Hot Mulligan: “Everything fell into place… There’s a lot less searching and a lot more finding, y’know?”

Hot Mulligan are the pioneers of ‘post-emo’ – and they’re shooting towards stardom powered by catchy tunes, deeply personal lyrics and some highly questionable fitness routines…

Hot Mulligan: “Everything fell into place… There’s a lot less searching and a lot more finding, y’know?”
Alistair Lawrence
Kay Dargs

While we’re constantly assured that certain genres “aren’t dead”, there are definitely a few currently being hauled about like the semi-animated corpse in cult ’80s comedy Weekend At Bernie’s. Emo may or may not be one of them, but there’s no denying that the bands who popularised the term 20 years ago have achieved grandee status while new blood appears to be in conspicuously short supply.

Enter Hot Mulligan. The Lansing, Michigan, quartet’s breakthrough third album, Why Would I Watch, was released in May and sparked the kind of celebrations normally reserved for… whatever people have left to celebrate in a modern world that feels like it’s lurching from the latest global disaster to the next mass-adopted bad habit.

Hot Mulligan get this. Why Would I Watch is packed with lyrics that ponder dive-bombing mental health and the damage done by indoctrination, while still being catchy and accessible. It combines the soul and swagger of early Taking Back Sunday with the poise of The Wonder Years, along with PUP’s ability to wrongfoot and delight in equal measure.

Their latest high point is on the horizon tonight. When Kerrang! meets frontman Nathan ‘Tades’ Sanville and guitarist Chris Freeman backstage in a spare dressing room in the O2 Forum Kentish Town, they’re a few hours away from taking the stage at the 2,300-capacity north London venue to play their biggest headline show to date.

The duo are contrasting figures, Tades tucked into an armchair in the corner of the room with his smartphone and vape pen dropped into his lap, his face framed by a chest-length curtain of hair and his backwards baseball cap. A couple of times he’ll briefly reach for his vape and his phone when not talking and responds with a joking but sceptical “Are you sure?” when K! assures him he won’t have to re-answer all the usual questions.

To his right, Chris makes himself comfortable with a beer on the adjacent sofa, all bright eyes and dark curls, reflecting on their first experiences with live music.

“We started the band before either of us had been to a show,” he says. “For me, I watched YouTube videos of bands doing DIY shows at the First Unitarian Church in Philly or Gilman in California. We didn’t chat about what kind of thing we were trying to go after, we just started playing. We were mostly just resentful about where we grew up (laughs). They wanted cover songs and there was not a local scene, otherwise we would’ve done something with it. We just wanted to write our own songs, really.”

“We work together very well, the way that we write,” says Tades, when Chris notes that all of Why Would I Watch was written in the studio following an intensive period of touring after the pandemic. “Everything fell into place very easily,” Tades continues. “The bits and pieces start to make a lot more sense. There’s a lot less searching and a lot more finding, y’know?”

Tades’ road back to, uh, the road after lockdown last year was a lot less smooth, however. “I don’t work out at all, because I’m lazy,” he says. “So I thought, ‘Fuck, I need to… jog.’ I live in a trailer park and we had a deal with PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon], so I had a bunch of their [alcoholic] coffees. I’d slam one of those, take a shot and run around the trailer park.”

“What?!” exclaims Chris, almost doubling over in hysterics.

“It worked!” replies Tades. “I’d get back and dry heave on the lawn for a little bit, but I was tour-ready by the end of that! Chris likes skateboarding. I’m vaguely athletic. So long as I can hop a fence, I’m confident in my physical abilities. The moment I can’t, I have to make some incredible life changes. The jogging helped with that. The booze was more a personal preference.”

As the laughter around the room dies down, Hot Mulligan’s unapologetic world view remains clear, bringing together as it does the light, the dark and the surreal of human existence. As more and more people gravitate towards this, it has led to some fans wanting the band to turn their autographs into tattoos. Perhaps not surprisingly for a group who pride themselves on making the best music they can and shrug their shoulders at fame, the day before we meet they post a polite note on social media pre-emptively declining any more requests.

“You’re not attached to me, or Chris, or Brandon [Blakeley, drums], or Spice [Ryan ‘Spicy’ Malicsi, bass], you’re attached to the project,” is Tades’ blunt but fair assessment. “If you get a [Hot Mulligan] tattoo, that’s going to speak a whole lot more than my name on your body.”

Given that Hot Mulligan also seem to pride themselves on picking song titles that range from esoteric phrases to jokes about celebrities, any fans who choose to do this won’t be short of inspiration. Their track Featuring Mark Hoppus was released “hoping maybe he would give us a cease and desist”, according to Chris. Instead Chris ended up appearing on Mark’s Apple Music show. Soon they’ll be sharing a stage with blink-182 as part of When We Were Young 2023.

Before they depart, Chris leans directly over K!’s dictaphone to record a guilty but good-humoured apology to Tony Hawk for their track, I Played Tony Hawk’s Ride Once, And It Sucked. “Tony – on the record – I’m sorry, man! You did a lot for me and I was 19 and stupid!”

Then our time is up. Slipping back into bantering with each other, Chris and Tades bid us goodbye then disappear off down the venue’s corridors, half out of earshot but audibly heading upstairs, climbing all the way to the top.

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