The 1990s saw a host of new rock ‘n’ roll and adult-oriented roots come to the forefront on the American music scene. It was a memorable, historic blend of music acts that was both broad and deep.
There were Oasis and Radiohead, which became two of the most acclaimed bands of a generation; grunge-rock bands like Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam; the Red-Hot Chili Peppers created a dynamic new blend of funk-rock in southern California; The Black Crowes and Wilco were keeping southern rock and alt-country humming; pop-metal had the Foo Fighters, Green Day, Blink-182 and Weezer; pop- and roots-rock was dominated by the likes of Hootie and the Blowfish, Sheryl Crow, the Wallflowers and the Counting Crows; and country made a huge comeback led by Garth Brooks, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Alan Jackson the Chicks, Brooks & Dunn and others.
Somewhere in that spectrum, there was an understated, long-haired kid from Atlanta, Georgia. He was a storyteller, a folk-rock artist who wasn’t afraid to infuse technology into his sound. This was Shawn Mullins and his brooding, lyrically-thoughtful style stood out, harking back to the styles of Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
Mullins exploded out of the gates with the album Soul’s Core and it left a mark with the Grammy-nominated song “Lullaby.” But he wasn’t some one-hit wonder. The song “Shimmer”—the 14th and final song on the record—also went on to become a big hit and was adopted as an anthem by Australia as part of its promotional campaign during the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics.
“It was a very cool thing to watch,” Mullins told me on The Load Out music podcast about how his record company was moving his music up a variety of hits charts. “A hit being made by all those working parts. There was some hard-working people.”
His music would find places on popular television shows. “Shimmer” ended up on the hit teen drama Dawson’s Creek—and he was rubbing elbows with Katie Holmes and the cast—while his song “All in My Head” was featured on the NBC sitcom Scrubs.
Mullins then found himself touring with Hootie and the Blowfish, making music across the globe, playing in front of festivals of more than 200,000 people in Europe and more. In 2006, he had a huge hit with the song “Beautiful Wreck” off of his 9th Ward Pickin’ Parlor record and it was later noted by author Stephen King as a song he’d want on his ultimate playlist.
It was all, well, “kind of scary,” Mullins said, understated as always. “I think tough times in life helps artists….as pathetic as I think that is, I think it does if you allow it.”
It didn’t seem like tough times but the experiences were taking their toll: divorce, unwanted attention, an addiction to weed, being on the road more than he wanted.
Throughout our conversation, we discuss the ups and downs of the past 25 years, ultimately coming full circle as Mullins celebrates the 20th anniversary of Soul’s Core by recording two new versions of the album, dubbed Soul’s Core Revival. It was an idea spurred by engineer Glenn Matullo, who worked on Soul’s Core when it first came out. But it was not something Mullins initially wanted to do—as it entailed dealing with Sony Music—so he decided to re-record the songs with new twists. Plus, it bided him some time.
“An in-between album, while I write,” he noted.
Thus, the songs are not a remix or a remaster of the original, but brand-new recordings with new arrangements of the songs. One album will be new stripped down solo performances – some on guitar, some on piano, and one a cappella – and the second will be a new studio recording with his full band, Soul Carnival.