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Thrills: Of Creation and Destruction.

May 28, 2014

thrills01smallText by Beth Ann Downey. Image by Jessica Flynn.

When Michael Mullin talks about his music, he talks about destruction.

It’s how he describes the production, distortion and sampling he puts most of the many musical parts through to create a Thrills song. Whether it’s the vocals he sends through a space echo to the point of incoherence, or the bubbly textures of his guitar that he then slices into a trance rhythm, Mullin refers to his electronic stylings in this seemingly negative manner, despite the beauty that they create.

“The destruction that happens, I’m really attracted to because you’re taking something and destroying it or making it very small,” says Mullin while standing the basement studio he’s built in his South Philly home, using eggcrates taped to the walls for makeshift soundproofing.     “I would make something and then cannibalize it with the process. It just sounds like things are traveling through the intestines of some big acoustic monster.”

It’s fitting that Mullin uses these negative words because he was motivated to create the first Thrills album after a very unfortunate experience. He had just moved in to this house, and before having time to unpack, had to leave for tour as the keyboard player for Vacationer. At 3:45 a.m. in Cleveland, he received a call from his new roommate that he had been robbed. Almost everything was taken, except miraculously, Mullin’s instruments in the basement. So he set out to recover the oldest thing he could remember that wasn’t taken from him – the catalogue of songs that he’d been dreaming up since long before the incident, but never put down.

“I wanted to recreate that and destroy it, kind of take that destructive event in my life and own it,” Mullin says. “I’d had these songs and they’d been stewing in me but it was that [feeling of] everything else is gone – but they left my music here – so I’ve got to do this thing that I’ve wanted to do forever.”

It was the help of friends that got Thrills off the ground to play in a live setting. Kenny Vasoli of Vacationer played bass on the record, Thrills of Constantly Collapsing. Greg Altman, also in Vacationer and metal band Ratkicker – of which Mullin is also a member – joined with Thrills to play bass along with Ratkicker drummer Earl Martin.

“I didn’t expect anyone to be into the music,” Mullin says. “I didn’t expect it to be a band or anything like that. My friends just rallied behind me and were like, ‘Let’s just play these tunes, man. We want it to sound how you want it to sound.’ That’s fucking amazing and that’s what I’m most grateful for. These dudes actually want it to, and that’s why it’s happening.”

Altman and Mullin have been making music together in some form or another for more than 10 years. Altman says he enjoyed watching Mullin go through the creative process on his own, as he went from conceptualizing and dreaming to actually writing the songs. But Altman ultimately also had a hand in the finished product by mixing Thrills of Constantly Collapsing.

The “manic” nature of the record reflects Mullin’s inherently artistic spirit, Altman says.

“He’s a really interesting guy,” Altman says. “He’s got interesting perspectives on things and his brain just kind of works in a different way than most people’s. There’s a lot of clashing that happens on the record but there’s a lot of resolution, too. In many instances, it’s a very art-reflects-life kind of thing. What some people may take as being overwhelming, other people will look at it like a book that they can read over and over again.”

Anyone can head to the Thrills Bandcamp page and listen to the music for free. Mullin and his band continue to work out the live show during “Thrillskicker” practice, when the members of Thrills will work on songs, then have a few drinks when it starts getting difficult, and eventually ease into Ratkicker practice. Mullin hopes that the heavy lyrical content but upbeat, positive vibes of his music will help people relate to it, no matter by which medium it is consumed.

“I was trying to balance the two, like if I sing this with levity and lightness, it won’t sound so pedantic and boring to people,” he says with a laugh. “It’s really in my head but I was trying to make it accessible. That’s a constant uphill battle with making art – making it visible and relatable in any sense of the word. I’m hoping that passion lets it exist as it will.”

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