VENTS: Hi Sacha, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
SACHA: Hello! Thank-you. I’ve been well.
V: Can you talk to us more about your latest album Duplex?
S: Sure! Fire away.
V: Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
S: I find I write a lot about direct interactions with people, usually about misunderstandings or love. You know, typical ego vomit, but with like, crunchy chords and, uh, cool beats. I read a lot, so sometimes things like “White Hot Room” appear. That was written after a fever dream while reading old X-Men comics. I also drop an Othello reference in “Crow”.
V: Have any events in particular inspired you to write your songs?
S: Well, this is kind of heavy, but “Dream Ain’t Dead” was certainly fuelled by a lot going on in America, and its treatment towards marginalized and suffering peoples, often of color. That song focuses a lot on the disillusionment in both one’s surroundings and inner self, while trying to fighting for hope and change, and accepting we all have responsibilities. I finished writing that song in 2015, so maybe there was a bit of prescience involved, but it was mostly compiled by listening, and I sing the song from the point of view of an observer trying to process it all. Unfortunately, it’s not like any of this is new, just more magnified. There’s that quote of Nina Simone’s that floats around where she talks about an artist’s duty to reflect the times, so with “Dream Ain’t Dead”, I certainly tried my best.
V: Any plans to release a video for any singles?
S: Yeah, I have two treatments. One for “Crow”, another for “Applejack”. They’re fairly simple, but making a video is incredibly time-consuming. The only thing holding them back right now is trying to get everyone’s complicated schedules coordinated. Knock on wood these get done!
V: Why did you name the album “Duplex”?
S: A duplex by definition is a building that splits into two parts, and my album acts like that. The first half is more on the electronic end of things, and the latter is more organic, I suppose. So they’re sort of like two dwellings in one space that are still connected. Ironically, I also live in a duplex, which is where I wrote this entire album. Although, here in Chicago, folks usually say ‘two-flat’, so whatever.
V: How was the recording and writing process?
S:. I had done another solo record prior to Duplex, which in some ways felt a bit rushed. So for this one, I wanted to take my time. I just… well, I didn’t realize that it would take over four years for me to do it. I wrote and arranged the songs myself. Lyrically, I like writing from a conversational point of view, since my melodies can tend to zig-zag. I always hope that evens things out. We recorded each side in different sessions, but many of the songs were written in the same work period. The first half was mostly overdubbed, and the second half was mostly live.
V: Would you call this a conceptual record?
S: Not in the conventional sense, no. There’s no overarching fantasy storyline or anything. But since the album splits stylistically, I suppose you could think about it like two EPs in a row. I was certainly interested in presenting different aspects of myself, but really, the only concept I had was to tell my stories. Each song is a concept. Maybe I missed out though by not including killer robots, though.
V: What was it like to work with Todd Rittmann and how did that relationship develop?
S: It’s so easy to be effusive about Todd. He’s very talented, kind, hilarious, and most importantly, he puts up with my endless need to add ‘one more harmony’. He’s so good at getting to the core of a song, creating atmosphere, and maintaining a safe space to work creatively. We formally met during the making of a record by Lovely Little Girls called Cleaning the Filth From a Delicate Frame. Todd was producing and engineering, while I was singing with the ‘Girls and in charge of the vocal arrangements. Over the years, Todd and I kept running into each other where he’d be at the console, and I’d be singing for someone’s session. We’re pretty different in a lot of ways, but have a mutual respect and trust for each other, both as artists and people. After working with him so long on other people’s projects, it only felt right to have him co-pilot my solo work. And while it was hard work doing this album, it was a total blast. He knows how to keep you motivated. We’d listen to Al Green or Betty Davis or D’Angelo between bounces, talk about life, and get over-caffeinated from too much coffee.
V: How much did he influence the album?
S: I think the overall sound of the record is my doing, but the grounding and balance is all Todd. Sonically, it’s a bit of a departure from some of his other work, but I think there are several moments where his presence is obvious. Sometimes, he’d offer occasional suggestions that would save a song, like in “Crow”, I remember sitting in his living room, and he was like, “I know there’s already a lot going on, but what if you added a synth line to this one part.” So I did that. I almost always ended up taking his advice, because he wants the best out of you and the music.
V: What role does Chicago play in your writing?
S: Ha, well, I think my album has the same amount of gloom-to-sunshine ratio.
V: Would you call this a departure from your previous work or a follow up?
S: The first half is definitely a conscious follow-up to my first record Whelm. I wanted to improve upon my execution with that style. The second half would probably be the departure, but it’s just as densely arranged. I wouldn’t think it would be that jarring to those who have listened to my work, just different.
V: You brought some special guests – did you handpick them based on something in particular or how did they come on board?
S: Yeah! I have some cool friends, right? I had a pretty solid run with a group here in Chicago called Cheer-Accident. I’m still affiliated with them, and on the first side, wanted to involve those friends to my solo work by exploring their talents in ways we might not do in Cheer-Ax. The second side has a couple of my friends from another local band called American Draft, plus what could honestly probably be translated as like, “Backing vocals provided by Emily Bindiger and the Emily Bindiger One-Woman Overdub Chorus.” But basically, I handpicked everyone because of specific timbres, styles, and energies. Amazingly, almost everyone I reached out to was willing, able, and excited to participate.
V: What did they brought up to the table?
S: So much. Every single person involved was a support beam to the music, to my spirit. Honestly, if I answered this question fully, it would be longer than Ulysses.
V: Any plans to hit the road?
S: Yes! I have a lot of ambition with promoting this project, so hopefully this doesn’t go fallow. I’m looking into booking several small shows around the US next year, just me and the piano. I have a great live band, but it’s a bit impractical at this time to lug everyone around right now. Still, you never know!
V: What else is happening next in Sacha Mullin’s world?
S: Believe it or not, I’m already planning the next record. Plus I have an acorn squash that’s been sitting on my countertop that I should probably bake soon.