Back when the New Respects were a new band, and couldn’t resist turning their amps all the way up at practice, they didn’t face the threat that hangs over so many young groups: noise complaints. There was an old building on church property where they were permitted to be as loud as they pleased.
“We used to go to church here, and they let us use this house,” guitarist Zandy Mowry explains, while wrenching open the stubborn doorknob.
She and her band mates haven’t been back in half a decade, and reentering what looks like a classroom makes them almost giddy.
“Ohhhh my gosh, it smells different in here!” marvels singer Jasmine Mullen.
Her cousin Zandy notes one update: a marker board hangs on the wall where a chalkboard used to be.
Her brother, and the band’s drummer, Darius Fitzgerald walks to the spot where he used to set up his kit and claps to demonstrate how sound ricochets off the hard floor and walls. “As you can see, it was perfect for rehearsal,” he deadpans. “Terrible acoustics, but we were up in here.”
All three are eager to continue the tour, stopping at the kitchen where they used to whip up snacks and the storage area where Jasmine repeatedly beat all of them — including their former bassist, Lexi, Zandy’s twin sister — at hide and seek.
Jasmine searches the closet for her old go-to spot, pointing out a shelf at eye level: “How small was I? I would hide literally right here. Like, a grown woman was in this…”
“In this cupboard,” Darius finishes the statement, punctuating it with a soft, “Wow.”
To be clear, they were just out of high school at the time. Climbing into cubbyholes was how they took breaks from rehearsals that could stretch as long as 8 or 10 hours. These weren’t aimless noodling sessions either. The siblings and cousin were downright disciplined about running through their material until it was tight.
“I mean, when people ask me to jam to this day, I don’t know what to do,” Zandy insists. “I’m like, ‘No, what’s the plan.’”
The New Respects didn’t just grab that sense of professionalism out of thin air. They’re part of the second generation of a successful music family, and grateful to their parents for making the move to Nashville to break into the industry before them. The Fitzgeralds’ father had a brief Christian rap career, before turning to the ministry, and the Mullen household was abuzz with songwriting activity; Jasmine’s dad David Mullen helped craft hits for big names, and one of those was Jasmine’s mom, Nicole C. Mullen, a poised, regally expressive performer who ascended to the top of the contemporary Christian music world in the early 2000s.
She was also one of the most prominent Black women working in that mostly white genre, forging a path that hadn’t been clearly established before her. Jasmine and her band mates absorbed and applied those lessons so well that their trajectory, too, doesn’t quite resemble any others in their family, or their music-making city.
“She did something that like I didn’t see a lot of other Black women doing,” Jasmine reflects. “I never thought I couldn’t be a touring musician, because she was. I never thought I couldn’t be a songwriter in a space that was predominantly a lot of white men, because my mom did it. And when you see that, there’s just this thing in you that you don’t think twice. You’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to do this.’”
As kids, Jasmine and her cousins joined her mom as backup dancers. Zandy first stepped onto the arena-size stages of church conferences around age 10: “We were kind of being groomed from a really young age [about] how to do a show, how to entertain, how to communicate a message of hope and joy and love in a way that can compete with anything. So by the time we actually put instruments in our hands, the standard was already set.”
They brought a healthy respect for their elders’ craft, but no stylistic parameters to the band they started in their teens; exploring their own musical inclinations was an amiable way of asserting independence.
“We had the understanding of adults way beyond us, because they were able to pass down wisdom,” Zandy observes. “So that helped navigate contracts and who to work with and who not to work with. I think artistically, though, we are an amalgamation of everything that we saw and everything that we wanted to be and maybe that we didn’t see in that Christian world. There is a language that you speak in that world. There is a type of song that you typically write, there is a type of artists that typically are attracted to that kind of music. So there was a resistance in us for a long time of, ‘Okay, they were really good, but we don’t wanna be that.’”
At first, impressed with the anthemic accessibility of Mumford & Sons, they dabbled in sing-along folk. That phase ended as soon as Zandy got her first electric guitar, and they all devoured the otherworldly rock and soul experiments that sprawled across the Alabama Shakes’ second album.
That’s the mode the New Respects were operating in when they bargained with their folks to let them put college on hold for six months while they chased a record deal. Things fell into place quickly; a few song placements, an EP and a leather jacket look for photo and video shoots that they felt matched their muscled-up pop-rock riffs. “We were like, ‘Okay, we’re going to be hardcore,’” Darius jokes in hindsight.
They were invited to tour with some of the biggest names in Christian music, and Zandy found the divide between how they presented themselves and how audiences received them revealing. She sets the scene: “Four Black people standing in front of this crowd who’s ready to sing, like, ‘How He Loves,’ Crowder’s biggest song. I mean, that is a worship song — and we’re riffing. So it’s like there is so much to take in. At the time, what I learned was the audience was just trying to drink out of a fire hose. We would walk off [stage] feeling sad, because they didn’t get it. But then we’d go and sign [autographs and be told], ‘That was awesome. I’ve never experienced anything like that.’”
The band tried playing in other settings in front of other crowds, and felt more at home on the club circuit. Paying attention to their leanings led them in other musical directions too — after they let go of the image they’d initially cultivated. Jasmine recalls, “We had a friend who was like, ‘Yo, you’re pop kids.’ And we’re like, ‘We’re going to beat you up for saying that. We’re not. We’re rock and roll.’”
The fact was, they were avid students of nimbly danceable, R&B-adjacent pop. More than once during our interview, they speak admiringly of the effervescent precision of the Jackson 5 and the blockbuster studio work that Michael Jackson did as a young adult.
“Yeah, there’s [guitar] riffs [in our music], but we don’t have to be the Ramones,” Jasmine quips lightheartedly, getting a laugh from her band mates. “I actually don’t know any Ramones songs. So that might not apply here.”
Darius speaks of their evolution more idealistically: “I think we just were figuring out who we are and veering away from just trying to be cool, and going more into trying to be authentic in ourselves.”
Steering toward what felt right led the New Respects toward pop song craft, effervescent dance grooves and arrangements inspired by R&B vocal groups, all of which paired easily with the upbeat insight that characterized their writing.
Then they seemed to go especially quiet in 2020. Like everyone else, they left the road, but they also left their Christian label. “A lot of our labelmates didn’t look like us,” Zandy observes. “So there was some confusion around, ‘What are the places that this band should go that’s not necessarily already a road that’s been paved?’ And I felt like we just had to learn on our own, and leaving the label allowed us opportunity to do so.”
The band members also processed what was happening around the world and within their own family. They weren’t kids anymore. Zandy and her sister both got married during that time.
“Figuring out identity stuff and then you add marriage on top of it, it was definitely a change,” Zandy notes. “That’s probably why we were so dark on social media and interviews and stuff, because there was so much happening. COVID happened, the Black Lives Matter movement happened, and there’s a lot to figure out and unpack in that season that was hard to do publicly.”
The New Respects found comfort in returning to devotional songs from their folk era, and made intimate recordings in Darius’s bedroom for a self-released EP. Those weren’t just their final sessions with the original lineup, since Lexi was about to leave to focus on full-time parenthood, but their first producing themselves too.
“After thought and consideration,” Zandy says, “We were like, ‘No one gets it like we get it. What if we just tried?’”
As the New Respects prepare for their next release and a summer tour with Michael Franti & Spearhead, they’re living with lots of open-ended questions. That’s what they’re used to – they’ve grown up and figured out who they want to be as a band in the spotlight.