A Quest For Redemption: A Conversation With The CEO’s Mack Mullins

Growing up, Mack Mullins always wanted more for himself. As a foster child bouncing around from home to home, he learned the definition of “rock bottom” first hand.

Life was hard. But despite the struggles, Mullins continued to move forward, one day at time. He knew something better was just around the corner. At concerts, he stared up at his heroes on the big stage they performed on. That, he thought, is what he really wanted

And now, it’s his. And his band’s.

Mullins, the founder and vocalist of the Atlanta, Georgia-based rock group The CEO, has climbed his way into the big show on multiple stages, first as a real-life Chief Executive Officer in the finance and banking industry, and now as the front man of a heavy metal band with a crushing new album, “Redemption,” out on Rat Pak Records on June 25.

Mullins, guitarists Chase Brown and Beau Anderson, drummer Joseph Herman, and Sevendust bassist Vince Hornsby have teamed up to produce a solid album that ranges in texture from the densely heavy-as-hell pounding opener “Twin Flame,” to the tasty twin guitar work in “Work of Heart,” to the more melodic side of their game in “Black Hearts.” All in all, a solid metallic platter that should please most fans of the heavier side of music.

Naturally, Mullins and his bandmates are basking in the moment. And rightfully so. They’ve been sitting on the finished product for more than a year now, having initially capped off recording in April 2020 just as the pandemic was wreaking havoc on the world and its inhabitants. Things came to a standstill, including the music industry.

“It was a long time coming,” Mullins said of the release.

In spite of the drama, the rest of the year was actually a bright spot for him personally.

“It was a really good year for me in spite of the world drama,” Mullins said in a phone interview with ListenIowa. “I had the chance to work on some artwork, move to a new house, I got married, I’ve got kids now, and we finished the record. It was actually a really good year, which was kind of odd when so many of my friends were having a tough time of it.”

Another benefit of so much downtime, Mullins said, was the ability to stockpile material for album No. 2.

“Everybody in the band is a songwriter, so you can imagine the demos that were flying back and forth between members,” he said. “We don’t have an an issue with material. As a matter of a fact, we have so much of it that now it’s just a matter of weeding through and picking the songs.”

The upbeat Mullins spoke to ListenIowa about the new album, the interesting sonic mix that is The CEO, and the idea of embracing the here and now.

You’ve had the album finished for more than a year now. Do the songs still sound fresh?
It’s one of those things where you pick the top 13 songs and record them. They’re your children. You’re in love with them. And then later you write more, and might go, “Oh, that would have been great on this record.” But you have to remind yourself that this isn’t a “one and done” situation. There’s going to be more. There may be a song or two that you later think you could have swapped out, but at that point, you’ve already put a button on it. You love ‘em like your kids, so you just move on.

How did the name of the band come about?
As a CEO of a company, it kind of lent itself to the name already. The idea is to embrace who you really are. I just turned 50, and I’d look kind of silly with leather pants and tassels. Embrace who you are and what you do for a living. Vin’s (Vince Hornsby) in the band, and the guys in Sevendust call him “The Boss.” A lot of it is that kind of attitude: Be the boss of your own life. I came from a meager background and made something of myself. I spent a lot of time on the floor of the arena looking up to the guys on stage and thinking, “I want to do that.” Well, I’ve done that, and now I’m looking back at these people going, “If this poor kid from a farm area can do it, you can do it, too.” It’s a purveying attitude, not only throughout the band, but with the record. It’s about persevering.”

How did you initially get together with your bandmates?
It’s a weird dichotomy of people when you look at it. Two guys are in their 50s, two guys are in their 30s, and one in his 20s. It’s kind of a weird mix of people to be in a band, but I’ve worked with these guys so long in various tribute bands, and I’ve literally watched the young guys grow up in their little bands. We played the same circuits, and I’d think, “That guy’s going to make it one day,” or, “I really like that guy’s drumming.” And once you do get together and play with them, you realize that not only do they play and write well, but they’re good dudes. We’re hanging out together and aren’t getting on each other’s nerves — at least not yet. Honestly, I got to hand-picked the best that I could find around me who I love.

But a band’s makeup consists of more than just being able to play well. How did you go about finding the “right” pieces.
When you write (music) with people, their personalities come out. Things that you like, things that you don’t like, musical tastes. Chops are important, obviously, but you have to be able to ride on bus for eight hours with this guy. And there’s things like, can I trust him to do an interview? Not only do you have to pick people who are talented, but who are also human beings. So, to your point, I had the opportunity to kind of shop around through the years and pick guys out. But you don’t pick Vince Hornsby from Sevendust: he picks you.

“Redemption” is out now. Finally. It must feel great to get this record into people’s hands.
It does, and it’s a weird dynamic if you think about it. We’ve been sitting on it for a year. We had this thing that we’re proud of but couldn’t share it; it just stayed sitting on a shelf. You can’t even show anyone the artwork. It was one of those things where you’re kind of holding your breath for a year, letting the runway clear itself, and then you give it to them, exhale, and go, “I hope you like it as much as we do.”

Musically, “Redemption” goes from the in-your-face heaviness to melodic. What was the goal with the music?
I’m not sure that we necessarily had a goal. I grew up really loving late 70s funk. Something with a groove. I wanted something that did that. That was my only “requirement” for this. Even if it’s a heavy metal song, it’s gotta have that balance to it. That was my only charge, because you’ve got a guy in the band in his early 20s who’s going to have different musical tastes than the guys in their 50s. But when you put them together, it makes an interesting gumbo; it’s the ingredients to what makes The CEO sound, which is a weird, cool mix of a bunch of different generations. We’ve got The CEO sound, and that’s why I’m excited about making the next record. Now that we’ve got that sound, we can build on it.

Were there any moments where a song sounded too much like a Sevendust tune, or too similar to something else, that you had to pull back the reigns on it?
It’s funny you say that because that was “Black Hearts.” That was the one song on the album that caused some issues. It was originally written by Chase and one of his writing buddies. They write songs for a bunch of different people, and they were writing that song for their country music friends in Nashville. He showed it me, and I said, “Great song, but no thanks. It really doesn’t work with what we’re doing.” But our producer, Elvis Baskette, thought differently. He said, “It’s a cool song, we’ll rock it up, and you rewrite the lyrics.” He literally gave it to me the night before I was supposed to record it. So I wrote it that night, came back in and recorded it, and now it’s probably one of my favorite songs on the record. That’s the cool thing about working with somebody like Elvis. His resume speaks for itself. He’s got the platinum records on the wall, but he sees a song before you see it. He’s a writer and can see the totality of it; not just what it is, but what it can be.

So where do you see The CEO going?
The audience will tell us. If they like what we’re doing and want more of it, we’ll give them more of it. And if they want to see us to play live, let us know, and we’ll go out there on the road. Obviously, we have to clear the runway when Sevendust is out on the road, but when they come back home, we’ll plan on jumping on the road and see who salutes.

“Redemption” track listing:
1.   Twin Flame
2.   Behind These Eyes
3.   Redemption
4.   Black Hearts
5.   Dirty Tragic
6.   The Storm
7.   Alive
8.   Beginning & The End
9.   Bourbon Straight
10. Work Of Heart
11. Casting Shadows
12. Alone and Dead

The CEO is:
Mack Mullins – Vocals
Vince Hornsby – Bass
Chase Brown – Guitar
Beau Anderson – Guitar
Joseph Herman – Drums

Twitter: @theceoband