|Dan Murphy Interview By Sophie
A few people have asked me to post the Dan Murphy interview, so here
tis. The article will be published in the local gutter press, I mean
quality weekly street music magazine, "Beat", and should be online
with photos and whatnot on Thursday at www.beat.com.au.
Danny, gday, how are you?
Im doing good, Im in Chicago visiting a friend and Im gonna drive
back to Minneapolis tonight, just relaxing for a few days and looking
forward to going on tour with the Golden Smog. I go out in a coupla
It always amazes me how much great music has come out of Minneapolis
from Dylan onwards
Its pretty freakish, cos Minneapolis is a fairly small town, the city
itself is 300,000 people. When we started playing in Soul Asylum in
the 80s it was a great scene the Replacements, Husker Du, the
Suicide Commandos, and then Prince, and before that of course Bob
Dylan played the coffeehouses there, and there was a 60s scene with
the Trashmen who did Surfin Bird
Theres always been a kinda
music scene. Right now its kinda dead, but itll come around again.
Music scenes are cyclical, yknow.
And of course the Jayhawks
I think The Jayhawks were like the first band to do the alt.country
thing, in LA there were other bands like The Blasters who were trying
to take country music somewhere it hadnt been in a long time, but I
fell in love with the Jayhawks in the mid-80s. They used to play at
little bars and I used to go see em around the time Blue Earth came
out and I became really good friends with those guys. So it was really
natural for the Golden Smog to come out of all this, cos we just
admired each others music, and found ourselves hanging out all the
time so we said God, why dont we start a band.
Tell me about the Golden Smog family tree, going back to the early
days when you were just gigging around
It was the cover band from hell, yknow. The first time we got
organised, punk rock was still pretty big in Minneapolis around 85,
86 and we decided to do this Eagles tribute band at a punk rock bar,
just to fuck with people, hahaha. We dressed up in ponchos and had
driftwood lamps and did old Eagles songs, and it was sorta funny
was Jim Boquist whos now in Son Volt, myself and Dave Pirner, and
Martin Zellar from the Gear Daddies. Gary Louris and Marc Perlman were
in the audience and said next time you do something like this, why
dont you call us up?
Stones set, at a weeks notice. Wed try to do something different
every time. That kinda became the Golden Smog. It was all covers at
first, we didnt write any material or anything.
How did the dynamics of the Boquist brothers involvement work when
Jeff Tweedy came into the band, given the, um, perceived rivalries
between Wilco and Son Volt?
I think thats a Jeff and Jay thing. I think Jeff really likes Jim a
lot; I dont know how well he knows Dave. On the new record, Jim
Boquist sings all over it; wed brought the tapes from Memphis to
Minneapolis for two days of recording until we finished Until You
Came Along, Reflections on Me, Looking Forward to Seeing Me,
Jim did tons of vocals on those. Jim is like an honorary Smog guy,
hes one of my best friends in Minneapolis, and I used to share a
practice space with him before he was in Son Volt, like ten years ago.
Jims a real buddy, he loves music and Ive written songs with him. I
have a studio in my basement in Minneapolis and he comes over a lot,
sings and plays bass and guitar; weve worked together for over ten
years on various projects. Theres no weirdness with Jeff, either,
when Jim comes by the studio; I dont think its weird at all.
And how about Brian Paulsons involvement as producer
When I got married (Im divorced now), he was my best man, so hes my
ex-best man, hahaha. I was room mates with Brian for like seven years,
and he also produced Sound of Lies, Anodyne, AM, Trace hes also
done a lot of rock records, hes worked with Dinosaur Jr, Beck, all
kinds of stuff. Brian is more of an engineer than a producer; he
doesnt have a lot of songwriting ideas, but hes really got good
chops and he knows what mics to put up, he knows how to make a band
feel comfortable. For the Golden Smog, its pretty long days in the
studio, so you have to be patient for like twelve hours, you have to
stay focused, and Brians pretty good at that. Hes moved to North
Carolina, and I havent seen him in quite a while, I miss him. I think
he was working with some Australian band, actually, theyre on
Pollyanna, you ever heard of them?
Oh really? (in disbelief Pollyanna are a pretty boring pop band)
He did their record in Memphis just a few months ago. See its a small
Yknow, I wouldnt imagine Brian would have to contribute too many
songwriting ideas with so many songwriters in the band. Is it a
democratic process to decide whose material ends up being recorded?
The way it works is someones got a song and everyone gets excited
about it. If someone says Ive got this song and people go
but you gotta try to be nice, you dont
hurt peoples feelings. I think another rule of the Smog is its gotta
be pretty easy in terms of the arrangement, cos we dont have a lotta
time to learn all these different moves. Some of the stuff gets
written in the studio, some of the stuff gets finished in the studio,
some of the stuff is brought in whole. We dont really talk about it
too much, it just kinda comes together. For the last two records, we
didnt really have to come up with a process, it just kinda happened.
The last record was fun because everybody attempted to play
instruments theyre not that familiar with, it wasnt just a bunch of
guys strumming acoustic guitars. Theres a lot of piano that Gary & I
played, everybody took turns playing bass, and that made it more of a
challenge, when youre not just doing what youve done all these years
in your other band. It gives it more of a fresh sound.
This album does feel like more of a band to me than Down by the Old
Yeah, in Down by the Old Mainstream you can really tell who brought
the song in, if its a Jeff song or a Gary song you can really tell,
but this is more experimental, for sure.
Theres a real flow to the way you play and sing together on this
Yeah, I like the combinations of different peoples voices, its so
cool. The first time I heard Jeff and Gary sing together was Wont Be
Coming Home and Jeff started doing this low harmony beneath Gary, it
sounded kinda like Johnny Cash, and I thought wow, thats beautiful.
Thats exciting to me when theres so many singers in the band. We
also had Jessy Greene who plays violin on the record, she sang a lot
on Looking Forward to Seeing Me and Reflections on Me. We really
try to spread it around, everybodys pretty tolerant, people just
create. So far so good, weve been lucky.
Ive got a Jessy Greene story to tell you
a friend of mine saw you
guys in a club one night and you brushed past his shoulder and stopped
to apologise, which impressed him, but on the same night Jessy stepped
on his foot with her high heels and just kept on walking
Hahaha, yeah I guess theres various degrees of knowing whats going
on, hahaha. Its kinda weird, sometimes when you go to a club and
youre in the audience as a fan, it can be tedious to have people
approach you if youre not in the mood. But I guess Ive been doing
this long enough to know that the people who come up and say I love
your band, I love your music, you mean a lot to me, blah blah blah,
its kinda important not to blow em off. Its good for the ego as
well, to know that you made a tiny difference in someones life, like
I used to wash dishes seven years ago and that was my favourite
record, thats kinda nice, I never get tired of hearing it.
Well, Soul Asylum have their share of devoted fans
It seems to me that Soul Asylum had the fortune or misfortune to break
at the time that Nirvanas breakthrough was changing all the rules
about indie vs. commercial music, have you guys felt different
pressures after becoming such a commercial success?
Its really weird, because I dont think our music has changed that
much, but peoples perception of it has changed a lot. Uhhh
kinda question your motivation when you start selling a lot of
records, yknow? They go, God, these guys used to be in a little band
in a club, and now theyre on this huge tour. I dont know (sigh), in
America right now, music is just fucked up, yknow. All the radio
stations are so strict in their format, theyll only play, like music
for white girls between the age of 17 and 21, they have a certain
advertiser in mind and a certain audience in mind. It really limits
the kind of music you hear, I remember when I was growing up in the
70s Id listen to AM radio and hear all kinds of stuff soul music,
Rod Stewart, the Stones, Hall & Oates, whatever, and in the late 70s
youd hear The Clash, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, but now its so
formatted. Theres so much out there now, theres a zillion record
labels, you can get music on the internet, theres so much
information. Andy Warhol talked about fifteen minutes of fame, but I
think its about ten seconds now. A radio programmer will listen to
your single for ten seconds and decide whether or not hes gonna add
it; hell just listen to the hook, he wont even wanna hear the song.
the business, to me, has always been a bore. I love
music, but I know enough about the business and it bores the shit
outta me. Its hard to care. Its hard to take it seriously.
Is Golden Smog an antidote to that? You guys seem to enjoy making fun
of the industry and the rock star mythology.
Yeah, Down by the Old Mainstream is pretty tongue-in-cheek, yknow. I
think our motives are pretty pure we like to make music, we enjoy
each others company, we enjoy playing together. But wed like to sell
a few records
I just went to Europe with Gary we did eight or nine
days of promotion so we could go over there and tour. Id like to sell
as many records as some of my peers, but if we dont, no-ones gonna
be heartbroken, yknow. Were pretty realistic about it. You have to
get lucky, and you need to do a lot of interviews and you need to do a
lot of touring if you want to make it click. The Golden Smog is kind
of a special thing thatll probably always be pretty small.
Just out of curiosity, how well has the album done so far sales-wise?
I think its sold about 18,000 or something. Its only been out for
like four or five weeks, so thats not too bad. We havent done any
big ad buys or anything. We start touring right after Thanksgiving,
were gonna do two weeks in December, two weeks in January then go to
Europe for two weeks.
How are you putting the live show together? Will the whole band have
time to practice together?
Weve never rehearsed once with Jody Stephens in the band, we just
literally flew to Memphis and straight into the studio. Were lucky
that it clicked. When we start touring were gonna have a practice
space in Minneapolis for three days, then were gonna fly to Toronto
and start the tour there. Were gonna play two little club shows at
this 400-capacity club in Toronto, which is a good place to start, and
try to work out a set, learn some fun covers and pick the best stuff
from the last two records so we can do an 80- or 90-minute show that
is not boring and has got enough variety in it to hold peoples
attention. I think itll be a gas. Im really looking forward to it.
How did Jody get involved? Has he told you any good Big Star stories?
I think it was kind of a mess toward the end of that band. I
dont think there was a lot of love lost. I think theyve done some
reunion tours that have been a bit more fun. Jody got involved because
hes part-owner of Ardent Studios in Memphis, and Id met him before
in an elevator of a hotel in Los Angeles, I saw him down in New
Orleans a couple times, I just see him on the road every now & then.
We wanted to make a change to our drummer, cos Noah Levys band The
Honeydogs were just too busy and we were having a lot of scheduling
conflicts. I think it was Marc Perlmans idea, We should call Jody
Stephens, hes a great drummer, Id love to play with him! We called
him up and sent him the CD and I talked to him and said Yknow, if
this is something you wanna do as a one-off, just play on the record,
well find someone to tour if you dont want to and he goes No, the
only way I wanna do this is if you guys let me join the band, I wanna
be a full-time member, and we said Absolutely! Without even an
audition. We just said, Youre in! Hes really an eccentric drummer
in his style, its fun to play with him. He really hits them hard,
its kind of exciting. So I just hope we dont drive him crazy
touring, hahaha. (Spinal Tap voice) The rule of the Smog is to have a
good time, yknow?? Hahaha.
Can we talk about some of the songs
To Call My Own is probably my
favourite track on the album, and it seems to me that its saying as
much about a musicians relationship to his fans as it is about a love
Well, I started writing that about a love relationship. I was going
through a pretty unfriendly divorce, and verse one and two are about
that. Then I started thinking about the ups and downs you have in a
band, with popularity and peoples perceptions
the bit about gold
mining the local scene or whatever is about that
and when youre
travelling, your life is so random
the people you meet, the
experiences you have, the beds you wake up in. Theres really nothing
out there thats familiar, to call my own, nothing around you that
is yours. So theres definitely some of that going on in there
song is kind of a mean song, but its also supposed to be kind of
funny. Im a huge fan of Leonard Cohen as a songwriter because hes so
dry, yknow, to me hes funnier than shit too. I try to be clever if
Im gonna be mean. I dont like those songs like blah blah blah,
youre a bitch, that just gets so boring to me. Its hard to write
personal songs, too; you try to make up characters, make it so its
not so much about yourself.
The same could be said of Reflections on Me
Yeah, I kinda wrote that one in the studio, I had a basic idea and I
was over at Kraig Johnsons house and we were sitting around one day,
doing this chord progression and melody, and I just kept working on it
in the studio. That one is kind of about, yknow, that thing when
youre in a relationship and the other person projects all these
things that they see in you, and my theory is that its just people
putting their own stuff onto you, so Reflections on Me is like when
someone says I see through you, youre really a rotten person, its
just people casting their own bad stuff onto you. Thats what I was
kind of going through at the time. Recording the song was fun cos
Jessy sang a lot on that, and Ive never really sung with a girl
before, but I like the dynamic of this guy perspective and when you
have a girl sing on the chorus it kind of makes it seems like its not
You mentioned Leonard Cohen before, who are some of your other
I love Tom Waits, I think hes amazing. Its kind of weird to say it,
but I love a lot of the guys in my band. I love the Jayhawks. And that
record Anodyne is my favourite record, I just love that. I grew up
listening to Thin Lizzy and the Rolling Stones and all that kind of
stuff. I love Nick Drake. I like bands like Pavement, theyve put out
a coupla cool records. Liz Phair Im a big fan of. I love soul music
too Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone. Im pretty picky
the only rule about being in the Smog is you have to be a serious
music fan. Most of those guys have amazing collections of records and
CDs, and so do I. I guess Im a student of the whole thing, yknow.
How do you spend your time when youre not making music or listening
I bought a house recently, and I like to putz around with that. I used
to have an antique business, I used to do that on the side until Grave
Dancers took off. Ive got the travelling thing now, Ive been seeing
this girl who lives in Chicago and Ive been spending a lot of time
with her, getting to know Chicago which is a great city. Its a six
hour drive from where I live. I have a nine-year-old son I spend a ton
of time with. Hes a huge Green Day fan. He just started third grade
and I hang out with him a lot. It gives me a new perspective on stuff,
its pretty rewarding yknow.
Has he picked up any instruments yet?
For a little while, I had a drum set at my house and he started
playing that. Do I want my kid to grow up to be a drummer? The answer,
of course, is NO, so I got rid of that, hahaha. He sings a lot, but
he hasnt started playing guitar or piano. When I was that age, my mom
made me play piano and I just hated it, so I dont wanna do that with
him. I think hes gotta find it himself rather than have it pushed on
him. He wants to be a video games tester, thats his new career
ambition, so I think if that pans out, more power to him, right?
Well, there are so many career opportunities in that area arent there.
Yeah, good luck right? Thats what I tell him, good work if you can
get it, kid!
Seeing as how you love travelling and all, when are you coming to
I would love to come, I was there a coupla times with Soul Asylum. We
did a video there for Promises Broken, theres these big huge sand
dune things in Melbourne, its this big huge park with a huge sand
deposit, you think youre on the moon.
Um, great (having no idea what hes talking about)
Id love to come back, but its a long way away, yknow? You have to
do Japan, Australia and New Zealand on the same trip, and then its a
month yknow? But if people buy enough Smog records, Im there yknow?
Well, Wilco are coming out in a couple of months.
They were gonna go in January, but its been pushed back, I dont
think its gonna happen. Were doing a West Coast Smog tour at the
Thanks for breaking my heart.
Oh, theyll be there, theyll be there one way or the other.
Do you have any more gossip for me?
Well, our Presidents a pervert. Im sure thats made the rounds
oh, I dont know, Ive been out of the loop and I like it that
way, yknow. Just get on the internet, thatll tell you all you need
to know! And everything there is true, right?
Can you do an ID with my Golden Smog name
(assumes radio voice) Hey, this is Daniel Murphy aka David Spear
of the Golden Smog, and youre listening to Louise Foam on No
Depression on 106.7 here in Melbourne, Australia, on TBS-FM.
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