As a maker of music, creator of art, and cultivator of countless musical careers via his talent as a booking agent, Karl Mullen has been making his creative mark for more than six decades now. And even after all that time, his latest effort, F EAR LES S, has been hailed as his best solo music to date.
Karl’s musical journey started at the kitchen table in his native Dublin, Ireland, where he heard the voice of his mother, a professional singer. In 1976, at age 20, he emigrated from Dublin to Pittsburgh and ended up starting the avant garde/punk band Carsickness, which would prove to be influential on many others during the punk era. After spending the 1980s playing music, booking bands in Pittsburgh, and making experimental visual art, Karl and the collective of fellow musicians that had been Carsickness re-emerged as the Celtic rock band, Ploughman’s Lunch. The band’s 1993 debut garnered a Grammy nomination for its title track, “Whiskey in the Fields,” and they went on to play through the ‘90s, into the new century.
The 2000s saw Karl focusing on endeavors other than performing music. After spending some time in Philadelphia as a booking agent for World Cafe Live and a brief stint painting in an O Street Studio in Washington DC, Karl moved to the Berkshires of Massachusetts where he teaches art and continues his alternative approach to art, for example, painting around a roaring fire, or recording at the foot of a four poster bed.
Karl was inevitably drawn back into making music, in Pittsburgh and in his most recent home in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, with a number of bands and on his own. Then COVID hit.
“I just found myself alone, in the bedroom, with no audience—nothing. And I came up with a new way of writing songs that I hadn’t done before.” The ultimate result was his introspective new record, F EAR LES S.
His new approach to writing was influenced by his recording gear and location, as Karl explains in this Americana Rhythm interview: “With headphones on and using a condenser mic, it’s really, really intimate. You pick up your own breath…It becomes a different kind of performance. I just closed my eyes and wrote these really intimate, personal songs.” He also reveals that most of the songs on the album are “first takes,” so listeners will be experiencing an even more direct musical/emotional connection than one usually gets while listening to recorded music.
While the album is currently available for download on Bandcamp and elsewhere, Karl will be adding a few more tracks to a late-August 2021 vinyl release. He is also looking forward to performing live at the Fresh Grass Festival [ https://massmoca.org/ ] in late September.
By Dan Walsh