2018 Top Ten List Spotlight: Owen Murphy (+ Interview w/ the Band at #1: Chatham Rise)

2018 Countdown, Interviews
Owen Murphy
Chatham Rise

Owen Murphy's 2018 Top Ten Albums

rank band album label
10 Soft Science Maps Test Pattern
9 Jenn Champion Single Rider Hardly Art
8 Damien Jurado The Horizon Just Laughed Secretly Canadian
7 Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance Partisan Records
6 Lo! Peninsula AKA Lo Peninsula EP self-released
5 Janelle Monae Dirty Computer Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy Records / Atlantic Records
4 Gabriel Teodros History Rhymes If It Doesn't Repeat (A Southend Healing Ritual) self-released
3 Spiritualized And Nothing Hurt Fat Possum Records
2 Boygenius boygenius EP Matador
1 Chatham Rise Meadowsweet self-released

According to Wikipedia, so you know it’s true, the Chatham Rise is an area of the ocean floor to the east of New Zealand, forming part of the Zealandia continent. To my way of thinking, it’s interesting that this Minneapolis sextet would choose a name of something hidden from view as their nom de plume as they are a fairly mysterious group, rarely seen online, rarely sharing information, and rarely photographed. Indeed, so mysterious that lead-singer Colin and I had been speaking via IM for over a year before we met in person this past August, and never during this time did he tell me that we had gone to high school together. On top of that, Tim, the band’s guitar player was one of my best friends growing up, although I’d lost touch with him years ago. So weird. Talk about a surprise, especially when you consider that Meadowsweet is my 2018 album of the year, capturing the band at the height of its power, incredibly interesting, both in sonic landscape and catchy melodies. It’s a world on to itself, full of bucolic, serene landscapes that rise and fall as one does the water above the Chatham Rise.

As is the case with many acts of late, the band themselves are adults with families and jobs, so touring is nearly impossible, thus national acclaim is unfairly hard to garner. Chatham Rise is worth your time and I hope this conversation with Colin convinces you to take a few minutes to get to know them.  


KEXP: Is there a sound you're chasing for in Chatham Rise? 

Colin Axel: A sound that we're chasing? I guess back when we first started working on our demos and were just laying down our initial songs, the feedback that we got from some of our musician friends is that we sounded like we were underwater. So that is what kind of gravitated me to the name Chatham Rise because that's an underwater plateau off the coast of New Zealand. It's just a really interesting space where it's calm underneath the water, and then it's right along one of the hugest fault lines on the planet. And so it's one of those things, like Iceland, where everything's really peaceful there, but at any moment it could all explode. So that's kind of the thought behind it. We have this soft, quiet vibe, and then all of a sudden we'll ramp it up, and then try and do something that's a little explosive with the sound. 

How do you describe your music and your sound to someone who's knowledgeable [about music]? Someone who would know bands from My Bloody Valentine, to Slowdive, to Spiritualized, to Pink Floyd? 

I would say that sound tries to guide people away from their everyday lives, and push them out into space, or out into the water, or up above the tree line, to give that feeling of calm and floating. And we take a little from all of those bands that you mentioned, and The Verve, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Ride. We have quite a few influences, bands from the '80s and '90s, that we've taken with us and try to spin our own thing out of it. 

Why do you think you gravitate towards that genre? Especially since you're from the same place I am, Minneapolis, where the predominant sound was first a mid-'80s kind of Replacements garage rock sound  I suppose for lack of a better term  then noise rock from Amphetamine Reptile Records. 

I don't know. Maybe it's all of the lakes in Minnesota. Maybe it's how quiet is it at night. I'm basically living out in the farmland, and that calm, and the clear skies and the stars, and all of that, that's kind of inspiring and I think I gravitated to it because of that. I think my bandmates would say the same. 

You guys started this band, for lack of a better term, later in life. I'm not saying you're elderly by any means, but you're not in your 20s. Were you in other bands before this? 

Well, we have a pretty wide age range for folks in the band. But I would say that a few of the guys played around in a bunch of bands, and played different styles of music. When space rock was sort of getting its second wave, there was this "do it yourself" movement that was going on in music. I think that's what inspired myself and a couple of the other guys to jump in and try and do something musically. Something that fits with our passion for all the different sounds that we were into. So that's what brought us there. 

What do you think it is about the sound that attracts you? 

It's soft with sharp edges, I guess. I can't really explain it. It's got its gentle moments, and then it's got its heavier vibe, and so it kind of plays with your emotions a little bit. 

What are those sharp edges exactly? Is that more in the lyrics than the music? Or is it sometimes in the music as well? 

Yeah. I think in some of the builds where the distortion comes in, and then the vocals are driven either by that guitar sound, or the vocals inspire that guitar sound, depending on which way you're writing. Some of the songs that we write are driven by lyrics, but the majority of it is driven from the music, and then we feed off of that music that we create. 

How do you guys go about constructing songs? 

A lot of it is just done at practice. You know, somebody might run off to take a leak or something, and then when they come back we have a new song because we were just waiting around. Somebody will go off on a bass riff or something, and we'll all jump in, and we'll have something fresh and newly formed by the time they get back. I think a lot of our songwriting comes from in between the breaks when we're at practice getting ready to play a show or something. 

So what you're describing is being open to whatever comes next. Even if it's simplicity or something that's a throwaway, you seem to have — what I think — is a talent to recognize it and then turn it into something. Were you always like this? Was it always something you did, or did you have to learn how to accept these moments and go with them? Follow that trail. 

I think it just started from the first time we all got together and practiced. We decided let's just start with an a-chord and roll with it, and see where it takes us. And then anyone can throw in a little change, and we'll try and catch up. We've been doing that for about ten years now, and every single time there's something fresh that somebody has to add. And it's something that we're able to go back to too because in every single practice we're recording everything that we do. So if we find something that we like we'll just put the time on for the session for that date, and then go back to it and revisit it. That's where we build from, those little break moments and going back. And somebody might even go in by themselves and work it out and arrange it a little bit, and then by the time we get back together we have a bass arrangement for the song. 

So who does what in the band exactly? You guys are — and we'll talk about this in a bit if you allow the conversation to go this way — but you're very mysterious online. So who does what? 

I play guitar and sing. And then Tim Rossom, he plays guitar. And he also sings on occasion as well. And we have Sean Levine who plays a lot of the lead guitar and also keyboards. We have kind of increased our personnel so we have another keyboardist, Sam Sidhom. And Sean and Sam tend to play off each other. And then we have Ben Heine on drums and Brian Gruidl on bass. 

And how many of these people did I go to high school with? 

Three, I think. 

Three! Ok, wait! You, Tim, who's the third one? 


So you and I were in contact over instant messaging a year-and-a-half before we met. You sent me music, and we just had an ongoing chat going. And on Facebook, you have a nom de plume, which is like a mixed up version of the band name Chatham Rise. 


You went to high school with me. We're generally the same age. You never once revealed who you were. Which is hilarious and fucking weird. Why? 

One: I like when people enjoy the music for what it is and don't feel like they have an obligation to like the music. Two: My intent was always to show up at one of your shows in Minneapolis, when you were in town playing with your Minneapolis contingent here, and to surprise you. But you didn't remember me anyway, so... 

It's been so long! That sounds terrible! I sound like a terrible person! I've been gone so long from Minneapolis that it's all lost now in my brain. But I got to say, it's amazing to hear this music you guys are making. I mean, it's my favorite album of the year. It's the one I've listened to the most. And that stuns me! Some kids I went to high school with — and I've been gone from Minneapolis for two decades — made my favorite album of the year! 

That's very flattering to hear. I'm not really sure what to say about that. That's a very nice thing. 

I think what I love is that clearly, you have your toes in a few different [genres], kind of psych-rock or shoegaze. There are all these terms that don't really fit exactly, but I feel like you've created your own sound that is unique to you, that has some nuance of other bands and stuff, but it's yours! Even when you guys go hard or you go soft, it's your way of doing it. There's reverb, but it's not burying reverb. There's acoustic guitars, but — I don't know how to explain it exactly — everything's uniquely yours. So you're a year out from finishing this record, you probably have a bunch of new songs ready to go now. But what does this record feel like a year later after finishing it? 

We still enjoy playing the songs. We're not bored with any of it. We tend to revisit a lot of the stuff that we have recorded earlier as well, but we're moving on and I think we're working on — I would say it's an EP, but it could eventually become an LP because we keep messing around with it. It's a little darker, it's got a more wintery vibe, but it has a lot of the elements of everything that we've done to this point within the music. We're just trying to do something a little different, provide a little bit of a winter mood in this next recording. And we're happy with how it's gone so far. 

You guys are all adults, you have jobs, and I'm presuming most of you have kids. That makes touring difficult. And from that then you're probably not going to garner the same recognition that a band that you're contemporary with, in terms of quality music, will get, because they can take six months off from their lives, and get in a van, or hop on a plane and go places. But maybe being forced to stay home infuses itself in your music and your art, that you're less focused on being famous and more focused on making great art. I'm curious, do you regret not being able to devote your full time and everything to this? 

Well, I think anybody who is a musician would love to do it full time. But unless you're in Radiohead, or Wilco, or one of these bigger bands, it's pretty impossible, and you always have something that you're spending most of your time doing that you would probably much rather be writing music, and performing, and doing all of that. And we're open to the idea of going out and touring. I've got some messages with a few of our favorite bands trying to figure something like that out. We just need to make it worthwhile for ourselves, where we're bringing our band to a larger audience, and that's just a little more complicated to do. You have to have one of your favorite bands decide to take you along on tour. And hopefully, that happens in 2019. We'll see how that goes. 

I would love for that to happen. What does the phrase Meadowsweet — the name of your album — mean to you? When an artist names an album, generally they've put a lot of time and thought into it, so that's why I ask. 

Well, meadowsweet is a flower. It's a prairie flower. And for one reason or another, it has this history in Great Britain of gravitating towards graveyards, like old graveyards. And there's an old Welsh tale that ends up with this husband dying, and his wife becomes this flower and sits by his side after he goes away, and I just kind of liked that sentiment of bringing beauty in life to something that has moved on. 

That's awesome. I love your perspective on things. What fuels this perspective? Do you think you see the world differently than most people? 

I don't think I would say that. Maybe it's possible that I have more dark, cynical view than a lot of people in the Midwest — 

Oh, there's darkness and cynicism in the Midwest, my friend. The reason I ask is you named your band Chatham Rise, and the reason you did are really interesting, as you explained earlier. The album title is Meadowsweet, but until you explained it to me — I hadn't had the time to research, like a jackass. And it's really interesting! And I think it shows how you and your bandmates maybe have a different point of view on the world that is fueling your art, and that to me is cool. 

I do find myself being a bit cynical at times, but for the future, I consider myself an optimist and the combination of those two things, like I'm not happy with the way things are, but I feel like things could change. Hopefully, that sort of thing resonates through the music. 

Do you have anything else you want to tell the KEXP audience? 

Yeah. So right now we're working on this EP. We really don't have a tour laid out. We got a gentle invite to come out and play in Seattle in the spring, and hopefully, that pans out and we're able to come out there. But right now a band that did make it over to see you earlier this year, New Candys, they're going to be coming back to the United States next spring. And our first gig of the year that we have locked down is going to be on April 20th in Minneapolis, with New Candys from Venice, and Flavor Crystals, and another band that we're friends with, Panther Ray. So that one is going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to that. 

Meadowsweet is available via their BandCamp page here

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