Personal pain brought creative gain to Peter Mulvey in the form of his upcoming 18th album, There Is Another World, whose track "Who's Gonna Love You" is premiering exclusively below.
The 13-track set is the product of a divorce in 2017 after 17 years of marriage, which uprooted him from Milwaukee to a friend's empty house in Fort Atkinson. Wisc. — not far from the Cafe Carp, which the veteran singer-songwriter considers a "spiritual home" on the Americana circuit. "I was alone for the first time in a while," Mulvey, who now lives in Massachusetts, tells Billboard. "I just figured it was a good idea to unplug from the Internet. I was walking outdoors every day. I had a bedroom and stuff in the kitchen and that was it. It was a very spare existence, but as turbulent as it was, that's a perfect time to write — almost like a self-enforced retreat."
The relative isolation, Mulvey acknowledges, was "difficult" but also made for, he feels, a better creative situation. "I'm a pretty gregarious guy," he explains. "I play 130 shows a year and have a wide cadre of friends, so I am not prone to go and be isolated — and going to be isolated is one of the things that's a prerequisite of writing. So I kind of have to make myself do it most of the time. This time I didn't have to force myself to do it."
Mulvey wrote "Who's Gonna Love You" during the summer of 2017, when he was still in Milwaukee but "already most of the way out of my home at that point." The subdued, contemplative track sets the tone for the album, but it actually began as something of a throwaway exercise during a songwriting workshop Mulvey was teaching at the time.
"I had given the students an assignment that over three days they had to write a song whose starting point was 'All of this is over,'" Mulvey remembers. "The last day of the workshop one of the other instructors said, 'We're writing the same song, too. We're not just going to assign it to students and not do it ourselves.' I literally sat down and tried to come up with synonyms for 'When all of this is over' — 'This bird has flown,' 'When spring has flung.'
"I was just trying to dash something off — and it turned out really good! Four lines in I was like, 'Oh, dammit, this is gonna be a really good song.' But, honestly, I was just trying to phone it in."
Mulvey will be doing his usual heavy spate of touring to promote There Is Another World, which comes out Feb. 15 on Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records. The new songs will of course get their airing, but despite their deeply personal and dark nature, sharing them makes them easier for him to live with.
"I've written about a lot of personal stuff over my career," Mulvey says. "My rule is that if you're doing it well, it's actually for other people. I’m not talking about MY divorce — I'm talking about divorce. I am, of course, talking about what happened in my life, but if you're doing it well you're talking about other people's, too. I've had people come up to me and say, 'Thank you for writing about my life,’ and I don't know them, but that's great. That means that, yeah, I am doing it well."