Kyle Mullarky mentions that we’re meeting on one of the first quiet days he’s had in more than a year—not accounting for the occasional pig squealing or dog barking from somewhere on his 2-acre back-hills property. The traffic of creative talent drawn to the secluded Topanga Canyon estate has been constant, Mullarky explains, with the two married members of VUM living in the back house; Matt Taylor (guitarist for the Growlers) occupying a small side-house; and bands such as Allah-Las and Glitterbust, film-makers including Taylor Bonin, and many music-industry friends often writing and recording or camping out somewhere on the hillside.
Mullarky started life in Huntington Beach, then settled in Laguna Niguel. “[I] grew up in the peaceful little suburbs of Southern California—like every other kid, surfing and, I don’t know, failing out of high school,” he recalls, laughing. His laid-back demeanor belies his professional experience, which includes songwriting, producing, playing multiple instruments, engineering, scoring, mixing, commercial recording, and capturing live performances from concerts such as the Growlers’ annual Beach Goth festival. All of this makes him a sought-after artistic mind for bands looking to capture a variety of vintage and psychedelic sounds.
He started on this career path 20 years ago, when Mullarky was around the age of 15 and playing alongside longtime friend Warren Thomas in his first bands. Those early outfits eventually morphed into the Grand Elegance, then into the Abigails in 2011. “From the beginning, I was always recording,” he says. “I was kind of the ‘default’ guy—as they always are, right? I was attracted to it, and it was easy for me, and I had patience.”
When the Grand Elegance began booking shows outside the Dana Point area, Mullarky recalls, “it’s what brought me out of Orange County. We would go play Santa Ana and San Diego and Long Beach.’” When the group members reached the end of high school, the band moved to Long Beach. But Mullarky decided to reside in Echo Park. Soon after his move, his LA-based band the Shore signed with a label. Alongside the Shore were groups such as Beachwood Sparks, Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Tyde and the Warlocks on the forefront of the scene.
“Those were the type of people [who] were just such a thriving force in Echo Park at the time,” Mullarky says. “They were musical encyclopedias, all those guys, ’cause they’re all such music enthusiasts. I learned so much from hanging with those guys.”
Of his early days in Los Angeles, Mullarky says, “I started interning at studios; I was working a day job at the coffee shop, and then [spent] nights in the studios, just trying to absorb whatever I could out of whatever situation it was.” When the Shore went to record with Rick Parker, who is known for working with bands such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Mullarky asked to be part of the studio’s crew.
“Parker became my mentor, and through him, I was really able to get into engineering, once the band kind of fizzled out,” he says. After working full-time in the studio with Parker for a year, Mullarky scored a steady position for almost seven years with Brian Lapin at Transcenders, a film, TV and music production company. There, he contributed to projects such as Gossip Girl, and worked with outside composers including Jeff Cardoni on mixing the television show CSI, films such as Finding Joy and the documentary Teach.
After moving to Venice Beach, he reconnected with the members of the Growlers. “I’ve known Matt [Taylor] since he was 8 years old ’cause his older brother was my best friend,” Mullarky says. “They’re family, and I think, after I heard their first recordings, I was like, ‘Well, you gotta come up and record with me in LA.’” Mullarky mastered the Growlers’ album Hung At Heart, worked on the bulk of their demos, and recording Gilded Pleasures. He has continued to engineer the band’s albums, including Chinese Fountain and their new one, set to be released at the end of this year.
The end of Mullarky’s era with Transcenders came around the time he bought the Topanga Canyon estate and began to establish a recording studio in the property’s old pump house with a mixture of analog and digital gear, amps, and instruments. “I like analog music ’cause that sounds and feels the best to me—it’s warm, and it’s a nice format,” he says. “But digital and Pro Tools also sound good. You have a lot more capabilities and convenience, especially when you’re blowing through ideas.”
Mullarky’s producing and engineering work has been steady; he has hardly had a moment to come up for air, thanks to the new Allah-Las album. “We started on this new record, Calico Review, January of last year. The Allah-Las are very sort of particular to having a certain aesthetic and having it be exactly correct,” the producer says. “I felt like it was an honor to be asked to do that job because it’s a really aesthetically difficult job to do, to make a record in that sort of vein and have it be, like, technically correct.”
He has also recorded with Glitterbust (including their album featuring Alex Knost and Kim Gordon), the Abigails, Little Wings, Gantez and the Pesos. “Recently,” he adds, “I’ve composed a movie for Taylor Bonin, Lacrimosa, and another movie last year called Viena and the Fantomes, with my friend Dante Aliano, the singer from Dante vs. Zombies.”
It’s clear Mullarky is sought after not only for his technical help, but also for his creative opinion. “It’s more like a creative zone, where the idea is more important than anything else,” he says. “Obviously, [anything is] going to be recorded really nicely, but I want it to be a good song and a creative idea, something that has its own life and has that something you want to hear.”
For now, he’s taking a brief moment to breathe, but he is always ready to record up-and-coming artists. “It’s a vibe of not being in a dark studio,” he says. “You’re out in nature; you’ve got the animals and the land and the pigs and the dirt road. It’s easy to let go and feel creative.”