended up being a big blessing, so that's the silver lining, for sure.
Q: This song is so appropriate for Easter week. Obviously, a lot of Christians are thinking about Jesus and his resurrection this time of year. But what were you thinking when you sat down to write this song, and what did you want to get across to the listeners?
Matty Mullins: Yeah, totally. You know, there was some stuff happening in the media when we all got together to write this song, and I think it was kind of like jarring for everybody. You know, it's like this pastor makes this mistake and the whole world hates him now. And I think that it's just easy to forget that, as a believer, no matter what position you're in, everybody's a human, right?
I just was feeling this tug on my heart to say, as Christians, you know, when we enter into conversation, we don't have to always act like we are going to have the right thing to say – that we're gonna have some magical string of words or inspirational quote that's going to lead to somebody’s salvation. You know, it's like, if we want people to experience Jesus, we should be real and honest about the fact that we are also broken. And that's what verse two is about: “If all you know of truth and love is lies and hypocrites, then nothing I could say will change (the way it is).”
Because I'm flawed as well. But I will, if you are interested, I'll show you the cross; this is what it's all about. If you want to know what it looks like to have a genuine, real, honest interaction with the creator of the universe, this is the opportunity he gave us to do that. The cross is for me, and it's for you, and it's for anyone who is willing to come.
And I just think that, you know, that mentality is what the world needs more than anything right now, you know? Honesty, and being genuine, and admitting to the fact that we're all faulty, but that's why we need the cross.
Matty Mullins (Image courtesy of Black River Entertainment)
Q: You mentioned you've been with Memphis May Fire for a long time now, and you guys have had a lot of success. But from what I understand, you had some moments in your life – you had some challenges – that made you particularly think about getting into Christian music and sharing a little different kind of message and a different kind of a song. So, again, if we think about what this week means, what is your personal resurrection or rebirth story, if you will?
Matty Mullins: Yeah, so, you know, I got saved at a young age. My dad was a pastor, and so, not only church but church-related music and musical events were a big part of what our family did. You know, we were not a sports family, we were a music family, and we would go to a lot of Christian festivals. And my older brother played in a Christian band and everything, so I was lucky enough – I was fortunate enough – to be raised in the church and to be given that direction from a young age.
But I think that, when you carry your parents’ faith, it's so easy to just kind of be comfortable with that. “Well, hey, Mom said this,” or “Dad said this, and that's what's right,” and “God's good.” And all of a sudden, you're saying all this Christian lingo and all these things that just sound nice, but you start to become really numb to it. And I think that everybody has a moment in their life where that shifts, and you have to decide for yourself, “Is God real?”
If I'm at the lowest of lows right now and I'm reaching out, what am I reaching out for? Who am I reaching out for? And is he there? Does he love me? Does he actually want what's best for me? Does he fight for me?
And for me, that was, you know, a really bad season; two years straight of anxiety and depression and panic and thoughts of suicide and things that I never, in a million years, would have thought would have entered into my life – but they did – they did in a real way – and in a big way, and in a painful way.
And I had to, in those moments, grow in my faith because, for me, it was one or the other. It was either I don't want to be here, or I want to be here and I want to know more about why I'm actually here. Not to play shows; not to just write songs; not to sell merchandise; to travel on a bus and to meet all these people; but to genuinely know and understand that I am loved by the creator of the universe.
If you can wrap your head around that – how big of a statement that is – that is our purpose in life, is to love and to be loved by God. And for me, I had to learn how to do that my way – you know, which was not just reciting Bible verses; it was not just going to church on Sunday; it was not just knowing what to say when talking to another believer; it was really, genuinely reaching out and saying, “God, if you're here, I need you; I need you to show up.”
And he did – and he did in so many ways – through friends and through opportunities and music and things that I can never explain. Even just being here on the phone with you right now, I feel like I don't deserve this opportunity; but God continues to give me these, and continues to trust me with this, and show me ways that he loves me that I never knew were possible. So, that's mine.
Q: I mentioned I watched the video, and the other thing that I, of course, noticed was that you have some pretty fantastic tattoos.
Matty Mullins: (Laughs)
Q: It's not your … I guess I want to say your cookie-cutter sort of Christian artist image, right?
Matty Mullins: Sure.
Q: There are so many people out there who disqualify themselves for so many different reasons. They say, “God would never love me, because I look like this, or I dress like this, or I do this or do that.” But you're telling them through your story, and through your look, that it's not about the outside – it's about the inside, right?
I'm wondering if that makes you more successful, or gives you more credibility with the audience, the fact that you are your own person – and you are talking about your own experiences – and you are not just a Ken doll, you know, of Christianity. Do you find the way you approach your music, and your look, that it makes you more relatable with your fans?
Matty Mullins: With certain fans probably, yeah.
You know, for me, I've never struggled with, “Do my tattoos make me less lovable by God?” I think that's actually hilarious. For me, it's more so, you know, someone who doesn't have tattoos, or someone that maybe doesn't understand tattoo culture, or has, you know, cherrypicked verses from the Bible to believe that tattoos are sinful – those kind of things, right? It's like, for them, I'm more so interested in, “Can God still use my music to impact their life, even though they don't necessarily trust the way that I look?”
And that's the internal battle. Does it help with my fans that do (have tattoos)? Absolutely. I think that they're like, “Oh this is awesome. You know, I'm covered in tattoos, but I also genuinely believe that God loves me – and this guy gets it.”
And so that's cool. I don't really know if it has anything to do with any success or anything like that. Obviously, I play full-time in a metal band, and that's kind of the norm in that world. But as far as Christian music is concerned, I think I'm still kind of new to this world, at least like as far as radio listeners are concerned. So, I guess we'll see (laughs) is the answer.
Matty Mullins (Image courtesy of Black River Entertainment)
Q: All right; fair enough. So, one of my favorite interviews was with Chris Cornell. He said that anytime he was with his band, he was always thinking about going acoustic – and anytime he was acoustic, he was always thinking about going back with his band.
How do you strike the balance? How do you know when you want to go off and do solo –Christian music – and when you want to be in the band? How do you exist in both these worlds and make sure that both these worlds are thriving and successful, and not competing with each other?
Matty Mullins: Totally. Well, for Chris, I mean Chris being with the band or Chris being acoustic, I think he still kind of had the same persona with both.
You know, it's like, “Well, if I do this, it's gonna take away from this. But, you know, if I do this, maybe I won't have the opportunity to do this.”
For me, these two projects are so polar-opposite – you know, genre-wise. It's kind of funny to believe that I'm the same person in both, even though I am.
I think that, having grown up on Christian radio, and loving Christian radio – and still to this day adoring Christian radio and what it's done for me in my life – what it will continue to do for me – I just always wanted to do this so bad. I think that I am careful with any potential scheduling conflicts, just because the band is what feeds my band members and their families and our managers and booking agents and everything, right? But at the end of the day, I have the capacity – the God-given capacity – to balance both. And I do love both equally, and I love the ability to do both.
But I think that, just as far as genres are concerned, Memphis fans, you know, maybe some of them are into this project; but some of them aren’t. I think that there's just two different demographics and two different fan bases that I can cater to from one brain, you know what I mean? And that's a lot of fun, man. I love heavy music, and I love Christian radio, and to be able to do both is, I think, a very strange kind of thing; but for me it's it just feels right.
Q: And I'm sure that there are a lot more positives. I'm sure you find you're getting a lot more creativity on both ends, because you're doing these different projects. …
As if you weren't busy enough with all the things you're doing, you also have a pomade brand? Is that right?
Matty Mullins: Yeah, yeah. For anyone that's not familiar, it's a men's grooming product line. It’s hair care.
I was, probably 2012, out on Warped Tour, and had been styling my hair with all sorts of different grocery store garbage; you know, like … whatever you can find that’s just like mass-manufactured and it doesn't work great.
I had a friend that brought on a can of pomade for me from this kind of underground company from Australia and was like, “Man, you got to check this out.” And so I did, and I loved it. And I loved certain things about what it could do for my hair.
You know, I really like like a slick, firm look that, if I'm rocking out on stage for an hour-and-a-half, I'm gonna walk off and my hair is gonna look just as good as when I went on stage, you know?
For me, I wanted to create something that had the firmness of this product, but the ease of washing out from this product. And I wanted it to smell this certain way. I want it to kind of feel like this cologne I've been wearing since I was 18. I wanted to make the thing that was mine, and so I did.
It was just for me, but, over time, became a thing that a lot of people actually really enjoy. And so, yeah, we do it all. We handle all of our own fulfillment and manufacturing and everything. It's pretty crazy, but it's also something I really love doing.
So, yeah, On Point Pomade.