Sometimes We Hit The Nail Right On The Head: An Interview With Ambrose Kenny-Smith From The Murlocs
Salt wind in matted hair, sand in toes. An oversized, raggy sweater and sweet tiredness from a day well spent. No deliberation from this sun-tickled crew: the auditory accompaniment this dusk is the fifth record Bittersweet Demons lovingly delivered by Melbourne's retro virtuosos The Mulocs. Exuding a charming style, but style backed with the substance of spirited, warm tunes, one may wonder how they managed to write and record a heartfelt masterpiece during a pandemic and if COVID-19 propelled them into a celestially creative frame of mind.
"The album was actually written and recorded before Covid. It was being mixed and mastered as the pandemic was starting to take off in March 2020. We had to then sit on the album for a while until we could potentially tour it. It’s a nice feeling to have it finally come out now, but booking shows is still proving to be a pretty hard factor at the moment, as we all know."
All melodies throughout the complimenting eleven songs are utterly luscious. Likened to goddesses, The Bangles, or the provocative Doors, the bass is a gently leading force, rather than driving like our dearly beloved Irish poets Fontaines D.C. Gorgeousness Bittersweet Demons illustrates.
Spangly concoctions of bluesy piano bursts, study rhythms from Matt Blach, airy backing vocals and a textbook, effervescent, sunny chorus hold hands, skipping in harmony as a relationship breakdown hurts, and hurts badly, but can be overcome: "It's always a thrill to be near you and I would kill to have one more moment to hold on, but it's gone, yet not forgotten."
"The piano and keys, in general, was the main instrument that most of the songs were written on. The title track Bittersweet Demons, Blue Eyed Runner and Dangerous Nature were some of the first ones that came together in the piece. So I had about 70% of the album or so come together in that way. Then the other four members of the band each brought a song to the table to contribute to that same vein as well. Tim Karmouche brought two, the first songs he has ever brought to the band since he joined back in 2017. This direction was very up his alley."
"Most of the time in these situations, when other members contribute songs, I will mainly just write the lyrics and help arrange a bit. I am always trying to encourage everyone to throw in their two bits and bobs because it always helps to shape the songs into sounding more like us as a band, rather than it coming from one person’s bedroom. The bass lines throughout the album are probably some of my favourite lines that Cook Craig has ever come up with, and of course, Cal Shortal’s guitar work really shines through as always."
Caressing the soul of Country music, The Murlocs ventured without fear into storytelling and character study to generate subject matter in their writing. A Dolly Parton approach, if you will. Elevating single Francesca, decorated with Ambrose's Harmonica flourishes, addresses his Mam finding love again: "Oh sweet Francesca, I can see it in your stride, somethings changing somethings going right." But it wasn't only the lovely Francesca immortalised in song; several near and dear folk were selected.
‘Francesca is about my mother. All of the songs on the album are mainly about my friends and family. Blue Eyed Runner is about my dad, and you can even hear a voice recording of him at the end of the track, which I cut up from a conversation we had on the phone when we were finishing off the record. Limerence is about my parents' relationship and how they met. All of the songs are held very close to my heart. It’s a bit of a closure session for me as it’s all directed towards my own experiences growing up and the loved ones that have come and gone in my life."
Their art is beloved Garage Rock at its absolute best, which seems to be bordering Post-Punk with its rise in popularity, but there are many other mingling aromas here. Admittedly, quite a lot, but ever so subtly and masterfully done. It has a vintage strut with influences playing their part but taking a bow to let the identity of the band beam from all angles.
"When I was writing most of these ideas on piano, I was listening to a lot of Elton John, Lennon and Harry Nillson. For a while, I’d been wanting to try and nail that big Phil Spector wall of sound sort of vibe, but we’d still never quite pulled it off. Our last album, Manic Candid Episode, treaded around this idea, but that album ended up in a different place which was way more suited to the songs."
This time around for Bittersweet Demons, I got John Lee to mix the album here in Melbourne, Aus, and he completely nailed it! It’s probably the happiest I’ve ever been with an end product. So yeah, I owe it all to John in the end for really taking it to where it needed to go. Thanks, John!"
A favoured track is No Self Control. Psychedelic keys and a danceable spirit rise; the voice, in typical garage fashion, permits the music to take the stage yet stands confidently in its echoing glory. But the lyrics are not necessarily as sunny as the sound; partying hard and being influenced by pals catches up with the lads: "Extreme highs and horrible lows, it's overwhelming with no self-control."
"No Self Control is probably one of my favourite tracks off the album. Cook Craig wrote the music for this one, and I wrote the lyrics. Cal Shortal added in some of the best guitar harmony lines I’ve ever heard him do, again some of my most favourite moments on the song are his parts."
"The meaning behind the song’s lyrics is all in the title really. I’m singing about myself and probably a few of us in the band too. We’ve all got our own little habits that we can’t quite shake, and it doesn’t take much to bend our elbows. It’s also directed at my many friends that have the same problem, some of them are worse than others. I guess it’s more of a reminder to myself more than anything to take it easy."
Another rippling pool of sheer gratification is Skyrocket. Adore does not cover it. Touching chord progression to elation leads one to a sensual Northern Soul midnight gathering in a decadent discotheque, each and every person dancing, glowing with sweat, in a trance in our little individual worlds. The track was ready and waiting in the wings with grace; it just needed to bide its time patiently to be unveiled.
"Skyrocket and Illuminate The Shade were actually two leftover songs that were cut from our previous album session. I wanted to make the next record a lot heavier than anything we’ve ever done before. When it came time to start working on Bittersweet Demons, I decided to go the other way. When the album was almost all there, I felt like we really needed a few up-tempo/more rocking tracks to compliment all the softer ones."
"Luckily we had these two tracks ready to go. I rewrote the lyrics for Skyrocket several times before it felt right. The chord progression still gets me every time, we’ve been playing it live a little bit lately, and it still catches me by surprise."
Recorded at their friend's studio, Button Pushers in Preston in Melbourne, the sweltering, inescapable air only added to the intense richness of their output.
"Tim Dunn, who runs the studio, helped us track all the beds of the songs over two days or so. By the end of the second day, we started doing some overdubs while we were still going hot in the moment. I sang about four or five songs there? Then we did the rest of the overdubs ourselves at home. It was peak Australian summer too, so it was quite a hot and sticky period to be making an album without air conditioning."
To end our turquoise camper van journey into the stars of the night, Misinterpreted is a hands in the air, lighters-out number. Soulful verses and a reaching chorus, the song speaks of a judged existence and no change of growth, stuck. It was not destined for the end of the album but seals their vibrations, The Murlocs faithfully seeing through their intention of the entire record. "Sometimes we hit the jail right on the head."
"As it came time to make the track order, I always felt like it was a great ender. It’s definitely a standout song though as well, so I was a bit hesitant to put it at the end; after a bit of juggling around the order, it just kept fitting in best at the end. I asked Tim to write something similar to Comfort Zone as that was what I wanted to build the whole record off initially anyway, just a bunch of nice piano-based ballads. The music he wrote was perfect in that aspect, so then I began to write lyrics for it once the structure was set."
"This one is about different friends and people that I’ve met in school that have dropped off the face of the earth. Most of them are probably still dwelling in the same home town where they grew up and never left. It’s an ode to those kids that never finished school due to troubled upbringings. I tried singing it in a few different ways until I came to the conclusion to sing it in an even more laidback style than the rest of the album. It’s a big storyline that felt like a good way to wrap up the album’s context."
Prepared to be blown away by the record's magnificence, the promise of that lovable fuzzy vinyl output and, and, just maybe, a tour at some point as we reclaim our freedom to jump, hug and lose it with wild abandonment in crowded spaces once more.
"The one main thing I miss is all those happy faces and sweaty bodies crammed into a sardine can. I can’t wait to go touring and feel normal again."
Article by Beverley Knight