For the better part of the past decade, the Italian trio Father Murphy spent their time crafting a brand of whimsical, Syd Barrett-inspired psych pop that was somewhat comparable to the work of their Italian peers in Jennifer Gentle. On their most recent full-length “..and He Told Us to Turn to the Sun", however, their sound took on a decidedly darkened tone. By delving into the subjects of religion and heresy, Father Murphy charted a bold new path that may have actually been written for them all along. Freddie, Father Murphy’s guitarist/vocalist, generously provided some insight into how they arrived at this point and what lies ahead.
First, I’m wondering if you could provide some background information about when Father Murphy first started out? If I have my facts straight, some of the material on your self-titled debut actually dates back to 2000. Is that correct?
Yeah, correct! Back at that time, I was trying to live in Brooklyn. I had a deal with a recording studio...every morning for three weeks I had to sweep and clean the studio, and wipe all the outboards, then I’d have two full days to record on 2'' tape. The studio is/was called Planet2Planet. I ran into it on one of my typical walking days...
After a few months, I gave those recordings to Vittorio, who was still living in Italy, asking him to flavor them up. Meanwhile, I kept on recording on a 4-track cassette recorder and asked Chiara Lee, who was in China, if she wanted to be part of this new project, telling her I read an old Legend about a Reverend having two sons, one in NYC, the other one, a little girl, who chose China. They met again after years apart and got baptized by a Vicar in Venice, Italy. The name of that man was Murphy...
We stayed in NYC together for a while, and then we had to move back to Venice to follow the path that the Legend showed us. Also, less poetically, we were having such a hard time getting new visas...
Your previous albums featured a wide range of styles that tended to favor a sort of whimsical psych pop approach. You have certainly explored dark and ominous textures in songs before, “Drawn” and “Stereo” spring to mind, but on your most recent album "..and He Told Us to Turn to the Sun" you seemed to have fully embraced this sound. What was your mindset when you set out to record this album? Were you trying to hone in on a certain aspect of your sound?
“Six Musicians Getting Unknown” worked for us as a collection of all the songs we were playing in those first years. After that we started doing tons of shows as just the three of us. Before that, depending on where we were living, we were joined by different friends on stage, which is a funny thing to do for a bit, but it wasn't helping that much in following a path. We gained in consciousness and we became a live band.
We then recorded a cover of “Ave Lucifer” for a tribute to Os Mutantes. That song is magic; it sounds silly and apocalyptic, with words that you can quietly sing along with if you don't know what they mean...
The right moment when we decided to be a band is maybe when we first started working on “...and He Told Us to Turn to the Sun”. The record is kind of a concept about heresy, which in ancient Greek means “choice”. You have to choose if you want to do something, you never have to forget you always have a choice.
We always thought there was nothing about our being Italian in our music, and we were happy about that. But while writing “...the Sun” we discovered that what we were willing to do with voices, the whole idea of following a path, even if just a “religious” Legend, had something to do with the fact that we were born here. We are or were Christian, we attended to Masses, we were (are) scared of dying without leaving a track; the sense of guilt is something that always follows you. The sound we had in our minds had to be as close as possible to a hypothetical downward spiral, with no meaning to be for this reason just obscure or negative. The idea was to describe the atmospheres of this movement, the act of trying to achieve a new way of considering what we always have been told to be the right one: the dogma. And in doing this, we discovered the opportunity to start with more and end with less.
Religious themes clearly dominate much of “. . . and He Told Us to Turn to the Sun”, but, and correct me if I’m wrong, you seem to approach this subject matter with an eye (and ear) for the absurd. How would you characterize your lyrical approach?
Words, at the beginning, are mostly sounds. There aren't messages, maybe more of an attempt of giving a “moral” way of gaining consciousness through different atmospheres. In the lyrics, there aren’t any saints. We already know that we're all guilty. The urge is aimed at what we have to do, not to what we've done.
I mentioned Os Mutantes before. If I think to the lyrics from “At That Time I Guess We Misunderstood”, I totally see their influence. It's funny to sing along to “I don't expect you to suffer all the pain, it deserves the whole human kind. But at least you have to go down a bit to see then the Light above”. I love the way that English sounds in music. We're able communicate in English, but you can definitely tell it isn't our first language. . .
So, I know it sounds a bit dada. I work a lot with cut and paste, sometimes giving more importance to a sentence than to the whole lyrics...no, it's different, it's like putting together different sentences, at the end you get to a point where, even if maybe with two quotations or things that are just in my mind, someone is able to decide what to understand...
You mentioned that you began to view yourselves more as an Italian band during the recording of “. . .the Sun”. Were there certain Italian artists or groups that you were inspired by?
A few months before starting the recording sessions, we got introduced, I would say simultaneously, to an Italian band called Jacula by two of the people I admire the most: Ezra Buchla (from the bands Monstro and Gowns, whom we were on tour with that month of November ’07; he's a great musician and friend, and he taught me a lot about how to sing and scream) and Marco Damiani (Silly Boy Entertainment, Jennifer Gentle, who is supporting us more like an older and wiser brother than a manager). Their first record was from the late 60's and they already sounded Doom and doomed. I still have some problems with people singing in Latin and all that imaginarium of sacrifices, etc. . . but I find it really interesting the way they were using organs and drums, the pathos. They were also saying that after the release of their 5th record, if you had to listen to the whole of them in a row, you could gain the gift of invisibility!
Another Italian one I think of is Monteverdi; I really dig his “Madrigali”. But, except Vittorio, we got to know him once we were done with “..the Sun”. In terms of modern Italian music, I think somehow Jennifer Gentle.
“. . . and He Told Us to Turn to the Sun” has been out for quite awhile now, so I’m wondering if you’ve begun working on any new material and, if so, how you would describe it in comparison to that album?
I just got back from the mastering studio for a new EP titled “No Room for the Weak”, which contains three new songs plus a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “There is a War”. While “...the Sun” was about heresy, this new piece is a step into mysticism. When you got as low as you can go, there you're able to choose. But it doesn't mean you want to go back to where you started. Maybe you just want to isolate yourself and find your own way of praying. This is literally what this concept is about, I don't wanna sound at all like an ascetic...The idea of praying isn't necessarily related to a religious thing. Similar, or I hope better than in “...the Sun”, the different tracks are composed by movements and every movement describes an atmosphere or a scene. They fit one next to the other because they convey a climax or a procession of feelings.
Could you describe your involvement with the Madcap Collective? It seems to be something that extends beyond the typical record label set-up.
Together with Andrea (Rottin) and Paolo (Littlebrown), I'm one of the three founders of the Madcap Collective. The idea, to tell you the truth, was suggested by Roger Keith, a 60-year-old Englishman who was spending some time per year nearby Venice. He said we needed to fake that we had a label in order to book more shows...
The name Madcap came from Andrea. We all love Syd Barrett, especially his solo career, so we were all happy about it. We then paid attention to the fact that Madcap is a six-letter word; Syd is three. Each one of the three founders was born three years after the other one. So, we decided to have our own Cabbalah...
It's something between a family and a Collective. We grew up a lot in these last few years, collaborating with Onga and his Boring Machines Records (who first released “...the Sun”!). We started releasing just records, but recently we did a DVD collection of short stories (of Gomma Workshop, Vittorio's solo project), two novels, a documentary about China (taking care of the soundtrack together with independent Chinese bands) made by a network of friends, Kuai Kuai...
We're a really really small reality, but we learned how important it is collaborating with different people.
You previously mentioned the Os Mutantes tribute album that you contributed to, and which Madcap Collective also co-released. How did this project come together?
I mentioned before that all of us Madcappers are huge fans of Barrett. The other band we all love is Mutantes. So one night I was talking with Francesco (Stop the Wheel, he just recorded his new record “Attilah”, a great collection of classic pop music to be released soon), another member of the collective, and he said, “Why don't we try to put together all the people that love Os Mutantes’ music? It would be a great compilation!”
So we started asking everyone we knew or we thought would be interested in this project, even super famous people like Beck, David Byrne, and Michael Gira. Michael Gira was super happy to hear about it. He couldn't do it, but he asked if he could get a copy of the tribute once done. He wrote me back with very nice words, which we were super happy about. He also helped us a lot as Father Murphy, spreading our music to some journalists he knew.
Marco Damiani helped us a lot in contacting bands and distributors, and he introduced us to Susanna Motta, White Flag's manager, she's great. Thanks to her, we even got in contact with Mutantes. Sergio Dias wrote the liner notes for the tribute, while Arnaldo painted kind of a poster to include with each copy. And we got the opportunity of having Tater Totz’s version of “Bat Macumba”, which was the first Mutantes cover ever released!
And I want to thank here one more time all the bands involved on this project. We couldn't give them any money; they just gave their contribution because they love Mutantes.
Do you have any upcoming releases coming out?
Yes! As I was saying a few lines before, we have an EP that’s going to be released next September by AAGOO Records in New Jersey (the same label that released “...the Sun” in USA/UK/Japan). It'll be a 10'', titled “No Room for the Weak”, round 23 minutes...We recorded it with a four-track cassette recorder at Vittorio's Gomma Playground, then mixed at Marco Fasolo's (Jennifer Gentle) Ectoplasmic Studio.
Vinh Ngo, the fourth Murphy, who has taken care of our covers since almost forever, has as usual realized the cover, and it's really terrific! He's able to give something more to our music, and actually he's also, for the first time, appearing on the record as the leading voice on the Cohen cover!
Soon, we will also start to work on the soundtrack of a movie by our friend Luca Dipierro (who did the videoclip for the song “In Their Graves”) called “Dieci Teste (ten heads)”, to be released, I believe, early next year.
As you approach doing soundtrack work, do you think you will include a lyrical component or do you plan to focus more on atmospherics?
Being honest, I have problems thinking of Father Murphy's music without a lyrical/vocals component. I really think we will focus on atmospherics, but there will still be room for some voices.
I’ve been told that singing is like praying ten times. The three of us love singing, so I think this is the instrument we play better. I can picture myself without playing any instrument, but not without singing. And Luca Dipierro's work is so related to words and to the way they sound, in English or in Italian, that I think that some vocals will always fit together with his work.
Do you have any tour plans in the coming months?
We'll start April 1st on a European tour for three weeks, appearing at the Sonic City Festival in Belgium, a great festival curated this year by Deerhoof (we played once in Oakland with John from Deerhoof, he was together with Carla Bozulich and Devin Hoff, we kept in contact, so when they were deciding the line up of the festival he also thought of us!) For the first time we'll also go East, and up north to Scotland, passing through Slovenia, Austria, Czech Rep., Slovakia, Germany, Holland, Belgium, UK, France and Switzerland. Among the shows, we'll be playing with Deerhoof, Little Claw, Talk Normal, Go Team! and many others...
Then we want to come back ASAP to the US, maybe September (the three of us really hope so!) to present the EP, along with more shows in the UK and Europe.
The Path . . . where does it lead to next?
I think to the only mystery left: the mystery of faith. Even religious people sound more interested in putting together all the bricks in the right way, than stopping for one second to see how far we still are from all the things around us. I really do hope we still will have enough urge in doing something, rather than sit and look to what we've done or to what we would have done. As the Butthole Surfers said, “It's better to regret something you have done than something you haven't done. By the way, if you see your mom this weekend, be sure and tell her: Satan!”
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