Frank Mullen Interview
October 1, 2018
Interview by InfamousButcher
When metalheads talk about extreme metal vocalists, Frank Mullen is always regarded as one of the very best. In the late ‘80s / early 90’s, Frank helped create the genre of Death Metal that we all know and love with powerful, deep, inhuman growls like no one had ever heard before. Recently it was announced that Frank would be doing one final tour with his bandmates in Suffocation, the Death Chopping North America Farewell Frank Tour. I was lucky enough to chat with him about the tour and his legendary vocal style.
Metal Rules: Whose idea was it to do a final tour (Death Chopping North America Farewell Frank Tour) with you as the singer?
Frank Mullen: It was pretty much my idea. I wanted to go out and do one more tour before I retired. So I’ve been thinking about it, doing some things with the band, shows here and shows there. I said to myself, you know what, it’s that time. I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish. It’s been an amazing part of my life for 30 years. So I decided, let me see if I can put this thing together and come out for one last tour.
MR: So you approached the band and said you wanted to do it?
MR: Will you be singing all of the songs in the set for this tour?
FM: Yes, I will be doing all the songs. Ricky will not be on this tour with us so it will be me and the rest of the guys.
MR: Is there a chance we get some gems that haven’t been played in a while, like “Human Waste”, “Jesus Wept”, or “Prelude to Repulsion”?
FM: Yeah, we are going to mess around with the set. We are going to bring up songs we haven’t really played in a while. It will be full of a lot of songs from over the years. I think we’ve got a pretty solid set and I feel good about that. It will be some things you haven’t heard in a while.
MR: How did you become a singer and who were your influences?
FM: Becoming a singer, it’s a funny little story. Originally, I played the guitar and bass and jammed with Terrence (Hobbs) in a few bands before actually trying to sing. We’d play cover tunes and a few originals. One day we were all just hanging out. It was Terrence, we had a different guy that I went to school with, Mike Florio, that was playing drums, and Josh (Barohn) was there. I said, you know what I’m going to try singing man. The rest was history. After I tried it, I was like, you know what I like this. My influences, what I wanted to sound like at the time, was basically Chris Barnes from Cannibal Corpse, BJ from Baphomet. I wanted the low, heavy growl sound, but I also wanted clear and understandable.
MR: Guys like Chris Barnes and BJ (Brian Jezorio) were a little before you but not much.
FM: They both came out a little before we did. The demo tapes for both bands and the first Cannibal Corpse album (EATEN BACK TO LIFE) were around. I was like yeah, that’s what I want to sound like (laughs).
MR: Your vocal style has changed a bit since the early days of HUMAN WASTE and EFFIGY OF THE FORGOTTEN, which were ultra-low and very guttural. When did you start to change your approach to make it more understandable?
FM: It kind of happened around PIECED FROM WITHIN and the DESPISE THE SUN EP. I kind of wanted it a little clearer. In the early days I would double cup the mic and stuff like that. That made it guttural but I wanted more power and stuff like that. Another influence and a guy I admire in the business is Barney (Greenway) from Napalm Death. He always had that style where he had power and was understandable. That’s what I wanted to go for.
MR: I kind of noticed it with the BREEDING THE SPAWN album. It was a little bit of a different approach. And then with PIERCED FROM WITHIN it was still very heavy but a bit more understandable. Sometimes live you alternate your approach.
FM: If we’re doing an older song from EFFIGY or HUMAN WASTE or BREEDING, I use my old approach. For certain parts I really drop it down and really give it that ultra-low growl.
MR: You are a very entertaining front man. Can you explain the origin of “the chop”?
FM: (Laughs.) The chop was something that just happened. I was on stage and Mike was playing a blast beat and I kind of just started moving my hand along with the blast beat. The next thing you know it took off and people started doing it back to me. This thing took off on its own. It wasn’t planned out or anything like that. One day I decided I’ve got to just chop a wall with the blast beat!
MR: You added the tongue later I guess?
FM: Yeah, yeah. I added that and I pull out the guns. Different things I’ve added along the way.
MR: As you know 25 years ago everyone on stage doing extreme metal was dead serious. There was no fooling around. Nothing like that. Now the approach is a little different. It sounds like you’ve been doing this for a while. I think it is a lot of fun. It is really entertaining. I saw you in 1993 and there was nothing like that going on.
FM: Back in the early days I had long hair so I kind of hid behind the hair. So, I would do a lot of windmills, headbanging, and stuff like that. I didn’t really have to necessarily approach the audience. When I shaved my head around the PIERCED FROM WITHIN tour, now I was like, wow now everyone can see me. That’s when I started changing it up. Started adding things I could just project out onto the crowd. Now I had to really make it different. The humor, crazy stories, stage banter, I started adding all that in and it worked! (laughs)
MR: I remember the first time I saw you with the shaved head my wife says to me, is that Frank? And I said, yeah that’s him because I recognized your face but you did look a lot different with the shaved head. But you still went on to do an awesome show. You guys are always a good show.
FM: Thank you.
MR: Over the last few years you haven’t been on the road with Suffocation. Do you miss it?
FM: Oh yeah. Yeah. I definitely miss it. It is something I love doing. I was blessed to do it for 30 years. At this point in my life, I want to be able to go out and still do it one last time, and not be that guy walking out there with some walker and a cane. Then people are like, oh this guy should have retired 3 years ago. It is taxing on the voice, singing this way for thirty years. At this point, later in my life, it’s kind of like that old ’73 Dodge Charger. Got to pump the gas a little bit, get it warmed up, and then bam, off and running! At this point in my life I am very happy with everything I’ve accomplished and I am okay with this. It is not something like, oh I am going to regret this. I’ve done this for 30 years and I feel good leaving on a high note.
MR: It’s always better to go out on top. On your own terms.
MR: Suffocation was a major innovator in extreme music and has influenced so many bands. Are you proud of Suffocation’s legacy?
FM: Oh yeah, definitely. I am just proud that we stuck together, toured the world, and brought it to the people. And the people accepted it, appreciated it, and understood what we were trying to do. I am very proud of everything we’ve accomplished and I’m glad. And it’s humbling that we are influences on a lot of the young up and coming bands. It’s an honor.
MR: You were an influence especially from a technical Death Metal standpoint. In addition to being very brutal, you guys were also very technical. You ushered that in and influenced a lot of bands that came after you. The whole sub-genre of brutal death metal is really because of you guys. Bands like Devourment and Disgorge are around because of you.
FM: Right. Yep. We are good friends with a lot of those guys in those bands. And it’s just funny to like tour with them and everything. When they would come up to us for the first time and be like, oh you guys were such a huge influence. We started playing because of your band. I mean that’s really cool to hear.
MR: That’s cool. That’s all the questions I have.
FM: I also just want to say it’s not like I am disappearing off the face of the earth. I’ll still put some music together, side projects, things like that. Pursue that, and maybe I can last another 30 years over there.
MR: Ok so maybe some studio work, EP’s, projects with other musicians. Would you still do an occasional show with Suffocation?
FM: No, I really won’t be doing anything with Suffocation. I’m still going to be out there and will get together with a couple of different guys from different bands and put together some songs. Suffocation is going to continue forward with Ricky. I’m still going to try to keep myself as relevant as I can. I have a Frank Mullen official Facebook page and Instagram page. That’s where you’ll see what I am up to. (laughs)
MR: Frank, thanks very much for the great interview! See you in November at Reverb!
FM: Of course. All right excellent!