As the menacing front man of Indianapolis' Zero Boys, a spiky-haired kid by the name of Paul Mahern launched himself into the vast unknown of the music universe. Now decades later, the tireless music mind still ventures on with the band, also reaching ears around the world, thanks to his record-making expertise
Mahern's journey began as a 16-year-old, after the other founding members of the Zero Boys learned of his rock 'n' roll ferocity and asked him to join their band. Original drummer Mark Cutsinger (who still plays in the band's current lineup) recalls, "He was just this lanky kid and had this wonderful snarling voice. He was perfect for us -- everything about him." The band went on to release Vicious Circle -- an iconic album that eventually gained the group notoriety throughout the United States and beyond. Prior to any of this madness, however, Mahern admits his utter fascination with engineering breathtaking records had already been sparked.
- Mark Murmann
- Mahern began playing with Zero Boys in 1979 and is pictured in 1999 and 2010 performances above. While the lineup has changed over time, his vocals have been a consistent part of the sound.
"Probably by the time I was 14 years old I was looking at British recording magazines and lusting over the gear and the consoles and stuff," he recalls. "But it wasn't until the Zero Boys went into the studio the first time, when we recorded the Livin' In The '80s EP, that I really saw it as a potential career path. From then on, I haven't really looked back."
Mahern began acquiring the skill set needed to pursue this path when he interned under Vicious Circle producer John Helms. Over time he built upon his foundational knowledge through self-teaching, experimentation, the insight of others and simply listening to albums and emulating what he heard. This led him to start Mahern Audio -- his very own full-service audio business.
"We produce records, we mix records for people, we master records and we also have an archival business as well, where we take old analog carriers and digitize them," Mahern says. "With engineering at this point, you have to be as diversified as possible to make a living."
- Carol Satamile
Mahern's audio production skills were honed in his years in the Indianapolis punk scene with a mix of mentoring and self-teaching.
With more than 300 albums to his name now, including Grammy-nominated releases and several RIAA-certified gold and platinum awards, word of Mahern's engineering proficiency has spread. From John Mellencamp to Iggy Pop to The Fray, he's worked with a vast array of artists, including Indy folk pop duo Lily & Madeleine in recent years.
After coming across a video of the Jurkiewicz sisters singing Adele's Make You Feel My Love (a Bob Dylan cover), Mahern was impressed and wanted to work with the duo. Madeleine remembers, "Paul saw potential in us and wanted to meet us. So it really was just some sort of accident that really happened, but we're so glad that we met him." Now, with the help of songwriting collaborator Kenny Childers, the sisters have generated three records, including their second full-length, Fumes, to be released on Asthmatic Kitty Records later this month. Working with Mahern in the studio for all of these undertakings has been a treat for the duo, who attest he's still got some punk in his blood.
"When you've been working for hours and hours and people start to get a little antsy, he is the calm one," Madeleine says. "But he's also a punk, and he just has this awesome punk sensibility about him where he's not afraid to do something or say something kind of crazy or to convince us to do something crazy. We really love that about him. He's just very, very supportive."
Lily & Madeleine worked with Mahern on both their 2013 album, which included the song Tired seen below, and the forthcoming full-length release Fumes.
The sisters admit they wouldn't be where they are today without Mahern -- a sentiment that Childers echoes. Having worked with him as a part of several other projects, the veteran songwriter says, "There's no way I would be where I'm at now without having worked with him. There's just no way." Through his many years of playing music in the state, Childers has also seen the impact of Mahern on the Indiana music community as a whole.
"I think his influence has been very practical and very immediate, because he's such a tireless worker and has worked with so many people directly that he's been able to affect the way that they think about creating music and help them understand how best to achieve what they're trying to do within a recording studio," Childers says. "He's been sitting next to them while that's been happening because he's literally recorded everyone. His influence is definitely intense on this area of music, and it's not because he hovers over in some godlike fashion. It's because he literally gets down with his hands in the dirt and works with everybody."
In addition to moving forward with the most recent incarnation of the Zero Boys, Mahern will continue challenging himself to make even better records, just as he always has. In holding to this ambition, he believes his best work is still to come.