Singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins recalls fiddling around with his friend’s sampler/drum machine 20 years ago. He loaded a James Brown song into it—he thinks it was “Sex Machine”—and slowed the beat down until the original song was unrecognizable. Mullins grabbed his journal and read one of his personal entries. He then wrote a rhythmic finger-picking guitar part over the top. It took all of 30 minutes to create “Lullaby,” which would become his biggest hit, one that would launch his career into a whole new stratosphere.
“It was not a lot of effort, it just kind of worked out,” Mullins recalls. “Other stuff I labor over quite a bit and never get any kind of commercial success.”
The song landed on Soul’s Core, which got released in 1998. It was his fourth record. Prior to Soul’s Core, he was an underground, mostly acoustic indie singer-songwriter. Soul’s Core not only explored a new territory of alternative rock with folk, trip-hop, spoken word and pop, it also boosted his fanbase significantly.
“It’s really significant for me. It’s kind of the second phase of the career for me where it got really real and also really unreal,” Mullins says.
Now it’s the 20th anniversary of Soul’s Core, and Mullins is revisiting it. But he’s not taking the typical route of just playing the album front to back on the road or re-releasing the album with bonus tracks. He’s re-recorded the entire album with a full band, and then also re-recorded the album a second time with solo guitar/vocals, and occasionally his friend on piano.
“Since we’re totally independent again, the easiest and most profitable way of doing it is just re-record the project. If I have to go through Sony music, I’m probably buying copies of the record from them at 11 bucks a piece or whatever,” Mullins says. “We re-did everything, artwork included, to give it to them kind of like how it is now. Stuff grows and changes.”
The idea of re-recording his breakout album started a year ago after he was coping with the suicide of his partner. Unsure what to do, he called up a bunch of his friends to get together, play music, and basically not be alone. These sessions yielded a few songs, but it got him thinking about how great it would be to capture Soul’s Core with a band like this, and document how the songs have changed from touring so relentlessly over the years.
“I kind of let everyone do their thing. It wasn’t as big of an undertaking as you might imagine. Everything worked beautifully,” Mullins says. “It comes natural, what you do when you have a bunch of really great musicians in a room for the songs.”
Around the same time, he was thinking it would be fun to tell some stories about each of the songs on Soul’s Core. It didn’t seem right to tell these stories and then go into a full band rendition of the songs, so he decided to do an entirely different recording of the record.
“It’s like the Kris Kristofferson kind of way of doing it, where you stay up all night, and just track it solo,” Mullins says.
These two albums are expected to be released in August or September this year, and he’s looking forward to celebrating the record that essentially made his career.
“That whole record was written from journal entries while I was on the West Coast,” Mullins says. “Just me and my dog and a van. That had a lot to do with people’s connection with it, I think.”
The album also taught him a lot about how to incorporate his broad influences in a creative way.
“I think it took getting the kind of audience that got whatever I was at the time in ’98,” Mullins says. “They kind of told me what I was. I have so many influences. I think I started to find my voice.”
Shawn Mullins plays at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 26 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $22/adv, $25/door. 479-1854.