Q&A with frontman Darren Mulligan
Preview by Joshua Maloni
It’s rare that an internationally successful, chart-topping musical act would perform in the Buffalo market twice within six months – especially with one of those shows set for “Sno-vember.” But that's exactly what We Are Messengers planned when lining up dates for a fall tour.
“It's a whole different thing, once you get up there, because people are so hungry and so excited,” frontman Darren Mulligan said in a recent phone interview. “They love music and they love rock ’n’ roll, which are two of my favorite things.”
He explained, “When people come to our show, yeah, they’re paying for a ticket, but they’re paying for entertainment; they’re paying for music; they’re paying for a good night out. But Jesus is free. And the cool thing about our shows is you get both.
“And I love how we’re received up there. So, yeah, genuinely – you know, sometimes artists say they can’t wait to be back. I actually can’t wait.”
When Mulligan was growing up in Ireland, he certainly wasn’t daydreaming of performing in Western New York. But he and his bandmates have come to have a special relationship with this region, and with Kingdom Bound Ministries. WAM performed at Darien Lake this past July as part of the Kingdom Bound music festival.
“The crowd was amazing,” Mulligan said. “I think we’ve played there eight times, maybe. It's the most we've ever played in any festival in the world. And it just feels like there's a synergy between the audience and us that we maybe don't have at any other festival. And they understand us. They're not afraid to be challenged. And, equally, they're not afraid to have a good time – to let loose, to dance, to shout, to sing.
“There's no apathy. There's no ambiguity as to what we're doing. People know that we're there for a good time, and we're there to bring hope. And that's what tends to happen.”
While Mulligan is happy to be headed back to Buffalo, he’s clear that happiness is not his end goal. Nor is accomplishment, for that matter.
Now, it’s not that he’s some sort of monk or martyr, forgoing fun or opposing material goods as a pious pauper. Rather, Mulligan has found what he titled WAM’s next album and tour: “Where The Joy Is.”
Joy, and not happiness – and there is a difference – will be the theme when WAM performs Nov. 8 at the Chapel at Crosspoint. Click HERE for more information and tickets. Cochren & Co. and Ben Fuller will open.
Mulligan shared more in this edited Q&A.
Darren Mulligan of We Are Messengers // photo courtesy of Southside Entertainment tour publicity
Q: I find that, with a lot of the musicians I talk to who are not Christian, or not in the Christian music world, they exist essentially for fame and fortune and followers. That's sort of what their endgame is. And I thought about it and, for a lot of Christian musicians, that's sort of their endgame, too – but with the Christian artist, the goal with the fame and the fortune and the followers, at least ideally, should be to get more people to come to know Jesus, right?
Each time I interview you, every time I'm reading about your band, there's been another accolade. There's been more milestones you've reached with social media or fans or followers.
How difficult is it to be looking for fame, fortune and followers for the right reasons, and not for the wrong reasons?
Darren Mulligan: There's a spiritual answer and there's a more human answer to that. The spiritual answer is, when you look at Jesus hanging naked on a tree and bleeding, it is very hard for me to think much of myself, because I sing songs. In the light of what he's done, what I am doing isn't scratching the surface of a universe of suffering, and joy that Jesus has bought for us.
That's the spiritual answer. But I'm human. And so, the tendency is, yes, to want to be successful, to want to be more, to want to grow – and those things aren't necessarily bad. It depends on the motivation and the intention. And there have been times in my life where the motivation hasn't been right, and the intentions haven't been right. But in these last few years, we have been so grounded in what we're doing, and why we're doing it, and we do it to bring hope to a world that needs help.
We're doing it for single mothers. We're doing it for people caught in crisis pregnancies. We're doing it for people caught in addiction. We're doing it for the people that nobody looks at when they walk past – and that's who Jesus is intrigued by and interested in – those who society maybe kicked to the side.
And so, we're doing it for those reasons. And when you do it for those reasons, and you do it backstage with catering staff and bus drivers and whoever it may be, if you put everybody first, and you remember that it's not that they're coming here to see us as a band, but we're coming here to see them.
I think that's why God has honored this, and why it has grown all the time, is because we haven't lost sight of that. And, unfortunately, a lot of the time, artists and musicians need applause to go to sleep. They need that validation. I don't need it. I don't care. I don't care. I'm really grateful; it's a really nice thing. But I sleep because Jesus is with me. I rest because Jesus with me.
Over the years, economically, there are seasons in your life where you have to become more successful in order to sustain something, as teams get bigger and expenses roll in. But for me, we've been so privileged to have a career that has been successful that, in this season of my life, I get to choose to do this. No one's twisting my arm to go out on stage and perform. No one's forcing me to. I do it because it is a choice that my wife and my kids have made for our lives, to give ourselves away in this manner. And it's really freeing – it is so freeing to do something you love because you choose to, not because you have to.
Darren Mulligan of We Are Messengers // photo courtesy of Southside Entertainment tour publicity
Q: To me, it seems like one of the things that sets you apart from other musicians is that, instead of chasing happiness, you have found joy. And it seems to me that joy, certainly, is a big part of where your music is right now. Certainly, “Where The Joy Is” – you told me last time we chatted that this was going to be the name of the record. It's the name of the tour. Why is joy something that you're thinking about and focusing on nowadays, and how is joy different than other feelings or emotions or things that maybe are just sort of skin-deep, if you will?
Darren Mulligan: Yeah, well, I think, so often, western Christianity and western Christian culture takes themselves much too serious. Right? And we forget that Jesus was a man who danced and who went out with his friends, to love them and to love in the community. They spent time together. Jesus lived a life that was filled with joy, before the great suffering came upon him. But even Jesus – this is so cool, dude – Jesus endured the crucifixion – and the scriptures tell us – because of the great joy that was set before him. And the joy set before him was the reconciliation of us with him and God.
And so, the difference between joy and happiness is that happiness is fleeting: It always runs away; it always leaves you. It’s temporary. Joy is a permanent thing. And joy is so powerful that, in the middle of cancer battles and loss and grief and sorrow, joy can sustain us; because it knows that, in the future, joy is coming in the morning. So, the night may last for a long time, but joy comes in the morning.
For me, as a man, as a father, as a guy in a band, I want to live my life not from a place of desperation or a place of melancholy. Those things are fine to feel; it's completely OK to feel anything. But I want the overarching theme of my life to be one of joy, because I know who it is. Joy.
There's a line in the song. “Where The Joy Is” hasn't been released yet. But it says joy is not a place. It's a disposition. And a grateful heart doesn't need convincing.
My life is grateful. I am thankful. I recognize that joy is not circumstantial, but it is a person; and that person brings me so much happiness. His name is Jesus.
Q: We've talked a lot about spiritual things, of course, but I know also your band is a band of bangers. You've got new music. Tell me how you’re working these songs into the setlist, and what people can expect when they see you at the Chapel at Crosspoint.
Darren Mulligan: Yeah, so for the new album, “Where The Joy Is,” I’m telling you some secrets, but here you go. We went to New York, and we filmed a music video for every single song. So, we wanted to remind people that I'm not just some guy that lives in the woods in Ireland. I’m a guy that actually spends a lot of my time in urban settings among people who are distressed and harassed; and that I am a man who's bringing a message of joy and peace to all these communities, right?
When people come to the show, the very first thing they're going to see is the room will go dark, and then you'll see a bunch of NYC taxi cabs and street noise. And we burst straight into our first song. It’s a brand-new song. It's called, “Where The Joy Is.” And the reason we do that is because we want to shock the system. We want to remind people you're not just coming for the same thing you've had before, but God’s doing a new thing.
We play four new songs in the set. We actually finish the show with a new song. But for this tour, we've created a very specific outro that is my favorite piece of music we have ever played in my entire life. And it reminds me of all my favorite Bruce Springsteen moments.
And so, the show starts with a banger, ends with a banger, and in the middle it's full of bangers (laughs). And just one very, very sad song that I wrote for my wife. But it wouldn't be a WAM show without a moment of deep, deep introspection and sorrow!
•We Are Messengers is online at wearemessengersmusic.com.