boyback.jpg (14682 bytes)












rykosmogcvr.gif (42052 bytes)





fred.gif (29248 bytes)


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


Danny, g’day, how are you?

I’m doing good, I’m in Chicago visiting a friend and I’m 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…

It’s 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”… There’s always been a kinda hip
music scene. Right now it’s kinda dead, but it’ll come around again.
Music scenes are cyclical, y’know.

And of course the Jayhawks…

I think The Jayhawks were like the first band to do the
thing, in LA there were other bands like The Blasters who were trying
to take country music somewhere it hadn’t 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 other’s music, and found ourselves hanging out all the
time so we said “God, why don’t 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, y’know. 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… That
was Jim Boquist who’s 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
don’t you call us up?”

Stones set, at a week’s notice. We’d try to do something different
every time. That kinda became the Golden Smog. It was all covers at
first, we didn’t 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 that’s a Jeff and Jay thing. I think Jeff really likes Jim a
lot; I don’t know how well he knows Dave. On the new record, Jim
Boquist sings all over it; we’d 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”, and
Jim did tons of vocals on those. Jim is like an honorary Smog guy,
he’s 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.
Jim’s a real buddy, he loves music and I’ve 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; we’ve worked together for over ten
years on various projects. There’s no weirdness with Jeff, either,
when Jim comes by the studio; I don’t think it’s weird at all.

And how about Brian Paulson’s involvement as producer…

When I got married (I’m divorced now), he was my best man, so he’s 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 – he’s also
done a lot of rock records, he’s worked with Dinosaur Jr, Beck, all
kinds of stuff. Brian is more of an engineer than a producer; he
doesn’t have a lot of songwriting ideas, but he’s 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, it’s pretty long days in the
studio, so you have to be patient for like twelve hours, you have to
stay focused, and Brian’s pretty good at that. He’s moved to North
Carolina, and I haven’t seen him in quite a while, I miss him. I think
he was working with some Australian band, actually, they’re on
Mushroom records… 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 it’s a small

Y’know, I wouldn’t 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 someone’s got a song and everyone gets excited
about it. If someone says “I’ve got this song” and people go
“eeeuhhhhh”, y’know… but you gotta try to be nice, you don’t wanna
hurt people’s feelings. I think another rule of the Smog is it’s gotta
be pretty easy in terms of the arrangement, cos we don’t 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 don’t really talk about it
too much, it just kinda comes together. For the last two records, we
didn’t really have to come up with a process, it just kinda happened.
The last record was fun because everybody attempted to play
instruments they’re not that familiar with, it wasn’t just a bunch of
guys strumming acoustic guitars. There’s a lot of piano that Gary & I
played, everybody took turns playing bass, and that made it more of a
challenge, when you’re not just doing what you’ve 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 it’s a Jeff song or a Gary song you can really tell,
but this is more experimental, for sure.

There’s a real flow to the way you play and sing together on this

Yeah, I like the combinations of different people’s voices, it’s so
cool. The first time I heard Jeff and Gary sing together was “Won’t Be
Coming Home” and Jeff started doing this low harmony beneath Gary, it
sounded kinda like Johnny Cash, and I thought “wow, that’s beautiful”.
That’s exciting to me when there’s 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, everybody’s pretty tolerant, people just
create. So far so good, we’ve been lucky.

I’ve 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 there’s various degrees of knowing what’s going
on, hahaha. It’s kinda weird, sometimes when you go to a club and
you’re in the audience as a fan, it can be tedious to have people
approach you if you’re not in the mood. But I guess I’ve 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”,
it’s kinda important not to blow ‘em off. It’s good for the ego as
well, to know that you made a tiny difference in someone’s life, like
“I used to wash dishes seven years ago and that was my favourite
record”, that’s kinda nice, I never get tired of hearing it.

Well, Soul Asylum have their share of devoted fans…

(long pause)… Uh-huh.

It seems to me that Soul Asylum had the fortune or misfortune to break
at the time that Nirvana’s breakthrough was changing all the rules
about indie vs. commercial music, have you guys felt different
pressures after becoming such a commercial success?

It’s really weird, because I don’t think our music has changed that
much, but people’s perception of it has changed – a lot. Uhhh…. people
kinda question your motivation when you start selling a lot of
records, y’know? They go, “God, these guys used to be in a little band
in a club, and now they’re on this huge tour.” I don’t know (sigh), in
America right now, music is just fucked up, y’know. All the radio
stations are so strict in their format, they’ll 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 I’d listen to AM radio and hear all kinds of stuff – soul music,
Rod Stewart, the Stones, Hall & Oates, whatever, and in the late 70s
you’d hear The Clash, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, but now it’s so
formatted. There’s so much out there now, there’s a zillion record
labels, you can get music on the internet, there’s so much
information. Andy Warhol talked about fifteen minutes of fame, but I
think it’s about ten seconds now. A radio programmer will listen to
your single for ten seconds and decide whether or not he’s gonna add
it; he’ll just listen to the hook, he won’t even wanna hear the song.
It’s frustrating… 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. It’s hard to care. It’s 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, y’know. I
think our motives are pretty pure – we like to make music, we enjoy
each other’s company, we enjoy playing together. But we’d 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. I’d like to sell
as many records as some of my peers, but if we don’t, no-one’s gonna
be heartbroken, y’know. We’re 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 that’ll probably always be pretty small.

Just out of curiosity, how well has the album done so far sales-wise?

I think it’s sold about 18,000 or something. It’s only been out for
like four or five weeks, so that’s not too bad. We haven’t done any
big ad buys or anything. We start touring right after Thanksgiving,
we’re 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?

We’ve never rehearsed once with Jody Stephens in the band, we just
literally flew to Memphis and straight into the studio. We’re lucky
that it clicked. When we start touring we’re gonna have a practice
space in Minneapolis for three days, then we’re gonna fly to Toronto
and start the tour there. We’re 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 people’s
attention. I think it’ll be a gas. I’m really looking forward to it.

How did Jody get involved? Has he told you any good Big Star stories?

Kind of… I think it was kind of a mess toward the end of that band. I
don’t think there was a lot of love lost. I think they’ve done some
reunion tours that have been a bit more fun. Jody got involved because
he’s part-owner of Ardent Studios in Memphis, and I’d 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 Levy’s band The
Honeydogs were just too busy and we were having a lot of scheduling
conflicts. I think it was Marc Perlman’s idea, “We should call Jody
Stephens, he’s a great drummer, I’d love to play with him!” We called
him up and sent him the CD and I talked to him and said “Y’know, if
this is something you wanna do as a one-off, just play on the record,
we’ll find someone to tour if you don’t 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, “You’re in!” He’s really an eccentric drummer
in his style, it’s fun to play with him. He really hits them hard,
it’s kind of exciting. So I just hope we don’t drive him crazy
touring, hahaha. (Spinal Tap voice) The rule of the Smog is to have a
good time, y’know?? 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 it’s saying as
much about a musician’s 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 people’s perceptions… the bit about “gold
mining the local scene” or whatever is about that… and when you’re
travelling, your life is so random… the people you meet, the
experiences you have, the beds you wake up in. There’s really nothing
out there that’s familiar, “to call my own”, nothing around you that
is yours. So there’s definitely some of that going on in there… That
song is kind of a mean song, but it’s also supposed to be kind of
funny. I’m a huge fan of Leonard Cohen as a songwriter because he’s so
dry, y’know, to me he’s funnier than shit too. I try to be clever if
I’m gonna be mean. I don’t like those songs like “blah blah blah,
you’re a bitch”, that just gets so boring to me. It’s hard to write
personal songs, too; you try to make up characters, make it so it’s
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 Johnson’s 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, y’know, that thing when
you’re in a relationship and the other person projects all these
things that they see in you, and my theory is that it’s just people
putting their own stuff onto you, so “Reflections on Me” is like when
someone says “I see through you, you’re really a rotten person”, it’s
just people casting their own bad stuff onto you. That’s what I was
kind of going through at the time. Recording the song was fun cos
Jessy sang a lot on that, and I’ve 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 it’s not
so… hopeless.

You mentioned Leonard Cohen before, who are some of your other
favourite songwriters?

I love Tom Waits, I think he’s amazing. It’s 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, they’ve put out
a coupla cool records. Liz Phair I’m a big fan of. I love soul music
too – Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone. I’m 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 I’m a student of the whole thing, y’know.

How do you spend your time when you’re not making music or listening
to music?

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. I’ve got the travelling thing now, I’ve been seeing
this girl who lives in Chicago and I’ve been spending a lot of time
with her, getting to know Chicago which is a great city. It’s a six
hour drive from where I live. I have a nine-year-old son I spend a ton
of time with. He’s 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,
it’s pretty rewarding y’know.

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 hasn’t started playing guitar or piano. When I was that age, my mom
made me play piano and I just hated it, so I don’t wanna do that with
him. I think he’s gotta find it himself rather than have it pushed on
him. He wants to be a video games tester, that’s 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 aren’t there.

Yeah, good luck right? That’s 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”, there’s these big huge sand
dune things in Melbourne, it’s this big huge park with a huge sand
deposit, you think you’re on the moon.

Um, great (having no idea what he’s talking about)

I’d love to come back, but it’s a long way away, y’know? You have to
do Japan, Australia and New Zealand on the same trip, and then it’s a
month y’know? But if people buy enough Smog records, I’m there y’know?

Well, Wilco are coming out in a couple of months.

They were gonna go in January, but it’s been pushed back, I don’t
think it’s gonna happen. We’re doing a West Coast Smog tour at the
same time.

Thanks for breaking my heart.

Oh, they’ll be there, they’ll be there one way or the other.

Do you have any more gossip for me?

Well, our President’s a pervert. I’m sure that’s made the rounds
there…oh, I don’t know, I’ve been out of the loop and I like it that
way, y’know. Just get on the internet, that’ll tell you all you need
to know! And everything there is true, right?

Can you do an ID with my Golden Smog name…

OK… (assumes radio voice) Hey, this is Daniel Murphy aka David Spear
of the Golden Smog, and you’re listening to Louise Foam on No
Depression on 106.7 here in Melbourne, Australia, on TBS-FM.

That’s PBS-FM.



back to main