Music Makers | Mark Utley of Bulletville

Interview with a local legend

“I’m so Northside because trying to define what “I’m so Northside” even means kind of annoys me. I just like the openness, the diversity, and the accepting vibe I feel there.”


Mark Utley of Bulletville. Photo: Michael Wilson


You might remember a band called Magnolia Mountain from playing oh… just about everywhere in Cincinnati since around 2008. The man behind “Magmo” is/was Mark Utley, who recently put this band on ice and released a solo album, entitled Four Chords and a Lie in July of 2013.

Although many of the musicians who appeared on this album were vets from his old band, a new name has been established: Bulletville. This new faction promises to deliver a honky-tonk country sound. Studio time has been booked at Ultrasuede Studio in November 2014 to record a full-length Bulletville album with The Afghan Whigs’ John Curley producing, to be released in early 2015.

*Bulletville performs at Northside Tavern every first Sunday of the month from 8:30-11pm.**


Here is the current line up of the band:  

Mark Utley – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Renee Frye – Vocals
Jeff Vanover – Electric Guitar
John Lang – Pedal Steel
Ricky Nye – Piano, Organ
Kenneth Kimbrell – Bass
Todd Drake – Drums, Percussion

We took the opportunity to ask Mark Utley some questions so we could get to know him a little bit better:

What was the last song you were listening to?

“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” by Stevie Wonder

What were you listening to that song on? (car stereo, elevator speakers, etc)

Spinning it on vinyl as we speak.

What was the first musical instrument you ever played?

Tonette in the 4th grade.

Were you allowed to go outside much when you were a kid?

I was outside a lot as a kid. Played pick-up sports all year round with the neighborhood kids. Rode my bike all over town. But I did spend a lot of time sitting on the pool table in our basement singing along to records, too.

Did your parents play music?

My mom played clarinet growing up. Her dad played tuba in a ragtime band around the time of World War I. I still have it on display at my house.  My dad didn’t play, but he sang around the house all the time. A lot of Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold, Ray Price, that sort of stuff. One of the covers that Bulletville plays (“Make the World Go Away”) is always dedicated to him.

Name or describe your dream musical instrument. Money is no object.

A 50’s Gretsch Silver Jet.

You get to jam with anyone in the world. Ever. Who is it?

Hank Williams.

Complete this sentence: “I’m so Northside, because…” mark-quote

I’m so Northside because trying to define what “I’m so Northside” even means kind of annoys me. I just like the openness, the diversity, and the accepting vibe I feel there. I’m always attracted to places where people are just allowed to be who they are and not get shit for it.

Describe the weirdest gig of your career (up to this point.)

A river camp gig I did back in my hometown in Indiana. As I’m singing, I see this guy seated at a table, staring straight at me and stabbing a big knife into his leg, over and over and over. Found out afterwards he had a wooden leg and a sick sense of humor.

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

Coffee and cigarettes.

What are your top 5 favorite albums?

I have a couple thousand albums in my collection, so that’s a tough one and would probably change depending on the day you asked me. Off the top of my head: Hank Williams “40 Greatest Hits”, X “Under the Big Black Sun”, Bob Dylan “Blood on the Tracks”, Whiskeytown “Stranger’s Almanac”, The Cure “Pornography”. God, that leaves out so much. Next time ask me my Top 50 or something so I can go into full-on geek mode.

Name a movie title that describes how you feel about the music industry:

“Dumb and Dumber”.

Who first told you that they liked your music? 

The girl I wrote my first song about.

Which is your favorite- live shows or studio recording?

They’re such different things. I love them both, but probably studio recording. I think of myself as more of a songwriter than a musician, anyway, and I have so much fun putting songs together and layering instruments and harmonies, and experimenting with arrangements.

When you dream at night, do you hear music?

Yes, I do. I often wake up with a melody in my head and rush to get it down before I lose it.

What’s shaking in the next year or two for ya?

We’re recording a Bulletville record in November and releasing it in the spring.  I’m going to do some solo touring next spring and summer. Working on routing something to and from Colorado right now, and also wanting to get up around the Chicago area again, plus something down south with some of the other artists on our label, which is based down there.  If I can get some Bulletville folks to go with me, I will.  If not, I’ll just do it alone.

Mark Utley performs at Northside Tavern with Bulletville band members Ricky Nye (Piano), Kenneth Kimbrell (Bass), Jeff Vanover (Guitar) and singer Renee Frye. Photo: Sid Hatfield.

Mark Utley performs at Northside Tavern with Bulletville band members Ricky Nye (Piano), Kenneth Kimbrell (Bass), Jeff Vanover (Guitar) and singer Renee Frye. Photo: Sid Hatfield.


How is Bulletville different from Magnolia Mountain?

The biggest difference is that it’s more stylistically focused.  Bulletville is just straight-up Country in the old Honky Tonk style.  Magnolia Mountain, even though it’s a lot of the same people, has always been all over the map musically.

What prompted your recent haircut?

Just felt like a change. I’m pretty much always changing my hairstyle and my facial hair in some way, large or small.  There’s probably some psychological explanation in there somewhere, but I’ve never really cared enough to explore it.

What is your favorite song you’ve written, and what inspired you to write it?

Probably “The Southbound Lane”. Just a song about a girl.

You’ve had quite an impressive number of musicians play with you over the years. What qualities do you look for in a band mate?

Musicians who listen to what the other musicians in the band are doing.  Musicians who understand that what you don’t play is as important as what you do.  Tasteful players who play in service to the song, not just to show off their chops. And singers who love to sing harmony as much as I do.

What is the culture like at Northside Tavern on a Sunday night? Who has been coming to your shows?

It’s really turned into something fun, especially since we switched it from a smaller Magnolia Mountain Quartet format into a full-band Bulletville gig. The crowds have been great and we’re getting a lot of regulars who keep coming back every month, some Northsiders, some not. People dance and drink and hoot and holler. This style of music is great for playing in bars (hell, it was born and raised in bars), so we have a really great time at the Tavern every month.

By Andyman Hopkins

Andyman Hopkins
About Andyman Hopkins (2 Articles)
Andyman Hopkins is a local musician and/or an audio engineer. He is a husband, a father, and a proud Northsider since 1992. He likes guitars, BB guns, Asian food, and hiking. Feel free to drop him a line!

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