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SEE WHAT IT BRINGSPhiladelphia-based acoustic soul artist MUTLU ONARAL has just released his debut CD 'LIVIN IT' at a time when global tensions are high (namely the conflict between Russia and Georgia, and the controversies that have stemmed from the 2008 Summer Olympics being held in Beijing). Given the delicacy of the world on political and economic fronts, listening to an album like 'LIVIN IT' gives you that incentive to pour that cup of coffee, reach for that doughnut , and readies you to face the day, no matter what it has in store.
SOUL TROUBADOUR MUTLU
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HIS CD 'LIVIN IT'
WORKING WITH DARYL HALL, G. LOVE, & AMOS LEE
AND THE THRILL OF COLLABORATION
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
Produced by T-BONE WOLK (HALL & OATES, CARLY SIMON, and ELVIS COSTELLO), 'LIVIN IT' boasts collaborations with such stimulating company as music legend DARYL HALL on the slow burning 'SEE WHAT IT BRINGS', G. LOVE on the reggae-fied soul of SHAKY GROUND (PART 2), and AMOS LEE on the plaintive 'MAKE IT THERE'. While the roster is impressive, one needs to be reminded that "LIVIN IT', is very much a solo album which displays MUTLU's penchant for that feel good seventies soul sound that filled his ears as a youth. "For me, what resonated the most was people like STEVIE WONDER, BILL WITHERS, MARVIN GAYE, and HALL & OATES." confesses ONARAL. "They (HALL & OATES) were definitely a huge influence. That was why it was such a thrilling experience to work with DARYL. Getting to collaborate and do some shows with someone that has influenced you is rewarding. That seventies soul sound is what inspires me the most."
ROCKWIRED spoke with MUTLU over the phone. Here is how it went.
Is your name Turkish?
Yes. My parents moved from Turkey to here in the seventies. A lot of people tend to think that it's name that I've made up, or think it's the name of a band. There is always a lot of mystery behind it.
I asked because back when I was in college I had a roommate named KUTLU.
Yes. Obviously, your name came easily to me. I'm sure that it doesn't come easily to a lot of people.
No. It really doesn't.
Do you still have family in that region?
Except for my parents, everybody is still there.
You don't have family in Georgia, do you?
No. Only on the western part of Turkey. That's a tough situation going on over there.
It is. It's kind of scary, really.
It really is.
To a lighter subject, you've got this CD out and it sounds like it was labor of love. You worked with everybody on it. Now that it's out there for everyone to hear, how do you feel about it? What's going through your head?
I think its one of those records thats going to keep gradually picking up steam. Every bit of feed back that I've had so far has been very positive from fans and people who have attended shows. It definitely was a labor of love, and I feel as though it's taken shape. With our kind of music, there is always a grass roots element to it. There is always a gradual build to it, and my thing is to just get on the road and stay out there as much as possible and keep getting the music out there. I feel like it's something that I can build on and work with.
What drew you to music in the beginning?
I was actually turned on to music by friends. It's hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment, but I think it all stemmed from listening to albums. I also had a couple of friends who were really into music and a couple of friends who helped me to learn guitar and then, I got the bug for performing. My first experience perfoming was in musical theater back in high school. That was when I first got the sense of being in front of an audience, but once I got into college, I was drawn to writing songs and once I finished college I was able to plug into this great community here in Philly, full of artists and writers. Once you're in, there is no turning back.
You said that you discovered music through friends. What about family?
My folks always had a very eclectic range of tastes. Their record collection spanned everything from classical music, jazz, THE BEATLES, and RANDY NEWMAN. They had a nice mix of stuff. I think when I got into writing songs, it was through my circle of friends, but if I look a little further back, I would have to say it was my parents' record collection that got me going musically.
And you started writing music in college.
As soon as I started playing guitar, songwriter was the first thing that I gravitated towards. Even if all I knew was just rudimentary chords, I was always drawn to just creating a melody and a lyric. As soon as I started playing guitar, songwriting was basically a by-product of that.
When you started writing music, who was guiding you. What sort of artists were speaking to you?
For me, what resonated the most was people like STEVIE WONDER, BILL WITHERS, MARVIN GAYE, and HALL & OATES. They (HALL & OATES) were definitely a huge influence. That was why it was such a thrilling experience to work with DARYL. Getting to collaborate and do some shows with someone that has influenced you is rewarding. That seventies soul sound is what inspires me the most.
How did the album come about? You've written all ofthese songs and then an album gets cut. How did that happen?
Going into making the record, I probably had about twenty five or thirty songs and we widdled it down to about fourteen or fifteen, and that was just the process of going out on the road and opening for people like AMOS LEE. Night after night, I would work the songs out in front of the audience . When I got into the studio with T-BONE WOLK, he helped me realize the vision of the album. It was definitely a process.
How did you get in touch with T-BONE WOLK?
My manager had known him for along time. He had worked with T-BONE on a couple of other projects. In thinking of potential people that I could work with, T-BONE's name came up due to his work with HALL AND OATES, ELVIS COSTELLO, and CARLY SIMON. The timing worked out and he was able to do it. I met him and we just hit it off personally and musically and we just hit the ground running from there.
What was it like working with him.
It was great. T-BONE has been doing this for a long time and he's got years of experience and musical wisdom. He made things easy on me. He's a great multi-instrumentalist. He and I pretty much built the record up together. We'd sit there with guitars, come up with an arrangement, and program in some drum loops and started tracking from there. We were constantly laying stuff down. He really gave me a lot of confidence as a singer and he helped me to be the very best I could be and that's what a great producer does.
I can't go any further without asking about everyone that you worked with on this album. Lets start with DARRYL HALL. How did that association begin?
That started through T-BONE. T-BONE had worked as a musical director for HALL AND OATES. We actually cut a goood amount of the record at DARYL's studio in New York. I had a chance to meet him and we kind of hit it off and started talking about Philly. Another day that they were there, he and T-BONE were doing some string rehearsals for some HALL AND OATES shows and we had a session booked right after that. So DARYL just hung around afterwards and we played him some of the tracks and he really dug it. It all happened very serendipitously. DARYL and I really connected both personally and musically, which was amazing.
What was it like writing with him? Describe that.
It's pretty incredible. The great thing about DARRYL is that he's just so connected with what is important with music. He just loves the music. He really made it a very comfortable thing for me . He made me feel at ease. It was surreal to me, just because he's been an influence of mine all of these years, but once we got to working on the record, it all just clicked. From there, I did his 'LIVE FROM DARRYL'S HOUSE' series, and then I did some shows for him. We just have this natural, innate, musical cameraderie. I guess it's that Philly connection.
G-LOVE also collaborates with you on one track.
G is someone I've known for years actually. He was one of the first people I met when I first started playing around and I just crossed paths with him over the years in different situations. I had run into him a couple of times in the studio, and I opened for him in Atlantic City. I've had a handful of really cool musical encounters with him. He had a Coke commercial that he was working on, and he had me come in and sing on his Coke commercial. When I was doing this record , I had this track that I knew that he would be perfect for, so I just reached out to him. Even though he was busy and runninging around getting ready to go on the road, he made it happen.
Explain to me the whole creative process. How does a song go from something that you hear in your head to somehting that a person is going to hear over the speakers.
A lot of times, I will be sitting down with a guitar or occassionally in front of a piano. When a song is in a skeletal form, I can hear what it will be and that kind of guides me along the process. A lot of times the melody and the hook will come to me first and once that gets locked into place, then I come up with lyrics. The lyrics ussually tend to take a little longer, I find. I also like collaborating with other songwriters. Sometimes when you collaborate with soemone, they kind of bring their thing to it. However, there is nothing more rewarding than when you come up with that initial idea of a song and then it's finished and you play it for an audience and it resonates. That is the most rewarding thing there is.
Of the songs on this album, which ones sort fo stand out for you at the moment and why?
I've been getting a lot of feed back on 'HELLO MORNING' from a lot of different people. It's tough for me because on any given day, I'm so vested in all of these songs on so many levels, but people have really responded to that song and how it's had a profound effect on them. There was this one girl that had left me this MYSPACE message telling me that she had gone through this rough break up and she wrote me to tell me that she listened to that song every morning, just to get her going. Every song on the album has it's own story behind it.
The album definitely has a very collaborative feel to it. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. When I was starting out I spent a good amount of time working with different Hip-Hop artists around Philly. I wanted to take that element of collaboration that exists in Hip Hop and bring it to this acoustic soul thing. There is a great community of artists and writers here in Philly and I feel like my album is a reflection of that community of people. So, it was definitely a conscious effort.
Even though we talked about your guests already, what do you think that each of them sort of brought to the table musically and personality wise?
I think that DARYL really lifted us. He brought a whole other dimension to the project. That sogn 'SEE WHAT I BRINGS' has that sort of rock/reggae thing and just his voice brought a whole other texture and a whole other presence to the song. The way that he sings, he just brings so much conviction and so much emotion to it, I really think that he lifted that song up. G.LOVE's harmonica on 'SHAKY GROUND' brought this whole other element to the song. It has this reggae/hip-hop vibe and G comes in with this bluesy harmonica. AMOS LEE is a good friend of mine and I've actually had the chance to tour with him a lot. We worked together on the song 'MAKE IT THERE'. The way we harmionize together was a real trade off. It was the same thing with RAHEEM DEVAUGHN. On the song 'IN YOUR HEART', he brought in this really cool vocal arrangement. Every guest really brought something special and elevated each of the songs. There was a real synergy. They were able to hear what was going on and compliment what I was doing.
What do you want a person to come away with after they've heard this album?
For forty minutes, I'd like for people to feel good listening to it. I think it's the kind of record that people can hear at a party or they can have it on their i-pod and really get into the lyrics and hopefully they can pull something away from the lyrics. I'd like to think that it's a versatile album in the sense that you can enjoy on a lot of different levels. If people can walk away feeling good , then maybe I've accomplished something.