In Conversation: nothing,nowhere.

In Conversation: nothing,nowhere.

Joe Mulherin on working with Travis Barker, his guitar roots, and his optimism for the future...

“I live at a house by myself in Vermont. I moved about seven months ago. It’s wild travelling the world and being overseas, being all over the United States and then all of a sudden we end touring, you come home to Vermont and it’s just quiet solitude. I would say I live a life of extremes”.

There is much complexity to Joe Mulherin known as nothing,nowhere. who is living proof that rap can be super-eclectic while standing on its own. Having originally kickstarted his music career loading tracks on to SoundCloud, events would take a radical, very positive turn, and many things started falling into place. Signing to the innovative label Fueled By Ramen has played a significant part in moving things forward for the rapper.

This week nothing,nowhere. will begin a US tour with labelmate grandson. Starting with a performance at First Avenue in Minneapolis, MN., the coast-to-coast tour includes stops at New York’s Webster Hall and the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles.

Clash spoke to the imaginative, experimental artist backstage at this year’s Reading Festival to find out more about the creative journey, what sparked the collaboration with Travis Barker, the process of writing music and lyrics, growing up in Foxborough, Massachusetts and the frightening political climate in the US.

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What has your experience of the UK been like?

I have been here a few times before. Every time I come here it’s always a blast. People are really passionate about music, whether they know you or not. Everyone at Reading are just here to listen to music and it’s always amazing when we come over here. So it’s really cool.

When did you first start playing guitar and who inspires you?

The guitar is my first love. Been playing guitar since I was twelve, I’m twenty-seven now, so I’ve been playing my whole life. It’s just like my weapon of choice so to speak, and it’s easy to pick up and make cool sounds with.

I’m obsessed with guitars, I have eleven, ten of them are the same type - the Fender Telecaster. Guitarists like Andy McKee has some really fascinating big tapping, acoustic stuff, and I also draw a lot of inspiration from folk artists like Nick Drake and Chris Whitley, who is like an unsung hero from back in the day, who didn’t get the praise he deserved.

I just really like that kind of steel folk sound, I feel like it blends well with everything somehow.

Where does your inspiration for lyrics derive from?

I like telling stories. I like to take all the stuff in my head and put it on paper and set it free to the world. It makes me feel better, so it’s a catharsis for sure.

Sometimes I’ll sit down outside and just write down words, write how I’m feeling, sometimes I’ll think of stories in my head. I put all these words on a piece of paper and say ‘wow, we have got words like ‘nostalgic’, ‘skateboard’ or ‘tofu’, how am I going to make these things work or whatever?’ It’s about trying to make it work.

I remember growing up, I always loved English class, I loved reading poetry, Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost that stuff always really spoke to me.

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You released ‘Destruction’, the track features a collaboration with Travis Barker. What was it like to work with him?

The track essentially is a collaboration between me, Travis Barker and Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low who worked on it with us, it came out of nowhere. I remember I had a bunch of material saved up when I got to the studio, I met with Alex and ultimately I just ended up picking up the guitar with him. We started jamming and made the track out of scratch.

The main guitar line became the beginning of ‘Destruction’ and then we built the song around it, it was just a really quick, fast process, it was awesome. It’s a nostalgic song about looking back and trying to reconcile choices you’ve made, dealing with regret and trying to move past it.

Did you know Travis prior to the collaboration?

Travis has been a huge influence on me my whole life. He is the reason I became interested in tattoos at a young age and was also one of the main reasons I decided to start learning how to play instruments. He is the most famous drummer in the world, but he had also heard of my music.

We just had some mutual acquaintances, we met up, and I went to a studio in LA where we played one song together, one song turned into two, two turned into three and we now have ‘Bloodlust’, an EP coming out.

The EP is pretty much the product of me and Travis hanging out, eating vegan food and making cool music. It reminded me of being a kid again, like being in my parents’ basement just making music there. It was really organic.

Who would you name as your biggest musical influences?

I grew up listening to little bit of everything. I listened to rap, Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G and at the same time I started listening to Linkin Park and some heavier music. Then I started getting into post-hardcore and alternative music as well. I’d say my style is a culmination of my entire upbringing but kind of mashed into one.

Was it your teenage years when you started to develop an eclectic, more experimental approach to music?

Yes definitely. I think that’s a fair assessment, and especially now with ‘Bloodlust’ coming out, it’s different than anything I’ve ever done. I hope moving forward with each album what I do can be something completely different because otherwise music doesn’t move forward. I don’t ever want to be bored with it, I just want to keep having fun, that’s the easiest way.

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How did your hometown Foxborough, Massachusetts influence you?

I was, and in some ways I still am, in love with my hometown. But it also turned into a love hate relationship, when you become a senior in high school, you are ready to leave. Then you finally leave, you grow older, and you look back at all the times when you were younger and didn’t realise that those moments were the best moments of your life.

Foxborough is a semi-rural suburban place in Massachusetts. There is nothing going on and we would try everything we could to just have a good time. We would make our own fun. We would get trays from the cafeteria and go sledging in the winter, we would be at the skatepark all day, sometimes we would just sit and watch cars go by.

I will always love Foxborough and I miss it. I had a really great childhood. and I’m still learning how to grow out of it.

Your parents were supportive of what you were doing?

They were. My mum drove me to guitar lessons, and provided I did my homework, my dad would say "you can go and play drums and guitar..." I am not saying that growing up was easy but I had a great group of friends. Foxborough was such as cool place to grow up.

How does the political situation in America affect you and influence things?

In my music I never really go into politics. For me music has always been a catharsis, it has been a way for me to express my emotions, I tend to not get emotional over politics but that’s because I can afford not to.

Being white and living in Vermont in the United States, it’s almost that thing where I can afford to ignore the sh*t-show that is going on right now. But some people are directly affected by it, and it’s really sad what’s going on.

Thankfully we have some elections coming up, and I try to be optimistic whether it’s good or bad I put everything on mute and I try to ignore it because it gets so overwhelming that I just can’t take it anymore. I’m optimistic, I think that people in their purest form are good and they have pure intentions, but when money and corporate power are involved things get dicey and scary so we’ll see. The Amazon is burning right now, yet somehow I’m still a little bit optimistic.

You enjoy recording, playing and writing. How about playing live, do you like that as much?

I love playing live. It was really hard for me at first, it still is hard for me some days because I struggle with anxiety and being anxious about performing makes it really hard but it was important for me to overcome the mental barriers and just make it happen. So now my relationship with playing live is just to go out there, do it and it’s worth it, I always feel better after I’ve played a show because I feel the love from the crowd and I like that it’s a community group thing.

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In some videos and photos you hide your face. Can you talk about the idea behind it?

Yes, it was when I started nothing,nowhere. it was a coincidence, it never occurred to me to show my face. When I started out I didn’t have an Instagram or anything, and I just was posting songs.

I kept doing that up for years, just letting the music speak for itself. I am not saying that I have massive notoriety, but it’s daunting the kind of burden of people knowing who you are. The fame is something that some people yearn for, but for me it’s something I don’t really want to deal with.

Are you against the idea of celebrity and fame?

No, I totally get it. I just think that being on the other side of it is a lot to deal with - I worshipped a lot of people growing up. I can’t imagine what some massive artists go through, I only experienced it on my end of the scale and I’m like ‘yeah I’m good with that’.

How involved do you get now when it comes to producing music?

I’m too busy nowadays to do everything. I had to learn to not do everything because I physically can’t at this point. I’m on the road six to seven months out of the year. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of amazing producers.

When I started I did everything, I filled the beat, I played the guitar, mixed it, mastered it. Now I work in conjunction with some of my good friends. There are some people that I can trust and I know that they are gonna make my sound awesome if I give them an idea, they send it back and thank God I found some people that I can work with because I would be quite stressed if not.

Looking to the future, do you have any specific aims?

I just want to keep making music and hanging out. I don’t have any grand expectations other than playing my guitar, singing songs, and I’m making a living out it, so that’s more than I could ever ask for. 

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nothing, nowhere. + Travis Barker will release 'Bloodlust' EP on September 27th.

Words: Susan Hansen // @SusanHansen3

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