Not All Who Wander Are Lost
CoC chats with Curran Murphy of Shatter Messiah
by: Jackie Smit
If every musician the world over had even half the barefaced passion for their craft that Shatter Messiah's Curran Murphy possesses, the state of the music industry would be distinctly rosier on all fronts. A perfect example of this man's exuberant attitude to his band's music rears its head early in on our conversation when I reference my favourite track their stunning new opus, _God Burns Like Flesh_, and he proceeds to recall how said tune came into being.

""Tomorrow Immortal" came from a very dark point in my life", he starts excitedly. "I was living in a single room with my entire recording studio, and all my guitars and more or less everything else I own piled up to the rafters. I was paying $250 a month in rent, and I was earning maybe 800 bucks a month working a really shitty job. I hadn't played guitar for a few weeks, and so I started up one night and I had this riff that had been banging around in my head that I started to play around. So I started adding different melodies and octaves to it and after working on the thing for a good twelve hours, I had about fifty tracks on the intro riff alone, and I just thought that it sounded like a fucking sledgehammer; something really epic and really deep."

Shatter Messiah's sophomore recording certainly kicks with all the voracity of a power tool symphony, hardly a surprise to many in Europe who have had the last two years to enjoy their blistering debut. But it begs the question as to why _Never to Play the Servant_ took almost as long to see any sort release in the band's native US.

Curran Murphy: Well, we couldn't find a label who'd return fucking phone calls, man. <laughs> What ended up happening was that our manager actually suggested we release the thing ourselves and I ended up putting the pressings of the CD on a credit card and put it out through his management label, DCA Recordings. Before that we were just holding out and not being able to understand why no one was picking it up. I mean, we're getting killer reviews all over Europe and the album is selling well over there. And it never happened. We had two offers and both of those were bullshit. One actually said that they'd put out the record and give us twelve cents a unit.

CoC: You may as well put it out online the way Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails did, in that case.

CM: I know, man. But at the end of the day, all this waiting around kind of meant that we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. Then again, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, so there's nothing one could do but learn from the experience and move on.

CoC: In the two years since you completed _Never to Play the Servant_ and took the material on tour, what did you learn during that time and how did you apply it to putting together _God Burns Like Flesh_?

CM: <pauses> I would have to say that actually just having all the guys together and going out and performing as a band has really been the biggest thing. That had a pretty big influence on the new record, because whereas with the first one everything was already done before we hit the studio and before most of the guys were even fully fledged members. So _Never to Play the Servant_ was really about how I write music totally by myself. With this one, we were able to get everyone together in a room, turn up the amps and just check out each other's ideas. So one of us would come up with a riff and everyone else would love it and we'd turn it into a song. It felt to me like a bunch of guys sweating it out and making the best fucking music that they can make. No egos, no hidden agendas. Everyone was on the same page; just trying to make the best record we can possibly make.

CoC: You mentioned last time that we spoke that you wanted future Shatter Messiah material to be more collaborative, but as a musician who's used to exercising a lot of creative control over things, is it hard for you to let go of the reins a little?

CM: Well, it's not so much letting go of the reins than it's everyone bringing in their own ideas and saying: "Hey Curran, does this cut the mustard?" And then being able to take those and refine them. A song like "Buried in Black" for example was basically a collection of four or five riffs that I felt worked together well, and I had put on the seven-string and then the five of us arranged it together and made sense of it all. So it was more a case of my including them and asking them for help; everybody throwing something in the bonfire to keep it warm. <laughs>

CoC: Looking back at _Never to Play the Servant_, we discussed a moment ago the fact that the critical response was generally very positive, but how did you personally feel about that record and the feedback from the fans when you were touring the record?

CM: The people that bought the record and ponied up their dough says it all as far as I'm concerned. The people who e-mailed me from Italy and said: "Dude, I bought your record and I love your music" -- that's the kind of reaction I love. As for playing live, we got to play with some great bands last year and on a few occasions we had guys standing side-stage who were just totally slack-jawed, and when people in other bands who I respect give me that sort of response, then I know we're doing okay. I mean, I would love it if we had been able to tour more and maybe sold a few more records. But we're building to that; we'll get there soon enough.

CoC: I'm just still astonished that you struggled as much as you did to get someone to pick up _Never to Play the Servant_ for the States. Considering some the crap that gets sent my way every month, it doesn't make much sense.

CM: Man, I have a couple of my own theories about that. I'm a paranoid dude, so I'm always worried about whether or not certain people at the labels don't like me or whatever. <laughs> The truth is that we're doing better than I thought we would, despite having certain avenues shut off to us. So in the end, those guys lose.

CoC: You were really excited about the relationship with your record label, Dockyard 1, when we first spoke. How was that worked out for you so far?

CM: Well, I'm happy in some ways and disappointed in others. But that's just because I would always be disappointed, whether we sold ten records or a million records. I think that honestly, I would have wanted to be able to work _Never to Play the Servant_ a little harder than it was. To me, everything just feels a little slow, but then again, I'm sure that they know what they're doing.

CoC: With _God Burns Like Flesh_, one immediately gets a sense that as a band you were much more comfortable with each other in the studio and much happier working together. Can you shed a little light on what the dynamic was this time round?

CM: It was a breeze. I mean, the first time I worked with Robert [Falzano, drummer] was literally after the Judas Priest tour with Annihilator. So we were both kind of nervous and wondering whether it was going to work. Same thing with Wags [vocals]; we met at my house and after about fifteen minutes he wanted to jump straight in to recording. So you jump into these potentially disastrous situations where you don't know whether the guy is going to turn out to be an asshole who you wouldn't want to work with. Thankfully that didn't happen and then after playing all these shows and spending all this time with the guys and learning how hard I could push each of them and how quick I have to work with for example Wags before he gets bored or irritated, it just becomes much easier. And they all learned how I get, because I go fucking mental about my own shit from time to time. <laughs>

CoC: If you think about it objectively, would you say that you could be a little short-tempered in the studio?

CM: Oh, all the fucking time! <laughs> I'm a fucking nightmare to deal with.

CoC: You come across as such a friendly and down-to-earth guy though!

CM: I am a friendly guy, but when I'm recording my parts I tell everyone to get the fuck out! I don't like recording when anyone is nearby because I'm afraid they're going to hear I suck. I mean, I'll spend nine to ten hours on a single rhythm guitar track, because it's not right yet. So it's a good thing I own my own studio. I get pissed off, and I yell and I scream, but it's not like it's any of the other guys that have pissed me off. I piss myself off, and I think that I should be better than what I am.

CoC: You talk about pontificating over certain parts for hours on end and this record is much more technical than your debut; is it a conscious thing where you want to push and challenge yourself as a player, or is it simply the way in which the music came out?

CM: It was really just how it came out. I never, while I was writing this stuff, thought about how complex I could make it sound. The most important criteria was whether it was a great tune, or a great riff or whatever and from time to time it would be a little more difficult to play, but that's okay too. I'd just turn the metronome on and work with it, until I got it nailed. And I think the more I did that, the better I became as a player and more I started to experiment with different ideas and techniques that I hadn't used before. I think it's just natural for every musician to push themselves as they progress from album to album.

CoC: You tend to work fairly relentlessly, and not to look too far into the future, but have you started coming up with ideas for the third album yet?

CM: Yeah, we've got eleven new tunes written. I've got some of the guys coming down in about a month's time and we'll do some pre-production on a few songs and maybe sift through some ideas together. I have about seven or eight songs that are about eighty percent done, and then I have another six or seven riffs that I think could be turned into something bigger. That's how I tend to do a lot of writing anyway. The second half of the title track to _God Burns Like Flesh_ came from a riff that I played in the band room and the rest of the guys loved it so much we turned into a full song in about fifteen minutes.

CoC: So we could see another Shatter Messiah album as early as next year?

CM: It depends. We have another five songs that are completely done; recorded, mixed, mastered -- the works. I just didn't feel that they worked with the rest of _God Burns Like Flesh_. So we might end up releasing that as an EP with some added covers and some live stuff. We're still kicking ideas around about what to do with it. I doubt that Dockyard are too keen on releasing another album just yet, since the last one has barely been out.

CoC: What are your plans for the rest of the year?

CM: Well, as I said, we'll be working on some new material. We're also looking to pull together at least one or two US tours this year and if people wants us over in Europe, I'd want to get over there as soon as possible.

CoC: Curran, it's always a pleasure. Is there anything you wanted to close off with?

CM: Dude, it's great talking to you again and with a bit of luck hopefully we'll be over in Europe sooner rather than later.

(article submitted 13/4/2008)

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