Last week I got to speak to Tom Mullen who runs Washedupemo.com and does the Washed Up Emo podcast. I love a good podcast and Washed Up Emo is by far my favourite one. I think that if you like the sort of stuff that I write about then you’re going to feel the same way. He also hosts an emo DJ night in New York city every month. I had a few questions prepared but we ended up just chatting away about the podcast/site and all things ‘mo. It’s quite a long one, hope you enjoy!
IS THIS THING ON? – Hello
TOM MULLEN– What’s up Alex?
ITTO? – Hey!! Give us a brief background about how you got in to music and when emo became a big part of that?
TM – I got into music pretty early on as a kid, I wanted to play guitar after seeing smells like teen spirit on TV. I think I remember telling my dad ‘we’re going to the store right now to get this’. And that was a pretty big influence on me playing music, you know, and he, Kurt, was in to a lot of different bands, indie bands and things. Probably what turned me from grunge was a band called Helmet. I saw their video and was like ‘this is heavy but it is smart’ and then from there I started to learn about more hardcore bands and metal bands. Growing up where I did in Vermont you don’t really get to see the big artists, like I didn’t get to see giant top 40 artists, those guys never came through. So the people that came through were the metal bands and HC bands from Boston and New York. So from hardcore, turned into post hardcore, because that’s kinda what bands did after that and then that turned into emo. I don’t know if it was Get Up Kids or Mineral or one of those bands but it really kicked in freshman year in college, that’s when I started to really get into it and there were so many shows. I went to school in North Carolina and there were shows every day it seemed. And so that was a really fun time.
ITTO? – Did you know that was what it was when you were getting in to it, did you know it was called emo or was that a thing then?
TM – Yes, someone had called it that. And I was like ‘oh ok cool’, I mean I liked the music. There wasn’t a fashion around it, there wasn’t like you needed to look a certain way. I was wearing ridiculously way too big sweatshirts and shirts, I was horrendous. It wasn’t that thing; it was more about the music.
ITTO? – It’s interesting on the podcast that when you ask about how they got into that kind of music it’s usually a HC route.
TM – Yeah, it’s either HC or they came the indie route with Fugazi or they were into Buffalo tom or whatever it was. They went both ways and if you listen to them again after hearing that you totally get it. It’s interesting to hear where they came from and if it’s HC then you’re like ‘ah ok I get it’.
ITTO? – What was the reason for starting the washed up emo website?
The website came first; I was super angry, probably ‘04/’05. Just really upset at what was happening with the name itself and being attached to it and turning it in to sort of a fashion statement vs. something about the music. They were referencing things that didn’t really make sense to me. And that’s since changed but then I was like; ‘no one’s talking about Elliott, no one’s talking about Get Up Kids and at this time, these bands, some of them were still going on, still trying to hang on to the certain fan base that was there but it was dwindling because they weren’t as flashy. You went to Bamboozle, which is this big music festival in New Jersey and Fall Out Boy or whoever it was was playing. And people were losing their minds and gave support to whatever god awful band it was playing and the Get Up Kids would play after them and the bands were psyched but the crowd was like ‘who is this? This is boring’ and it was just this kind of turning point when I was like this word is being ruined on a daily basis and that’s why I started the site in ’07. It was very negative early on, I look back at some of the posts, it was discrediting a lot of things because people were relating cutting to this genre. It was sort of Goth and it was a lot of whack-a-mole with trying to explain it. And through the years it’s slowly kind of, I’ve got less angry.
ITTO? – The tagline of your website says that you wish for the days where you’d type emo into a search engine and nothing would come up, is that because you’d wish it would all go away
TM – Everyone has this same sort of feeling that it was special, for what it was. And because there wasn’t internet or it wasn’t really widespread, you didn’t have it on your phone. You didn’t have a cell phone, you had a beeper. You had these sorts of connections happen where you had to connect, you had to go to the show, and you had to do a little work. And I think every sort of genre past that, it’s sort of that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s so quick and easy so I did like it when I would search for bands and I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find anything online for it and that was sort of fun because you did have to work.
ITTO? – It’s weird because if you look at the old records from that time, or the catalogues that used to come with the insert and they’ve all got email addresses and websites and I never married the two together. I wasn’t big into the internet at the end of the 90’s but I guess there must’ve been something there if you looked hard enough.
TM – Yeah they had their email there. It was aol or yahoo or something stupid and the websites were very basic. There wasn’t a lot. If I could go back I would take every programming class I could because I only knew basic html and I actually got connected with a band and a label because I started doing an unofficial website for artists. Because when artists didn’t really have good websites fans did them and I did that for a band and that connected me to a lot of different people as well.
ITTO? – Basic chat rooms are all I can remember using. A couple of message boards like Fracture fanzine had one where you could communicate with people but that was only really at the end of that particular wave of emo that we liked
TM – I think the Victory records message board and the trustkill message board that was definitely a way to find out about shows. And find out what was happening.
ITTO? – After starting the website did you find that there were a lot of likeminded people or is that something that has happened over time?
TM – It’s happened over time. There were some years where it would be a couple of posts a month, a few things happening. And I didn’t really know anybody else that was talking about this and slowly I would get people who would say ‘oh I saw that thing, it was really cool, and I feel the same way’ and I was like ‘Really?’ And it’s ended up being these last couple of years I think that I’ve been finding that there’s a lot of people I’ve met, yourself included, through twitter and Facebook ramping up those parts of it. And really focussing on that and having people interact. And I don’t make any money I just do this because it’s fun and people really enjoy it. And of course it’s turned into the podcast. And the dj night every month.
ITTO? – When did the idea for a DJ night and then a podcast come about?
TM – It’s interesting that I remember this, I think we were on a train or something and I was emailing friends and I posted I was listening to a camber song on, I think it was, twitter or Facebook and I had tagged it and someone wrote that’s really awesome, you have a ton of records like that and I said well you do too, we should dj somewhere. A friend had a bar and we’re like let’s see if he’ll let us do it on a valentine’s day for an anti-valentine’s day event and ended up going really well. We kind of just put our minds together on who could help dj because I’m not cool enough to have people show up, I can only beg my friends so much so we needed bands and things and we’ve ended up doing, next month will be 2 years. And we’re the bars most successful theme night and we’ve had after parties for Braid who actually dj’d which was really funny because I had to kick them out. Chris did not wanna stop dj-ing it was hilarious; it was 4am on a Thursday I was like ‘dude I gotta get outta here’. The dj thing is really fun and we’ve met so many people that have been in this city and find out about it and come down and hang out. I’ve met some friends that I’ve ended up working with on a work level, they’re people who’ve worked at different labels or companies and I find out that they’re in to this genre. Case in point, a friend from a blog is a graphic designer and was a super big fan and I had her design the logo.
The podcast was a few months in, I realised that I was looking at my rolodex and was like I kinda know a bunch of people and it would be kinda fun. And I had a friend that I did it with for a while and it was tough because he was on the west coast and I was on the east coast and the band was wherever they were and it was hard to connect and he ended up doing his own thing. And I ended up just continuing with the washed up emo podcast
ITTO? – That’s Ray right?
TM – Yes, Ray.
ITTO? – Yeah I was going to ask what happened to Ray.
It was so hard, just a scheduling thing. He has a lot of stuff; he has a kid, his jobs all over the place. He’s got a lot of stuff going on, the 3 hours’ time difference made it hard to connect. And that’s where we splintered off and he does his own ‘100 words or less podcast’.
ITTO? – Yes, I’ve listened to a few. He interviewed Keith from Empire! Empire! / CYLS records which was a really good one
TM – Nice! I actually give him crap for interviewing emo people but that’s just a joke. It’s been fun, it is a ton of work but I’ve been able to connect to a lot of people and a lot of people have helped. Someone helped get me in touch with Jim adkins; another friend helped me get in touch with Chris Simpson from Mineral. They’ve been very very cool, Matt Pryor was awesome, those early ones like with Chuck from Deep Elm, and it was great to talk about deep elm records who were a huge influence. I was on one of their comps with the band I was in. It’s been nice. Blair (Shehan, Knapsack) when I interviewed him his first thing was, my first question and he was like ‘wow, this is going to be fun’. That’s the first thing he said and I think they’ve never been asked these questions before because no one’s really asked about it this way.
ITTO? – It’s becoming an incredible document for that time period
TM – Well that’s exactly the idea with it, I had spoken with a few people before I started and said is there anything out there like this? Am I copying it? Is it something that’s worth? And the only thing I could find was those oral histories from alternative press magazine where they interview 10 or 15 people about the project and they end up discussing things but there wasn’t really an audio history or an audio document of these things. Hopefully if its ten years from now and some person looks back and they’re like ‘I kinda wanna know what’s going on with the guy from deep elm’ then there’s an hour of me nerding out with him (laughs)
ITTO? – I take it you’ve had your dream guests on already?
TM – As of a couple of weeks ago, yes! I’ve been very, very lucky to have; I think, the biggest one left for me at this moment would definitely be Jeremy Enigk from Sunny Day Real Estate that would be a great one. But there’s still plenty, I actually was just looking at the list of people that I’m trying to get and there is still some really, really cool people like I’m trying to get Travis from Piebald which I think is going to happen, Kevin from Topshelf, Ben from Armor For Sleep, the guy that ran Caulfield records. So, yeah, I think there’s still plenty more and I think there’s plenty more stories to tell. As long as I have fun doing it and people are still downloading them, I’ll still do them.
ITTO? – To think you’ve had The Promise Ring/ Braid/ Mineral do it then you think it might be hard to top that but some of the more obscure bands will be interesting because it’s harder to find things out about them.
TM – I think one of the most popular episodes is the Buried Treasure episode with Ray. We talked about obscure bands and songs people may not have heard, that one was really popular and to have Christie Front Drive – Eric do it and Promise Ring its really easy now to get people to do it. Jim (Adkins) had mentioned that he had listened to a bunch of the older ones before, you know so He was even interested in hearing them which blew my mind. ‘You spent time listening to me nerd out??’ I’m now really scared to talk to you’.
ITTO? – It makes sense, they were his friends, and these were times he was involved in. It’s like if you see an old friend you’ve not spoken to in a long time and you reminisce it’s probably a form of that for him.
TM – Yeah, he was mentioning that he was laughing at Eric because Eric made fun of him in the podcast about his long hair so he’s actually looking forward to doing one with him to make fun of him. There are still those memories and things. But just looking back at list at who’s done it, Zach from Mae who was a close friend, Troy from Speedwell which was this really obscure band who I think are amazing, Blair from Jealous Sound who was super cool to do it. The one I can’t wait to edit but its taking forever is Pedro from Jealous Sound and I’ve never laughed more in a podcast. I was crying laughing with him, he’s been super nice. He understood what I was doing, he’s like ‘you’re not just a fan; you’re trying to get the word out about this time period’. When AV Club wrote about the podcast which I had no idea about, they kind of mentioned the same thing. They had said that it was that he’s coming at it as a fan, a knowledgeable fan and you’re kind of talking, you’re not just ‘hey remember in 1992 when this happened’ and that was probably the biggest compliment.
ITTO? – Do you feel that people really are talking about it (emo) now? With the podcast and all the new bands that are about now it does seem so and it also seems a lot now like it did at the end of the 90’s, although in more of a weird internet way but there seems to be that same kind of feeling about now
It does, I think it is 2013 with all the new ways to connect. You can easily find out about a label in 5 seconds and all the releases and listen to everything. I think it is exciting; there are a lot of great bands. That’s probably the next thing, I really want to have more of the newer bands and hear their story and hear what they listen to and why. That’s kind of the new and old which has been really fun to talk about. Even during the DJ night it’s one thing to play all the old school hits but it’s also great to play a new song and have people come up to say ‘what was that?’ And you tell them it’s a new band and they’re like ‘Oh man!’ and I think that’s great to hear that someone’s open enough to listen that and be excited.
ITTO? – Especially now as there’s been bands in the last few years that have made a great impression but split up already, like Snowing or Algernon Cadwallader and I think in a few years’ time we’ll think of them like we did caP’n jazz/Mineral. It’ll be great to hear their version of what happened
TM – Yeah and I think the word itself has been so overused and I think there’s people that come to the dj night and they’re like ‘hey I want you to play Acceptance and then I want you to play Rufio’ and I’m like ‘oh my god I know your age, I know what time period you’re in. I almost can tell where you live’ Just because of the songs that you’re asking for and its fine. I understand, because it’s that time period when they were 15, 16, 17 or whatever and they connected to it or they watched Fuse and they’re relating that and that’s fine, it’s just there’s this little point beforehand that you need to know about. Because all the bands you like they listen to this. And it’s great that the newer bands are skipping that and they’re going back further.
ITTO? – What’s the most requested band at your DJ nights?
TM – I would probably say Brand New, that’s every month. The usual Promise ring, Get up kids, Taking back Sunday. Probably Taking back Sunday and Brand New and that’s probably because it’s the New York area. One of the loudest ones we ever played, which wasn’t really an emo band but it kinda made sense because Get Up Kids toured with them, was Weezer. The guy came over who runs the bar and said ‘We can’t even hear the music’ because people were screaming so loud.
ITTO? – Excellent, it’s been so cool chatting to you Tom, thanks so much.
My Top 5 Washed up emo podcast episodes (click on them for the link)
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