Alabama band to perform at Bama

After performing at a showcase for music talent buyers in Houston,Texas, Mobile-based band The Mulligan Brothers were approached by a commander for the Navy.

“How do you guys feel about playing in a war zone?” she asked.

“We said, ‘Well, we’re OK with that. We’ll do it,’” said Gram Rea, vocalist and fiddle, mandolin and harmonica player. “So she said, ‘Get your passports ready.’ It was a really, really wonderful experience to go play for the troops. It was very rewarding to see our troops overseas and what they’re doing, and they love to have a little bit of home come to them.”

They’ve played in the Middle East, Africa and on board the USS George H.W. Bush, but this Friday, at the Bama Theatre’s Acoustic Night, The Mulligan Brothers’ will be playing for the first time in Tuscaloosa.

“We kinda skipped some steps in our early booking stages,” said Ross Newell, lead vocalist and guitarist. “We were traveling, but we were skipping a lot of the areas right around our home. We were making more nine-, ten- and twelve-hour trips than we were just a few hours up the road. We’ve wanted to play in Tuscaloosa since day one; it’s just finally worked out.”

Despite their name, The Mulligan Brothers share neither blood nor the last name “Mulligan.” All four band members were involved with other bands in the past, so they coined the name “The Mulligan Brothers” based on the golf term “mulligan,” which essentially means a second chance.

“[Newell and I] started out doing some acoustic shows together with some other musicians,” Rea said. “Ben [Leininger, vocals and drums] and Greg [DeLuca, vocals and bass] had been doing stuff around town with other groups for years, and it all just worked out. It was the right time and place for all of us to get together.”

Since their January 2013 formation, The Mulligan Brothers have released a self-titled debut album, opened for the Wild Feathers as one of six finalists in Hangout Music Festival’s “The Road to the Hangout” contest and performed at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz Fest. In fact, their album was number eight on Off Beat Magazine’s list of the top ten best-selling albums in the Jazz Fest CD Tent.

“It was a pretty big deal,” Rea said. “We didn’t know it was gonna go that well. We were just excited to play. All of us have always wanted to play Jazz Fest.”

Artists like Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and John Fogerty were also on the Jazz Fest lineup, as well as Alabama’s own Jason Isbell and the Alabama Shakes. In the past few years, more and more Alabama-based musicians have been climbing up the musical ladder and achieving national fame and recognition, and The Mulligan Brothers said they hope to join that ever-expanding list.

“I think there’s a plethora of talent coming out of Alabama right now,” DeLuca said. “A lot of it has to do with that Muscle Shoals sound with St. Paul and the Broken Bones and the Alabama Shakes, but we hope we’re adding to it as well. We hope we’re following in the footsteps of those bands’ success with it. I don’t think we sound just like them at all, but we have some sort of an Alabama sound.”

Newell said living in Alabama and interacting with other Alabama-based musicians helps inspire The Mulligan Brothers’ sound.

“I think it’s hard not to get influenced,” Newell said. “We’re all fortunate enough to be fans of a lot of the music around us. I think it’s difficult to not be influenced and inspired by those people when you’ve admired them so much for so long.”

In addition to singing and playing guitar, Newell writes the majority of the band’s songs.

“A lot of the songs I’ve written I’ve done in transit, where I just turn off the radio in the car and think,” Newell said. “ [Others] are more methodical, and I clear up time in the schedule to really concentrate on a story or a melody and just expand from there. But I can’t say that I’ve found a trick that works 100 percent of the time. Song by song, I have to figure out what I have to do to make it work.”

After releasing their debut album in July 2013, The Mulligan Brothers said they plan to head back into the studio September to work on their sophomore, yet-to-be-titled release. For their first album, the band members recorded each instrumental and vocal track individually and combined them all in the editing process, a technique known as multi-track recording. Their upcoming album, however, will be primarily recorded live.

“Where we were recording before was a great studio, but we just didn’t have enough room to be able to get separation from the sound,” Newell said. “If we all got one room and played together, there’s not really anything to mix after that. Everything just kind of goes into all the mics. It’s a sound engineer’s nightmare. So we just didn’t have the option.”

Recording their music together at one time allows the band members to create a more authentic sound, Newell said.

“When we’re playing live together, we can all feel that chemistry that we do in a live show,” he said. “We can get excited about these songs in the same way that we do every night. I think it’s just a more comfortable way to play the songs. Even if it’s only in my brain, I think that you can hear that after the fact. You can hear that comfort in the recording.”

While the recording process may be changing, the core elements of the Mulligan Brothers’ music will remain the same.

“A lot of our key elements that we agree on and things that we never plan on changing about our band – those things will be consistent to any album we do,” Newell said. “But I hope that every album is at least a little different, or ideally a little better. I like to think that every album will be better as a band and as musicians, so I hope that’s the case on this new record.”

(See also "Acoustic Night features new singers, songwriters from around the country")

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