Throwaway Style: An Interview with Kevin Murphy of the Moondoggies

Throwaway Style, Interviews, Local Music
04/12/2018
Martin Douglas

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.


For some artists, life is what happens in between records. For others, records signify signposts between periods in their lives. After a long layoff from the grind of being a working musician, Kevin Murphy, frontman of the Moondoggies, was given a great deal of personally significant material to write about. A Love Sleeps Deepout tomorrow on Hardly Art – is the product of the half-decade since the last time Murphy and his band released an album, a full life lived complete with the salvation of love, fatherhood, and the atrocities and impending dread which don’t stop for either saving grace.

This document, the band’s fourth full-length, eight songs culled from around thirty demos, finds the band at their most lyrically poignant and musically refined. “Promises” is like hearing a piano ballad in an Old West saloon on hallucinogens a little stronger than peyote. The freewheeling rock of “Cinders” is augmented by its survey of racial microaggressions. Sure, there’s a foundation in the roots-leaning rock music – comparisons to which sometimes hangs over the group’s head like an albatross -- but the light psychedelic touch lingering in the background has a very modern tint to it.

We reached out to Murphy about his headspace while writing A Love Sleeps Deep, the years between recording albums, and the very specific comparisons that follow the Moondoggies around.

KEXP: In the five years since Adios I'm a Ghost, in what ways have the Moondoggies changed as a band? In what ways have you changed as a songwriter?

Kevin Murphy: It's odd that it's been five years. We were playing the whole time. There's a lot of emphasis on being prolific and staying relevant for musicians (which is good if you look at it as a business) but I think it's good to take a breath and rediscover it.

It seemed more important to just breathe and write and put out a record when it felt like we had a record that we were proud of. We were recording the whole 5 years in our basement. We turned the whole basement into a makeshift studio and dinked around. I suppose that is what's changed. We started recording everything we wrote, or we jammed. We could have made a record sooner but the songs weren't quite right yet, and we didn't wanna churn anything out. We serve the song.

I don't think there are any rules to writing a song or making records. Hopefully the music is always changing and morphing and we are growing.I'm sure some of those basement songs will be revisited and cannibalized and turned upside down.

In that same interim, in what ways have you changed as a person?

My world changed the week our last album came out and I met [my girlfriend] Yeye. I won't go too far into it, but I sobered up and that was a big change, she saved me. I became a father, which is the best thing that ever happened to me. I'm generally much, much happier than I used to be. I have a lot to be grateful for and that's much clearer to me.

Was there anything that sparked a long layoff, or was it just something that just happened?

I've been playing around town since I was sixteen, so I did consciously press pause at times a few years ago. It's strange to make music and have people tell you what you should be doing to succeed. I'm just looking for the spark when it comes to being creative and what I wanna put out there; I put my mind elsewhere when I felt a little burned out.

I helped Yeye open a Peruvian dessert truck that we had for a couple of summers down by Golden Gardens Park. We held some shows there during the summer with friends. We had to sue a slumlord on Whidbey Island, that ate up about a year.

I totally understand the need to tour and be a road dog and get fans, in fact this time made me appreciate that and the joy of playing in front of folks... but it would have been the wrong choice to make at the time. I'm excited to get out and play this album all around the country (or anywhere) and explore these songs live. Also it's important to point out that when you're a parent, it seemed like time suddenly starts to disappear in larger chunks; five years goes by really really fast.

There seems to be a lot of autobiographical emphasis in the songs, and in your press release, you talk about your frustration with a lot of rock and roll music focusing on "escapist stuff." You mention having two little girls now, so do you see your songs as a document for ways in which the world is fucked up so that perhaps we as people can change things for the better by the time your children get older?

I think art is partly to champion love, and partly to hold each other accountable. I don't hear much of it in contemporary guitar music. Some of the music I grew up on, like 60's rock and roll, punk rock, and grunge felt dangerous in a good way. Artists spoke up for the underdog.

I say this because I've heard artists talk about escapism, or that it's not their job to talk about these "harder issues". Sure, if your message is all about fun, by all means-stay fun. But our music is mirroring what we're going through, and this is what we're going through. If most of your crowd looks the same – whether that be race, sex, class, et cetera – why not spark up a conversation or make people think?

A song like "Cinders" is just me talking about how angry i am about the type of casual racism my girlfriend experienced when we were in the process of suing a former landlord, as well as a restaurant she worked in for a spell. "Underground" is about the planet not being ours to destroy. "Soviet Barn Fire" is drawing the parallels between that lame landlord and Trump (or any demagogue people look to). I'm not preaching, I'm just being honest about my anger towards human beings and some of our behaviors. It's coming from a place of love though.

Generally, artists try to reflect the world back at itself in one way or another. If you don't want to go there, then don't. But you shouldn't avoid it because you want to be likable.  

Are there any particular songs on the album which are most resonant for you?

Depends. I like playing "Soviet Barn Fire" live. It reminds me of playing music in high school.

Much of the time the Moondoggies have been a band has spent being lumped in with a certain type of rock music; the Byrds, Neil Young, etc. Do you think those influences are overstated? What are some influences people might be surprised to hear you have?

I think a great song can come out of any genre, you should never close yourself off to any type of song or songs. One of the reasons my high school punk band had to break up was because we were known for punk – we couldn't suddenly just start playing sweet, quiet lullabies with harmonies, you know? I want to be free to do anything. No rules. Loud, quiet, happy, angry, goofy, nonsensical, whatever comes out.

I understand the need for folks to compare, but limiting artists to certain sounds is tired. I feel more connected to a guitar then a synth at this point in my life, but that could totally change. I wouldn't discourage someone from discovering something musically in themselves through classical music even though it's been around for a while and may not be the trend. Yeah, I like Neil Young, but when I made this album I was actually listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, so most comparisons are weird and a lot of times unnecessary.

I try not to compare because most of the time it comes off judgey or short-sighted, but what are you gonna do? People want to say we sound like Neil Young or Pink Pink Floyd-sweet! Just don't drop us when we start doing collabs with Kendrick. [laughs]

Was the process of recording the album with Erik Blood different from the last time you recorded an album with him?

I think our focus was a lot better than any other time. I didn't drink at all. I felt pretty zoned in. Erik is really good at getting the best from you while working quickly. He doesn't want you to overthink it, and he keeps you honest. He's great. I like working with somebody that likes different kinds of music too, because I do too.

How were the eight songs for the album selected out of the (approximately) thirty demos recorded?

Erik picked his favorite ones, which was sort of a consensus with us, give or take a song or two.

Is there a particular theme you hope listeners take away from A Love Sleeps Deep?

I think love and the need for it. My personal theme was connection with family and love, whether it's my family, my friends, or people I'll never meet. It's feeling those invisible strings that connect us all and having a conversation about where we're headed and how we affect each other.

New and News

Wimps Announce New Album Garbage People, Share Title Track

Photo by Nathan Palace

 

There are few bands who sensationalize the mundane quite as humorously (or in such a catchy way) as Wimps. From whom else are you going to be able to hear relentlessly listenable, slightly shambolic, barely-over-two-minute tunes about backwash, more than one song about sleeping, being the old folks at the house party, and skipping the house party completely in favor of eating leftover takeout in bed? As the cliche goes, "If it ain't broke don't fix it," and "Garbage People" is very indicative of such a phrase, as I've already listened to it around thirty times since yesterday. Garbage People will be released July 13th on Kill Rock Stars. Have fun trying in vain to not have these songs stuck in your head this summer.

 

Live and Loud: This Week's Recommended Shows

April 12: Tomo Nakayama, Bryan John Appleby, Swimming Bell, and Andrew Victor at Sunset Tavern

April 13: The Moondoggies, Grand Hallway, and Le Sang Song at Neptune Theatre

April 14: Lo Moon and Kraus at Barboza

April 15: The Desperate, Star Meets Sea, and Modern Day Astronaut at the Crocodile Back Bar

April 17: Frankie Cosmos, Ian Sweet, SOAR, and Deckard's Troll Parade at Neumos

April 18: Earth and Tiny Vipers at the Crocodile

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