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WZRD - Chicago, Illinois
April 5, 2002
("Law School" played.)
BILL KISSINGER: Music of Mr. John T. McMullan who
hails from -- well, John, we're going to have to clarify this.
Kennett, Missouri and Memphis?
JOHN McMULLAN: Well, I live in Kennett, Missouri.
Kennett's pretty close to Memphis so all the music stuff is
based in Memphis. Memphis has a pretty amazing scene that
used to get a lot of attention but now doesn't get quite as
much as it did in the days of Stax or Sun.
BILL KISSINGER: Yeah.
JOHN McMULLAN: It still has a pretty thriving
studio business there so that's why I base all my stuff there.
BILL KISSINGER: Sure. And John is one of many
artists that are playing at the International Pop Overthrow
Festival. We're actually in the midway point right now, it
started last Friday and we're catching John after his
performance so we can't say, "go catch John," but we can talk
about his album and about his music.
John is a IPO veteran to say the least, and your new
album is called simply John McMullan.
JOHN McMULLAN: John McMullan.
BILL KISSINGER: Why don't you talk a little bit
about putting it together...
JOHN McMULLAN: It's something that I worked on for
about a year really. Don Smith who operates out of Memphis
co-produced it with me. Don has produced several items on
Virgin and Geffen and had a song covered by Martina McBride
recently. So we just put together a grouping of songs,
recorded them, and got pretty decent people to play along with
The lead guitarist is a fellow by the name of Jack
Holder. He's played with Jonny Lang and Tracy Chapman so he
gets around a little bit. Robert Hall, the drummer from Zuider Zee
plays drums and percussion.
And I was very lucky on two tracks to be able to get
Jim Dickinson, the producer from The Replacements and Big Star
to come in and play some Wurlitzer keyboard. That was a big
thrill for me for that to happen.
BILL KISSINGER: John, I first became aware of your
music through the IPO compilations. I believe you're also on
some Yellow Pills; correct?
JOHN McMULLAN: Right. I had a track on Yellow
Pills 3 in 1995, that song was "Taking Me Somewhere." Then a
track on Yellow Pills No. 4 which was The Thought of Your
Name. That song really is the one I get a lot of e-mails
about, a lot of contact. And I went to the IPO Series which
I've been on all four of those.
BILL KISSINGER: Yeah...
JOHN McMULLAN: It's amazing how those compilations
get around. I'm getting e-mails from Spain and Portugal and
Yugoslavia. It's amazing, there are pop fans everywhere. It
BILL KISSINGER: How did you get hooked up with the
IPO/Yellow Pills community which there obviously is now?
JOHN McMULLAN: Yellow Pills started from a guy by
the name of Jordan Oakes in St. Louis. Jordan was a pretty
big fan of a band I was in a long time ago called The Trend.
We did some things in Missouri regionally, kind of that sort
of regional success thing. Jordan called me up one day years
later and said, hey, I was just listening to The Trend and I
was wondering if you've done anything lately. I said, yeah, I
can get you a solo track. And it kind of led to some other
BILL KISSINGER: Here you are. Now, this is your
first solo full-length album.
JOHN McMULLAN: First full...
BILL KISSINGER: Okay. You played last night?
JOHN McMULLAN: At the Beat Kitchen.
BILL KISSINGER: At the Beat Kitchen. How was it?
JOHN McMULLAN: Oh, it was a great show. I felt
really privileged because I felt like people were listening to
the words. I was playing by myself with an acoustic guitar,
so I guess if they're not listening to the words they're not
listening at all. But it went really well. After me, Graham
Elvis stood up and did a very entertaining set. Big Hello did
a wonderful set. It was just a great night all the way around
and I was very happy and lucky to be a part of it because it
was such a great night.
BILL KISSINGER: I was going to say, being the IPO
veteran that you are, can you make any comparisons between
what's happening here in Chicago compared with the LA
International Pop Overthrow Festivals?
JOHN McMULLAN: I can. I don't want to make anybody
mad or anything but I think it's been supported a lot better
in Chicago. I've played some badly attended showed in LA;
I've played some really well attended shows there. But it was
obvious from the Chicago crowd that people here like melodic
rock. They've liked it for a long time. There's a history of
it from here. You've got your Shoes T-shirt on, the festival
is named from a Material Issue album. Cheap Trick. The whole
genre has a strength that comes from Chicago, so this is an
obvious place for IPO. This should have been going on here
for the last four or five years and luckily it's here now.
BILL KISSINGER: And we're glad to have you here
today, too. You and I have been talking the last couple of
weeks about getting this together and I'm glad you're here.
And as a matter of fact, why don't you play something if you'd
JOHN McMULLAN: I sure will. This is the song that
was on Yellow Pills Volume 4. It's not on the new album but
it's the song that probably got me to the point of being able
to make an album, and it's called "The Thought of Your Name."
("The Thought of Your Name" played live.)
BILL KISSINGER: John T. McMullan. John, that's
JOHN McMULLAN: Thank you.
BILL KISSINGER: John, that's from Yellow Pills
Volume 4; right?
JOHN McMULLAN: Yes. Yes, it is. Oh, you've got
all four of them.
BILL KISSINGER: Yeah!
JOHN McMULLAN: That's a pop man right here.
BILL KISSINGER: David Bash, the organizer for IPO,
says they're tough to find these days, those Yellow Pills
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah, they are. I think Big Deal
BILL KISSINGER: Is that right?
JOHN McMULLAN: I was trying to track some
contractual things down just as part of the music business
stuff and I couldn't find them and I think they actually
suffered a bankruptcy. I'm not sure what's happened to the
mechanical rights of the songs that are on it. I don't think
anybody's been paid in a long time.
BILL KISSINGER: Is that right? Jeez, that's a
shame. I was going to say go out and try to find them and
snatch them up but if the artists aren't making money out of
that, I feel kind of bad about that.
JOHN McMULLAN: I think most artists are going to
end up having the rights back and putting it out on their
websites, or eventually I'm hoping to get all the songs I've
had on compilations and have an album of all singles. And
that's probably about a year and a half to two years away,
just the compilations that are coming out.
BILL KISSINGER: And I have to ask this, but why
power pop? Why aren't you a heavy metal fan, why aren't you a
blues aficionado or why aren't you into rap and house?
JOHN McMULLAN: I have no idea. I guess when I was
growing up, I listened to WMPS radio, AM radio out of Memphis.
All the songs they played were catchy. And I guess it all
goes back to the Beatles. That's melodic rock.
And in 1979 when all those other bands came out and
started redoing what the Beatles had done. Bands like the
Plimsouls and 20/20 and the Beat and the Romantics. I just
went berserk. I heard that stuff and I was like, that's what
I want to do.
BILL KISSINGER: Right. When did your first band
The Trend play?
JOHN McMULLAN: 1979. We were in high school. I
had just run away from home to go see The Knack. We played a
talent show called the Mod Assembly as The Knack, Jr. Played
"Good Girls Don't" and "My Sharona," the first two songs we
ever played together in front of an audience. And then I
thought, well, that went well, let's make it a real band. So
I changed the name of it to The Trend.
BILL KISSINGER: Did you have the skinny ties?
JOHN McMULLAN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
BILL KISSINGER: Sports coats and the whole bit?
JOHN McMULLAN: Absolutely. It was skinny tie
central. We looked better than we sounded. We had black and
white photos taken, we looked actually like we should have
looked but listening to it now, it sounded kind of rough.
BILL KISSINGER: Did you bring any Trend with you?
JOHN McMULLAN: No. It's all on vinyl.
BILL KISSINGER: Okay.
JOHN McMULLAN: Anyway, it makes it more intriguing
for people have to look for it. Used record stores in St.
Louis and Memphis, you might find The Trend Is In.
BILL KISSINGER: Go to hardtofind, dustyvinyl.com.
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah.
BILL KISSINGER: Well, we'll give you a chance to
rest your chops a little bit, play something you recorded from
the album. Is there anything you would like to play first?
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah. The track you've got going
right now is called "Here I Sit Alone" and it's very Beatle-ish.
Jim Dickinson plays the Wurlitzer on it and Jack Holder plays
the George Harrison-type slide guitar. It's one of the other
songs that's kind of grabbed some attention since the advance
copies have come out. So if you don't mind, play that one.
BILL KISSINGER: Okay. Well, with John McMullan
today as part of our International Pop Overthrow festival
extravaganza. You're tuned to The Wizard.
("Here I Sit Alone" played.)
BILL KISSINGER: "Here I Sit Alone," John McMullan.
Do you use the "T" a lot professionally, John?
JOHN McMULLAN: Well, the writing I do. I was kind
of advised not to, just to call it John McMullan. But on all
the songwriting credits, I always put the "T."
BILL KISSINGER: "T" for tune.
JOHN McMULLAN: That's right.
BILL KISSINGER: Yeah. You know, at the outset of
the show here we played "Law School" which I'm sorry we kind of
rushed over but that is kind of the signature song on the
album; is it not?
JOHN McMULLAN: Yes. Well, it's slightly autobiographical...
BILL KISSINGER: Talk about that, "Law School," the
JOHN McMULLAN: It is based on reality, sort of. I am an
attorney. I do practice. I get a little bit of grief from fellow
musicians about it but then I get a lot of grief from my
fellow lawyers about the music that I play, too. So it's a
lot of fun on both sides of the coin.
BILL KISSINGER: How is the support for what you do
down there in Kennett?
JOHN McMULLAN: Well, in my home town, it's a pretty
musical town. I mean, Kennett's where Sheryl Crow's from.
There are a lot of people who are chart watchers because of
Sheryl, and she has done very, very well. And then there's a
country singer that's probably going to be making some noise
in the next couple of months named David Nail. So there are
people who kind of watch all of us to see how we're doing.
And I've been the one that's sort of done the underground
thing and stayed more in the Big Star, Alex Chilton type of
BILL KISSINGER: Yeah, sure. Now, do you play
fairly regularly down there?
JOHN McMULLAN: Not as much as I would like to. Job
requirements and that sort of thing kind of keep me from it.
Right now I've taken a vacation to be able to do this and I
had to take a lot of days off to make the album. That's why
it took a whole year to make. I probably could have made it
in less than a month if I hadn't had all the court appearances
that I had to make.
BILL KISSINGER: Right, as a lawyer, not a criminal.
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah, as a lawyer, yeah!
BILL KISSINGER: Just in case anybody tuned in in
the last 30 seconds. But do you have a lot of other musicians
on there or is this mostly yourself?
JOHN McMULLAN: Don Smith, the co-producer, plays
bass; Robert Hall is the drummer; Jack Holder is the lead
guitarist. I play piano, guitar, synth, and some of the organ parts,
Hammond organ. It's a real Hammond, too.
BILL KISSINGER: Which I'm hearing.
JOHN McMULLAN: That's not me right now, that's Mike Lawler.
BILL KISSINGER: Okay.
JOHN McMULLAN: He is a fabulous Hammond player,
better than I am. That's why he's on some of the key tracks.
And as I said, Jim Dickinson plays Wurlitzer, and two
Memphis legends, Reba Russell and Susan Marshall, sing on
this particular song and so it was kind of a tight-knit group
making this record. Every song was supposed to lead into the
next one. We did it as an album instead of single cuts that
would be on compilations.
BILL KISSINGER: Do you have another acoustic number
you would like to play?
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah, I would actually like to play
a song that is on the album and it's called "Sylvia and Anne."
It's about the poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. And it's
kind of wordy, I couldn't help it. It's got titles of their
poems interspersed into the lyrics.
BILL KISSINGER: I'm guessing this doesn't have a
JOHN McMULLAN: Well, actually it's a strange poppy
sounding song to those kind of lyrics so it's an interesting
BILL KISSINGER: We're here with John McMullan on
("Sylvia and Anne" played live.)
BILL KISSINGER: Very nice. John McMullan, "Sylvia
and Anne." And what inspired you to -- had you been reading a
lot of their poetry?
JOHN McMULLAN: When I lived -- when I was in law
school, I lived in Oxford, Mississippi. I went to law school
at Ole Miss. And that is a really literary town.
BILL KISSINGER: Absolutely.
JOHN McMULLAN: I mean, I said that kind of
sarcastically one time and it got quoted on my website but I
felt I had to start upgrading my lyrics because everybody I
met there had written a book. Literally it's like you go into
a little coffeehouse or you go just talking to people that you
meet and everybody's working on a novel. Everybody's written
one. A whole bunch of people are published down there.
BILL KISSINGER: Wasn't a guy named Faulkner,
somebody like that?
JOHN McMULLAN: A little guy name Faulkner and a
little guy name Grisham. All of that sort of brings the
literary side out. Anyway, I had just, you know, kind of
gotten into some of the Plath and Sexton poetry and thought,
well, you know, they didn't have to do what they ultimately
did, which was take their own lives. That was kind of point
of the song, you know, is that's not the answer.
BILL KISSINGER: Right, right.
JOHN McMULLAN: Trying to get deep, deep for power
BILL KISSINGER: That's right. We like that, we
like a little depth in our pop. Speaking of that, I wanted to
ask you how living in Kennett, Missouri -- notice I said
Missouri so you could understand what I'm saying -- and that
close to Memphis, does that draw you into sort of a southern
feel to your music at all?
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah, definitely. Kennett, if you
were dropped out of the sky into Kennett, Missouri, first of
all you'd never guess you were in Missouri. I mean, we're
surrounded by cotton fields. It's flat. Most of Missouri is
pretty. There's hills and all that. But in our area, we're
in the Delta and it's reclaimed swamp land. It's cotton
fields all around. And you would think that you had just been
dropped down into either the Delta of Arkansas or Mississippi.
And most of the people from Kennett have a southern
accent. My wife has a beautiful southern accent, much better
than mine, mine's kind of from wherever.
BILL KISSINGER: She's a belle, huh?
JOHN McMULLAN: Absolutely! Last night at the meet
and greet, a couple of people that I met before came up to
talk to me and they shook my hand, hey, how ya doing and I
reminded them that this was Michelle, my wife, and she said
hello and immediately they were, oh, yeah, she's from the
south! Yeah, everybody has kind of a southern accent down
BILL KISSINGER: And you began some of the music
that you play with maybe the Hammond or some pedal steel
guitar or slide guitar might be rooted in your southern
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah, it makes it a little bit
different than the Chicago power pop or LA power pop. We
don't feel like it's totally moving out of the genre, though.
Wings meets Petty or something like that.
BILL KISSINGER: Sure. Another recorded song here.
JOHN McMULLAN: Well, the song that's playing right
now, if you want to cue up that, this one's called "Double
Monday." It was inspired by Wendell Crow, Sheryl's dad. He
made this comment that he was stacked up with lots of things
to do and was dreading Monday. He said he had a double Monday
coming up and I thought, man, that is a great song title and I
went and wrote the song, a long time ago. The original draft
of the song was written probably 18 years ago, and then I
changed the lyrics up except for the title.
BILL KISSINGER: All right. We're with John
McMullan, the tune is Double Monday, and this is all part of
our IPO celebration extravaganza preview and otherwise.
You're tuned to the Wizard, WZRD, Chicago at 88.3 FM in
("Double Monday" played.)
BILL KISSINGER: Mr. John McMullan from his
self-titled album, the album called, of course, John McMullan.
Now, how can people get a-hold of this album?
JOHN McMULLAN: We'll give our website, John
McMullan -- and McMullan is M-c-M-u-l-l-a-n -- dot-com or
kicktonerecords.com. I did a thing at Tower a couple nights
ago so I know Tower Records on Clark, I believe, has some
copies. And actually, those are all advance copies because
it's not technically out until the 13th of April.
BILL KISSINGER: We had an advance copy.
JOHN McMULLAN: Yeah, this is an advance copy.
We're having our release party at the Hard Rock on Beale
Street next Saturday night so if you're not doing anything
come on down.
BILL KISSINGER: I'll come on down, sure.
JOHN McMULLAN: Have some barbecue and party at the
Hard Rock in Memphis. It's going to be a lot of fun.
BILL KISSINGER: Is it a good scene down there,
still a lot of -- still good live music in Memphis?
JOHN McMULLAN: Very good live music scene. Not all
of it is pop; in fact, most of it isn't, but a lot of soul. A
lot of players from the original days of Stax and Hi still
have live bands that play up and down Beale Street at
different places. Very, very thriving live music scene in
BILL KISSINGER: Good. Are there bands that you've
been listening to lately that you like at all?
JOHN McMULLAN: Well, of course I have children, I
listen to a lot of Barney. My daughter Abigail's favorite
singer is a country singer named Sara Evans. She likes to
sing along with her songs. But I've been listening to a lot
of IPO bands, you know, getting geared up for coming out here.
The Sparkle Jets, they're a great band. Big Hello,
their Apples and Oranges CD and, of course, the original power
pop stuff. I turn on that first 20/20 album, you can't beat
that album. It's one of those classic, absolutely great
BILL KISSINGER: The Beat.
JOHN McMULLAN: The Beat, that's the very next one I
was going to say, the Beat. Those albums are unbelievably
BILL KISSINGER: Right, right. And never get old,
JOHN McMULLAN: Absolutely. They keep me young.
BILL KISSINGER: They keep you young. All right.
Well, listen, I think maybe we'll play another one from the
album and thank you for coming over here.
JOHN McMULLAN: I appreciate you having me, Bill.
It's been a lot of fun.
BILL KISSINGER: Yeah. And good luck with the album
John McMullan, which can be obtained at johnmcmullan.com, with
an "A," also at kicktonerecords.com.
JOHN McMULLAN: And Tower in Chicago. Hopefully at
Tower in other places. We're working on that.
BILL KISSINGER: Sure. Well, good luck with you.
It's a pleasure to have you down here. What should we leave
JOHN McMULLAN: How about the very last track, it's
called "So Insecure." It's kind of a slower pop groove, sort of
Plastic Ono Band meets the Memphis sound.
BILL KISSINGER: Let's do it, then. Thanks again,
JOHN McMULLAN: Thank you, Bill.
("So Insecure" played.)