Sacha Mullin, singer-songwriter and backup vocalist extraordinaire | Chicagoans of Note | Chicago Reader

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Sacha Mullin, singer-songwriter and backup vocalist extraordinaire

“I want to assemble things as if I'm storyboarding in my head. In a way, I feel like a casting director for sound.”

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KERRY COUCH

  • Kerry Couch

Sacha Mullin, 32, is a singer-songwriter and pianist who teaches voice and piano to private students and works as an administrative assistant for Peter McDowell Arts Consulting. He has performed with the bands Lovely Little Girls and Cheer-Accident, and he's released two albums of his own music, 2013's Whelm and 2017's Duplex.


As told to Salem Collo-Julin

I mostly grew up in Minnesota. I was there for about 18 years, and then around 2011 I decided to move to Chicago. I love New York dearly, or at least the idea of what New York was—it's permanently crystallized in my head as the Seinfeld era—but New York is very different now. I had thought, well, you know, Minneapolis is sort of Cindy Brady and New York is Marcia, so I'll move to Jan. You know, Chicago.

I got an apartment on Craigslist and prayed that the people who lived there weren't going to murder me. They ended up being friendly and fine. And it was because of them that I attended a weird dinner party and met [Quimby's manager] Liz Mason, who's now a dear friend of mine. Liz and I now do The Found *NSYNC Fan Fiction Radio Hour, a podcast where we read *NSYNC fanfiction that was found in a binder in a Goodwill.

I did know a few people in Chicago before I moved here—a band from Minneapolis called Guzzlemug. I went to college with two of the three members. And I was like, "Well, I know you. Let's hang out." The drummer, Charlie [Werber], was in a couple of other projects as well, and he sent me an e-mail from this group called Lovely Little Girls. I thought, "That's an odd band name." And Charlie said, "They need a keyboard player." And I was like, you know, Charlie, I appreciate the offer, but I kind of want nothing to do with music right now; I'm trying to rebuild myself. And then they found a keyboard player, and then there were some more persistent e-mails to me asking, "Well, will you sing backup?"

  • Sacha Mullin contributes vocals to the Lovely Little Girls song "Purify"—he takes a bit of a solo at 0:55.

So I asked for a demo CD. My mom had given me a Panera gift card. I walked about 45 minutes to a Panera with the CD and a laptop and sat there listening and eating salad. Lovely Little Girls has some rather ribald lyrics. I was listening, thinking, "What on earth is going on here?" And then I said out loud, "What the fuck?" It just kind of came out of my mouth.

I've always kind of been the person that wanted to conquer different challenges, and I'm glad I just fell into this band without any context. I just said to myself, "Yeah, I'll sing these really acrobatic lines."

I ended up making two records with them and toured a couple of times. It taught me a lot about myself as a singer. I felt like a Swiss Army knife. It's amazing that in that band we were able to somehow distinctively bring our own sounds. You have a group of nine very idiosyncratic people, all very different, and it somehow coalesced into this really interesting music.


Shameless Karaoke on Marz featuring Sacha Mullin
Thu 7/22, 8 PM, Life on Marz Community Club, 1950 N. Western, free, 21+


My folks were involved in church music, like from the Catholic angle. My mom was always playing this one cassette tape of Sandi Patty's "Pour On the Power." I can't with that song. My mom is a great singer, and she often had jobs at churches as the music or choral director. So I learned the harmony style of Catholic music kind of through osmosis, which is great from a music-theory standpoint. I hit "cancel" when it came to Catholic confirmation—I was done after the free trial. But, you know, those formative sounds are always with you.

One particular memory I have from childhood is hearing the end credits to the Coneheads movie, and Morten Harket from A-ha sings a Frankie Valli song ("Can't Take My Eyes Off You"). And I just remember thinking, "How do I get to be a disembodied voice over the credits for a movie?"

  • The video for Sacha Mullin's "Crow," directed by Angelo Zai

I'm attracted to things on the margins. I can put a couple of weird things on a plate, and it makes sense to me. I definitely have a lot of memories of failing spectacularly at that sort of thing, but I think I'm at a point where I can go, "Well, maybe like a Balkan-style harmony would make sense over this, and then this sort of progressive underpinning with an R&B bass line . . . " I'm not typically composing in the sense of music theory; I can, but I want to assemble things as if I'm storyboarding in my head. In a way, I feel like a casting director for sound.

During the COVID lockdown period, I felt like there were times that my heart stopped—there were moments where things fell apart because we couldn't be near anyone. There was a reunion of an old band that I was involved in, and we got pretty far in the recording stages of a project and it just all fell apart—the energy was gone, the mojo was gone. I had a relationship I was in that fell apart because of the distance.

  • Sacha Mullin is among the vocalists on the Cheer-Accident track "Lifetime Guarantee."

But limitations always create opportunity when you get over the sulking. The benefit was that I focused on my apartment that I've been in for eight years and realized, "This isn't just a stopping point; maybe you should finally unpack a couple of boxes." I bought a nice mirror and I assembled a desk, and now it looks like I live in a Michaels. So, small things.

And I was working—I was teaching voice, and I had been working as an administrative assistant for a long time. I also work with Darien Williams at Cafe Mustache, putting together events (filmed live and streamed on Twitch during the pandemic). Thankfully we're now in a time and space where a "live studio audience" is welcomed back in, and the support has been great.

I was able to finish a record that I started a couple of years ago with Todd Rittmann [of Dead Rider]. Todd is a very good friend of mine and an absolute goofball. I think that we've made something really cool. And I am elated that I was recently signed to Dog & Pony Records, who are scheduled to release my album with Todd early next year. They might help me release a digital reissue of my 2017 album Duplex as well.

If someone asks me to sing backup, I am there. It's my favorite thing to do—resonating against someone else's voice. But I'm excited about this new record with Todd. It's really great to feel like I'm in my own skin with this record.  v

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