Yes, I know the picture is a little grainy. I have told you before, I write, my photography skills can aptly be described as “pathetic”. Deal with it or take a better picture at the Slow Luck CD release show November 25.
I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours on Tuesday, November 15 with Brendan Murphy, singer/guitarist/songwriter for one of my favorite local bands Source Victoria. Let’s be honest here, this five-some has steadily become one of my favorite bands – period. I love their mesh of indie rock and dreampop, go to a lot of their shows and have been chomping at the bit for their third release Slow Luck for about 20 months now.
Brendan is the real deal folks, no rock star BS here. The first time I saw these guys play at the Rogue Bar opening for Adam Franklin back in January 2010 he GAVE me a copy of the band’s second release The Fast Escape. I wanted to buy it; he said “no, just promise me you’ll come see us again if you like it.” I did not like the disc, I absolutely loved it. We have become friends the past couple of years and I have come to respect this man as a genuinely good individual that just so happens to be the frontman for a very cool band.
A good indicator of a good interview is the fact I had the recorder going for about 47 minutes before even asking the guy my first official question. We spent that time talking about bands, concerts we had been to, sports and work. It was a perfect way to break the ice and get comfortable with one another. It laid the foundation for an amazing interview.
There is a lot from the time Brendan and I spoke that WON’T be in this transcript. Simply put, I discovered some things, very positive things, that I feel should be kept between two friends rather than being put out there for anyone to read. All I will say is this; I had a lot of respect for Brendan Murphy already but that increased exponentially by the time we were done.
Plus, the guy makes a mean cup of java. So without further adieu, I hope you enjoy this written portrait about Source Victoria and the creation of their outstanding new release Slow Luck.
FRANK: I’m here talking to Brendan Murphy of Source Victoria. We’re going to have a little chat about the band, music in general and the release on Friday, November 25 of the band’s latest release Slow Luck. For the initiated what are your roles in the band?
BRENDAN: Live and recording are very different things I think arguably. The band has evolved so many times and ways and continues to change. For this record live I play guitar and sing, Aaron Wendt plays guitar and sings backup vocals, Scott Hessel plays drums and triggers a sampler that we have for at least one song, Justin plays bass and Rick Heins was brought in during the recording of Slow Luck to play guitar. He also plays keyboards now and then as needed. Aaron and Rick help play whatever is needed per song.
Recording-wise, Justin and Scott do their thing as a rhythm section very well. They’re old pros. Rick wasn’t involved in the initial basic tracking of the record because he came in later, but he did provide leads, solos and texture parts on various songs. For example he played the lead for “Taking Me On”. His work is really good. He also (thankfully) played acoustic guitar on “Once I’m Dead”. Aaron and I shared the duties in terms of rhythm guitars. Aaron played a crucial role as the “band’s co-producer”. Chris (Testa) was the engineer and producer of the record but internally Aaron was the guiding force that got the band in a position to make the record sound the way it does. It should be interesting going forward because my hope is to work on songs together more than we did on this record.
FRANK: Has it always been a case of you being the principal songwriter?
BRENDAN: That has evolved as well. The Fast Escape record was about half and half between Jeff Livingston and me. We worked well together in terms of creating the music. I have always written the melodies and the lyrics. When Jeff left the band I felt like I needed to write a record on my own, maybe to prove to myself I could do it. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a Source Victoria record or simply a handful of songs that I would do the whole thing on, call people in to play on various parts and have a vision for what the whole song would sound like. I set up a little ProTools studio and created things that way for this record. Aaron was very supportive of my vision for how I see music and how to help me get there for songs that I write. He has always been good at helping me realize that vision and was very supportive of me during this exercise.
Many times I had songs that were less than finished and people came in to help me flush out bridges, choruses and chord changes. This record more than the others was a personal thing that I was trying to achieve.
For example, the first song I wrote for the record was “The Only Road”. I wrote that song and it was a done demo, acoustic guitar and me singing. I brought it to the band and what you now hear on the record is what evolved because I play with really good musicians. That is what I want, to exploit more on the next record because I play with really good guys and I (selfishly) want to take all that they have to offer. The band was in flux when the previous record was made and I did not know if I would have a band. I thought I needed to be more self-reliant but now I feel like I really have a band. Source Victoria has been this line-up for a while so I feel comfortable saying, “Let’s all work together to come up with something.”
FRANK: I arrived late to the party when it comes to your band since the first time I saw you play was opening for Adam Franklin at the Rogue Bar January 2010. My understanding is you had the band going, left for law school and temporarily put the band on the shelf. Why don’t you give me a few more specifics about the history about the band.
BRENDAN: That was actually another band called Deckard. Darren Henley played drums and my friend Jamal Ruhe (who coincidentally did the mastering for Slow Luck) played bass. We played some fun shows over the years such as opening for Jimmy Eat World during one of the CD release shows for Clarity at the Green Room. Then I left for law school and moved to Boston.
When I moved back to Phoenix after I was done with school I called Darren and started things up again. Another friend of mine by the name of Sean Szafran played bass and Ron Marschall, who is the drummer for Christie Front Drive played guitar for us. Jeff Livingston joined and played piano then Sean left the band. We had people coming and going the whole time. For a while we had a guy by the name of Mike Risch playing bass for us. The first EP was Jeff Livingston on piano, Mike Risch, Darren Henley on drums and me with no one else on guitars. Aaron Wendt helped us record The Fast Escape record and eventually joined the band. When Mike Risch left to go to grad school, Dave Lewis joined to play bass. When Jeff left the line-up to move to San Diego, Jason Sukut (DOMO) joined up. Due to life’s other obligations, Darren, Dave and Jason eventually left the band. Which brings us to the current line-up.
I can attribute the revolving line-up to people just having different priorities at different times. You get older, start a family, get busy with your work … life just overtakes you so you can’t justify being in a band anymore. This current line-up has existed for a couple of years now with Justin playing bass and Scott playing drums. The band changes every time a new person joins the band because the new people add their thing to it and things evolve in a positive way.
FRANK: You know how I felt when Rick joined the band.
BRENDAN: I have known Rick since I was 17 and we played in a band together when we were kids, so I had wanted to play with him again. We both have lived in different parts of the country at various times, so it finally worked where he could play with us and we wanted to have him play with us. It all just fit. It’s great and he is an amazing guitarist. He can play pretty much anything.
The other thing is I am playing with people who are some of my best friends.
FRANK: Any particular influences that you have, musically or otherwise?
BRENDAN: Musically the obvious one is The Beatles, even though you can’t really hear The Beatles in my music. Their story and songwriting ability is the influence. Music that I am clearly influenced by includes Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver, Afghan Wigs, Peter Gabriel, Elbow, Eels, The National, Wilco and all the other good ones. As a songwriter those artists don’t influence me as much as life experiences.
I am beginning to believe that books I read have more of an influence on my songwriting than the music that I listen to. I never listen to a song and then write a song, ever. If I listen to music while trying to write a song I find myself comparing what I am working on to the song I am listening to and saying to myself, “I can’t possibly write anything like this.”
Really, this record sprung from my reading a few years back Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I had just read his book Blood Meridian and people were beginning to talk about The Road, so I picked it up for a trip to Louisville, KY. The book, in my opinion, lives up to its reputation. It’s just haunting and frightening, and (more importantly) thought-provoking for someone like me with young children. For some reason, that book really struck a nerve and when I came home from the trip, after devouring the book, I wrote “The Only Road” – which lyrically is a pretty straight lyrical interpretation of the book.
Then I started writing some other songs and each one of the songs ended up having the word “road” sort of just pop-up in the lyrics. Lyrically, the songs I was writing were shaping up to be deeply personal songs that deal with the father-child relationships, our failings and yearnings to make those relationships better … even at the end. Anyway, at first I was not intentionally writing “road” into the songs, but it was just happening. I made a conscious decision to try to carry that theme and notion throughout the record, almost like the word “blue” is in every song on Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Incidentally, that record has relevance here because my first daughter, who sings on Slow Luck with her two other sisters (on “Maybe You’re Right”), hated her car seat when she was a baby. My wife would try every nursery rhyme, song and CD to try to get her to calm down and the only thing that would make her stop crying was Joni Mitchell’s Blue. We must have listened to that record about 10,000 times. It will be a long time before I can listen to that record again but I definitely borrowed the idea from the Blue record of having this thread of the road (actual and metaphorical) running throughout the record.
FRANK: Everything you have just talked about is causing me to ask this next question now rather than later when I originally had it “scheduled”. As far as I know you only had two prior releases, a self-titled EP in 2005 and The Fast Escape in 2007. (Brendan acknowledges this to be true.) Since I have already had an opportunity to listen to Slow Luck, I immediately noticed a major transition. This makes sense to me now from a lyrical perspective because of what you have just talked about.
From a musical perspective I feel your band fell into the dreampop genre on past releases. I notice more of an indie rock feel on Slow Luck, but due to what we have just discussed I have a different question now. Was there a conscious effort on your part to make a different sounding record, or did it just happen as a result of the themes you were writing about at that particular time and it just fit better?
BRENDAN: I’m a huge Elliott Smith fan and I wish I could write songs like him. Not knowing if I was going to have a band to record these songs, maybe part of me was trying to write what I consider to be proper “songs”. Not musical landscapes but just songs. Part of the process was the fact that I was often times writing songs at 5:00am when my wife and kids were still asleep. I couldn’t turn up amps, get delays going, try to make this big noise and sing over it. I was writing with an acoustic guitar and writing these smaller sounding, more intimate songs. The approach I took to writing this record was “I’m going to write songs!” Also, I was saying these things lyrically that required a different type of song that would let me say those things. The big, open, abstract musical landscapes did not seem like the right vehicle for these ideas I had. It didn’t fit. So it was a natural evolution for me driven by what I was writing.
I went back and listened to The Fast Escape. The songs are overall different but some are similar to the new material. “The Welcoming” on The Fast Escape is a song that Jeff Livingston wrote the music for and I wrote the lyrics and vocal melody. That song kind of reminds me of some of what is on this new record. But even that song has a broader, dreamier kind of sound while this record is a little more immediate. The song structure is a little more traditional on this record. Not completely but on some on the songs.
For example, “Once I’m Dead” is a 2 ½ minute song with pedal steel guitar on it and plucked guitar. It almost sounds like a country song but the sadness of the lyrics of that song fits the music.
FRANK: Let’s talk about that song because that was going to be a question of mine anyway. That was the first single released from this record and I had heard the track in a couple of different forms even before listening to it on the record. Bobby Lerma from The Father Figures came up with an adjective years ago to apply to one of our favorite bands Elbow. That adjective is “subtle”. (Brendan agrees.) I like using that adjective to describe music that almost seems to sneak up on you. The first few times I listened to “Once I’m Dead” I thought to myself, “this is a very good song”, but it did not immediately resonate with me. The last few times I have listened to it I developed a deeper understanding of it. I began to realize that it is a very powerful song. It may be one of the mellower songs on the disc but when you get down to the core of it the song is moving, powerful and intense but in a very subtle manner.
BRENDAN: Thank you. It’s one of those songs that is a bit catchy. I did not realize I could write and sing a catchy melody. What I am saying in that song is so deeply personal and tragic. Lyrically it is very sad and heavy for lack of a better word. The lyrics to that song are disguised by a sort of wilting, country-esque vibe. I wrote that song when someone in my life had some health issues and it poured out of me. It was 5:30 in the morning and I had this idea for a song. It was basically created in a half hour. I recorded the demo you hear on the B-side to the single at that time.
Immediately I thought that I wanted to do with this song what it was calling for. I don’t really care if it’s not a Source Victoria song. Let’s make it what it is and thankfully Rick is a very good guitar player and can play the acoustic guitar and make it sound good. Jon Rauhouse recorded pedal steel parts and adds a beauty to the song that is essential. I love what he did. We also recorded a rock version with Jamie Woolford.
This song helped me to process some things in my life. Ultimately that song is a hopeful song. The last verse is a hopeful verse. It states “I’m not going to have those regrets that I know you have. I won’t be that. I refuse to be that.” Part of that effort is the fact that I wrote that song and I’m writing a record that has ultimately hopeful things. That is why the record is called Slow Luck and not Bad Luck. It’s luck that is slow in coming but eventually shows up.
FRANK: My personal favorite track on Slow Luck is “Nobody Knows But Me”. I hate to say it is a classic Source Victoria song but it definitely fits your past style. What was the inspiration?
BRENDAN: I knew it! It has that eighties, shoegazer type of guitar. Every time we play that song I know you love it. It’s a rock song that has our way of doing a rock song. I wanted it to be a Source Victoria type of song, that Catherine Wheel type of thing. But we have Scott playing drums on it and he does not play like a British drummer, he plays more like Dave Grohl. Lyrically it talks about people who are living with secrets and thinking no one else knows about them. People that think they are opaque are actually transparent, and I am not saying that in a negative way. I mean that it’s okay that we know things about each other. It’s okay that I know you are broken and you should be talking to me about that because I’m broken too. It’s okay to be transparent with me because I will be the same with you. It stems from things that were happening in my life and relationships with various people.
FRANK: “When You Say (Congratulations)” possesses some pretty incendiary lyrics.
BRENDAN: A couple of people wanted that to be the lead track on the record. You and I talked a bit about this before. My belief is the lead track should set the mood for the whole record, be it musically or lyrically. This song was initially going to be an attempt to work with Jim Adkins. He had sent me some drum loops and I was writing guitar parts, so I used the drum track he sent me on “When You Say (Congratulations)”. The opening line is from a conversation I had with someone where I said one thing and totally meant to say something else. The second verse takes that theme and applies it to relationships.
FRANK: We have talked about the contributions that Jon Rauhouse and Jamal Ruhe made on this record. How did Lisa Loeb end up singing back-up vocals on “The Only Road”?
BRENDAN: Amy Ross from Nowhere Man and Whiskey Girl had already contributed backing vocals to “I Know You Well” and “Maybe You’re Right”. We were talking about whom we could ask to do backing vocals on “The Only Road” when Scott Hessel said, “What about Lisa Loeb?” We thought he was joking but as it turns out he has known her for about twenty years. Scott emailed her the track and she replied that she was willing to do it. Chris Testa and Lisa met up at a studio in Los Angeles and she recorded the track. Totally weird and cool! Obviously she gave an amazing performance and really contributed to the song.
I want to add that Matt Maher played piano on that song and others on the record. I met him through Jamal and we have known one another for about 15 years. His contribution to that song (and others on the record) was stunning. Matt really deserves as much credit as anyone for making that song work.
FRANK: The Slow Luck CD release party is just over a week away, the night after Thanksgiving November 25. The show is at the Crescent Ballroom, $10.00 cover includes the CD. Anything special planned for that show?
BRENDAN: It’s not going to be fireworks or anything. The whole point of that show for me is simply to enjoy the night. I have a hard time enjoying playing shows. I love playing but I get very stressed out about things such as, “Are enough people here?” or “Are we too loud? (umm, yes you are …)” I just want to enjoy the fact that I am able to do this at any level. I’m glad that bands I like and good friends are going to be there. Jeff and Chris from Reubens Accomplice, one of my favorite bands, will be playing, Jamal Ruhe is going to do a short set and Colorstore. I just want to enjoy the night. We’re going to play a bunch of songs and hopefully play them well at a venue that sounds sick! I will say that I am going to be playing acoustic guitar on a few tracks, so that should be, um, interesting.
There are also some rumors going around that guest musicians might pop up to help us out with a few tracks. Hopefully that can happen.
FRANK: Anything else you would like to add?
BRENDAN: I’m glad the record is done. I’m happy with all of it and excited. I can’t thank people like Chris Testa enough. He is a huge talent and made the record sound amazing through his engineering and mixing. He was also that somewhat objective third-party that helped us sort out the process of making this record what it is. I’m excited he will be here to help us birth it. I love the artwork (thanks Sam Means) and I really don’t have many regrets with the final product, which is a rarity for me.
Hope you enjoyed this interview folks. I know I had an absolute blast doing it. Hope to see you all Friday evening at the Crescent Ballroom. Cheers!