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December 2022 / January 2023

nothing,nowhere.: "It's been a real challenge coming out of my shell"

nothing,nowhere. has spent the past few years wrestling with his mental health, and the result is an album that’s both filled with honesty and hope.
Published: 4:22 pm, February 19, 2021Words: Steven Loftin. Photos: Dan Brown.
nothing,nowhere.: "It's been a real challenge coming out of my shell"

"I grew up the shy kid. You know, quiet," nothing,nowhere. brainchild Joe Mulherin begins. "I liked skateboarding and music, so it's been a real challenge coming out of my shell. A lot of the methodology behind that was being thrown in front of 15,000 people, opening up for Fall Out Boy."

It's these sink or swim moments that have led Joe, and his nothing,nowhere. moniker, into the realms of success and splendour. Noting that he's even managed to buy a house through his musical earnings ("That is so cool, I never thought I'd be able to do that!"), Joe's confidence in not only himself but where he can feasibly go has grown exponentially.

"I was thrown into the deep end, and thankfully I made it out in one piece - or, almost one piece," he says with a wry smirk visible in his eyes. He's currently in the middle of a wintery-forest, coated in warming clothes, surrounded by barren trees and pure white snow. Quite the world away from an arena rammed with people, then.

"Yeah, there's no Reddit forum for playing in front of 15,000 people, it's not a normal thing surprisingly," he chuckles. "I just remember shitting my pants backstage, walking out and just seeing ants essentially and being like, 'Okay, well I guess this life is an illusion.'" A statement that might seem surface-level odd, but as Joe carries on, it turns out it comes from his Buddhist learning. Getting to this point of retrospective serenity, however, wasn't easy.

Both this perspective and the coming out of his shell involved Joe needing to retreat into it for a bit. After the release of his third album 'Ruiner' back in 2018, Joe decided to take a six-month hiatus - cancelling tours, festivals - to generally focus himself inward, tending to his mental health after finding himself cornered by a realisation.

"At that point, I didn't have a choice. I was having a panic attack every day, and I was going through almost like a period of psychosis," he remembers. "It took a lot of hard work. I went to Buddhist temples, and I went to psychiatrists and therapists. I spent every day meditating and trying herbal remedies - finally taking medication which I never wanted to do. And then, the first thing back was that Fall Out Boy concert with 15,000 people. And now here we are, finally getting to put out another record!"

Much like that fabled stage, with 'Trauma Factory' - Joe's fourth album in the nothing,nowhere. canon - he's now front and centre of his world. Not bad for someone who barely two years ago was hiding behind a tattooed hand in press photographs, or lurking beneath the shadows in his videos - even rarely doing interviews.

"That changed when I went on tour, and I met a bunch of different people from around the world, and they shared their stories with me," he says. "They [were] being raw and honest and real with me, and there was a sort of liberation.

"So, one day, I posted pictures of myself and said 'hey this is me. I'm nothing,nowhere. - I'm Joe'. And that's a liberating thing! I've gotten better with that, in having an attitude of 'this is me, I'm an artist, I make music - take it or leave it'."

A momentous step for someone who admits that when he was younger, his mind was taken up with being worried about what other people thought of him and feeling like he didn't fit in. As he's gotten older, Joe attributes this growth "through meditation, doing interviews, and forcing myself to be uncomfortable and being on stage - which I never thought I'd be able to do - I think I've pushed through it."

It's also meant that he's had the life-saving realisation of how important it is to live in the moment.

"It makes you realise how fragile life is. I never realised how vulnerable I was until [I was] sitting in meditation every day and realising how insane my idling mind was when sitting in silence - they call it monkey mind in Buddhism. [When] your neurones are just firing, and you're having thousands of thoughts every minute.

"Subconsciously it's manifesting itself within me, and it's creating all this anxiety and if this goes unaddressed for so long - which is what happened to me - it's gonna catch up to you, which it did. It was a very traumatic experience for me, but it taught me that it was like hey, you need to keep yourself in check and you need to address these things."

"No matter where you are in life, you always have to face your inner demons; you always have to face the person in the mirror"

It's this need that that led to Joe stepping inside the 'Trauma Factory' - an expansive facility where you'll be met by a space filled with the motion of ideas and psychological understanding. Machines rapturously pressing the essence of human emotion into tracks that delicately build to fierce choruses, with the occasional incinerator raging out the heat of dealing with anxiety.

"'Trauma Factory' is a snapshot of where I am at life right now, and I think it's a bit less vague. In the past, I'd write 'Oh, I'm anxious or I'm sad' and I never really delved into details, whereas 'Trauma Factory' has a track called 'real', which is very specific in talking about exactly where I am right now. It's about meeting a fan with my logo tattooed on them and me driving home, really grappling with that and realising that people look up to me and having to be some sort of like role model, knowing very well that I, myself, am extremely flawed.

"I'm not perfect, and every day is a struggle, so 'Trauma Factory' is like this ultimate breathe in, I could say what I meant. It was a nice thing to be able to come back to music, especially after what I went through. Coming back to music felt so right."

Even 'Buck' sees Joe taking a soapbox of sorts. Using two points of view - the verses "personifying someone from my hometown", while the choruses are Joe responding to their marvelling of his success. "The grass isn't always greener," he explains, "because no matter where you are in life, you always have to face your inner demons; you always have to face the person in the mirror."

Noting that 'Trauma Factory' is "reflective" of who he is as a person, not just through the mirroring of his experience, but also he's "not cut one certain way, I have hundreds of influences," he mentions. "I have hundreds of different hobbies that I like to do; like Thai boxing, baking sourdough bread. I like doing bushcraft!" He says nodding to the wilderness beyond him.

"They say variety is the spice of life, and I do carry that philosophy into my music as well. And I think in 2021 people are digesting albums in a very different way. People aren't listening to albums in their entirety, which is a bummer, but I mean it is what it is at this point, people save songs to their Spotify playlist, and in some ways, I feel like 'Trauma Factory' plays like a Spotify playlist."

"I've always loved experimenting with different genres and stuff and with Trauma Factory, it's just me taking that and putting it to the maximum level, like, why not make an R&B song, a nu-metal song, a rap song and a post-punk song on the same album, you know - why not?"

"That 'now what?' philosophy or thought process is so toxic"

For someone who pours so much of himself into what he writes, with every lyric scratched into paper expelling some aspect of his reflective workings - and readied our introspection - putting them to something other than that eerily spacious, thunder-rumbling, delicately prowling music of Soundcloud old, does the bouncing use of genres offer something else, something more?

"Yeah, that's a great question," he begins pondering. "I do think that [with] each different genre, I am serving a [different] piece of myself. When I made 'death', I was channelling 10-year-old me, listening to Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park, something like that. And when I made 'barely breathing' I was definitely channelling 13-14-year-old me, listening to Underoath or Thursday.

"With something like 'lights', it was like, 'Okay, I'm here in the present moment doing what I look like now'. So yeah, that's a really cool question because I do think that, as a whole, music is a catharsis and it is a meditative and positive experience for me. Being able to weave throughout different genres is kind of like checking in with the different pockets of my psyche."

Given the zen nature Joe is now exploring and living as an artist, the success that's enabled him these opportunities - from being able to take six months to recover from the strain it put him under, to coming out and facing a crowd of 15,000 head-on - needs to be acknowledged. It's one that can provide riches but can as easily keep you hounding for more.

"[I'll be in my house and] you're just like, okay, well now what?" He questions. "And that 'now what?' philosophy or thought process is so toxic because you'll just dance hopelessly into your grave, just wanting more and getting it, and never appreciating what you have."

So, would Joe say he's satisfied with where he's at then?

"I'd say hell, no!" He bursts out laughing. "No. I've read so much. I'm really into Taoism and Buddhism, and they say, you know, 'the middle way is you don't need much, you just need the present moment; you need yourself. You need friends and family'. That's it. And I know this to be true.

"I'm a work in progress - as so many of us are. I wake up days where I feel empty, and I feel like something's missing, but I do at least now know that any amount of fame, recognition, critical acclaim, those things will not ultimately bring me happiness," he concludes. "The only thing that will bring me happiness is the stillness of the present moment and the people that I surround myself with. If there's any type of clarity that I've learned throughout this journey and making 'Trauma Factory', it's to appreciate the present moment and don't take things for granted." 

Taken from the March issue of Upset. nothing,nowhere.'s album 'Trauma Factory' is out 19th February.

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