Perhaps one of the most unique bands you'll likely hear, Murmur's self-titled release here in 2014 brands them one of the more eclectic groups on an otherwise very varied roster of artists on Season of Mist. Matthias Vogels (guitars, vocals, synths), Shane Prendiville (guitars, vocals, synths), Charlie Werber (drums), and Alex Perkolup (bass, vocals) seem to have bridged the gap between US black metal, vintage progressive rock, daring jazz-fusion, and the oddity that is avant-garde, into a style that is, well, simply Murmur. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo caught up with Shane Prendiville to talk about the origins of the band, the influences that make up their unique sound, and more!
SoT: For those readers new to Murmur, can you talk a bit about how you can together back in 2007, and what the Chicago metal scene was like back in those days?
Shane: For the record, Murmur was born in Wisconsin. Matthias started the band, we had very similar music tastes and had been friends for years. We played in a band before Murmur that was short lived, but then I moved to Minneapolis in 2005. The first album, Mainlining the Lugubrious, was entirely written by him, with some help from Cory Vande Velden(original drummer), John Hill(session bass), and recorded in 2007 by our friend Howie Voigt. I helped write some bass lines and mastered the record in MPLS. In 2008, Charlie Werber(drummer of Guzzlemug along with me) joined the band and we recorded some stuff that is yet to be released. 2009, we recorded Shuttle 1(Split with Nachtmystium). Matthias was living in Chicago for years before Guzzlemug moved there in 2011. Alex Perkolup then joined the band that year. Murmurs very first show was with the current line up. So, in 2007, I was not fully aware of the metal scene in Chicago. Sorry if I disappoint.
SoT: The band now finds itself on Season of Mist, which seems to be a very good fit. How did you come into contact with the label, and were you already familiar with some of the bands on their roster?
Shane: If I have this correct, Season of Mist actually contacted Matthias. Michael Berberian was a fan of Mainlining the Lugubrious and offered a deal. The SOM guys have more than great to us. Of course the band went through some serious changes since the debut record and I don't think they expected what they got with the self-titled record, but they loved it as well, so they say, ha! To be on SOM is a great honor because, as you know, the roster is fucking insane. Athiest! Deathspell Omega! Cynic! Gorguts! Mayhem! Morbid Angel!.... Holy shit! I'm looking at the list again now I'm freaking out all over again. Many of these bands influenced us growing up. Every band that I've heard on this label is really great and innovative. So, I must say, thank you Season Of Mist, I'm plumb full of appreciation!
SoT: Murmur or often times labeled as an 'experimental black metal' act, though to these ears I hear more progressive rock, avant-garde, and even jazz in your music than black metal. How would you describe the music of Murmur to someone who has never heard you before?
Shane: Oh, you're right.... I usually say jazz-fusion avant-garde prog nonsense, blackened to taste. We all have metal roots, but also equally, if not even more so, influences of jazz, prog, noise, experimental everything. We have high regard for bands/musicians pushing into scary and sonically unlit territory, those willing to reach out and maybe even let potential "bad ideas" happen, risk being vulnerable to change and advancement of musical ideas. Now, traditionalist music is needed as well, but that's not what we're really about. We take a few steps off the beaten path and find what we find, and present it for those willing to listen, for better or for worse.
SoT: The latest self-titled release has a strong appeal to the prog community, and I made references to King Crimson often in my review. How much do some of the vintage prog acts influence your style (if at all) specifically on the songs from the new album?
Shane: My Fat God! Yeah, the old prog is huge for us. King Crimson, Magma, This Heat, Art Bears, Zappa, Yes, Pink Floyd, Camel, Chick Corea, Mahavishnu Orchestra, on & on & on...... there isn't much of that stuff that we cringe at. Alex writes in the style of Zeuhl quite often, Matthias loves Chick Corea, I pull from voices like Floyd and Black Sabbath. Its all a mixed bag really, I think our influences of prog are strongly apparent and we pull from everything! There's also a lot of jazz and classical (avant-garde and all), along with metal of varying sorts all blended into some kind of intertwining mess that tends to sound good to us.
SoT: To add more to the King Crimson topic, you did a cover of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" on the new album, which came out quite good. How much fun was it to tackle that, and are there any thoughts to covering other vintage prog classics on future releases?
Shane: Well, thank you. It was really fun, we've all been listening to that song for years and to play and record it was quite rewarding. We down-tuned to add slightly more ugliness, but the structure is fairly the same. The solo part is chaotic and bit overwhelming at times, like it should be, I suppose. I do believe we're going to keep doing covers. Its just a good time and you can turn someone on to some great new music that they can dive into.
SoT: Do you follow the US black metal scene at all, and if so, are there any particular bands that have intrigued you, say, over the last 10 years or so?
Shane: I really like the Lurker of Chalice record and Leviathan in general. Matthias was deeply into Xasthur for quite some time. Forgive me for being out of the loop of this scene. I know there are some great bands out there that play some great shit, but I'm coming up blank on any bands that really get my attention, mainly because I'm not looking. Truthfully, the rest of the band is in this boat. Most of my black metal influences come from the non-American classics. I was lucky enough to have been shown the likes of Emperor, Enslaved, Immortal, Darkthrone, Burzum and the like around 1993 or so(during all those infamous stories that became legend) . I remember thinking, "This shit is terrible, why are they doing this? This isn't what death metal sounds like!", then I couldn't stop listening to it.
SoT: Extreme metal has come a long way over the last 20 years, with many of the younger band who are drawing a lot of interest these days taking their music into more adventurous, progressive territory. What do you think the appeal is among a growing fan base who crave music that is more complex as opposed to just straight forward brutality?
Shane: It all comes in waves. Prog broadened the pop rock of the time, making more adventurous journeys into music, like symphony composers have done for centuries. Then punk came and puked on prog because people wanted the simple rawness again, showing that music is for everyone. Then metal started really coming to life in the 80s based off both these concepts of raw anger and more precise musicianship. Then grunge came and cleaned the mascara off the stage, then mascara came back in the 2000s and... blahhhh! Complex music has been around before we had presidents in this country. If we are in the wave of complex/heady music trending, it'll be just time again before frustration takes back over to call for simple song writing again; if the music seems unobtainable due some insecurity about ones musicianship then the concept of progressive/thought-driven music becomes, to some, "pretentious". Of course, insecurity in some players brings them to need to show-off, which can be fun, but a little sad, no?
Both the styles are valid, will always be with us, and pleasing to those of us who are paying attention to which ever style they prefer or, hopefully, both. The key, for me, is balance. I'm not even sure what the trend is right now, if more kids are looking towards the complex and progressive side of sound, then that's good for Murmur. But I like to think we walk somewhere in between. I know our music can be demanding to listen to, but I really don't think you have to be well versed in music to open yourself to the emotion and story we're trying to tell. Charlie, Alex, and I also walk this fine line quite often in our other bands, Guzzlemug and Lovely Little Girls; the concept of technical parlor tricks vs real emotional relevance, this philosophy is a struggle at times. People are prone to label the sound and compartmentalize what they're hearing, we all do this. All our band is trying to do is bring us, and anyone who wants to walk with us, on some kind of auditory tour of the lesser known experiences of the human condition. We use what tools are available to accomplish something we find to be exciting and new for us.
SoT: The band uses some vintage Moog on the new album, and I almost expect on your follow-up that you might dig up an old Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, or Mellotron. How important is it to inject some vintage sounds into your often times pummeling attack?
Shane: Importance based on convenience, really. We own 2 moogs in the band. We recorded at Wall to Wall studios here in Chicago and they had upright pianos and a Rhodes which are all over on the record. Matthias plays most of the keys, but an intern, Paul Weirdak, played on some of the tracks because he's a better keyboard player than any of us. He plays the Rhode solos on the acoustic track, "Recuerdos", thanks Paul! They also had a Mellotron! Which did not make it on the record to which I still sorely regret. A fantastic machine, I still played the hell out of it when I could. All in all, I figure we use what is available and not fret about what is not there. Its pretty amazing what you can do when restrained to only a few options, you're imagination and ingenuity must come alive and then the real magic shit happens. But, of course, having access to all those instruments and other musicians is real treat and we took advantage of that.
SoT: There is some great artwork adorning your latest release-can you talk a bit about the concept of the art and who created it for you?
Shane: Thanks again! Matthias painted the covers for all 3 releases. The concept on the self-titled is based on ancient Greece and some of the tracks on the record. Ideas like the Minotaur, Moloch, and Zeta II Reticuli (space!).....
SoT: Does the band play many live shows, in the Chicago area or across the rest of the US?
Shane: Right after the record came out in January, we played a slew of shows including opening for Carcass and Gorguts (thanks again SOM!). Summer came, we weren't all living in Chicago, so shows came to a halt. Unfortunately, we haven't really toured yet, just some out of town shows. But we plan to coming in 2015.
SoT: Now that 'Murmur' is going on nearly a year since it's release, what's next in store for the band?
Shane: Writing! Getting back out to play live and record some more noise with the next half year. Like I said earlier, we'll most likely do another cover and explore some new interesting and, hopefully, slightly terrifying territory. Whatever we find out there, its not going to be boring.
(Click here to read our review of Murmur )