20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
“I’m not really out to please anyone when I write. Just myself and my bandmates. That’s not in an egotistical, stubborn ‘screw everyone’ type of way. It just gets very confusing and somewhat diluted when you try to cater to the masses.” Losers began as an idea with two kindred spirits in the countryside studio of one of the noughties’ most interesting and underrated bands, The Cooper Temple Clause. The idea pupated, other musicians became involved, two kindred spirits became three and a butterfly emerged, beautiful, ready to take to the wind. Two albums into their career, they moved to Berlin, to be more inspired and signed a publishing deal with BMG. The idea pupated once more and the butterfly that emerged was darker, but much more powerful. The beauty and power of Losers has been acknowledged by some of the most beautiful and powerful TV series for the Netflix generation. Game of Thrones, The Blacklist, Reign, and Black Sails are just part of a longlist of series that have used Losers’ music.
The momentum that the band garnered in their Berlin studio under the production gaze of multi-instrumentalist Tom Bellamy was breathtaking and saw their music also used by high impact films like Hercules and Upgrade (from the director of the Saw franchise). But things don’t always go the way you want them to. The darkness of the Brandenburg forest, the isolation of the studio deep in that forest and the consequent downward spiral of all three members of the band saw the toughest couple of years imaginable and an album, How to Ruin Other People’s Futures, which reflected this pain and despair. Through their pain, Losers found an opportunity to grow, to transform and for them, the only way out was up. What emerged was the most spectacular butterfly the band could have ever envisaged and a journey ahead that continues to be unstoppable.
With Paul Mullen’s soaring vocals taking them ever higher, Losers decided to galvanize the live band into a two-piece, which is where they find themselves today: more focused, free, and poised for anything that gets in their way. Thanks to long time collaborators like Damian Taylor (Björk, UNKLE, The Killers, Arcade Fire, and Austra), and Dan Austin (Doves, Massive Attack), Losers’ music sounds more expansive than ever. There is a balance that was missing before; the rage has turned to wisdom and the despair to hope. Their songs now look less within themselves and more at the world around them, a world in balance, with joy and sadness, with clarity and confusion, with contrast and with color.
I had the chance to speak with Losers’ guitarist and vocalist Paul Mullen for the latest edition of 20 Questions, where he told me all about their latest release EP01, their songwriting process, the endless power of music, and more.
What’s the full history of Losers? How did you guys come to be?
Losers began with Tom and Eddy back around 2008, I think? Possibly earlier. Eddy had been a fan of Tom’s previous band, The Cooper Temple Clause. They started writing and remixing for the likes of The Prodigy & Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. Which led to live shows and an album (Beautiful Losers). I joined Losers mid way through the recording of our second album …And So We Shall Never Part back in 2011, kind of by accident. I was in between houses having just separated with a girlfriend. Tom put me up in his spare room. I had to be in London to finish a Young Legionnaire record. On my last day before heading back up to the north east of England, myself and Tom got into the studio and wrote “Half Built House.” The three of us instantly realised this should be a regular thing. So here we are. 10 years later. Still at it.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
Yes and no. My Mam and Dad never played any instruments, although my Dad has since picked up a guitar, but there was always music playing. Always. So when I started to play (by ear) the EastEnders theme song on a small Casio keyboard Santa Claus got me one year, they were a little stunned and to my memory we were out the next day to get me a “proper” keyboard. Which turned out to be a Gem Wizard 2 keyboard organ with bass pedals and a rhythm bank. Possibly the best instrument to start my journey in music. I instantly had all the components to compose a full song at my fingers and feet.
Who are the biggest musical influences that we hear most on EP01?
EP01 is a mix match of beautiful misfits which span over 12 years. During our most recent “Behind the Music” webinar we looked at “Fool Anyone,” a track started in 2009 and artists mentioned included dEUS, Soulwax, and St. Vincent. Then you have a track like “Wake Up” which gently doff’s the cap to INXS and Prince. “Lost in Translation” could happily sit on a Beck record and “Follow You” would live on the same street as Liars and Mr. Yorke.
Among which genres would you guys classify yourselves?
We tend to meander between anything alternative, I guess? There’s rock in there, electro, indie, dance? Anything goes. Depends how we’re feeling in the studio.
Favorite artists of all-time?
Bjork, Part Chimp, Deerhoof, Radiohead.
The last book you finished?
How Music Works by David Byrne.
One song that you will never be sick of?
“Wichita Lineman” by Glenn Campbell.
If you could have one writer, dead or alive, to compose your obituary, who would it be and why?
Eddie Izzard. Been a huge fan of her writing/stand-up for many years. I think my life so far has been very “left at the traffic lights” so she would nail it. Dark question by the way. Ha.
How would you guys characterize the general theme of your single “Fool Anyone”?
Privacy, manipulation, brainwashed, Trump. The video is a tongue in cheek nod at the perils of social media. How damaging it can be yet we are still glued to it. What is real and what is fake? Who wants us to know what and when?
Biggest pet peeves?
Bad drivers. Bad manners. Bad.
One piece of advice you would give to your younger selves?
Don’t be scared of making mistakes.
The last series you binge-watched?
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.
Favorite movies of all-time?
The Shining, The Big Lebowski, Toy Story 3.
What is your favorite type of song to write?
The ones that people like? Actually, I’m not really out to please anyone when I write. Just myself and my bandmates. That’s not in an egotistical, stubborn “screw everyone” type of way. It just gets very confusing and somewhat diluted when you try to cater to the masses. My favorite artists have always seemed to create their own world and space and will invite you into it. When I listen to a Bjork record I never feel like I’ve been in the room before. Maybe just whilst listening to another Bjork record. With Losers we have tracks like “Chainsaw” which took about a day to write and a track like “Fool Anyone” which took 12 years to complete. Both writing processes are very different. Both very rewarding. So I think to answer your question, my favorite type of song to write is a song that is complete. Many, many left unfinished.
Favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
My answer may be somewhat influenced by my location right now. Back in Berlin or London I would be in the studio anyway so not much change there. Since spending the past 18 months in the Californian desert my answer is run. It rained last week and it made it perfect for a run.
The best compliment you’ve ever received?
I once received a letter from a fan saying my music really helped them get through a tragic loss in their family. The power of music. I’ll never forget that letter.
Favorite song to get your blood moving?
“Pelican” by Mammoth.
What does the word “beauty” mean to you guys?
Losers have always been about championing the loser. Our first album was called Beautiful Losers. There’s beauty in everything, maaaan.
One thing that has been keeping you sane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ready for a lame answer? Music. It really has though. I’ve been super productive over the past 18 months.
What can we expect to hear next from Losers?
We’re gonna be releasing a new track every 6 weeks until we run out of tracks. Each track will be accompanied by a “deconstructed/live” version plus a webinar going into detail about the writing, recording, and mixing process of each track. We’ll be doing more things in Decentraland and hopefully live shows.