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Exclusive Interview with Memphis May Fire

Matty Mullins, lead vocalist of Memphis May Fire, from Dallas, TX, talks with about the joys of touring and that working at Guitar Center is not as conducive to a music career as you’d think.
DM: So, a little background on you guys. How did the group as it is come together?
MMF: The band had the original line-up for about a year and they had done an EP out of Dallas on Trustkill Records. The singer, for personal reasons, had to leave the band, so they started doing auditions. They went through like 180 or so local auditions. They just didn’t find the right person. 
So, I had heard about the opportunity through a group of friends. I was doing something different in Washington at the time. I decided to do the audition track. It worked out perfect. We immediately clicked, so within about two weeks I moved to Dallas to work with the band and the rest is history.
DM: You’re originally from the Washington area?
MMF: Yeah, Spokane, WA. Yeah, I grew up playing shows at places like Rock ‘N’ Roll Pizza, stuff like that.
DM: You moved out to Dallas. What was the change going from the Northwest to Texas? The Northwest has a great music scene, so what was the change in the music culture and response from the fans?
MMF: The Texas music scene is a lot more supportive. There are just so many people in the Washington scene that just like to hate, ya know. Having grown up there, I have no problem talking about the scene. It’s not that it’s a negative scene, but as soon as something has even a taste of success it is just out the door. They are like, “No, no, no. That’s not indie enough for me now.”
It was totally different moving for Dallas just seeing all these kids that just loved and supported the bands locally not what what, just because they loved music. It was amazing, you know. So, I lived there [Dallas] for a few years, and then I moved to Atlanta where I currently live with my wife.

DM: You guys had Between the Lies, an EP put out digitally in November 2010 and then followed that up in April of 2011 with a full-length LP, The Hollow. That is a lot of stuff pretty quickly. 
MMF: Yeah, it was definitely a time crunch, but we wanted to get that record done so we could show it to new labels; we wanted to sign to a new label at that time. We were shopping, so we wanted to have a new record to shop. Actually, Cameron Mizell who did the record, fronted us that record. We didn’t pay him a dime until after we signed. He did it just because he believed in the band.
We shopped it, and Rise came through with an amazing offer for us, and they’ve been an amazing home for us ever since. We love the label. In fact, we just finished another record called Challenger (out June 26th, 2012) with Cameron Mizell. 

DM: When making a record, is there kind of a division of labor or is it just everyone coming together and sharing everything?
MMF: Our guitarist, Kellen, instrumentally has been the one with the direction. He has always known what he wants. So, Kellen writes all of our music, drums, bass, guitar, from start to finish. He gives me the song and I write all the vocals. 
DM: While looking at the band bio on the Warped Tour site, you guys are lauded for your genre-bending sound. When you come together, when you make an album, is there an idea for a specific sound that you want, or is it just the idea that let’s make something we like?
MMF: It’s all blah, blah, blah. We just play rock ‘n’ roll. We write what we want to write and that’s how it comes out. We never let any positive or negative comments affect what we write or the way that we write. We’ve just gone in the studio, made the record we like to play. If it sticks, it sticks. We just want to write and play music we love. 
DM: When you want to create an album, is there any music that just ends up on the production floor? Is there just some stuff that you love, a lyric or a riff, that just doesn’t make the cut for a specific album?
MMF: Not in our case. With Kellen writing all of the instrumental stuff, we have all the pre-pro demos done way before we’re in the studio. So, we know what’s gonna be on the record. We don’t throw anything away, though. We might have some extra songs that we’ll release at a later date, but nothing ever just falls to the wayside. 
DM: This is Memphis May Fire’s first run on the Warped Tour. You’re running the full length of the tour. You’ve got your set, maybe an hour of press time, is there a lot of downtime to fill throughout the day?
MMF: Well, our tour manager is always running around through the day doing stuff for you. There are also three specific times a day that you have to eat. Catering is provided, so during those times you are standing in line for like an hour. I do the press for us for an hour or so a day. Then you’ve got signings that can last an hour or longer. All that, including sleeping, and it keeps us pretty busy. 
DM: You guys have had all sorts of touring with a grip of other bands. MMF had a track on the Saw VI soundtrack, some popular albums, and a new one coming out this week. How does this spot on the Warped Tour feel? Is being here a sense of accomplishment, success, or what?
MMF: It is definitely a new level for us. With the way things are going, the sky is the limit for us, but we are so happy and thankful to be on Warped Tour. Every day is a dream come true. For instance, this morning I woke up and opened the window of my bunk, and we are on the ocean. Our bus is parked on the ocean, so it is an incredible experience. Obviously, California dates are amazing. Every show has been huge, so much fun, so much love from our fans. We couldn’t ask for a better summer tour. 
DM: The Warped Tour has a little of everything for everyone when it comes to bands and genres. Do you get the feeling you are playing to a lot of people who are seeing you for the first time, or do you feel the love from a crowd full of diehard MMF fans?
MMF: I can’t tell, man. I like to do my best to get everybody moving. I guess, if there’s a specific circle of people with their arms crossed, mean-mugging us, then I guess those are the people who don’t know who we are. The crowds have just been so responsive lately that it just seems like everyone in the crowd knows who we are. I hope that we are getting in front of news fans, expanding our fan base, but the crowds have been so great it feels like a Memphis May Fire crowd every day.
DM: There is such a mix of bands with different genres from all over the country, and the world, here at Warped Tour. What’s the feel of the tour so far? Is it just bands keeping to themselves or is there a built-in community?
MMF: This tour is incredible because it is just one big family. No matter what band you are in or what music you play, every night we get together and we BBQ as a family. There are so many bands, all this food, and everybody is just having a good time. It was like that from day one. There were no awkward moments or introductions. It is just a family here and I am so stoked on it.
DM: Is this a great place for you and the bands to be networking?
MMF: I like to stray away from that. Sure, I leave that up to booking agents, our manager, the label, and I just like to look at everybody here as people. We’re all musicians all day long, so when we get together at night and BBQ, we just want to be regular people and leave the business to the suits. 
DM: Speaking of touring, does the band have any thoughts of what comes after Warped Tour or is that just too far off?
MMF: Oh, no. We are definitely planning. We are going on a European tour with Of Mice and Men. Yeah, we are direct support to them over there.
DM: It’s still early in the tour, but are there any comforts of home you’ve just gotta have when you’re on the road like this?
MMF: I just like to talk to my wife on the phone as much as I can when I’m on tour. Luckily, being on a bus is a lot more like being home than being in a van. This is our first bus tour. First of many, haha. Most busses have wi-fi, so FaceTime is just incredible. iChat, or whatever. You just try to have meaningful conversations with your loved ones back home. It’s really important to have that, because you can kinda lose sight of what is important and that is your friends, family, and loved ones.
DM: I have to know, because I love hearing this kind of thing. What was the last real “job” you had before getting to put in the two-weeks notice and go full-time in the band?
MMF: Well, I joined the band when I was 19, so I didn’t have a lot of jobs before this. I really did love the things that I did do. I sold shoes at Nordstrom’s. So, I woke up, I had a suit, and I’d go in to work and sell shoes to wealthy people. It was fun. I had a great time. I got to dress up, and dressing up’s fun, ya know. 
So, there was selling shoes, but I worked at Guitar Center for like a week. I was not having that. It was when I originally moved to Dallas. I joined Memphis, but we had a few months off. I just didn’t know what I was gonna do with myself. I was so bored. So, I thought, Guitar Center. I know about a lot of instruments and music, I’ll try that. In just a few days, working at Guitar Center started to make me hate music. I can’t count the times in just a week I heard some 12-year old trying to play “Stairway to Heaven” as loud as he could. So, I bailed on that, but luckily we jumped right back in to the touring gig. 
DM: So, growing up, was it nay-sayers telling you to get a real job or go to college? Was there support as well?
MMF: For me, being married, there are those people that are supposed to be considered one big family that have had their opinion of what I do. My mom and dad are both incredible and amazing. They are very supportive. My mom took me to a lot of concerts when I was growing up, so she was all about it. My dad was a musician growing up, so he understands it and loves it. They have never seen it as something that I just had to get out of my system and then get real, it has always been, “If you’re going to do this, then do it.” 
In fact, I wrote a song on our new album all about family members and friends that just don’t get it or don’t support it. Those people that you crave that support from, but don’t get it, which sucks. It’s called “Alive in the Lights.” It’s about touring, playing shows, interacting with fans. It’s me, it’s who I am, and who I will always be.  

About the Author

Wesley Bauman is an editor/photojournalist in Ventura, CA. With a background in journalism, Wesley has expanded his scope of work and created Project: Poppycock, a digital experiment in collaborative writing and open dialogue. He is the author of two books, Doggy Paddling in the Deep End andWhat!? I Said, "With All Due Respect!" Both books are available through his blog, (click on "The Bookstore"). All profits from the sales benefit charities Follow Wesley on Twitter @myownfalseidol

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