INTERVIEW: Mack Mullins of THE CEO

The CEO, a hard rock band out of Georgia consisting of five successful entrepreneurs/musicians, was set to launch in early 2020 and even had released its first music video. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the band—Mack Mullins on vocals, Vince Hornsby (Sevendust) on bass, Chase Brown and Beau Anderson on guitar, and Joseph Herman on drums—pressed the pause button, along with much of the world. Fast forward more than a year, and the band’s debut album, “Redemption” (June 25, 2021, Rat Pak Records), finally is about to be set free to the music-listening public. Eight days before the record’s release, Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with Mullins, who has a successful career in business while moonlighting as a rock ‘n’ roller, to get all the details.

LIVE METAL: The CEO’s debut album, “Redemption,” comes out next Friday, June 25. That band name, The CEO, at least in part refers to you, right? You’ve had a very successful business career.


MACK MULLINS: Yeah, that’s obviously part of it. You get to a point in your career, business-wise or music-wise, when you start to think about who you are and what you’re made of, and it just made sense. I just turned 50, and I’d look kind of silly up there with big hair and leather pants and that kind of thing. So just be true to who you really are, maybe push the image a little bit. But yeah, there’s obviously that element to it. Vinnie, they call him the boss, so that played into it. A lot of it is kind of a mindset or mentality around being in charge of your life. So I think those three elements kind of lent to each other. Naming a band is probably one of the hardest things to do. So it’s kind of like OK, that sounded like a good idea at the time, and here we are.

The photos really stand out, seeing you guys all dressed in suits. You don’t really see that from hard rock bands.

Yeah, we kind of dialed that back a little bit. Initially, it was part of the schtick, if you would. We’ve since pulled it back a little bit. But again, I’d feel kind of silly trying to play a part of something that I’m not. This is really who I am, this is really how I get up and go to work every day, this is how I dress, et cetera. So it’s different enough to get people to talk about it, so let’s do that. But then being on stage in a suit is actually kind of uncomfortable, so we’ve dialed it back a little.

Yeah, I can imagine. Are people in the business world aware of this other life you have as a rocker?

Yeah, absolutely. Believe it or not, a lot of these guys keep up with it. It’s always a fun conversation with them, because let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to get off of work or on the weekends go out and play rock ‘n’ roll? I think a lot of these guys live vicariously through us. So yeah, they love it. It’s always a great talking point.

What kind of musical background do you have?

Well, gosh, I grew up listening to Van Halen, KISS, Foreigner and bands like that, so of course as soon as I heard it, I was like, “OK, I gotta do this, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, and those guys are on the Mount Rushmore of rock stars. This is super cool, and I want to do that.” I grew up in a small farm community in Virginia, tiny house. I wanted to be a drummer, but my family was like, “You can forget that. That’s too loud, too much noise.” “OK, what about a guitar player?” Same issue there. “You should be a singer”—which they probably regretted after I’m walking around the house screaming “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” at the top of my lungs. They probably regretted that decision, but that’s really how I got my start.

Have you been in a lot of bands over the years?

Oh yeah. From your first little high school band, your little four-track demos and writing songs and thinking that you’re the next Bob Dylan and clearly you’re not. You start there, and you’re doing cover bands, tribute acts, you write songs. Like anything else, some guys get their big break at 20. Other guys, like me, need to work on that craft for a little bit longer, and sometimes it takes you a while to get there. We persevered.

Did I see you used to be in an Ozzy tribute band (Blizzard of Ozzy)?

Yeah, I sure did. It’s funny because that came from a lot of the original material that I was writing and singing at the time. It was like, “Yeah, this sounds cool, but you sound just like Ozzy.” I fought it for a long time, and then it was a way to stay on the bigger stages and get a lot of attention while we still worked on our original material. So yeah, we did that for about 12 years, and it was actually really successful and a really big show and took us all around the world. It got to the point where we were like, “OK, we probably need to go back to our original music idea and put something around that.” So that’s really how we came full circle. It started off as an original act, it became this tribute band, it kind of blew up, and then we were like, “OK, let’s bring it back to the original idea.”

When I listen to The CEO, I don’t think you sound like Ozzy, but I can hear where maybe there was an influence, or if you tweak things a little bit, I could hear you singing those songs.

Honestly, I definitely went out of my way to make sure I didn’t. There’s some enunciations and the way you hold your jaw with your voice and whatever. You can definitely dial up that whole Ozzy thing, so this one I went completely the opposite direction. I don’t want those comparisons on this album—not that there’s anything wrong with it. Ozzy speaks for himself, he’s a legend. But I really wanted to differentiate it, and I think we accomplished what we’re going for there.

Yeah, I agree. How did you put this band together, The CEO?

These guys were really the guys that I played in the tribute band with. We were continuing to write music together and bounce things back and forth. Of course, Vince Hornsby wasn’t in the tribute act. Once we decided we’re going to circle back around and do the original music again, we actually cut a full-length record and did a whole album release party and show, and we invited Vinnie out, because the guy’s rock royalty around Atlanta—all the Sevendust guys are—and we know him really well. So he came out and saw what we had written, saw the band, and he says, “I like this.” So he sent us down to what we call Camp Elvis—Elvis Baskette, producer for Sevendust and quite a few other really cool rock acts. He said, “Hey, we’re gonna send you guys down there. Cut four songs, and see how well you do.” Before we were even done with the songs, Elvis was calling up Vinnie going, “Hey, not only is this cool, but you’re gonna be the bass player in the band, and you’re gonna come down and record the rest of the record with us.” That’s really how that happened. We were friends before, and we’re even better friends now. So it all just kind of worked out.

What was it like working with Elvis? He’s worked with so many big bands and had a lot of success.

Well, as you can imagine, especially for a first-timer like us, a major producer can be quite intimidating. You think about who he worked with. Slash was in the studio the week before, he’s texting Eddie Van Halen—that kind of thing. So it can be quite intimidating. But we show up, and he couldn’t be more cool or more personable. He made everybody relaxed, he’s grilling steaks for us. The guy’s a musical genius, but just down to earth, he comes from the same part of the country that I do, we hit it off, and it wasn’t even like he was distracted by anything else in the world. He was laser focused on what we were doing, and talk about an amazing experience, because not only is he that good, he’s that cool.

Last year, you were all set to launch this band, and then the pandemic hit and put things on hold. In the grand scheme of things, compared to what a lot of other people had to go through, it’s not a huge thing, but it still had to be kind of frustrating.

Yeah, it was. And to your point, it’s not like this is our career, we’ve got to get out on the road and do that kind of thing. For us, it was we’re proud of the record, you’re excited about it, and then the whole world turns upside down. So we’re just kind of looking at it, looking at each other going, “OK, well, it gives us an opportunity to work on the album artwork and write more songs, and we’re really not out of anything like the bigger acts are—the road crews and those guys.” So yeah, it sucked for us but not nearly as much, like you were saying, as these guys that really rely on it. We just hit pause for a little bit, and then hey, here we are.

So how much of the album was finished before then?

All of it. I think we might have been going to mastering at that point. We had cut a video that we put out for the first single, and as soon as we put that out, then we had to claw it back, and we got to the point where the record label’s like, “This video has already been seen. Go cut another one.” So that’s what we did.

Were you tempted at all to go back to the album and tweak anything or work on it more during that time?

No. That’s one of those things where you’ve got it laid down, and now that we’ve made the gumbo once, you know the ingredients. We know what we’re doing, we’ve got a better idea of it, so let’s go write more. So our attention has really been around album number two, which is weird because you’re just now putting out the debut record and here you are writing album number two. So it’s cool to come back to it and listen to it with fresh ears. I think we’re pretty proud of number one.

The album is called “Redemption,” as we’ve mentioned. There’s obviously a title track, but that word redemption can be a pretty powerful word. Why did you choose that as the album title?

Obviously, the song itself, “Redemption,” I think we all felt that it was probably one of the stronger songs on the album. It’s kind of a kick-in-the-head-type thing, and writing the lyrics that we did, it was really good for that kind of thing. There was a lot going on in the world at the time—this was even pre-pandemic. A lot of riots, division amongst individual groups, whether you’re left or right, or black or white. It really felt like the whole world was being broken into a bunch of little pieces. It’s really frustrating, and you want to look at these groups and say this is not who we are. This is not the kind of people that I know. There’s more that unites us than divides us, and we don’t need more of that. We need some redemption around here. That’s really where that came from.

Aside from that one, are there any songs that stand out to you as being favorites from the album?

Yeah, that’s one of those where it’s like pick your favorite child. That’d be the case for me. Obviously, I love “Redemption.” The second single that we put out was “Behind These Eyes.” It’s a really hard driver but a really cool melody on top of it, so I really liked that one, too. “Black Hearts” has been getting a lot of attention and people seem to think that that one’s going to do well for us. There’s a few that we think people will gravitate to, and I hope that something on there, one of the 13 songs, speaks to somebody and means something to them.

On the CD, there’s a bonus track, a Def Leppard cover. Listening to your music, Def Leppard doesn’t come to mind at all, so how did you decide to cover that song?

Trust me, it didn’t come to our mind either. That was an Elvis thing. We got towards the end of doing this, and he says, “Listen, you guys, I want you to cover this classic Def Leppard song.” He’s friends with the guys from Def Leppard, and he dialed into their tones, so it was really kind of like a science project for him to see just how well we would do with a modern version of “High ‘n’ Dry.” I like Def Leppard, especially the older stuff, and I’m like, “I’m not sure I can do it justice the way that it deserves.” And he’s like, “No, no, no, you’re gonna do great. You’re gonna love it. It’s gonna be awesome.” Hopefully, the audience feels the same way. I’m proud. I think it came out pretty cool.

Sevendust has tour dates starting soon and going through the end of September. Are there plans to take The CEO on the road or play some shows here and there?

Yeah, we’re definitely working on it. You can imagine the demand and the backlog of tours out there—these guys that do this for a living. For us, it’s just a matter of OK, let’s clear the runway a little bit. Let Vince and his guys go out and do their thing, and when they get back home, then we’ll pick up where they left off. We’re in talks with different groups right now, different tours that we can kind of tack ourselves on. But I don’t see us doing anything other than maybe an album release party before October/November. That’s kind of where we’re looking.

If you could pick anybody, what would be your dream tour to be a part of?

Especially these days and the kind of music that we’re doing, somebody like a Shinedown or Breaking Benjamin—something along those lines. Those bigger, current rock acts that’s kind of similar to what it is that we’re doing. I think that would be the proper audience for us. But at this point, we’ll take what we can get.

You said you’ve already been writing songs for the next album, so the plan is to keep this going?

It’s one of those things where, being a musician—I don’t know if you are or you aren’t—once it’s in you, it’s in you. Whether you’re selling hundreds of thousands of albums or you’re selling two, the fire is still there. So you want to write, you want to record, you want to play. And I think I’ll do that as long as I’m physically able. Of course, the other guys in the band, a couple of them are pretty relatively young, and they’ve got a big fire. So we want to keep doing this thing as long as people are interested.

I think you’re off to a good start with this first album. I’ve been enjoying it.

Any songs that stick out to you that you really like?

The title track, after the first couple listens, I think that’s probably my favorite, and then “Casting Shadows.”

Yeah, “Casting Shadows.” That was a tough situation. My sister committed suicide two or three days before we were supposed to go in the studio to cut a couple more songs. They sent this one to me, and they’re like, “OK, write some lyrics, come in and record it.” She was obviously fresh in my mind, and that’s what I was thinking about. So that was a very personal song for me. I like that you appreciate that song.

I’m so sorry for your loss. But hopefully, people can listen to that song and maybe it will help other people that have gone through something similar.

Yeah, maybe so. That and the song “Alive,” both are around that same topic. One, obviously, hopeful, and the other one’s kind of a conversational piece between me and my sister. So hopefully it does land on someone.

Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?

No, obviously, other than the album does release on the 25th. We’re on all those major social media outlets. We’d love to hear from people, what you like, what you don’t like, what we can do better. We’re out there, reach out to us, and we’re more than happy to reach back.

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