Brian Mullins and Chris Tapp have come a long way since playing in high school bands. Now, the two members of The Cold Stares have songs with more than one million streams on Spotify, and licensing from TNT and Animal Kingdom.
The two met in 2003 and had a successful run in a previous band, Shelby. The duo reunited in 2007 and three years later, their latest band The Cold Stares started catching steam. Their big break was in 2010 when they played in a contest for Hard Rock Café in Nashville, Tennessee, and ended up taking the grand prize out of 1,500 bands. Not long after, record labels started to take notice.
The ride was not always smooth. Local PBS affiliate WNIN made a documentary detailing the duo’s struggles — including vocalist Chris Tapp’s cancer diagnosis in 2014 — titled “Look Over Yonder Hill.” But the band says they probably could make an entire movie about their journey. None of their challenges discouraged them from pursuing their love for music. The two soldiered on, and their most recent album, “Mountain,” was inspired from the hardships.
The money earned from “Mountain” will help fund their next album “Ways,” which is engineered by award-winning producer Mark Needham. The album is set to release next February.
How did you guys meet?
Chris Tapp: Officially, we met a long time ago in high school. I attended Madisonville North High School, and Brian went to Henderson County in Kentucky. I was playing in a band, and Brian tried out as the drummer. Later, we met again when I was teaching guitar at Abba’s Music Store in Henderson, Kentucky. Brian came in to play with a mutual friend, and it just worked out. We played a couple shows with a mutual friend, and as that band ceased we started one together.
Brian Mullins: I was in a previous band and the singer was leaving, so I was scouring the Earth trying to find a replacement. As a drummer, you’ve got to attach yourself to someone, and I walked in a music store and got pretty lucky.
When did your interest in music start?
CT: I was probably 4 or 5 years old when I saw Jerry Lee Lewis playing piano on my grandparents’ television. I can vividly remember that moment. I can see and smell that room in my grandparents’ house, and I’ll never forget watching Jerry Lee Lewis going nuts on the piano. I was addicted after that.
BM: My interest started with pop culture that was just a part of growing up. It was part of being a kid; I wanted to buy records. Little did I know at the time, the records I was buying like Van Halen and Hall and Oates would still stick with me today.
How did you get the name The Cold Stares?
CT: At first, we were trying not to name the band because we were insistent that we weren’t going to start another band. Once you name it, it becomes real, and you have to put real work into it. But we were opening for a friend and we didn’t want the room to sound empty. We brought a big stack of amps, and I figured out how to play a bass sound. When they heard us play, the audience turned around and stared at us as if to say, “How are they making this sound?” The cold stares from the audience inspired the name.
How would you describe your music?
CT: The songs are story-based and an algorithm of blues, rock, and heavy rock. Our biggest influences are bands from the late 1960s and early ’70s, and I draw a lot of lyrical inspiration from Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Johnny Cash. We have our influencers, but we never try to be them. We try to be as honest and authentic to who we are as possible.
BM: Our musical influencers are separate; but for the band, a lot of our influence comes from Black Sabbath, the Delta Blues, Led Zeppelin, and British rock ‘n’ roll bands. We like the sounds of these bands and our records also lean this way. However, these are not our lyrical influencers. Zeppelin and those bands sing about dragons and icebergs, which is a neat escapism. But that is not what we sing about. Our songs are about the human condition and heavy experiences.
Why did you choose to stay in Evansville?
CT: Our wives and our families are located here. The cost of living is affordable and the central location is nice. We are only three to five hours away from a dozen good markets we play in.
What is to be expected from the next album “Ways”?
CT: “Ways” is more of a concept record. It is split between hard rock and blues songs, and has a western feel. One song from the album, “Break my Fall,” is an acoustic song that has already had a lot of success, reaching more than one million streams.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in the music industry?
CT: You should always have a back-up plan. That way you can try your hardest without having to worry about financial problems. In the past, we have worked two or three jobs on the side to be able to play music. We are lucky now that we are able to play music without having to do that as much. If you really love something, it won’t matter what it is; you will find a way to do it.
BM: You have got to love it. People always ask, “What is the music industry like?” It’s like any other line of work. Not everything is glamorous, but the joy is in the work.