This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Murlocs are an Australian quintet specializing in bright-eyed, gritty, late-60s-style psychedelia with a dash of soulful garage rock. Their recently released fourth album, Manic Candid Episode is a powerful record, roaring through squealing guitars, blazing harmonica, surging rhythms, and hazy, sun-in-your-eyes grooves. Recently, I caught up with front man Ambrose Kenny-Smith as the group hauled their way up the West Coast. He was kind enough to answer just a few questions about the new material, touring, Captain Beefheart, and more.
AH: So what can you tell me about this newest record, Manic Candid Episode in terms of where it was made, production, themes, things like that?
AKS: "I think this is the first time we recorded in a proper studio; we recorded at Newmarket Studio in Melbourne. Been around since the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I’m pretty sure it still has some of the old gear, like I think the desk is Neil Young’s and things like that. I know this is a lot of history, but my father recorded a solo album there, just before I was born. So a lot of history there, it just made sense to make it there. We were just opened to lots of gear to get these good drum sounds and mics and everything; it was a real nice experience."
AH: One thing I noticed about this new music in particular was that the songs themselves, the melodies, they feel very confident, but the lyrics refer to vulnerability and have almost an uncertainty about them. Was that intentional or coincidence?
AKS: "It happens naturally. I never have too much of a concept when we’re putting albums together, we just come to play. So a lot of the time, we write together, and an idea will be somewhat fleshed out, but it’s fun to collaborate and manipulate it. Someone will change it in their own way. I think the music [on this record]…I think it is a bit more thought-out than our previous albums, maybe it changed a little more. The lyrics and stuff come from myself, and I feel pretty naïve and vulnerable sometimes, so that’s where that comes from. Pictures are painted, based around all that. I like to make a lot of songs as wake-up calls for myself, you know, reminders of things to work on and be a better person."
AH: I was reading one of your old interviews, and I saw you mention that one of your main inspirations for The Murlocs is Captain Beefheart. He’s not exactly a name you hear all the time, although he is becoming more well-known lately. What was it about his music that inspired you?
AKS: "I guess Safe as Milk is probably my favorite record of all time, in a way. I guess it’s just, when you hear that music….that’s what I always aspire to. I don’t feel I’ll ever be close to his songwriting abilities, but I liked the idea of that album, and maybe what comes out of us is that sort of thing, but more in a pop sense? I’ve always looked to him in a sense of vocal ideas. There are lots of people [that I’m inspired by], but I think he definitely is the main influence. I just like to think of people like that, and do what they did, but take a different approach."
AH: Speaking of different approaches, do you find that you end up taking any different ideas to heart when you’re playing with The Murlocs vs. when you’re playing with King Gizzard?
AKS: "It’s similar in some ways, but also very different as well. The way we put together songs in King Gizzard is a bit looser. I think The Murlocs is still in baby steps in comparison to King Gizzard. I think Cook [Craig – bass guitar] and I take a lot of help from King Gizzard to bring to this band, not only in songwriting, but out on the road and in other aspects as well."
AH: In terms of being out on the road, you’ve already hit Europe this year. You’re currently touring the US, and then it’s back home to Australia. Does anything strike you as particularly noteworthy or different about touring any one particular location or another?
AKS: "Yeah, for sure. In Australia, you have to fly to every city. Not like America, where you can stop off and play somewhere, and maybe 8-10 hours in between, lots of emptiness. It’s great fun though, lots of beautiful places. Just coming from Europe is also very different to Australia. Lots of beautiful countrysides in Europe, and we thought that was beautiful, but then we just drove through Oregon yesterday, and you see how awesome the mountain ranges are and everything there is. There are all sorts of differences, but the crowds are fairly similar to everywhere else we go, but here, the Americans always have that extra bit of fanatic in them. We’ve already received some cool presents and things like that, so it’s great fun."
The Murlocs are on tour in the US currently, with a stop at Lincoln Hall in Chicago on Saturday, April 20, complete with a pre-show record signing/hangout at Shuga Records. Details here: https://www.shugarecords.com/products/in-storeeventonlymurlocs-maniccand...
"Comfort Zone": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7phoVOFuKeQ
Don’t miss The Murlocs coming to your city!
Full tour dates here: https://www.facebook.com/themurlocs/
I do not own any of the photos used in this article. Photos courtesy of artist press release, all credit to original photographers.