AMPLIFIER, Vol. 4, July 1999
One man electrical bandÖ
By Joe Lutz
Darin Murphy doesnít have much use for convention. Nothing about the way he approached the making of his brilliant, ambitiously diverse new record Solitarium was done the way a, um, normal person would have gone about doing things. No money? No problem. Darrell Clingman at Copper Records (home of Cotton Mather and the Shazam, Just to name a few) supplied the recording studio and much of the budget. No band? Again, no problem. In true DIY fashion Darin sang every note and played all the instruments himself, from guitar and drums to synthesizer and theremin. Oh yeah, did I mention that Darin pretty much produced and engineered The whole thing, too?
Maybe thatís why Solitarium, with its nods towards Rundgren, the Who and the Beatles, as well as some well placed doses of light alterna-rock and country leanings, sounds so fresh. For a record so sonically spread out and experimental, Solitarium is also surprisingly consistent, tuneful, and defies any real classification.
After spending the early 90ís writing, recording and performing with his sister Trish (who lends backing vocals on Solitariumís "Stuck In A Hole") and a brief stint fronting an Austin based power trio called Grover Dill, Darin devoted the next five years or so to getting Solitarium just right. And now that heís ready for us, weíd better get ready for him.
How did you come up with the title Solitarium?
It was kind of weird. It was the first title I had come up with, and I guess I had originally meant it as a solitary confinement kind of thing, you know, alone in a sanitarium. But it could have other meanings. I understand itís also a Latin term, but I donít know the definition. I had other ideas, but everything just kept coming back to Solitarium; it seemed the perfect and appropriate title.
Why did it take you five years to release Solitarium?
Because Iím a slowpoke! I had enough songs for an album, but not having money to put into it was a big factor, so it was great that Darrell Clingman came around at just the right time when I was ready to make a record. It took me a while to record the album because I did it in sporadic periods. If I could afford to take time off from work Iíd run down to Houston and record as much as I could and then Iíd come back here and get bogged down. So Iíd go sometimes two to three months without recording. And during that period I was coming up with new songs that I thought would fit the record better.
How then did you arrive at the final 12 songs?
Well, I originally started with this formula that I wanted to make a straight rock and roll record with two guitars, bass and drums. I wanted to be Frank Black when I started this, but I donít really come from the same place as he does, so I couldnít really make it authentic. And by the time the record really stared coming together I didnít care what kind of musical statement I made as long as it was real.
Was it out of convenience or necessity that you chose to do it all yourself, or are you some kind of control freak, meglomaniacal pop guy?
(Laughs) I tried for a long time to get other people involved and it was very difficult. The people that I wanted to get were either too busy or not interested. I had a band for a brief period called Grover Dill that kind of fizzled out; everybody got busy with other stuff. And right around that time, Darrell called and said ĎHey, letís make a record." I said ĎOK, Iíve got enough tunes but I donít have a band,í and he said ĎNo, I want you to play everything yourself, that would be a lot of fun.í So we just went in and did it, and it ended up working.
What is your primary instrument?
Iím a drummer first and foremost. But when I was a kid my whole family played, and there would be all these people sitting around with guitars and banjos and stuff, and it was very hard for me to participate, because I was always off playing my rock and roll songs while everyone else was into country and bluegrass.
You played on Cotton Matherís Kon Tiki; did you approach Robert Harrison from that band to help you out, and return the favor?
Robert is a very hard guy to get a hold of, and since I know heís very busy with Cotton Mather, I didnít approach him. I didnít really approach anyone except for my sister, but the rest I just thought that if Iím gonna do it myself, Iím gonna do it myself and play whatever it is I can play. Whatever I have lying around Iíll throw it on there and see if I can make it work.
What was Darrellís involvement?
Darrell helped me engineer it. He also put up a lot of the money to get it finished, mixed, mastered and pressed. So I would say Darrell is the executive producer behind the record. And he has great energy. Heís a very positive guy and heís very motivating. His involvement helped me to stay focused, and also helped me to believe that there was a market for the stuff that I was doing, because I wasnít able to get anywhere with it here in Austin. And Iím still not, really. My peers, my musical colleagues were all like ĎYeah, this is a terrific record,í but as far as the masses go very few people know about it here in town. Itís the kind of album that has to grow on people, and I kinda knew that it would. I know that itís not going to be everyoneís cup of tea. Thereís going to be people that absolutely hate it, not so much for what it has, but for what it doesnít have. But theyíll like it for the same reason.
How about outside of Austin? Are you getting more feedback from elsewhere?
Yeah, sure. Reviews have been coming in from the Internet and other national publications. Bruce Brodeen from Not Lame has been recommending it to his customers, so suddenly Iím getting email from the UK, Germany and Toronto.
What do you have in common with some of popís other do-it-yourself guys like Todd Rundgren and Jason Falkner?
Itís weird that Iíve been getting comparisons to Rundgren. I havenít really heard any of his songs other than what Iíve heard on radio. But Iím really into his production; all the big records he was part of from XTC to Badfinger to The Pursuit Of Happiness to The Psychedelic Furs. So I would say we have an ear for the same kind of sound. And I havenít listened to Jason Falkner very much, either. Iíve heard his stuff with Jellyfish, and I think he and Todd are both ten times the guitar player that I am. For me, drums are it. If your drum sound isnít happening then the rest of the record is gonna end up going by the wayside. On a pop or rock record the drums are the whole essence.
What was your stuff with Trish and Darin like?
Basically, Trish and Darin was a workshop that sprang from me and Trish getting together and playing little coffee house gigs. All we did during that period was whatever we knew or whatever we felt like doing. We had a very big following, but critically we backed ourselves into a corner because we didnít take ourselves seriously enough to be anything more than just a duo up there having fun. So by the time we decided to get serious we were writing different things, and we agreed that weíd make our biggest strides on our own.
How do you explain the almost country-ish slant to songs like "Stuck In A Hole" and "Big Pink Glasses"?
I guess because I come from Texas, those things inevitably come out. I was just sort of trying whatever I had learned. Actually, to me, "Stuck In A Hole" sounds like something off Beatles For Sale, which I think is a very underrated record, because it had so much cool acoustic based stuff on it, like a prelude to Rubber Soul. And I donít really mind falling into that category as long as Iím not doing the "Strawberry Walrus" thing thatís been pounded into the dirt by so many artists. Thereís always been a connection between the southern artists and the British artists. Thereís always been an exchange of influence. If you go back to the original Brit legends, all of their idols came from the Bible Belt states. And then they came back and gave it back to us, and we took that and put a little more southern feel to it, and then you have Big Star, or whatever.
You get a lot of Lennon comparisons. Are they justified?
Sure, why not? All that stuff has been in my cerebral makeup for so many years that itís impossible to get rid of. It doesnít matter what I do, itís always gonna have some kind of Beatles echo in there.
What are you listening to now?
The new Beck album. I listen to that more than anything else, along with Wilcoís new record. I like Radiohead a lot, and I listen to an Austin band called Bongo Hate, and another Austin band called Sixteen Deluxe. I like Spoon, too.
What are your plans now that Solitarium is out?
I definitely wanna try to get overseas. Iíd love to put this record out in England and Japan. Basically I want to try to get some road shows lined up, and find some people to tour around with.
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