On the Record, with Sean Murray

Sean Murray on his album, music, and more ...

Recently released to much buzz, thanks in part to an all-star roster too long to list (but including everyone from Wallace Hammond to Natasha Blackwood), Sean Murray’s Out of Nowhere came out of nowhere this spring, and showcases impressive range in its big, bluesy classic rock throwback sound. 

How does one collect such a solid backing band?

Through a series of extraordinary & fortunate coincidences.

If I made you pick a favourite song off the album, which would you pick? Any reason why?

Probably Hardcore Skeet – it’s a good rocking tune, and I love Wallace Hammond’s lead guitar and noise. I’m also really pleased with Andrew McCarthy’s heavy rock drumming and Natasha Blackwood’s sax. It’s a tribute to old school St. John’s punk rock (ie, late 70s and 80s), but with my own stamp on it.

[kad_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SqBKPZ9-G8″ ]

And if I let you pick another favourite?

New York City. It’s the first track, and I chose it as the first because it is kind of the centre of the album musically. It’s not a hard rocker like Hardcore Skeet, but it has a bit of funkiness, a bit of groove, it’s got the horns in there, etc. In terms of the origin of the song, before the internet was a thing (yes Gramps), I used to read the Village Voice newspaper at my university library in Nova Scotia, which is a newspaper centred in Greenwich Village, New York. I’ve still never been to New York, but I created a lyrical and musical tableau of me or someone like me but cooler living this mysterious and exciting life as a striving musician in New York.

Is there a song on here that’s a little different for you, or that you questioned including?

Flipside of the Single. That tune along with To the Few are the two folky tunes on there. I never questioned including it, because I think it’s a decent tune, and I set out to write a country/folky tune along those lines. I was at one point going to try to do a country album, but I couldn’t keep out the rock and roll, and rock and blues eventually took over.  I can’t stick with one genre. The one thing about Flipside is that it hasn’t translated well to the band setting, which is a rock band playing to a rock audience, so I haven’t been performing it live. It really needs a different treatment, with different instrumentation, such as Dave Panting and Geoff Panting provided on the album.

Which one of these songs came out the hardest, or was the longest in the crafting? Why?

I had the verse chord progression for Hardcore Skeet for many years, and I’ve never heard that combination of chords before. It’s possible that it might be considered “wrong” in some way, but the song is about skeets who are “wrong” somehow, so it’s meant to be jarring and it works for me. I came up with the chorus chord progression and lyrics a few years ago when I first thought about doing this album. Both parts of the song came out easily but separated by many years.

Share a random fact about one of your songs on this album, or the album itself.

Everyone knows that there is an art to writing a song and an art to performing a song, but I learned through this process that there is also an art to producing, recording, and mixing a song.

Name one influence on your approach to songwriting – whether it be a musician or a goal you have in crafting a song.

I heard Amelia Curran on CBC Radio 2 talk about writing lyrics, and I think she’s a fantastic lyricist and poet, really, and her new stuff is her best yet. A lot of my lyrics are tossed off, but some are more carefully thought out. I would aspire to be more careful and particular about my lyrics. I write very few songs, but I throw away many song ideas and lyrics because they don’t meet my standards, such as they are. I should probably write more but also be more selective about what I keep.

How about a local band you’re impressed with?

Kujo – anything Victor Lewis is doing. I also really dig Pete Mills (Slick Nixon, Delusion Victims) and Illia Nichol. I also like a lot of the music happening at the Black Sheep these days.

And if I lit your album collection on fire, what’s one album you’d think to save first?

I’m sorry, you’re lighting my albums on fire? We can’t be friends. At all. Assuming we’re talking about vinyl, I don’t have a massive album collection, but I do have a nice few records which you don’t see many copies of, so I’d be grabbing those. Then you and I would have words.

There are many ways to evaluate a song. But for you, what’s one trait that makes a great song a great song? Name a song you love that fits that bill.

“Chords of Fame” by Phil Ochs

I offer my opinion with the caveat that I’m quite far down the list of accomplished songwriters around here, so not really qualified to answer, but here goes anyway. There’s a great song by Phil Ochs called “Chords of Fame”, and it’s all about what happens when you dedicate yourself to writing formulaic songs for fame and glory (spoiler alert – it’s not good). At the same time, your song has to have some appeal (a hook, a melody, a rhythm) otherwise no one will like it and you may as well keep it to yourself. If it’s too cloying and you stick too much to formulas, I see that as more of a business plan than a creative endeavour, and it doesn’t interest me. So, you’ve got to please yourself, you’ve got to write the song that YOU want to write the way you want to write it, and for me, the song will be whatever genre it needs to be.

Other than music, name something else you love. 

Good urban planning.

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