“No one ever told me life was going to be so hard,” snarls Matt Mullins with Matt Mullins & the Bringdowns. With “Wish You Well,” off their new album, Partly Pandemonium, Partly Love, out Friday, April 10, 2020 the Beckley-based rock ‘n roll band barrels through various influences. It’s a prime exhibit of their gutsy brand of Appalachian music, smokey and off-the-cuff. While the four-piece ─ also including musicians Stuart Hill (guitar, vocals), Bill Fraley (bass, vocals), and Dylan McInturff (drums, vocals) ─ certainly pepper in country influence, you can never define them by one genre only.
“It is just ornery, fun music and stories that folks can relate to,” Mullins writes over email. When it comes to “Wish You Well,” a rowdy, hellbent anthem, the song explores “any relationship (personal, professional, romantic) that has become too volatile to maintain itself and is still hard to let go of,” explains Fraley, who wrote the song. “It’s harder than anyone told you it would be, but at some point you just have to wish them well and move on, so you can begin wading through the aftermath.”
Fraley taking much of the songwriting lead, the band collaborated on another essential cut called “Never Been a Saint,” a bluesy foot-stomper. It’s an especially visceral performance from Mullins and example of their growing songwriting abilities. “I think a huge sign of evolving as a songwriter is to be able to collaborate and edit together as a band,” says Mullins. “We’ve learned how to play on our strengths and weaknesses.”
Partly Pandemonium, Partly Love guides the listener from guitar-sizzlin’ opener “The Mountain” to the bluesy crier “Best Version of Myself” to the cheeky, merry go ‘round “Debbie,” a love letter to Mullins’ mother. Along the way, the band sharpens their fangs with some of the most gripping songs released this year. “I believe we have a solid mix of comedy, heartbreak, and passion on this album. A journey is what this one was meant to be,” adds Mullins.
Ahead of the April 10th release of their new album, Mullins offers insight into their new album, musical ambitions, and worries for the world.
With an album titled, Partly Pandemonium, Partly Love, is a song like “Wish You Well” firmly situated in the former?
I believe the title came way before any of the songs on the record were written. I feel like the title showcases the two things I had been pulled through at that time in my life. I find myself in some wild situations, and I definitely learned to embrace that. However, I also try to really write about the things I love, too. That weird balance of crazy but loving is where I live, and I thought it was a fitting title to name the record.
What led you to explore this dichotomy: pandemonium vs love?
Just showing that both sides can live together. I think the collection of songs on the record really highlights that, too. Some are angry and pretty straight forward; some have passion as the figurehead; and some are just silly storytelling.
Did you come to learn anything, perhaps about yourself as a storyteller or the state of humanity as it exists today?
I am a cynical optimist, that’s for sure. The storytelling gene came straight from my grandad, who was the greatest storyteller of all time in my eyes. He always had a funny way to turn a phrase or make you laugh in a situation where there wasn’t much humor. I very much believe music has the ability to heal or alter someone’s mood or help them in whatever situation they are going through in life. That power to evoke feeling out of thin air is wild to me. I definitely worry about the world we live in today and for what my kids will see in the results of our decisions now. To me, I think it all goes back to the golden rule, “Treat folks how you wanna be treated” ─ and then love your family and follow your passions.
Are there things you really wanted to dig more into with this record?
I think you get the sense I went through a divorce in writing the bulk of the record. Dealing with those feelings of uncertainty and pushing through is what I hope comes through. The bad part about that experience is you have to go through it to have it and that gives you a perception on how to live with the person in your skin.
What are some other songs and themes we can expect?
The first record has more songs I had completely written, and then the guys came and recorded over them. With this sophomore record, we have been a band for four years and you are getting a much more cohesive effort. Stuart’s leads shape the songs more than the lyrics, I believe. Dylan and Bill holding down the rhythm section is invaluable to our sound and shows what being a unit sounds like.
The most lighthearted is “The Nature Boy,” a song about pro wrestling legend Ric Flair. I imagined a scenario of Ric in his heyday walking through a bluegrass festival announcing who he is to everyone. Also, on both records with this band, I have written a “wrestling song.” I hope to keep up that trend. Also, there is a comedic love letter to my mom called “Debbie.” The first chorus, I’m saying, “Don’t tell me what to do!” The second, I’m asking, “What should I do?” And in the third, I’m saying, “I’m glad you tell me what to do.” It’s about the funny relationship of a Momma’s boy as you get older.
– Jason Scott w/ B-Sides & Badlands. HashtagWV #124. April 2020.