Mack Mullins Of The CEO Makes Rock Dreams A Loud Reality (INTERVIEW)

Passions and dreams never really leave us. No matter what age we are or what profession we chose to pursue instead, they always linger somewhere in the back of our brains egging us on, that there is still time to do what we’ve always wanted to do. It may be a timeless cliché but for Mack Mullins it’s a reality.

With the release of his band The CEO’s debut album, Redemption, recently, Mullins has finally seen a big dream come to fruition. Although he has been playing music for most of his life, from teenaged bands to an Ozzy Osbourne tribute band in his adult years, it wasn’t quite the same. Mullins is actually a CEO of a company. He spends his days behind a desk, in a suit, making money. But that inner rock kid wasn’t the only one coaxing him to do something about those rock & roll dreams. As he said in our recent interview, “People are always asking, ‘Hey, do you guys ever write your own music?’ And it just so happens that we do.” That led to The CEO getting noticed by Sevendust bass player Vince Hornsby who hooked them up with A+ producer Elvis Baskette and on June 25th, Redemption saw the light of day.

“This album comes straight from our hearts and reflects our ‘be the boss’ attitude in the face of life’s adversity,” Mullins stated in a press release. The title track was the debut single a few months ago and it gave a good indication of what was to come from the remaining eleven songs. “’Redemption’ is an intense, call to action track,” continued Mullins, who has called the Atlanta area home for the last thirty years. “It is our response to all of the divisiveness dominating the headlines these days. It’s angry and loud, yet relevant and hopeful. I love this song.” Other killer tracks include “Twin Flame,” “Black Hearts,” “Behind These Eyes” and “Casting Shadows.”

I recently spoke with Mullins about Redemption, writing very emotional lyrics, covering a Def Leppard song, working with Baskette and following those youthful dreams. 

So tell me, do you feel like a rock star yet?

No, I do not (laughs). I feel like a farm boy from Virginia that gets up and goes to work every day behind four giant computer screens. That’s how I feel. But I’m having a good time. Typically with a debut album, you put it out and hope people like it. We’re getting some pretty good feedback so far so I’m pretty excited about it.

What triggered you to finally put this band together?

You know, I had been playing in bands and writing songs since I was twelve, thirteen years old. It’s one of those things when you’re young like that it just kind of grabs you and it did me. All through school I was like, “I’m going to grow up and be a rock star!” and everybody goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And I grew up and of course I wasn’t a rock star. Obviously, I had to get a real job like everybody else but I still loved the music, still wanted to be a part of it. I played in a lot of original acts, I played in tribute bands and cover bands and that kind of thing. We did about a twelve year run in the Ozzy Osbourne tribute band and it kind of ran it’s course. So it was parallel, running a business and playing in bands.

But people are always asking, “Hey, do you guys ever write your own music?” And it just so happens that we do and we put together an album and that particular record got Vince Hornsby from Sevendust’s attention. He came out and saw us play as The CEO and he said, “I like what you guys are doing here. It’s really cool. I’m going to send you down to my producer in Florida, Michael Elvis Baskette, and we’ll see how well you guys do in a big boy’s studio.” So we went down there and cut four songs in his studio with him and before we even got done he is on the phone with Vince going, “These guys are good, they’re writing really good songs and not only are they good but you’re going to be their bass player and be in the band.” (laughs) And that’s really it. He came down and we recorded the rest of the album together and you get what you hear today. 

Didn’t you have this done and then the pandemic hit?

Yeah, we put together a video for the first single, we rolled it out and I swear not two or three days later the whole world freaks out and everything gets shut down. So we had to pull everything back and just kind of put it on the shelf for a while and let the runway clear a little bit. Then the label was like, “Now looks like a good time so we’ll go ahead and release it.” We’ve been sitting on it for a year but we’ve been writing other songs and going about our business and now we get to go back and revisit this album and give it the proper push.

How long did it actually take to record it?

We started in December 2019 and it was done by February 2020; so a couple of months. Most of it was on weekends and the guys would fly down during the week and cut their part and then I would fly down afterward and do my part. It wasn’t constant time, just as we could fly in and fly out.

Of these songs, which one to you is the most autobiographical because you touch on some tough emotions throughout this record?

I do, yeah. It’s one of those things where each song is a moment in time or drawing on a moment in time. So probably if I’m going to say something autobiographical, it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek but the song “Bourbon Straight” is trying to tell, hey, this is who I am, this is who we are and life is pretty much what you make it, as long as you smile a lot and drink your bourbon straight. But there are a few on there that really have a lot of personal meaning to me. We had to go back in the studio and we had more songs to write and cut and my sister commits suicide. It was during Covid and of course we couldn’t go to the funeral, that kind of thing, and it was tough. I was like, might as well go in the studio, and the guys sent me the song that would eventually become “Casting Shadows.” So I wrote that one the night before we go in to record it and that was a very tough, tough song that I wish I never had to write but it was probably a little cathartic at the time. It’s still one of those that I don’t listen to a lot yet but I just felt like I had a few things I needed to say about the subject.

How do you think you’re going to do when you play it live?

Well, that’s one of those things where you put your big boy pants on and get out there. I mean, it’s a cool song, it’s got a great groove to it, a good hook. I like it a lot, it’s just very personal. So we’ll distance ourselves a little bit, as much as we can, and go backstage and send a kiss to my sister upstairs.

Which song would you say changed the most from its original conception to its final recorded version?

Definitely the song “Black Hearts.” Chase Brown is one of our guitar players and he and a buddy of his, they’re pretty prolific songwriters; really, really good. They not only write for us but they write songs for other people as well and they had actually written this one for their buddies in Nashville as a country music song. So you can imagine how different it originally sounded. I think they called it “The Stranger” and it had it’s own lyrics and that kind of thing. 

So they sent it over to me and I’m like, “Cool song and I like it but it doesn’t fit with what we’re doing here. Good luck with it in Nashville.” But they sent it down to Elvis, the producer, and Elvis picked that song as one he wanted us to record. They called me up the night before I’m supposed to go in and they’re like, “Hey, we decided we wanted to record that song ‘The Stranger.’ Would you be able to write new lyrics?” I said sure. So I wrote it the night before I go in to sing it. It’s the ballad on the album and you could probably feel a little bit of country influence on it but I think we rocked it up a little bit and of course, changed the words. I’m very proud of the song but it was one that almost didn’t make it.

There is some great guitar on that one, especially the outro solo that’s going on at the backend. Who is that?

That is Mike Dunn. Mike was down there and he recorded probably ten of the thirteen songs with us. Unfortunately for him, he was kind of a casualty of Covid in that he ran a business and really just had to step away from music for a while to take care of his business. He has since been replaced by Beau Anderson. Mike was very instrumental in a lot of what we wrote and a lot of the solos you hear on there are him. He’s a phenomenal player.

Where do you see Elvis weaving his magic the most on this record?

The great thing about Elvis is, forget his resume, it speaks for itself and the platinum records on the wall and that type of thing, but the guy is just so stinking cool. He’s like a genius but he doesn’t walk around with that kind of air about him. He’s just one of us. But what I give him the most credit for is he sees the song complete before we saw the song complete. He knew exactly what the song needed, what we needed to do, how to button it up correctly; kind of like that whole fifth Beatle thing: “Hey, we’re going to structure it this way and that way and we’re going to do this and this is going to work, etc.” His hands were all over it. Clearly, it’s his sound – he has a very unique sonic sound to his stuff. Just listen to Sevendust, Alter Bridge, Myles Kennedy. He’s all over it and God, he’s great.

For us, we’re fortunate that everybody in the band writes music. So you can imagine, I’ve got thirty or forty songs as demos right now and we had a bunch of them available to us and able to go through and pick out what he thought had the most meat on the bone, if you would, had the most potential. So we’ve got the music and I’m writing lyrics and vocal melodies and that kind of thing but still there are certain aspects of the song that maybe you visualize or you hear in your head but just not sure how to execute. Elvis knows how to execute that vision and that’s the great part of it.

Why was it important to release the title track as your first single?

I think, especially for a new act, you want to put your best foot forward. Obviously, we’re a hard rock act and which song on the album is that straight banger right out, basically with not a whole lot of frills, if you would, but is a straight banger and gives a really good introduction of what you can expect from The CEO. I think unanimously we all agreed that that is the song and it made sense to name the album after that particular song. So it was definitely that one.

You just released a new video for “Behind These Eyes.”

Yeah, we did a lyric video for that one and then we’ll probably do another traditional live video for “Black Hearts.” So we’ve got “Redemption,” this one and then we’ll put out “Black Hearts,” probably in a few weeks.

I understand there is a bonus track. You cover a Def Leppard song. Why that band and why that song?

It’s funny, none of us would have chosen it. We’re all Def Leppard, especially older Def Leppard stuff, fans but we’re in there recording and Elvis kept going, “I think you could pull off a Def Leppard song. I want you to do ‘High N Dry (Saturday Night)’ I know the guys in Def Leppard, I know the exact tones you need to get and I think we could do a cool modern version of the song.” I’m not so sure. Joe Elliott, the guy is amazing and that’s going to be tough to pull off. But Elvis was, “Trust me, it’s going to be great.” And he was right. I thought it came out really, really well. A modern version of a song that’s thirty-plus years old. We’re happy with it.

 The lead-off track, “Twin Flame,” has some killer drums on it

Yeah, that’s another one that traditionally speaking, you kind of want to grab people with the first song and I love the intro to it, love the energy. I wrote that song about the woman that would eventually become my wife. But oh man, what can I say about Joseph Herman. He’s an amazing drummer, early thirties and his influences are everybody from Morgan Rose to a lot of the modern acts, modern drummers. In fact, he does some drum clinics and drum videos and that type of thing and we’re like, “Dude, you have to do ‘Twin Flame’ cause your drumming on this particular track is amazing.” He’s a crazy good drummer but the nicest dude on the planet. We’re so fortunate to have him. He’s smiling all the time and he looks like Scott Ian with that long beard (laughs) but he is as fun and sweet as he possibly could be.

Who are some of your influences? 

You know, that’s the cool thing about The CEO. In my opinion, what makes it work is you’ve got two guys in their early fifties, you’ve got one guy in his thirties and two guys in their twenties so you can imagine the different influences that we all have and what we bring to the table. Now, I came from old school. I’m a Van Halen, KISS, Foreigner type guy but I also grew up on a lot of funk. I like Rick James and the Dazz Band, the Gap Band, those guys. So I have this hard rock showman kind of thing but with a nice groove funk feel to it. Again, the younger guys are more into the current, modern hard rock music that’s going on in the world these days. So when you smash all that together you get something that sounds like us (laughs).

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

Paul Stanley from KISS. I wish it was something cooler but they did a Meet & Greet in Atlanta when they were doing KISS Alive III, I want to say. I stood in line forever and I get in front of them, and of course, you know the first time you ever meet a rock star, especially one that you think should be on the Mount Rushmore of rock stars, and you’re hoping that they’re cool, you know, and they were. That was awesome. I had two or three minutes in front of them. They talked, we took pictures and they were super cool. I was like, thanks for not ruining that for me! (laughs) And every time I’ve met them since, they’ve been just as cool.

What was the first song you obsessed over as a kid?

It’s got to be KISS. I grew up in foster homes for the first seven years of my life so we didn’t have albums. We didn’t listen to music that I remember, and we certainly didn’t get rock & roll albums at all. So Christmas after I was adopted, my very first gift that I was given was KISS Alive II. You hear the first song on the album, you hear the crowd in the background, bombs going off and they play “Detroit Rock City” and I was hooked at that point. That song at that moment on that album changed my life and to this day every time I hear it, the hair stands up on my arms. I love it.

Do you feel like you have accomplished your dreams, especially after everything you have been through? 

You know, I talk about that on the record. You’re really born with everything you need to succeed in this world. It doesn’t matter your circumstances or where you start out. Of course, it helps along the way to have someone kind of point you in the right direction but even if you don’t have that, you still have everything you need in this world to be successful if you have that ethic, that feeling inside you that burns. If you do, you’re going to be successful. That’s just my attitude and what I think and it goes a lot to the naming of the band The CEO. Yeah, I am the CEO of a company and we play that up a little bit but it’s more an attitude, the attitude of being a boss of your own life. Everything you need is everything you have to be the boss.

So what happens next? What do you guys hope you can accomplish this year?

I guess first thing’s first: getting the album out to the people. If it’s a hundred people or a hundred thousand people, that’s great. I’m really excited about that. We’re looking to set some dates for some shows. Of course, Sevendust is out on the road until September so if they get off it’ll give an opportunity for us to grab Vince and for us to go out and play these songs in front of an audience. Hopefully, they loved to hear it streaming or on CD or vinyl and will go see it live. And that’s where we are right now.

 

Portraits by Chad Lee

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