Q&A: Murdocks

Indies and The Underground managed to catch up with Murdocks frontman Franklin Morris, currently busy promoting the band's latest release Distortionist, to talk about musical influences, live shows, songwriting, religion and taking over the world.

How did you come up with the name Murdocks and how did the band get its start?

One of my biggest regrets surrounding the name of this band is that there is no good explanation for it.  When we were brainstorming names, this seemed to be the one that everyone hated the least, so it stuck.  Isn't democracy grand?!

What were your musical influences growing up?

I imagine that would be different for each of us.  The first band I ever loved was REM.  I went out and bought all of their tapes (to show my age) and played them until they warped.  When the 90's rolled around, I got hooked on Nirvana and, by way of them, punk. [Bands like] old 80's American Stuff like Minor Threat, Black Flag, Misfits, and so on.

Did anything outside of music (films, poetry, art etc.) have a big impact on the band?
Not so much on the band itself, but I became really into the films of Ingmar Bergman while I was writing Distortionist.

I read his book, The Magic Lantern, and his concept of what art is, and where music and film fits into the spectrum of the arts, really stuck with me. I also found his pseudo-existentialism really appealing, and a lot of that trickled into the songs on this album.

What was the band’s very first show like?

I got so drunk I had to sit down on the side of the stage.  It was at a country bar here in Austin, and they kicked us out after 4 songs because we wouldn't turn down.  We actually played there again recently (it is more of a rock club now).

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened during a performance, either onstage or in the audience?A super-fan once gave birth in the bathroom at a Murdocks show.  Actually I just made that up.  Most of our good tour stories revolve around seedy motels and run-ins with various small-town texas Cops.  I am saving all of those for my memoirs, however.

In what ways is Distortionist different than your debut SurrenderEnder?

I think the songwriting is a lot more mature. That doesn't mean wussy, this is both the heaviest and poppiest album we have released.  Surrenderender is much more of a garagey punk album--the sound wasn't necessarily as focused, whereas on Distortionist it is.  Lyrical content is pretty different as well.  Surrendrender was a really personal story-album in many ways.  Distortionist has some of that, but for the most part it deals in shades of moods and emotions, rather than well defined narratives.

A few songs off Distortionist, such as “Die Together,” and “Lords,” contain religious imagery, as well as the video for “Black Jesus Knocking.” What impact has religion had on the band both as individual members and as a whole?

Zero.  I am pretty sure we are all hell-bound non-believers, though religion isn't anything we discuss.  I grew up with non-religious parents, who threw me into a Catholic high school.  Needless to say, it was quite a shock, and I don't think my view of religion ever quite recovered.

The religious imagery, or anti-religious, is a combination of already deep-seated distaste for religion combined with the pile of books I had been reading by [Richard] Dawkins, [Christopher] Hitchens, [Sam] Harris and so on, combined with the atmosphere at the time the album was written. Most of these songs were written during the Bush administration.

The band’s sound is harsh and gritty, but is also very melodic and has mainstream appeal. Why have you chosen to shun major label offers?

We have been on "dates" with pretty much all the majors and they all fell apart for various reasons.  Several times, they shunned us.  The one you are thinking of wanted to put us with a ghost writer to write our songs for us; get to the chorus faster and all that nonsense.

This was before Surrenderender came out, and we were young and figured we would have offers like that a lot in the future.  While those offers have dried up, it hasn't really effected our ability to make music.  I think we would be in much worse shape today if we had taken the offer.

What plans does the band have coming up in the immediate future?
Take over the WORLD!  Play shows, write more.  I really want to start recording more impromptu one-camera-in-the-room type YouTube videos, as those are always fun and seem to go over well with fans.

Q&A: Greenhorse

Greenhorse have been sparking a buzz among fans and critics since the release of last year's Transcontinental EP. The duo, made up of high school friends Chris Hackman and Shawn Day, is currently writing songs for their follow-up to talk to about musical influences, dream collaborations and explaining what "post-pop" means.

How did you come up with the name Greenhorse?

In a way, it was inspired by the film Broken Flowers. We wanted to create an image that symbolizes rebirth and hard work. And we wanted something simple and clean.

What were your early musical influences?

Shawn: As early as 16 I loved the Smashing Pumpkins. When I moved out to London, the first band that inspired me was Arcade Fire. Hmm… We recently got referenced to the band "Suicide", and I thought that was pretty interesting.

Chris: I'd rather not tell you what I was listening to early on… Some of my influences from medium-on include Radiohead, Primus and The Crystal Method.

What was the first album you bought?

Shawn: Guns N Roses, Appetite for Destruction

Chris: Live, Throwing Copper - we recently recorded with the engineer from that album and it was an amazing experience to come full circle like that.

What artists/producer are you currently listening to, and which ones would you like to work with?

We really love the work that Bloodshy and Avant are doing right now; We love the last Mike Snow album. Ideally, we'd want Trent Reznor to produce our first full length album.

How does the songwriting and music production process work?

One of us will start an idea and bounce it over to the other. We'll kick it back and forth until it's listenable. Now that we've been writing for awhile, a lot of our songs are inspired by shared experiences. For example, we recently recorded several new songs inside a cave in Wyoming.

What kind of musical sound can fans expect from your upcoming EP?

Post-pop. It's a sound we've been carving out for the last year. It's got the emotional weight and musical depth of classic pop, but with greater immediacy. You're not going to know whether to dance or just stand back and listen.

Q&A: Unicorn Kid

It's been a busy year for Unicorn Kid. The Scotland teen spent much of 2010 remixing tracks for the likes of Gorillaz and the Pet Shop Boys, and rocking out at festivals with his unique brand of dub step-influenced chiptune. Indies and The Underground managed to catch up with the Kid to talk unicorns, production techniques, the inspiration behind the "Dream Catcher" video and using Gameboys as instruments.

How did you come with the name Unicorn Kid?
I was 16 when I first came up with the name, I think I was just heavy into unicorns at the time, the name has totally lost all meaning to me now.

What were your early musical influences? 
Even since I was really young I've listened to so much music across a broad spectrum of genres, I don't really think any of it has ever directly influenced my music as such, I've always tried to stay focused on my own idea and separate it from my listening habits. Sometimes I go through week long phases of only listening to one type of music, my tastes vary so much that if I didn't keep that separate that from my own music then it would probably all come out a mess. That being said I do listen to a lot of early video game sound tracks and a lot of chip music, I get a lot of rhythmic and textural inspiration from there.

When did you begin producing/making beats? 
I first began messing around with electronic music when I was 14, I got hold of this Casio VL-1 keyboard and would spend hours layering different drum patterns and melodies to make songs. I then started to experiment with circuit bent toys and through researching that found out about the 8-bit/chip music scene. 

You done a couple of remixes for Pet Shop Boys and The Gorillaz. What other artists would you like to collaborate with? 
I've been working with a few artists to add vocals on some tracks, I'm thrilled with everybody I'm lucky enough to be working with, although I don't think I can say whom yet. 

The video for "Dream Catcher" is, for lack of a better word, very dreamlike. What was the visual inspiration for the video? 
I came across this guy called Alan Jensen on Vimeo, he's my age and had been making these beautiful rich videos for songs that he liked, I found his email and contacted him about working on a video for me. Alan is based in the US so a friend and I had to shoot some of the footage for the video down at the beach then send it over to him, from there Alan mixed it with footage of his own then edited and coloured it all. The idea behind the video was to create something abstract, like something found on a sun-damaged VHS tape. 

You were enrolled in an art school in Edinburgh before deciding to pursue music full time. Have any artists or graphic designers had an influence on your visual style (i.e. album artwork, etc.)? 
Lately I've been taking a lot of inspiration from sports-based NES games like T&C Surf Designs and California Games, as well as 1980s teen movies like Thrashin' and Teen Witch. I've been basing all my current artwork around that nostalgic 1980s summer/beach aesthetic and displaying it in a pixel art/video game art context. I'm a big fan of artists such as Laura Brothers, Paul B Davis and Videogramo, I wouldn't say that there is any immediate influence there but I am fascinated by the raw digital nature of their work.

Being that your music is so digitized/electronic-based, is it hard to translate the sound into a live setting?

I think people's concept of what constitutes 'live music' is changing and the live performance of solely electronic music is perhaps becoming more widely accepted. Playing between guitar-based acts can be awkward sometimes, but if I'm doing a headline show then the crowd know what they are in for and are generally up for it, I just try to create as energetic an atmosphere as possible. 

What kind of sound your fans expect from your full-length album? 
I have spent most of the past year at home now and the things I have released during that time are quite different from the tracks I am working on for my album. I've been working with a bunch of different vocalists, they're all artists that I'm a huge fan of and I'm excited to get some of the vocal material out there, it's quite 'pop' I guess, and still stays true to my sound but is a lot more refined and well thought out than anything I've produced before. I've been trying to keep the musical and visual side of the project coherent so I guess you could say the artwork reflects how 'sunny' some of the new music is. 

Do you plan on adding vocals or guitars, keyboards and other instruments? 
Yeah, there are vocals on around half the album tracks. The only real hardware I've used on the new material is a Game Boy, everything else is computer generated. 

What are your upcoming plans? 
I'm working on finishing the album and working it into a new live set for the spring. I'm also working on a pixel art zine to coincide with the release of my first single from the album, it will contain pixel art based on the album's imagery and aesthetic, following a loose plot line about a teen girl who has fallen in love with a skateboarder from The Valley. 

Q&A: And The Wiremen

New York-based band And The Wiremen may hail from the Big Apple, but their haunting sound--marked by jazzy horns and bluesy guitars--sounds like the result of many a night spent in New Orleans, barhopping through Canal Street. Indies and the Underground tracked the Wiremen, composed primarily of quintet John, Paul, Tony, Eric and front man/vocalist Lynn Wright, down to talk favorite authors, improvisation and the influence of the Big Easy.

Where did the name And The Wiremen come from?

ATW: And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Our Dead was taken.

What were your early musical influences?

ATW:There is about a 25 year age difference between the oldest and youngest member of the band, so one member’s early influences are in some cases other member’s early bands.

We were all at one point or another influenced by free jazz, blues, R&B, left-of-the-arena rock, dub, and, of course, Miles Davis – anything and everything – though the more recent influences of West African and Colombian music had as much or more of an impact on the album than anything we listened to early on.

Lynn: Paul and I were influenced by church hymns – the rich sound of the chords, the piano, and the almost overdriven organ – before we were even old enough to know what the words were or why people were singing them. I hear this in the vocal arrangements of “Lines” and “Pick Myself up Slowly”, but it wasn’t intentional.

Like a lot of songwriters and producers I know, I would have never written a song or made a record had I not heard Swordfish Trombones by Tom Waits.

Have any other forms of art (books, films, paintings, photography etc.) influenced you?

ATW: We have all been influenced by other art forms, primarily through collaboration with choreographers, dancers, filmmakers, and installation artists. Of course, there is a long list of people whose work has inspired us, and to avoid writing a very boring treatise on the interrelation of art forms in the 21st century, we'll just name a few.

When Lynn was writing the lyrics for the album he was reading a lot of Faulkner and Cortazar, which crept into the lyrics here and there. Surrealism with the exception of Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Robert Gober, Emmet Gowin, Kara Walker, Rothko, Antonioni, Flannery O'Connor, Faulkner, Quim Monzó… Mark Richard... Rachel Cohen, Douglas Henderson, Chris Becker.

Jon: I remember when Lynn and I met at the early Bee and Flower rehearsals (and before I realized that he was a guitarist that I already admired in his former band that I loved "James Hall"), we found that we shared an admiration for William Faulkner and a strong distaste for the music of Styx.

What artists/producers, either alive or dead, would you like or would have liked to collaborate with? Why?

Lynn: Off the top of my head, I would say Ornette Coleman, Juana Molina, Tony's studio partner Joel Hamilton

ATW: Tom Waits, Tom Cora, Don Cherry...

A couple of your songs, like "Sleep" and "Sharpen" have a southern gothic sound similar to that of New Orleans music. Have you ever taken a trip to the Big Easy, and if so, how has the city influenced your sound?

Jon: Although we didn't know each other at the time, (though it's quite possible that we passed each other at some point in a French Quarter saloon), Lynn and I were both residents of New Orleans in the early/mid 90's. I think that the ease with which we've been able to collaborate musically for the past decade has its roots in our mutual love for that city, its history, vibe, music and people.

Lynn: Brass band music had a heavy influence on me as well as the music of the Mardi Gras Indians. Early Jazz... If you are a cornet player as Paul is there are the ghosts of Buddy Bolden, Armstrong, Freddie Keppard, and King Oliver that you must deal with. For the most part the influence came from the people I met there, most of whom I still work with, or it was abstract – images I carry with me like photographs that have become more distorted the longer I've been away. A lot of this album grew out of those distorted images, an idea of South more than actual the South, which is always more interesting to me than a precise retelling of this or that event.

How does the band's creative process usually work?

Lynn: I write and arrange the music. We develop it through improvisation.

Jon and Paul: Lynn writes us into the music. He never writes something for you that would sound better if someone else played it. We take it from there, and it goes where it goes.

Does having a 14-member band make composition and songwriting difficult?

ATW: 14 is the number of people that played or recorded with the band. There is a core of 4 or 5, every one else comes and goes. The rotating line-up keeps it interesting.

Q&A: Neon Hitch

Most stars find it tough to deal with touring. The instability of waking up in a new city everyday and the inevitable feelings of homesickness can break down even the biggest rock gods. Luckily dance-pop diva in training Neon Hitch will be well-prepared for such scenarios. The London-born singer grew up as part of caravan of street peformers, traveling all over the English countryside and lived in India for a few years before deciding on a singing career.

Since then she's racked up collaborations with Ke$ha and Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo, opened for 50 Cent and created a Twitter sensation with her cover of Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot." Neon Hitch talks with Indies And The Underground about her favorite rappers, eating fire and swimming with crocodiles. And yes that is her real name.

How did growing up as a traveling street performer influence you as a person and as an artist/performer?

NH: It kind of taught me everything I need to know to be on stage now, so it just comes naturally.

Along with being a singer, you're also a trapeze artist, stilt walker and fire swinger. Will you be making use of these talents in live performances?

NH: Soon as I have the budget I will definitely be swinging off the roof and eating fire.

You also make your own clothes. Who and/or what influences your design ideas?

NH: My mum!

At 16 you ran off to India to "find your place in the world." How did your parents react?

NH: I was a rebel so it really didn't matter to me at the time what my parents thought. I'm sure they were worried and I'm very sorry now. But everything I've been through made me who I am.

What sorts of activities did you get involved in while you were in India?

NH: Making jewelry, riding elephants, [and] swimming with crocodiles. But the most fulfilling thing was getting to look after the young children out there.

How does living in New York stack up to your previous residences?

NH: It's the complete polar opposite of anything I've done before, but I finally feel at home so I can't complain.

Has living such a nomadic life put a damper on romantic relationships and friendships?

NH: Haha, yes. I like my freedom.

You've done covers of songs like "Cooler Than Me" and more surprisingly, "Drop It Like It's Hot. " What inspired you to remake Snoop's song?

NH: I'm a big fan of Snoop and I think when you do a cover, you should make it your own and not sound like the original artist. And although I'd love to, I don't sound so much like a west coast rapper.

You've also opened for 50 Cent a few years back. Do you have any other favorite rappers?

NH: Yeah that was amazing! I think Eminem is probably one of the best rappers alive. I like people who let you into their world instead of just rapping about cars and bitches.

What other artists have influenced you musically, visually etc.?

NH: Bjork, sia, micheal jackson, the beatles, madonna, erykah badu...

You've written songs for and worked with artists like Ke$ha, 3OH!3 and Bruno Mars. Is it hard letting other people sing your songs?

NH:  I love it! it's so surreal.

What was it like to work with Rivers Cuomo?

NH: He's definitely a character! He's such a legend and he really knows what he's talking about.

What is your creative process like when it comes to songwriting and working with producers?

NH: It's always different, but mostly I'll hear a basic beat and then start coming up with melodies and build around that. If you have a good melody, lyrics come easy.

What can we expect from Beg, Borrow and Steal, musically and lyrically?

NH: A world where you're all welcome.

B. Slade: The Interview

Since breaking away from the gospel music industry a few years back, B. Slade has revamped his career with a new persona and a prolific output of fresh material. From the A Brilliant Catastrophe series to the Jack5on Magic Mixtape to his latest full lengths Stereotype and Gospop, the singer seems determined to carve out his own singular corner in music.

In a wide-ranging interview, B. Slade talks about everything--from  preparing to play late disco icon Sylvester and the enduring magic of the Jacksons to the slightly scary influence of David Bowie and Grace Jones. The singer also sounds off organized religion, closeted gospel artists, suicide among gay teens, being a role model and why Patti Labelle is "beyond beast." Here are few quotes from the interview:

On the Seventies-inspired sound of Stereotype:

"The Seventies to me was quite frankly the best music...there was something that was little bit more intrinsic about the Seventies. The chord structure, the changes, the heart, the lyrical content. You really had to have raw talent. You really had to have a perspective."

On disco icon Sylvester:

"He was a nonconformist. And he was fabulous in everything he did."

On the Jac5son Magic Mixtape and Janet & Michael:

"Michael of course was the epicenter of that whole family earthquake, but the aftershock, literally was Janet. They've had a major influence. Certain songs were more for Mike. But my allegiance and my biggest artistic influence as an artist has been Janet Jackson. Hands down."

On whether other gospel artists will come out:

"There are not many cut out to do what I did. A lot of people's complete career is built off of a perception, or an's not for everyone."

On the current state of the black church:

"People are starting to see that the leaders of these religions are just as fallible, if not more, than its subjects. Now because of current events, things keep popping up that are forcing the black church to deal with issues that have been very prominent all along. I'm really interested to see how this is all going to play out."

On being an openly gay artist in the music industry:

"I think the majority of the people in the industry respect truth. As maniacal as the music industry can be, they can't fuck with the truth."

Update: All of B. Slade's commercial releases--The Jack5on Magic Mixtape, Gospop and Stereotype--have been removed from the singer's bandcamp page. According to an official website statement:

"To welcome in 2011, B.Slade is currently in a MAJOR career transition and wishes to thank everyone for their support and interest. Summer of 2011 will reveal exciting news & informtation. As of now B.Slade is focusing on his acting career & international securities. STAY TUNED."

For those who need a hit of B. Slade before then, the singer has released a new single called "Kaleidoscope," which is available on his bandcamp page. Listen to all three parts of the interview below:

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