The release of Fuming Mouth’s new record, Last Day of Sun, comes with an added level of triumph. Not only is it the band’s sophomore LP, but it also marks lead singer and guitarist Mark Whelan’s official “return,” if you will. Before the writing of this album, Whelan was diagnosed with a life-threatening form of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. It was only three weeks before the band was going to begin recording that he got the news. He persevered through difficult treatments and returned to doing what he loves. Initially, this was to be a concept album, but it transformed into a sort of concept-reality hybrid. While undergoing treatment, Whelan rewrote melodies, drum patterns, and lyrics, infusing them with his thoughts and perspective influenced by what he was experiencing.
There’s a real resilience found throughout Last Day of Sun. It’s a testament to the steadfastness of Whelan and his bandmates to get this record done and not let anything get in their way. There’s a ray of hope that shines throughout the album’s twelve tracks. Amidst the negativity and shock is a will to carry on and a will to overcome. This is Fuming Mouth’s first record in four years and first for Nuclear Blast Records. It’s arrived just in time to stand as one of 2023’s most brutal and compelling death metal albums.
Today, we are joined by Whelan to discuss being a bone marrow donor for Vox Populi. With his experiences, he has developed some strong views on the topic. And he is with us today to share those views and raise awareness of the importance of being a donor.
No matter what your political or ethical outlook, there are issues and topics that we are all passionate about. Some examples are climate change, human rights, poverty, military conflicts, prejudice, and economic disparity. With this in mind, what’s the issue or topic that you are most passionate about?
Mark Whelan: “Health is something I deal with every day. It was a topic I never considered until I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, cancer. I’ve been battling with the symptoms and side effects from it since I got my bone marrow transplant.”
Why is health so important to you?
“It’s an issue that can improve by leaps and bounds. The bone marrow transplant I received that saved my life came from Bethematch.org; this is a program that saves the lives of children who haven’t even had enough time to do something good or bad. They need to have a chance. There are 40 million people signed up. Although that might seem like a lot, it’s not. There are 8 billion people on the planet, and if you signed up, you could save someone’s life.”
When did you first get so interested in this program?
“I was diagnosed in 2021, and a year later, in 2022, once I was recovering, I realized how important this is. Now I try and be vocal about it.”
What do you see as the biggest contributing factors to the issue?
“Law. Laws in other countries allow for more people to register. In some countries, it sweeps the issue under the rug, and people don’t even know we need more donors for Bethematch.org specifically.”
If you could have everyone in the world hear you for one minute, what would you tell them being a donor?
“I need you to sign up for the bone marrow transplant registry on your phone right now. Type in bethematch.org and follow the steps to register. You might save someone’s life.”
What are some ways you’ve contributed to the solutions to this issue?
“We’ve collaborated with Hardlore for a Christmas sweater where proceeds went to Bethematch. We’ve collaborated with New England Metal and Hardcore Fest, where proceeds were donated to them, too.”
What would be the simplest solution to this issue? Would you want to take this approach?
“Signing up is simple, I swear. Take your phone and sign up on Bethematch.org right now.”
Where is the most influence wielded around this topic of being a donor? How would you wield it if you had all of that influence?
“Poland and Germany have a great grasp on this. The United States doesn’t because of certain laws. If I could change laws where getting swabbed is easier, I would because that’s all it takes to see if you would be a potential candidate.”
What musician or artist has been the most vocal about this topic?
“Lamb of God. They even wrote a song about a fan who went through Leukemia in 2015 called ‘The Duke.’ Go listen to that track and check it out online. Some of Randy’s (Blythe) most ambitious and best vocals to date. RIP Wayne Ford.”
Who has been the biggest inspiration in trying to deal with this issue?
“My doctors and nurses. Specifically all my nurses and hearing all their stories of the horrible things they’ve seen. They’re the ones who are frontlines with this disease and see the easiest to the hardest battles. I don’t know how they do it.”
What are some actions that readers can take right now to contribute to tackling this issue of being a donor?
“Sign up for Bethemach.org on your phone. Get your swab in the mail.”
If you could change one person’s mind, completely and irrevocably, in order to help solve the issues around being a donor, who would it be? Why?
“A member of Congress. I would want them to understand this is urgent. This is mandatory. And we need laws that get people swabbed so we can find out if there are potential bone marrow transplant matches that can save people right now. Especially for Blacks and Latinos. All minorities. It’s harder when countries like Germany and Poland, which are predominantly white, are the ones with the laws that expedite this where in the U.S.A. we’re dragging our feet.”
Which organizations or agencies have been the most instrumental or helpful in attempting to tackle this issue?
What is a book, movie, or other source of information you would recommend for anyone looking to learn more about cancer or becoming a donor?
“I haven’t had the balls to read this yet, but Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted. It’s a book written by Suleika Jaouad. It tells of her own journey with AML. Her husband is Jon Batiste, so there’s a connection with music there, too.”
Do you think more or less government intervention is required to effect change on this issue? Which countries’ governments would have the most tangible impact if so? If not, what benefit will reduced government intervention have?
“Yes. I’ve spoken about this throughout the interview, but the U.S. needs to pass legislation to make swabbing more mandatory, like the previous countries I’ve explained. So many politicians are too scared to take a stance on it because they ironically don’t want to make one side or the other angry. But cancer affects us all. This disease can be cured, and one of the ways is through bone marrow transplants.”
Which sources of news or information do you use to keep regularly updated on being a donor?
“I live this every day, so for me, I’m always updated. Every doctor has given me a lot of literature so I can study up and learn how to beat this thing. Bethematch has a great Instagram, and if you want to keep up with it yourself, you should go there.”
Let’s do a thought experiment: If this and other similar issues like it can be resolved, what world do you envision? How does it work? What does it look like? How does it sustain itself? Why does it work?
“Everyone at the age of 18 is swabbed. If you come back as a match, that’s when you decide if you want to donate or not. The problem is finding the match. We need possibilities. We need minorities to do this. Also, we don’t have the laws that make this accessible for young people to do so, and it needs to change immediately.”