interview. Sacha Mullin breaks new ground with ‘Casino Wilderness Period’

"I love all kinds of music, and admire Todd Rittmann's creativity and strength, so I thought we could try and see what happened—and I think what happened was a pretty good record!"
4 January 2024

Prepare for a captivating journey as we delve into the musical universe of Chicago’s sonic virtuoso, Sacha Mullin. His third solo work, Casino Wilderness Period, breaks new ground in auditory exploration, pushing the boundaries of sonic possibilities. Released under Dog & Pony Records in collaboration with Dipterid Records, this album is available in both physical and digital formats.

Mullin, a revered figure in Chicago’s dynamic music scene, has been affectionately labeled as an “angel,” an “alien,” and a “vocalist extraordinaire” by the Chicago Reader. A veteran collaborator with avant-garde ensembles like Dead Rider, Lovely Little Girls, and Cheer-Accident, Mullin’s musical prowess and vocal finesse have left an indelible mark for over a decade.

Casino Wilderness Period, follows Mullin’s impressive 2017 solo album, Duplex, which garnered acclaim from BBC6, Vocalo, The Big Takeover, and The Wire, with the latter proclaiming, “If the landscape of chart pop is flat, Sacha Mullin proposes an Alpine hike.”

This latest release is a thrilling continuation of Mullin’s musical voyage, embodying the same fearlessness and vocal prowess that define his work. Beyond digital streaming, the album is available on vinyl and CD. The vinyl, expertly pressed by Chicago’s Smashed Plastic, and the CD, inclusive of a full-color booklet featuring photos by Aaron Sweatt, lyrics, and two exclusive bonus tracks (“Love Sisyphean” and a Rittmann co-write “Power!”), are accessible online and in select stores across Chicago (US) and London (UK).

Join us in an insightful conversation with Sacha Mullin, where we explore the inspiration, challenges, and creative process that shape his musical landscapes. It’s an opportunity to connect with the artist behind the sonic magic and unravel the stories woven into the fabric of this exceptional album.

Sometimes life can feel like you’re at the edge of the eye of a storm, so I tried to make music that reflected that

Casino Wilderness Period is your third solo album. How does it differ from your previous works, and what inspired the unique direction for this release?

Honestly, I think it’s my most fully-formed album. I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish with Whelm and Duplex, but Casino Wilderness Period pulled a particular confidence in me, as a focal point, that I sometimes found surprising. And, I love all kinds of music, and admire Todd Rittmann’s creativity and strength, so I thought we could try and see what happened—and I think what happened was a pretty good record!

The late Julee Cruise championed your work, and you are affectionately called an “angel,” an “alien,” and a “vocalist extraordinaire” by the Chicago Reader. How do such labels influence your approach to creating music?

Oh, Julee. I miss her so much. She was always making me laugh, and she was such a gift. She loved a good sandwich, a good song, and I loved her dog. And the Reader is incredibly kind to support my work I don’t take any of that for granted. But I also don’t really try to put too much stock into believing my own hype because I still think there’s so much I still want to try and accomplish, and I’m always trying to hone my craft. But it’s validating and an honour to know that people hear great things in what I do, so that must mean I’m heading in good directions. I guess as an influence, it pushes me to continue to build my little universe.

Your collaborations with left field ensembles like Dead Rider, Lovely Little Girls, and Cheer-Accident are well-known. How does your experience with these groups contribute to the musical fearlessness showcased in your solo work?

I think the work I did with Todd on Dead Rider’s “Crew Licks” directly impacted my work here. Being invited to work on that album was a gift, and I became rather transfixed with Todd’s assertive landscapes. With LLG or Cheer-Ax, I frequently assumed the role of a harmony singer or contributed special solos, and the experience felt more like a communal endeavor. Despite not currently being part of a band, resonating with others is a practice I strive to maintain as I now dedicate myself entirely to creating my own work.

Your new album features collaborations with industry legends such as Emily Bindiger, Judi Vinar, Annmarie Cullen, and Mem Nahadr. Can you share how their contributions enriched the sonic landscape of Casino Wilderness Period?

They have each been mentors, friends, supporters, and inspirations for me. They aren’t so much backing singers as they are structural empathy. Their voices are all very different, but link together with breath, passion, and honesty, and it’s incredible that they not only enriched my music, but my life at large. I love them all so much.

The lead single, Arranging Flowers explores themes of celebrity worship, opulence, and existentialism. How did the concept for this song evolve, and what inspired the analog glitchy music video by Glass Void?

My friend Nicola Sargent shared Glass Void’s work with me, and I was really pulled into it. Glass Void is a really cool guy and I love how he approaches image manipulation. A lot of people can warp images for the sake of it, but there’s something about how he approaches it that feels sincere. Again, it’s the sincerity in tandem with the talent that moves me, and I felt like his visual eye would capture moods of isolation with movement perfectly. I filmed footage here in Chicago with Pauline Sauer and Gregory Jacobsen, and we sent it over to Germany for Glass Void to maniuplate. We sent editing notes over to each other back and forth, and I think it’s a great video. The song itself was mostly me trying to figure out how to navigate the harshness of the music industry, the world at large, and the harshness within. Sometimes life can feel like you’re at the edge of the eye of a storm, so I tried to make music that reflected that.

The closing track, Window Out, features ghostly whistle tones and quotes Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick’s timeless refrain. How did you conceptualize and execute the cinematic, Carole King-in-space vibe of this song?

Judi once recorded a version of “The Windows of the World” and it was really beautiful. I also love Dionne’s original, as well as the Pretenders’ version. There’s something about that opening line of Hal David’s, “the windows of the world are covered in rain…” that taken even by itself, is incredibly moving. Mem Nahadr’s voice appears in really particlar points of my song “Window Out”, and it’s stunning. Strangely, the song was written in an almost automatic writing feel after a long day of teaching music. I was so exhausted, and I started playing the opening chords as an improvisation—and then suddently, I followed my instinct, and the song essentially came out near-fully formed. Naturally, I went to Aldi afterwards.

What changes would you like to see happen in the music industry?

I’d like the streaming royalty nonsense to be sorted out, for younger musicians to not be taken advantage of, and for people to stop giving me unsolicited career advice. (laughs)

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Yoko Kanno.

What is one message you would give to your fans?

Oh my goodness, just thank you. I’ve been receiving some of the most beautiful messages from people since the record came out, and the impact of those words isn’t lost on me. I love hearing from people. I hope I can continue to make music that resonates with you all.

Where have you performed? What are your favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

I used to perfom quite a lot, and everywhere from the Science Museum of Minnesota to the Anaheim Convention Center to backyard barbecues. Every experience has impacted me, and it’s really interesting to experience music in different magnitudes and buildings. My favorite venue as a listener is probably Constellation in Chicago, but I’m forever loyal to Cafe Mustache. — I’ve been sort of a studio creature in the last few years, so I only perform sporadically. I’m hoping to get myself out on the road in the new year.