Mulcahy has always had some unlucky moments. In 2008 his wife, Melissa, mother of his twins, died suddenly. The deep loss led to a recalibration of his goals. “I didn’t do music for very long time,” he says. “But I realized that cutting myself off from something you’ve done a lot is not healthy. I didn’t have time for it, though, with the kids. There was a steep learning curve trying to raise kids when you really don’t know what you’re doing.”
To help him shoulder the burden, many of his musical friends banded together to record an album of his songs as a tribute to his wife. Ciao My Shining Star (2009) featured Michael Stipe, Thom Yorke, Frank Black, Mercury Rev, Dinosaur Jr., and the National, and 35 other artists.
Since then, Mulcahy admits, he’s searched for and found a good balance in his life, and he feels more like himself. In our interview he sounded relaxed, wry, chatty, insightful, and passionate. “Musically speaking, I left a whole world behind and entered into this new parenting world. It was the opposite of the self-absorption I spent most of my time feeling. I had to turn that page and not look back.”
Fortunately, music has again assumed a major role in his life. “Every time I think about not doing it, I get kind of black,” he says. “I don’t know anything else to do, job-wise. Maybe I’m good at something, but I never gave myself a chance to find out. One thing’s for sure: I’m never going backward; always just forward.”
Dear Mark J. Mulcahy I Love You, with its song-a-day modus operandi, is forward, without a doubt. It emanates with a pulsating creativity, a ragged spontaneity, that recalls the best of Miracle Legion. “We really avoided trying a million different ways to do everything,” he says. “It was like, ‘Dude, that sounds good. Let’s move on.’ ” He laughs, remembering a time when it wasn’t like that. “When [Miracle Legion] did Portrait of a Damaged Family in 1996, we recorded all these crazy studio gimmicks and then gave it to Pete Buck to mix it. When he heard it he was like, ‘What the hell is all this?’ He weeded out all of the crazy stuff and made us sound like us again.”
For Mulcahy, part of his charm, and part of his ability to stay relevant, is his penchant for cutting through the bullshit and getting to the good stuff. “Back in those old days, [guitarist and co-founder] Mr. Ray [Neal] and I said, ‘If we’re not going forward, let’s just quit.’ We stayed faithful to that promise for Miracle Legion; we were unable to go forward, got stumped, and we all found something else. A band is like a shark. It has to go forward. You can’t sit around and do the same thing.”
Mulcahy has managed to stay true not only to his promise, but to his creative muse. He composes music — even opera, check his Mezzotint label website — for himself, and if that works for other people, awesome. “One of the weird challenges I have these days is deciding what songs should I play live. Half of me wants to play whatever I want to play and half wants to play something because I haven’t been in front of people all that much and they deserve to hear the stuff that makes me who I am.”