10 Questions with
We Are Messengers' Darren Mulligan
There are boatloads of
very genuine and lovable CCM artists, to be sure. But if radio
programmers took a poll of the most raw amongst them, there's little
doubt Darren Mulligan would be one of the first names on most
lists. And that's largely why his band We Are Messengers has made
the impact it has over the past few years, both on-air and on stage.
WAM's latest single "Maybe It's OK" - the lead track to their CD,
traveled an interesting road in your career. What have been some of the
major points of your artistic journey that's brought
you to where you are currently?
One of my earliest
memories is watching my Mam and Dad dance in the kitchen after 12-hour
work shifts with unpayable bills sitting on the kitchen table. That
taught me the incredible power of music to take us away from our
heartache and frustration. That captivated me and hooked me on music. I
loved the raw power of grunge as a teenager and the aching,
hauntingly-beautiful music of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
I loved playing guitar and played in cover bands, bar bands and
eventually in a screamo band that toured America in the early 2000s; but
I really never sang.
Falling in love with Jesus really changed how I approached music and
songwriting. I started singing in 2010 because a little band we put
together in Ireland needed a singer and I was it. In May 2014, I was
sitting in my car outside my son's school and I told God that I didn't
need music any longer and the very next day Josh Bailey, A&R of
Word Records in Nashville, called me via Skype. I came out to Nashville
and the rest is history. You couldn't make our story up.
guess, where would you be right now and what would you be doing if the
We Are Messengers thing never existed?
I'm so grateful
that we get to do this and it's not lost on me that having a successful
career in music is like winning the lottery; and right now, I couldn't
imagine doing anything else. I know I was made for this. However, I
loved what I did before, working with children who have physical and
intellectual disabilities. It was the most rewarding job/vocation I ever
been on the road a ton over the past couple of years. Hundreds of dates
all over the country. How has touring helped
you become a better artist?
Has it provided any perspective on who you are as a person, husband,
father, friend, etc?
There really is no
better way to become excellent at anything other than doing it and we've
done a ridiculous amount-probably 500+ shows in three years. Arenas,
churches, theaters, festivals...the whole lot. We have learned to be
patient, to approach performances with excellence but to also be willing
to throw our setlists and ideas out the window mid-show if something
beautiful is happening. I love that we live in the tension of excellence
and chaos and that allows us to meet people where they are at in the
moment, instead of applying a one-performance-fits-all type of show.
We've learned that every room of people is unique and needs something
authentic and true in the moment.
Touring has made me realize that who I am at home needs to be consistent
with who I am on the road. There is no room for a Jekyll and Hyde
approach to music and home life. My family deserves the best of me and
that's what I am trying to give them. We have surrounded ourselves with
an incredible team of people who have integrity, drive, enthusiasm and
who are deeply-committed to what God is doing through We Are Messengers.
None of this is possible without a team, a family and a dream.
4. Who is
Darren Mulligan now compared to the pre-We Are Messengers version of
Darren Mulligan? How is he the same guy and
how has he changed/grown/developed
over the past several years?
I hope I'm still very
much the same and that people still think that it's good news to see We
Are Messengers walking through the door. The Darren Mulligan sitting
back home in Ireland four years ago didn't need applause or chart
positions. All he wanted was to love his family, honor God and love his
community. It was a beautifully simple life. It's been a strange few
years, after the first few singles had such amazing success the desire
to continue having success crept in and stole a lot of my joy and
contentment. Before we started the new record, I spent a lot of time
putting that nonsense to death.
In many ways, I've rediscovered my love for people, for putting words to
the things most of us cannot articulate and watching that radically
change people's lives. I've gone back to the simplicity of trusting that
what I have is enough to make a real difference in this life and that's
We Are Messengers'
Official Music Video For
"Maybe It's Ok")
reasonable to believe your extensive touring has come as a result of
your radio success over the past few years. Considering you didn't grow
up with Christian radio, how has your perception of it changed over time
and what misconceptions (if any) have you had to overcome throughout
your artist career so far?
fascinates me. I didn't even know that the genre existed until seven
years ago. I assumed that it would be nothing but a pale imitation of
mainstream music. What I've seen is that there is an incredible artistry
in the genre and that it is developing and allowing for greater
creativity all the time. We are so thankful for the Program Directors
and Music Directors who have taken risks on artists like us, Jordan
Feliz, Tauren Wells and many others. That's the only way we can
continue to make music that pushes the envelope. We couldn't do what
we've done without the format.
However, it's a strange thing to sit in an Uber ride in any city in
America and answer the question, "So what kind of music do you play?"
When I respond with the word "Christian," more often than not, I'll get
a dismissive look or a pity compliment, "Oh. That's cool..." before they
change the topic. The misconception remains that Christian music and
radio is less artistic, creative and honest than other genres; and if we
are honest, there is some truth to that at times. However, we have this
unwavering truth, radio stations that are loving their communities and
amazing artists who are willing to give their lives away so that others
may find theirs. That cannot be bought or sold and that's the real deal.
I have nothing but hope and love for the format.
6. Is it
difficult for an artist who's tasted airplay success to not write songs
with a primary intention of making it radio-friendly?
I don't, but I know
that many artists feel the pressure to do so. I've sat in writes when
for people that was the target, more tempo, simple vertical lyrics,
something hooky for radio. I'm not saying those things are bad. We want
to serve the folks who have put food on our tables but I never feel that
pressure. We never write with an agenda other than to share our hearts
and make the best music we can.
the background story that prompted your new single "Maybe It's OK"?
You're very missional in your music. What do you hope listeners will get
out of this song?
This one matters maybe
more than anything I've written. I've struggled with mental health
issues and have loved ones and family who have as well. This song is for
those struggling with heartache, loneliness, disappointment, separation,
anxiety, depression suicidal ideation, etc. I'm tired of pretending and
putting a brave face on. It's not enough to tell people to read more, to
pray more to burden them with doing more when they are falling apart
behind closed doors.
"Maybe it's OK" gives each of us permission to be real, to let the
people we love see us for who we really are and trust that God can hold
us in that and lead us somewhere more beautiful. I hope that listeners
will experience the freedom that comes when we admit that we are not ok,
when we stop pretending, trying to be strong and brave and let the Lord
take our honesty and weakness and reveal His great strength through that
authenticity. I hope that this song releases a wave of joy and hope
across our communities.
other subject matter do you plan to cover in other songs that make up
your current release?
Any particular breakthroughs for you,
either emotionally or spiritually
as you've been writing these new songs?
As always, our songs
are born from personal experience. I've really felt the steadiness and
tenderness of God in every circumstance throughout this new season. We
have songs that deal with chasing foreign shores instead of Him, songs
about saying "sorry" to our families for leaving them so often, love
songs for my wife as we've walked through difficult seasons in our
We've focused on going back to that place in our music where we are
incredibly honest. We have no time for pretense or musing on metaphors.
These songs are our truth, raw and messy but full of hope and healing.
9. Off the
top of your head,
what is one song you wish you'd written?
McMillan's "How He Loves" for me is one of the most
beautifully crafted songs. We perform this most nights and it never
fails to completely transform the atmosphere in any room. Some songs are
gifts to the world and this is one of them.
10. Who are
some of the artists you've been listening to recently that have most
resonated with you, from a message and/
or performance standpoint?
I'm a huge fan of
Imagine Dragons. Their raw, visceral lyrics move me deeply and they
have an amazing, addictive blend of pop, rock, throwback 80s synth
vibes. I'm also a huge fan of David Crowder, he is someone who
continually pushes the envelope in our format, tells his truth and his
live performance is dripping with excellence and rowdiness.