Shawn Mullins loves that you still remember his song – you know the one. You hear it all the time at the eye doctor.
Seriously, Mullins appreciates it. But in reality, he’s made seven records since that song everyone recognizes was a hit back in the late ’90s and helped him sell a million albums. Dang it, what was that song called?
“I still love singing ‘Lullaby,'” says Mullins from his Atlanta home.
That’s it. “Lullaby.” You can hear it now, right? If not, just wait until your next doctor’s appointment.
“I am grateful that people loved it then and still respond to it,” Mullins continues in his gentle Southern baritone voice that’s exactly the like the one you’d expect to hear coming from the person who wrote and sang “Lullaby.” “It’s been good to me.”
“Lullaby” was a hit in 1998, garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and still receives substantial FM radio airplay today. That’s a long time for a musician to still be in love with one song. But then, Mullins, who put out his first self-released cassette in 1991 with Everchanging World, was able to gain a loyal fan base through that one hit and has never really slowed down as a professional musician – until just recently.
In 2009, Mullins became a father for the first time. His most recent album, Light You Up, came out the following year. Since then, he hasn’t really felt compelled to record his own songs.
“I spend my time being a parent,” Mullins says. “And at the same time, I don’t think there is a need for me to put out anything now. There’s time for that.”
But Mullins has remained busy. In addition to a regular touring schedule, he has given more attention to the songwriter side of the “singer-songwriter” label. Mullins scored a Triple-A radio hit with the song “Beautiful Wreck,” co-written with longtime writing partner Chuck Shannon, in 2006. And he co-wrote the No. 1 Billboard country hit, “Toes,” with Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band.
“I’ve known [Zac] since we were 14,” Mullins says. “When he was recording, he asked me to come by and listen. I simply suggested a different way to end the song. He changed the last verse and was nice enough to give me a co-write on it.”
Cooperative songwriting sessions, which have included all nighters in remote cabins, weekends at fine resorts, and dingy road digs, proved their worth on Light You Up – widely viewed by critics and fans as the pinnacle of Mullins’ songwriting thus far. Highlights from the album include the title cut – a sultry number with Latin and 1930s jazz hints.
“That’s one of the only times I’ve woken up with a melody and wondered where it came from,” Mullins says of “Light You Up.” “I thought maybe I’d stolen it.”
“Catoosa County” is a folksy bluegrass ballad exploring Civil War actions that traversed the northwestern section of Georgia – the place where Mullins grew up. The song stems from a childhood incident where Mullins and some friends stumbled upon a genuine Confederate officer’s sword in the woods. Years later, Mullins reflected on the human cost of the war and how it’s still being paid with lyrics like, “…all the souls of all the men they roll in the holes they’s buried in/Blue and Grey and the blood red Georgia clay of Catoosa County.”
“There’s a lot of my family history tied up in that part of the state and that part of the war,” Mullins says “It’s something I hope to explore more.”
The song “I Can’t Remember Summer” tells the story of people on the margins. Mullins sings of empty factories that lead to empty whisky bottles and eventually empty beds. It envisions a different America than what many expect, a place “buried under the snows of winter, just like we all were never here.”
As Mullins’ co-writing exploits have continued without letup, his own recording may be coming out of dormancy. He says he’s been getting the “itch” and may start to record new songs sometime this year.
“At a certain point – maybe its because you start to get a little tired –the tendency to edit yourself goes away, and you are more willing to try out ideas and give them the time they need,” Mullins says. “You can always go back and fix a song later. I do that almost all the time.”