Years ago, when Nothing, Nowhere was first starting out, Joe Mulherin was told he was “going to be thrown into the fire. The reward, if I make it out of that, is that I get to be thrown into a bigger fire. And it’s true.”
Since releasing his first few songs on SoundCloud in 2015, it’s been a test of courage for Joe. His first gig, a showcase in Brooklyn, New York, saw him white as a ghost and shaking. “That was the scariest moment of my career so far,” he says.
Since then he’s toured with Fall Out Boy, Thrice and Good Charlotte. It hasn’t gotten any easier, going onstage every night and introducing yourself to vast numbers of strangers.
“It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Period. I grew up with social anxiety, I still have social anxiety and playing those shows, it’s immersion therapy to the tenth degree. I’ve grown so much as a person since starting Nothing, Nowhere because I truly have to face my fears every single night when I get onstage and I have to stand in front of people and share these very intimate and internal emotions.
“It’s terrifying, but in the long run, it’s helping me. I say that it makes me a better person, but it is hard. I have days where it’s really hard to manage, but I think it’s worth my discomfort because I know it’s helping people.
“Thankfully on tour, one of the amazing things about it is that I can meet with people, I have these conversations with people who listen to my music every single night. I make it a point to be very honest and visceral through my music, I try and keep it unfiltered and what I’m hearing is that people appreciate that. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or any internal issues, it’s my hope that my music is an outlet for people to realise they’re not alone in their struggles. I think that’s what’s happening here; a nice little community has formed.”
Uninspiringly Nothing, Nowhere has frequently been labelled emo-hip-hop, but it’s far more nuanced than that. This isn’t throwing two worlds together and hoping you can dance above the impact.
“I’ve done everything under the sun it seems. When I first started doing music, I was 12 years old. I was just doing acoustic covers and posting them on YouTube. As I grew up, I was in various bands heavily influenced by emo and post-hardcore. Early on I got into rap music as well; I got into MF Doom, A Tribe Called Quest, I started listening to Cam’ron and Dipset. Over the years I’ve had so many projects, so many solo things, I was all over the place.
“Then in 2015, I decided to combine all my influences into Nothing, Nowhere. I think it’s important to pay homage to what I grew up listening to, and I grew up listening to alternative rock and emo. I grew up on Fall Out Boy, Good Charlotte, American Football, Taking Back Sunday, Thursday, and although I don’t think I make emo music, the influence is undeniable.”
And while Joe’s already done so much with this project, there’s the yellow brick promise of so much more to come. It “does and doesn’t” feel like it’s happened fast, he starts. “What people don’t see is a decade of me failing over and over with projects,” he continues before pausing. “I wouldn’t even say it was a failure because I learnt so much. I was making music for so long, and I wasn’t hearing any feedback because no one was really listening, so in 2015 when I started NN and people started reacting. It was an unbelievable thing to see, and it still is. Even now, every night on tour, I can’t even believe it. People are actually listening to what I make.”
It’s not just the reaction that separates Nothing, Nowhere from what’s come before. “It’s more of a freeing experience. The whole mission statement I made for myself at the start was I just want to do what makes me happy. I don’t want to put any preconceived notions in peoples ears. I just want to be free and create art with no labels on it. Nothing, Nowhere is the embodiment of that for me. I don’t want to be restricted by genre or expectation.”
And already, Joe’s been toying with both. Testing the limits, finding where the lines begin to blur and seeing what’s possible across singles, EPs and albums.
“A lot of the times I’ll write a song in a day, or write and record in a day ‘cos I’m critical of myself. A lot of that stems from me growing up; I never had a lot of self-confidence. That’s something I’m working on and managing to this day, so I usually try and write the song as soon as I can, and the sooner I release it, the better because it’s less time I have to be critical and hate on my own work.”
His latest adventure is ‘Ruiner’, eleven tracks of frank admission, scratched pain, stain-glass hope and the belief that change is coming. While previous full-length ‘Reaper’ was fixated on death, the only time ‘Ruiner’ mentions it, is in passing as it smiles at the people from his past who probably want him dead as Joe swings the ‘Hammer’.
“Maybe we can look at this as the rebirth,” he smiles. “If ‘Reaper’ was the death, ‘Ruiner’ is the rebirth. It’s about looking forward, it’s about realising where you came from but how do you move forward from that?” he asks. “In every way possible, my life has changed in the past year with everything going on, and I wanted to counteract that feeling and just go back to the basics. ‘Ruiner’ is about the change I’m dealing with in my life, and how to cope when things get flipped upside down. It feels like I just released ‘Reaper’ yesterday, but we gotta keep it moving.
“Sometimes we, as humans, have a tendency to dwell on the past. I’ll be laying in bed, and I’ll remember relationships I lost, or I’ll realise things aren’t how they used to be. ‘Ruiner’ is about dealing with change in your life and moving forward, even when its hard to move forward. Sometimes I felt like a ruiner to a lot of people; I let my internal issues crumble personal relationships with people. It’s important to look back but also see where I am right now.”
‘Ruiner’ is a fiercely united record. The different shapes all pulling in the same direction as Joe paints a cohesive picture throughout. “The only thing I knew I wanted to do was be as authentic as I could be. I just wanted to put out whatever was in my brain. It really is surprising to me that people don’t care if I switch my sound every other song, because my music is just a catharsis to me, and I’m just expressing how I feel in that moment.
“With ‘Reaper’ I worked in a real studio, and it was a very awesome experience. It was a learning experience, but I was out if my element. I was taken away from the basement. I think ‘Reaper’ is an amazing album, but it was such a different process. ‘Ruiner’, it’s about going back to the basics and remembering why I started Nothing, Nowhere, which was to be unfiltered, to be raw, to do exactly what I wanted to do without expectations. I think people will realise when they hear ‘Ruiner’ that it’s a melting pot of all my influences and no one song sounds the same.”
He’s still establishing himself, but already, Joe is changing what Nothing, Nowhere is, be it the shift away from the Grim Reaper or pushing back against what’s come before. He’s trying to outrun expectations before they’ve had time to crystalise.
“People are going to enjoy what they’re going to enjoy. Some people might like my older stuff, some people might like my newer stuff, but I want to keep moving, so people cant put a label on me. I never want to be stagnant. I never want to write a song that I could have made a year ago.”
In that jigsaw of influence and impact, loneliness can be felt at every turn of ‘Ruiner’. “I think being lonely, that’s something everyone deals with at some point in their lives. I spent a large amount of time alone. Sometimes that’s by my own choice; sometimes it’s others. Sometimes it’s hard for me to be around other people. It’s hard for me to relate to others. It’s hard for me to interact with people and I’m dealing with it, but I spend a lot of time alone. I wanted to take a snapshot and share a portrait of what that feels like because I know a lot of people feel the same way.”
On paper, it sounds downbeat, but ‘Ruiner’ finds space to shimmer in the light, from the laughter at the close of ‘Reminiscer’ or the immense pride of ‘Hammer’. This isn’t a hopeless record.
“No it’s not, because I know no matter how bad it gets, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. I want kids to know that, because it’s never the end. Even though I’m honest in my lyrics, I know that every morning when I wake up, it’s a new opportunity to be happy and to move forward.”
“Sometimes I feel the pressure,” he admits. “It’s hard to put your art out there for people to poke, prod and inspect but I’ll meditate on it and realise that at the end of the day if I’m being honest and putting out art, that’s all that matters. People can say what they want to say, but I just need to realise that it’s not that serious, y’know?”
There is and isn’t an ambition behind Nothing, Nowhere. “I’ve already surpassed my expectations, but I want to reach more people. But the only reasons I only want to reach more people is because I want to help more people. Whatever happens, happens. I’m just happy people are connecting to the things that I make, and I think it’s helping people. I couldn’t ask for more. You’ve just got to take a deep breath and keep moving forward.”
Taken from the May 2018 issue of Upset – order your copy below. Nothing, Nowhere’s album ‘Ruiner’ is out now.