One-on-One with Mulligrub

Mulligrub (J Riley Hill, Kelly Campbell, Mirella Villa)
Mulligrub (J Riley Hill, Kelly Campbell, Mirella Villa) Photo by: Eric Roberts

Winnipeg pop-punk band Mulligrub describe their music perfectly on their Bandcamp page: “bittersweet but mostly bitter.” In the band’s debut LP Soft Grudgelead singer and guitarist Kelly Campbell’s acidic tongue spits out tales of former friendships, trips gone awry, and loves had and lost. They are stories that are completely honest and filled with a lot of anger, anxiety, and sadness. And yet because of Campbell’s pop melodies and the energetic sonic additions from her bandmates J. Riley Hill (drums) and Mirella Villa (bass), Soft Grudge is also sweet. It’s the band’s ability to mix the sweet and sour, the hard and the soft, that makes Mulligrub’s Soft Grudge so easy to embrace.

Soft Grudge began about 6 years ago when Campbell started writing some of the songs that are now on the album. Early versions of these tracks appeared on Campbell’s solo EP from 2013, recorded by Hill, Pre Grub. The EP is an acoustic affair and sonically very different from the punky sounds heard on Soft Grudge. This change in sound happened for a very simple reason: after moving to Winnipeg, Campbell could afford to buy an amp.

Campbell is originally from Halifax but moved to Winnipeg a couple of years ago and is now an art student at the University of Manitoba. Soft Grudge‘s album art is one of her her own creations and depicts the door of her first apartment in Halifax – her and her roommates decided to hang shoes on the front door so if anyone was looking for their place they could say, “it’s the one with the shoes.”

Campbell met Hill during a visit to Winnipeg before she moved. Eventually when the pair were looking for a bass player, Hill suggested his friend Villa who always wanted to be in a band. The trio recorded Soft Grudge last spring at Private Ear studio in Winnipeg and did vocals and overdubs over the following eight months at Hill’s place. The process to put out their debut has been a long one but when I talk to Campbell and Villa over the phone, the pair believe that the extended time it took to put out their record was well spent.  

“It was a long time but it was worth it because we kept adding things,” Villa says.

“I think it has been good to have that much time to work on it because you stop listening to it for two months or so and then you listen again and something really becomes obvious,” Campbell adds. 

“Yeah, you make some little changes and enhance things,” responds Villa. “It was a good time to wait instead of just releasing it right away. It feels like a good time to be releasing it now.”

When I ask Villa and Campbell what a “soft grudge” is, they throw out a lot of meanings before Campbell settles on this description: “What that means to me is like shitty nostalgia. Or when you are angry but can’t be too angry because there’s too many other feelings happening. There’s definitely still reasons to hold a grudge but there’s too many other nice feelings. You can’t hold a hard grudge if you’ve known someone for so long – well, sometime you can.”

This “shitty nostalgia” that Campbell describes is at the heart of Soft Grudge. From the “Man in the Moon,” across “Europe,” and back home to the yard of “Canadian Classic,” the memories Campbell puts to songs are marred by sadness. One of the most vivid cases is in “NFLD” when a spectacular view  (“we watch the whales shoal, I’ve never been and may never again be so close to something so complete and beautiful”) is ruined by a potential tragedy (“if the undertow should take me, I won’t panic and I won’t scream, just watch the rocks destroy my body”).

I’m kind of a negaholic,” Campbell admits. “I think I’m more likely to sing about how I feel negatively because it’s harder to talk about in life. It’s a cliche but I guess I can’t talk about my feelings so I write a song. For me, the process of writing a song is about communicating to other people how important they are to me or how much they hurt me in a way that I don’t actually have to talk to them.”

This negativity ultimately makes Soft Grudge feel so honest. Nothing in the album is ever glossed over or falsified, instead we are given the truth. Campbell is unafraid to express her true feelings, even if they are negative, and so we hear about the stumbles and falls, tears and broken hearts, and the getting up again. The ability to communication her negativity is an act, in part, that validates her feelings and an expression that is very important to her.

“I am positively negative about things,” laughs Campbell. “You should be able to feel how you feel about things. The world is a legitimately awful place for a lot of reasons so it’s totally fine to be like “everything fucking sucks” because it kind of does.” 

“I think people conflate being negative with inaction. So I think it’s totally fine to think that things are hard and the world is a shitty place for most people because it’s true.” 

Campbell’s only hesitation in releasing such candid tracks is how much people are going to know about her personal life. “I had this weird thing when I was first writing songs and I don’t really know where it came from but I felt like everything had to be true,” she says. “I couldn’t write a song that wasn’t true because then it would be misleading or something which I no longer believe.”

“I don’t really feel embarrassed by the songs or having feelings and talking about them but I don’t really want people to know all my personal business anymore,” Campbell laughs. “I’m not really scared of it but I definitely want to move away from it. So the next [record] probably won’t be as literally personal as this one.” 

Mulligrub will be celebrating the release of Soft Grudge on Saturday in Winnipeg with the good people of Cannon Bros and Animal Teeth and in May they will set out on a tour throughout Western Canada. When talking about the upcoming tour, the pair bubble with excitement, eager to take their Soft Grudge out on the road. Capturing how thrilled the band is, Villa says, “touring with Mulligrub is super fun because you get to experience all these new places and bands together. It’s the best.”

Check out Mulligrub’s Facebook event page for all tour date info.

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