“Under Full Sail” with Ekoostik Hookah: A conversation with John Mullins

Ekoostik Hookah has always made it seem easy to blend their differing styles of folk, rock, mountain music and jam into a collective that makes it easy on the palate, and sets the feet to twitchin’ and dancin’.

Honest Tune contributing writer Bill Whiting caught up with Hookah’s John Mullins at Annie’s entertainment complex located along the banks of the mighty Ohio River, chatting just as the band was set to release it’s full scale double disc, Under Full Sail: It all Comes Together.


Honest Tune: Under Full Sail came out in 1991 – did you think when you originally recorded it that Ekoostik Hookah and your music would have such a sustaining power and impact to this day?

John Mullins: At the time I was writings songs that had a political point of view, and the strange thing is that some of those songs ("One World," "Freedom Flying") are just as relevant now as they were then.  I didn’t even have to change the name, "Bush."

Since that time, I’ve tried to write songs that have a universal appeal.  Focused enough that there is a specific meaning, but obtuse enough that people can listen, and relate them to their own lives.


HT: Hookahville has become a great communal experience with a top notch reputation and history.  How large are the logistics to put it on, and what do you look forward to?

JM:  Hookahville is probably the most anticipated festival of the year for us.  This spring was the greatest.  It was very clean with little to no shadiness.  It always feels like a family reunion.  Even when I wasn’t in the band, I would still go to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen since the last ‘ville. Just thinking of the logistical end gives me a headache.

Steve Trickle has taken on those responsibilities, and does a fantastic job of it.  Everything from the production, security, medical staff to the folks that help pick up after.  It is truly amazing how much work goes into a festival the size of Hookahville.  The first one was just a flatbed truck and a bunch of tents up on Dave’s property in the hills. 

We all have input on the bands that are invited.  I personally have a couple of favs  that I want to come.  John Hiatt with either The Goners or The Guilty Dogs I think would be really great.  There are so many that I really love, though.  I’d like off the wall stuff too like Les Claypool or Buckethead.


HT: What are some of the charities, functions and programs that Hookahville (and participants) reaches out to?

JM: Hookah Fans for Food is the largest organization that does good work like that.  There is usually a specific cause that they raise money and collect for.  I remember they were able to buy a new fridge for a local food pantry, and also stocked their shelves full of donated food items.  They usually have an open stage and raffle to raise awareness. 

They also work with KidzJam which is a nice safe place for the kiddies to play and jump in one of those bouncy things while the parents can take in some of the fest.  I’ve always thought that was a very cool thing to do.  But they won’t let me in the bouncy thing.


HT: How did Cary Romanoff come to the band with the idea of this recording, and what was your experience at Tree Sound Studios?

JM:  Cary is an old friend.  In fact, he used to be on the management team.  He took the idea to Dave, who, in turn, brought it up to the rest of us.

I am a bit of a studio junkie, so I jumped at the chance to work in that environment.  Tree Sound is amazing.  We had very little time for the studio part, about two and a half days, so I am very happy with the results.  Shawn Grove, our engineer, was intuitive about what we were looking for, and he knew how to dial it in without knowing the band that well.


HT:  How did the band come to the decision of which songs went on the recorded disc, and what went on the live disc?

JM:   Some songs seem to be a better fit for the studio, and others naturally felt better for the live section.  We weren’t sure how much time we would have to record the newer tunes. "Tumblin’" actually was just something to warm up on, and it ended up coming out pretty good. "Water Bear" was completely fun to do.  The space part in the middle section was a gas.  I think we each took two swipes at that part and I loved it. 

A song like "Freedom Flying"  wouldn’t have worked that well in the studio.  On the original UFS it actually ends.  It hasn’t ended since then, we always segue it into something else live, so it had to go on the Cave sessions.

The new tunes on the live disc weren’t planned, really.  They were the better cuts of what we had recorded.  I had intended to have "Carousel" on the studio disc, but time didn’t allow, so I wanted to get a good live version.


HT: You’ve been playing at a fairly continuous pace around the country.  Any good stories from the road?

JM:   Sometimes the road is like being in a Spinal Tap movie.  Once we were pulled over and searched.  The officer found a bag of some green substance. When questioned, Cliff admitted that it was his bag of kelp. It was kelp!  He got a ticket anyway until it was tested.

Usually, there’s not much drama these days.  Now back from the old days, I’ve got a ton of stories not fit for publication.


HT:  What festivals are you planning to perform at this summer?

JM:   We play up at Nelson Ledges quite a bit.  I look forward to getting back to Trips place for Jerry’s birthday, and there is Fall Hookahville where we’ll have Dark Star Orchestra performing both days. 

The really cool thing is that we are traveling to some great places.  Late June finds us up in Humboldt county.  Then in August, we will be heading to Alaska for a five gig run.  Also, this February we’ll be in Hawaii.  I’m learning to Hula.


HT: What are the side projects that Hookah members currently find themselves involved in?

JM: Dave has Katz’n’Jammers and Eric Lanese has Screaming Peach.  Steve Sweney has a group called The Spikedrivers.  Cliff is living out in Colorado, and jams often with Vince Herman’s Great American Taxi, and the guys from Oakhurst.  I really like doing the solo acoustic thing.  Recently, I’ve talked with all of the original members of The John Mullins Band, and we are thinking of doing a few gigs in the near future.  They are a great group, so it should be much fun.


HT: What plans loom in the future for John Mullins, Ekoostik Hookah?

JM: Being the studio junkie that I am, I’d love to go back in to produce another album.  There are certain people I’d like to have involved with that when it happens.  With enough time and preparation, I think we could do our best work yet.  We still have so many songs that are not in the rotation yet.  We are slowly but surely brining them in.

Other that that, I’d say we are going to play as much as we can, as long as we can, everywhere we can.


All photos by Christian James Kawalek / ChristianJamesPhoto.com


Hookah’s party at Annie’s was a walloping two set monster that went into the wee hours of the morning.  Highlights included "Riverman," "Caribou," and Mullin’s masterful ride on "Washboard Annie" in the first set, and a riveting "Steeped in Tears-Silver Train-SDTL," "Backseat," and an upset down hanging, bass playing Cliff Starbuck who also offered a classic take on John Henry!


Set One: Sun Goes Down, Bay Platypus, Dumpster, Riverman, Sail Away, Harmonic Convergence, Caribou, Better Man, Washboard Annie

Set Two: Steeped in Tears, Silver Train-SDTL, Looper’s Den- Backseat, John Henry, Beachhead Dreamer- Hush

Encore: Ballad of Sam McCully