American “post emo” foursome HOT MULLIGAN serve up brutal honesty with a dose of humour.
Since the dawn of Green Day and Blink-182, pop-punk has been the perfect soundtrack for keg parties and pizza. But when you’re so sad you can’t take life seriously, what do you listen to? Enter Hot Mulligan, purveyors of the thinking person’s pop-punk.
Just as likely to drop mics as they are bombs, Hot Mulligan specialise in making you laugh with song titles silly enough for shitposting before breaking your heart with their hard-hitting life lessons. But the global pandemic didn’t pepper their new album ‘Why Would I Watch’ with a level of honesty; it’s always been there.
“I feel like I’ve always written very honestly, and some people credit me for it, but I don’t understand how other people are writing with less honesty,” ponders vocalist Nathan ‘Tades’ Sanville, from his lofty London hotel room, ahead of their UK tour. “It’s such a natural feeling to just say whatever is actually on my mind and try not to poeticise it.”
Having watched their 2020 breakthrough ‘You’ll Be Fine’ land “just like a dead fish flopping on the land” during Covid, Tades – joined by drummer Brandon Blakeley and guitarists Chris Freeman and Ryan Malicsi – found it all “just awkward”, releasing a handful of EPs, singles, and acoustic volumes as a “complete distraction, because we were all so fucking bored.”
While Hot Mulligan became a big name in deep space, they watched helplessly from the comfort of their own sofas. It wasn’t a creative reawakening; it simply “just sucked the whole time, no one had any fun.” But they’re not beyond accepting a life in lockdown helped raise their stock.
“It feels weird to say that Covid helped the album, but it did because what else were people doing? No one was at work, no one was at school, so what else are you going to do but sit, play video games, and listen to music, you know?
“I feel like it helped a lot of people digest it quickly; the songs we thought would be sleepers popped off just as well as the singles did. It’s the singular one good thing to happen from the Covid-19 pandemic – I guess all of us learning that all our governments are incompetent was also a pretty welcome thing!”
Incompetent governments and prolonged pandemics took Tades down a path of discovery, one that ultimately led to ‘Why Should I Watch’ being born. “I wanted to buy a camera to record stuff and take pictures and videos, but I always have a lot of regret about how I conduct myself, and it keeps me up. It bothers me, and it really eats at me, so why would I want to have that? Why would I want to look back with nostalgia at something I’m ashamed of?”
The push and pull of past, present, and future took the vocalist down a Wonderland-sized rabbit hole. It’s documented across a year’s worth of songwriting on ‘Why Should I Watch’, beginning with ‘No Shoes In The Coffee Shop (Or Socks)’. Exploring the weight memories carry, it begs the question, do we put too much stock in our past lives?
“Oh hell yeah, fucking absolutely,” Tades laughs before digging below the surface. “We’re so hard about our own actions. I know these feelings that I have are irrational, but that doesn’t stop the feeling from happening, just as it doesn’t for most people with anxiety ever, you know?
“Almost all the stock that we put into that one time you fucked up five years ago is completely wasted as whoever you fucked up to, unless you really ruined something, doesn’t care.”
Like comedians shielding themselves from sadness with satire, Hot Mulligan’s outrageous song titles – ‘Christ Alive My Toe Dammit Hurts’, ‘John “The Rock” Cena, Can You Smell What The Undertaker’ – act as metaphors for the deepest cuts ‘Why Should I Watch’ infects.
The titles “rarely have anything to do with anything other than our little inside references and dumb jokes,” because they simply aren’t “serious enough as people to just be doom and gloom. We’re goofy and stupid and maybe also vehemently depressed.” But they do represent the intersection between alt-comedy, depression, indifference, and shitposting – some of the album’s key themes.
“Depression isn’t the crying and the manic tears and falling apart at the seams,” Tades offers. “For some people, it hits them as just pure sadness, I’m sure, but most other people who I’ve met who are going through it the same way all end up in some sort of stage of just deep indifference, like learning how to shower without getting clean, you know?”
Tades sees indifference as “a great coping mechanism because how can you be sad if you don’t care?” But that realisation came at a great cost: understanding where that intersection gets weird. “Same thing where like everyone makes the ‘I’ll kill myself’ jokes, and everyone chuckles along, but the seed of truth in that is it should be unsettling because it sucks, and it really sucks to feel like that, but we have our little shield of indifference and goofy little shit-posty garbage humour.”
On ‘Why Would I Watch’, Hot Mulligan gift wrap their messages of mental health to a generation of fans most caught in the culture clash with three-minute emo-pop bangers. But Tades isn’t looking to be the poster child of mental health awareness.
“No musician has that responsibility; thrusting that on an individual is massive,” he sighs, sitting back and taking stock of it all. “At the end of the day, I have no solution either. People look to musicians and say, ‘you saved my life’, ‘you helped in some way’, but that’s completely a byproduct; I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just writing songs that I think are catchy.”
It’s a harsh reality because we all hold certain albums and artists in high regard, but at the end of the day, they’re all just human beings, too. For Tades, he’s “just an instrument of catharsis” who “realistically cannot help you unless you’re using music to help yourself” – deep down, he’s going through the same things too. “I didn’t solve it either; it’s why I’m writing about it. I didn’t get over it; it still sucks.”
While “the death of the author is insane” because “people think that I’m still writing songs about girls, and I haven’t written a girl song in years and years and years,” it’s ultimately why so much of ‘Why Should I Watch’ is rooted in trips down memory lane; Tades is working through what’s made him the man he is today. Closing track ‘John “The Rock” Cena, Can You Smell What The Undertaker’ is a prime example.
“I like writing songs that are against my Christian upbringing; that shit fucked me up, and it fucked a lot of people up, and having a song to express that is good, cause even now there’s a bunch of backlash to the negativity bought upon people by bad Christianity, and finding your people in that space who were fucked by religion is important and good, cause there’s a community.”
Weirdly, community is what it all comes down to. It’s what Hot Mulligan are building song by song, album by album, as pop-punk’s thinking man’s band. No matter your walk of life, you’re welcome in their community.
“There’s a bunch of people who know exactly what happened and how bad it sucked and how bad it still sucks. It’s important because people need community, whether or not you want one, and that’s a good one to have.”■
Taken from the June 2023 edition of Upset. Hot Mulligan’s album ‘Why Would I Watch’ is out now.