Sunday, December 12, 2010

Drums & Swagger: Q&A with Drummer & Producer Kevin Murphy

DC Native Kevin Murphy has honed his drumming chops for the past 20 years touring with both local & national acts.  We recently caught up with him and talked about life on the road, Randy Houser, the music biz, his experience as a producer, Willie Nelson and his cousin, Dante Ferrando (owner of THE BLACK CAT). 

Q:  You've been touring pretty much full time with southern rock artist RANDY HOUSER, tell us just how heavy the tour schedule has been and about the recording of his latest album, "They Call Me Cadillac", that came out in November.

A:  I filled in for Randy earlier in the year for a month, and when he called me to join up more permanently they were in the middle of the typical summer schedule, which is really heavy for country artists.  I had no part in the recording of the record and had only known Randy socially, so I didn’t even know there was a record coming out.  The schedule was 4 nights a week already, so I didn’t notice a big change on the release date.  Randy’s disc is a real record, with real flaws and a truth in it’s tone.  We don’t really mimic it live at all, we’re much thicker and present a larger wall of sound, but I like that, and so does Randy. 

Q:  You mentioned that you & Randy Houser will be appearing on both Late Night with David Letterman and the Jimmy Fallon Show!  Can you tell us any of the details and when we should be looking out for that?  

A:  hmmmm….the details on those are gonna be tough.  I really don’t know WHEN things will come up, they just will.  We were scheduled for Letterman in September and Fallon for the night before Thanksgiving, but were bumped.  Randy keeps in touch with Letterman, who is a big fan of Cadillac’s, so I’m sure we’ll get back on there soon.

Q:  You've toured for almost 10 years with the band TONIC .  For those who aren't familiar with them, who are they and what's the latest?

A:  Tonic’s biggest hit was called “If You Could Only See”, and I think it was released in ’97.  I remember being positively sick of hearing it on the radio by the time Earth To Andy opened for them and we became friends.  I think the Tonic guys got the shaft, in a way.  They had some big success, but were lumped in with other groups of the time and didn’t really ever get to own their own identity, except among the real fans.  In my opinion, they were and have continued to be the most artistic group to have come out of that era for pop rock.  I’ve enjoyed my time with Emerson, Dan and Jeff.  I think they’re great musicians and writers, and I’m sad that I don’t get many opportunities to play with them now.  They have a record that came out earlier this year, all of them produce, Jeff is a composer for TV shows, and Em is working on his writing here in Nashville.  I’m happy that he and I can see each other regularly.

Q:  Growing up, what drummer did you look up too & try to model yourself after? 

A:  Bonham.  He was the king.  I loved Myron Grombacher, who was Pat Benetar’s drummer and NEVER got the proper credit for his skill and taste.  I liked Billy Cobham, who was a fusion guy.  I liked everyone who hit drums, really.  I don’t even know who played drums for Men At Work, but “Who Can it Be?” was the first song I ever played on a drumset.”  I liked that band.   

Q:  After 20  years on the road, how would you say the business has changed and what do you think will be expected of young musicians coming up now?

A:  I think the paradigm has obviously shifted on every level and continues to.  I think it’ll settle down soon, but the shift was ugly.  Not only has the business end changed drastically because of the internet, but touring is harder from the economy.  Another notable change is that PEOPLE have changed.  They stopped buying CONTENT and focused only on INTENT.  The sizzle.  I think people are growing tired of hype and really just want to see a songwriter or band play shit from the heart again.  Taylor Swift is huge because people believe her.  Jamey Johnson and Houser are finding an audience because they are EXACTLY what they seem.  I think a younger musician or group should focus on developing their skill and communication more these days.  It wouldn’t hurt to see some younger acts dig a little deeper to discover where their idols got it from, and extend the art rather than mimic.  I was producing a band last year that kept referring to other bands as the benchmark, saying shit like “we want this to be like Sevendust”, and I just kept wondering why they weren’t interested in investigating what it would sound like as THEM.  Tons of singers in Nashville are trying to be Carrie Underwood, but who the hell wants another one?  She’s good at that, there’s no reason to have another version.  Younger artists need to get off their lazy asses and do the work.  Talking big is great, walking big is better.  You have to look across from each other and ask the hard questions, give the hard answers, hug it out, and make your statement.  I’m proud to have come up in the scene when I did, man.  You could go see a festival or show and catch Everything, Gibb Droll, Egypt, Almighty Senators, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, Dave Matthews Band, Fighting Gravity and 5 other bands, and ALL OF THEM sounded unique and interesting.  All had their own style that they had created.  I don’t see that these days.  Very few young acts have the balls to really make a statement.  They want fame and money, they don’t really have anything to say.  It’s sad.  I hope more artists and groups start to rise up.  It’s starting to turn around, I hope the pace picks up.  There’s good music out there, you just have more shit to sift through these days.    

Q:  You started out on the DC music scene but have recently moved to Nashville!  As a musician, it must feel great to live in the heart of a town with such a rich musical history & where many of the street signs are shaped guitar picks!

A:  Nashville is great.  The community is smaller than one would think, and everyone genuinely wants to help out.  I feel alive there, and I love that there are simply more options, musically, each night than in most towns.  The musicianship is ridiculous.  It’s a different level of player here.  Every time I hear “I’m gonna make it” from a rookie I want to take them to any given club in Nashville on any given night and say “here ya go, Slappy.  Everyone here has played tours for 15,000 people a night, and half of us have had record deals, some of us more than one, and we’re still fighting it out for the good tours and sessions.  If you’ve got the balls to jump into the fire, welcome.”  I should actually do that for a TV show...   

Q:  Hey wait a minute?  We just remembered, isn't Dante, who owns the Black Cat, your cousin?

A:  Yup!  Dante Ferrando is indeed my first cousin.  We were mostly into different scenes, and his was one I didn’t appreciate until long after he’d exposed me to it.  I’ve met people out on the road that speak of him as if he’s a superstar!  Henry Rollins remembered him fondly, Dave Grohl and I talked about Dante being a badass for 20 minutes before he exclaimed that “us Virginia boys, man, we’re different.  We’re gonna take it all over!”  I’m a little bummed that Dante and I never really got to hang out.  Our lives are so busy that I only see him once a year.  He’s tighter with my sister Dana, I think because he was the guy she’d call when running her club (Trax in Charlottesville) back in the day when things got stressful.

Q:  You'll be on tour with Willie Nelson next summer!  What's the line up and how cool is that?!

A:  I’m not sure of the final line up, but from what I understand right now it’s Jake Owen, Houser, Jamey Johnson and Willie.  Another guy I like named Lee Brice told me a couple of nights ago that he thinks that he’s on it, too.  I hope Randy keeps me around for awhile, I’d love to do it, the idea of spending a summer supporting Willie is amazing, and would be one of those incredible tales to hold dear for life.  I’m hope if some jackass cop decides to bust Willie next year that I’m with him.  That would be awesome. 

Q:  You’re producing now, as well.  What projects are you working on?

A:  Well, I’ve always produced, either in bands or for local and regional artists in Virginia, and wanted to continue as I branched out in Tennessee.  I was looking for an opportunity and thankfully the first artist that I toured with, JOSH GRACIN, liked my ideas on the bus during late night rides.  When he signed with a new label, he asked them to let he and I produce his new project and they (AVERAGE JOE RECORDS) went for it.  We spent a couple of months really making something that defined him and satisfied his tastes, while allowing me to sonically make it what it needed to be, and I’m really proud of it.  I think it comes out in early 2011, and perhaps it allows both of us to continue building our careers.   I’m currently working with two female artists, LoriBeth Hogan, who is unsigned, super talented and a lot of fun to work with, using Rob Thomas’ engineer, Mark Dobson, who is great, and Danielle Peck.  Danielle has had some hits and wants to redefine what and who she is in 2011, and I’m excited to get things moving.  We’re picking songs for her now, trying to find the right statements and texture.  I’ve got a couple of other things that are possibilities in 2011, but I’m in a holding pattern for the go ahead to move forward on those.  I love producing.  I like helping to strengthen a voice and an aesthetic.  I hope to add and build through 2011 and beyond with that aspect of my career.

Q:  Finally, what are the 5 songs (and artists) that have been looping on your iPod this week?

A:  I’ve been home this week working on finding songs for a project I’m producing soon, so a lot of my listening has been demos and stuff like that, but my “clean the house” mix has everything from “Pet” by A Perfect Circle to “So Hard” by Rhianna.  I love Jay Z’s production.  The mix has a cut from Loretta Lynn’s record that Jack produced, some Dead Weather, Skynard, Lil Wayne, Earth Wind & Fire, Fleetwood Mac, and a side project of mine called “Loose Cougar”.  I’m pretty random when it comes to what’s playing.  I’ll either turn it or I won’t.  I like stuff that is what it claims to be.  If I smell pretense, I turn it off.   Some stuff is fine, but I just don’t care for it, and I sometimes can’t explain it.  I don’t like The Doors.  Never have.  I turn Kings of Leon off immediately when it comes on.  Slipknot’s albums sound like shit, but I like the intent.  I like things with swagger.”

“You know what?  That’s it.  That’s my shit.  I like things with swagger.”

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