"Being so carefree and lighthearted my whole life, when it all hit me, it came crashing down and completely flipped my life upside down," says Memphis May Fire singer Matty Mullins of the abrupt emergence of his near-crippling anxiety disorder. "I didn't expect it. I didn't know where it was coming from. I didn't know why it was happening. The sudden bursts of anxiety and also the crippling panic attacks led to a couple of years of just really deep, dark depression for me."
Mullins explores his experiences and struggles with anxiety and depression on Memphis May Fire's latest album, the diverse and rock-heavy Broken. "We are all broken people because life is not perfect," the singer points out of one of the album's central themes. "There's beauty in that brokenness because scar tissue is stronger than skin. We grow and become better versions of ourselves having gone through the worst times in life."
The narrative thread of fighting one's demons — and the messiness that goes along with it — is also carried through to the action-packed, violent and bloody video for Broken's lead single "The Old Me." The Marvel-sized clip required 36 hours of filming all throughout a freezing cold night in Santa Clarita, California, special effects makeup to create a stunt double of Mullins and a fight coordinator from the Fast and the Furious movies to make that believable punches were being thrown. Mullins describes the song and video as a "me vs. me" concept that symbolizes the duality that exists inside him, and at-times brutal fight between his anxious and non-anxious states.
Revolver recently caught up with the frontman for a candid and far-reaching conversation about his mental-health issues and EMDR therapy, Broken's message of hope and understanding, the loss of We Came As Romans' Kyle Pavone, as well as Mullins' On Point Pomade grooming product business and much more.
ANXIETY CAN BE DIFFERENT FOR EVERY PERSON. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU?
MATTY MULLINS It's basically your body giving you the symptoms and the emotions of fight or flight, which is basically like you're in a life or death situation and you have to get out and you have to do something about it. But your body is giving you those signals and they're false because they're rooted in anxiety and it's being caused by another source.
I've never been through something more terrifying in my life than in that season where it was every single day. It even got to a point where it felt literally like good and evil. I mean, I would lay in bed and I felt like I could see a dark, demonic figure standing over my body. It's unbelievable how powerful it is. And the most frustrating part is when you're trying to figure it out and you feel like you're going crazy or somebody who doesn't necessarily understand kind of giving you a pat on the shoulder and being like, "Keep your chin up" and you're like, "No, you don't understand. I'm actually dying." So I'm a huge advocate for mental health, a huge advocate for spreading awareness that mental health issues don't just happen to people who are "crazy" or people that are in a tough life situations. It can hit anybody at any time out of nowhere.
ABSOLUTELY. WHAT HAPPENED?
I was in Florida on tour and I went to Orlando to track a guest vocal, and the next morning I was to fly back to Pensacola to meet up with the band for the show there that night. We had a really late night, the night before, we were up all night working and hanging out. I got to the airport and I was walking up to the plane and realized that there was no walkway, you had to go outside and get on this plane. I'm like, "Oh, that's weird." So I go down to the tarmac and I see that it's this little 10-seater prop plane. It was a really short flight, so, that makes sense.
But I sent a joke video to the guys in the band like, "Hey, pray for me, I'm about to get on this little pea shooter." I wasn't being serious. But we took off and when we took off we hit this really bad storm. The plane was getting just violently thrown left to right for what seemed like an eternity. I felt like I had it all under control until I looked over to my right, and I saw the flight attendant praying and she was gripping and holding on for life. So that made me feel like, "OK, this is real." Everyone in the plane was freaking out and in that moment I felt like there was a chance I was going to die…
Then we landed and I didn't feel any relief. Like I didn't feel the relief of, "OK, I'm safe now."
HOW DID IT GET TO THE POINT WHERE IT HAPPENED EVERY SINGLE DAY?
The bus picked me up from the airport and we went to the show that night and I just felt really on edge. The next couple of nights I was waking up, covered in sweat and I didn't know why. Then we ended up in [New] Jersey and I was sitting in the front lounge, eating bowl potato soup, I'll never forget, and I felt like I felt like the world was about to end. I felt like a 747 was about to crash through the window in the bus. I just looked around at everyone like, "Hey, are you guys OK? Is something wrong?" And they were like, "No, everything's fine. What's wrong with you?" "I don't know." So I walk outside, try to get some air. I walk into the venue and I go to the bathroom and I look into the mirror and I literally hear this voice, audible voice say, "End it. You're not worth it."
So I went back out to the bus and my heart just kept beating harder and harder and harder. It got to the point where I was just sitting there shaking, thinking that I was about to have a heart attack. So they rushed me to the hospital. I got there and went in and the second that the doctor laid his hand on my shoulder and asked me what was wrong, all of those feelings just kind of like flushed out of my body. It was like they tingled through my body and out of my feet. I was like, "I don't know what's going on." He said, "I think you're having a panic attack," and prescribed me Xanax.
I went back to the bus and I took one, but it didn't help. I was still so scared of what it was, and not knowing what it was and worried that it was going to come back, that I was just constantly in my head. From that day on, it was almost every single day I would wake up in panic. Our bass player, Cory [Elder], who's a total sweetheart, would like take me on long walks and just try to help. But nobody could help because nobody understood what was going on. My wife had just moved to Seattle for a job. So when I got home from that tour, I was home in a new city that I had never lived in before in my whole life. I felt out of control and just like I couldn't get a grip on anything.
WHAT RECORD CYCLE IS THIS?
This is when we were literally right as we were about to start the writing process for Unconditional.
I THINK IT'S INTERESTING WHERE EVEN THOUGH YOU DIDN'T KNOW WHAT EXACTLY WAS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU WERE ABLE TO SORT OF IDENTIFY SOMETHING WAS. A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT STRUGGLE WITH ANXIETY DON'T KNOW THEY HAVE IT, IT GETS MASKED.
I don't want to give you the wrong idea that I all the sudden had it all figured out. The thing is, is that the reason why people are struggling with these symptoms don't necessarily automatically understand or believe that it's symptoms of anxiety is because the symptoms are so real and they're so convincing that you actually do, 100 percent, believe that you're having a heart attack or whatever. You're reaching for answers everywhere because you don't know the root of it.
WHAT KIND OF SELF-CARE DID YOU DO TO KEEP IT IN CHECK?
I did EMDR therapy [eye movement desensitization and reprocessing] which was developed for soldiers with post-traumatic stress syndrome. What it does is it essentially recreates rapid bilateral eye movement, which is what happens while you're asleep. When you're asleep, your eyes are moving left to right really quickly and it's moving traumatic experiences, like bad emotional things that you feel, from your frontal lobe, where you do feel things, to other parts of your brain where you can remember it. It's not like it wasn't real or it didn't happen, but you just don't have to live with the emotion of it day to day.
You don't realize that you're carrying those things and those emotions with you on a daily basis. I did that kind of therapy, but I also did some standard therapy and I just learned like I need time and space to recharge and to rejuvenate. That's one thing that I'm really careful about these days, that I'm not overexerting myself.
WHAT ABOUT TODAY?
I would say every day is something different and when you're going through the healing process with anxiety. What you're doing is you're really peeling back the layers and every time you peel one back, you have this big victory because you feel like you overcame something. Then here comes another thing that you weren't aware of and it's a whole other beast you have to tackle.
That was my whole two years. I immediately dove into research and dove into therapy and dove into medication. I did Zoloft a year, and I'll tell anybody that because if I feel like something helps me, I don't want to be ashamed of it and I don't want to not tell people who are struggling. But everything that I had solved revealed a whole other issue and it wasn't until two and a half, almost three years in, where I really felt like I had a grip on things. I had this new tool belt full of tools where I knew anytime something was gonna happen, I had this, that I knew I could do to help. I had this that I knew I could do to kind of solve it.
But on a surface level, what I would say is like the most valuable thing on a daily basis is when I feel something coming on that I know is affecting me, I used to like kind of like tense up and try to ignore it. But now when I feel those things coming along, I address it face to face. Like I look at the problem and say, "Well, where is this coming from? Or what could this be stemming from? What is it in my life today or yesterday or last week, or whatever, be bringing up these emotions?" And then I can literally heal those things in those moments and figure them out and allow my brain to process it rather than just building it up and going into overload.
LIKE RUNNING TOWARDS THE DANGER INSTEAD OF AWAY FROM IT?
Totally. These days, I'm not afraid of panic. I'm not afraid of anxiety. I'm not afraid of depression because I've learned so much about it. I just don't see it as an enemy, I see it rather that I'm bigger than it. I was always bigger than it ever was.
THE FINAL TRACK OF BROKEN, "LIVE ANOTHER DAY," YOU WROTE FOR THOSE DEALING WITH SELF-HARM OR THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE. WHY?
Yeah. It actually gets a little too close to home. We've had an insane amount of deaths in the family this year and today, this morning actually, my wife called me from work and told me that her nephew had committed suicide last night.
It's just so common now more than ever. I think that, we, as artists, anybody with a platform at all, I think that it is our responsibility to write songs that can aid people in need of a message of hope or even just a message of understanding. That's the whole concept behind this record.
You know, the last two records that we did, I was really focused on writing about the light at the end of the tunnel, like the answer to the problem. When it came time to write this record, I just remembered that in my darkest season, I didn't need someone to tell me everything was going to be OK, I needed someone to tell me that they understood what I was going through, that they could relate. That's always the first step of healing for anybody. Not someone being like, "Hey, perk up." It's someone being like, "Dude, I know how bad that is. That's terrible. I'm right there with you. You're not alone in that." That's the message in that song.
I'M TERRIBLY SORRY TO HEAR THAT. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CONVERSATIONS YOU SHARE WITH FANS? DO THEY TELL YOU THAT YOUR LYRICS HELP THEM AND HAVE YOU MADE SOME SORT OF DISCOVERY ABOUT YOURSELF FROM THOSE CONVERSATIONS?
Yeah, absolutely. We've had so many ups and downs in our career and things that just have not been consistent, that the only thing that's ever made it worth it for us to continue as a band through everything has been those conversations. And one conversation I can tell you I've never had with a fan is someone coming up to me after a show and be like, "Hey man, my life's perfect!"
It's always people that are hurting. It's always people that are using music to get through something that's tough in their life. The fact that we get to be one of those bands that get to write a song that maybe plays a part in someone's story? I mean, that's, that's as good as it gets. Period. And yeah, those conversations they changed me. They're eye-opening for me. One of the things about anxiety and depression that I'm thankful for is that it opened my mind up and it allowed me to be sympathetic and empathetic towards things that I never understood before. So being able to look someone in the eyes when they tell me their story and to really understand and to hurt with them; for them to know that I'm right there with them, that I do understand that I do care, it means everything to me.
WE ALSO LOST KYLE PAVONE FROM WE CAME AS ROMANS THIS YEAR. YOU WERE PART OF THEIR TRIBUTE SHOW AND SANG "LOST IN THE MOMENT" WITH THE BAND. WHAT'S YOUR MEMORY OF KYLE?
He was always reserved and wasn't the most outgoing person in the world as far as like connecting with people he didn't know well. But for whatever reason, he and I always hit it off. He had a really beautiful heart and you could tell that he was troubled, he had a heavy heart. But so many of us did, so many of us do, that it didn't feel foreign — how each of us dealt with those things was different. But we were all going through it together, out on the road. We're all spending our teenage years into our twenties growing up in the spotlight. It's not a normal lifestyle. It's not normal to spend your entire early portion of your life in a different city every day, living in a van, eating Taco Bell three times a day, having no money and literally doing anything to get to that next moment where you're on stage. They all were very, very close with each other and we got to be close with them as well from touring with them. I enjoyed Kyle a lot. Every moment I got to spend with them was wonderful and it was, the news was, devastating to say the least.
LET'S SWITCH TO A LIGHTER TOPIC, YOUR BUSINESS, ON POINT POMADE. YOU LAUNCHED A MATTE VERSION, WHAT'S NEXT?
This evening we're launching a beard oil! I'm definitely, really, ultra-picky about these products. There's the stigma of [that public figures] will abuse their following and sell them crap. There are plenty of companies out there that you can go to that already have products made and bottled and you can put a sticker on it and you can say, "Hey, here's my new line of products." It's so trash. I'm offended by that. I have made an effort to make these products so good that when someone actually does try them out, they're like, "Oh yeah. This formula was definitely crafted. This is different."
So the matte pomade was the same way. I actually cut my hair pretty short so I could start using the matte pomade to really test it out, to really understand a texturizing product — something that has more of a natural finish. And for the last few months I've been growing out my beard so I can test the beard oil, and I'm so happy with how it turned out.
I'VE USED THE PREMIUM VERSION FOR ABOUT A YEAR AND IT'S FANTASTIC. WHAT I LIKE THE MOST IS THE HOLD IS VERY STRONG, BUT WATER WASHES IT RIGHT OUT SO IT DOES NO DAMAGE.
That is so awesome. I think that the whole world of pomade gets so like niched into being like a men's being and it's not at all. We have so many female customers that use it every day. I mean anybody with the right haircut, that's who it's for.
And totally. A lot of the old-school pompadour, rockabilly stuff is like very petroleum-based, and it's hard to wash out. It's not good for your hair. So the goal was to create water-soluble pomades that held as well as a petroleum based one did.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FUTURE, LONG-TERM IDEAS?
On Point will be a 100 percent full-blown grooming line with shampoos and a tattoo lotion that moisturizes but also has SPF in it to protect tattoos. Tattoo aftercare. But just things for everybody, products for everybody. That's what I'm really excited about with the beard oil launch — there's so many people that are bald or don't really mess with their hair much, but are really focused on their beards and taking really great care of their beards. They haven't gotten to experience the quality of On Point products. So I'm really excited to offer that to them as well.