Interview by Tom Charlier from Prog-Resiste

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In August Stef got interviewed by Tom Charlier from Prog-Résiste, thé Belgian magazine of progressive rock. Prog-résiste is a Belgian “Non Profit Making Association” having the aim to promote the Progressive Rock in Belgium, in other French-speaking countries and all around the world if possible. To do this they publish (in French only) a quarterly, professionally printed 132 pages magazine. The magazine comes with a sampler of interviewed artists + those whose albums are elected as essentials of the quarter.

Our track on the sampler is ‘Elena’.

It’s is not only an honor to get exposure in Prog Résiste, it was also a fun interview, great questions and a nutty interviewer. Many thanks for that Tom!

How did the idea for your band came around ? Who were the instigators and what was/is your aim(s), if I may say so ?

Creating the band was the idea of my wife Yolanda. I had a number of songs I recorded, and she convinced me to do something with it. Not just post them on music platforms, but to go live with them. So we decided to search musicians and start a band. The aim was to get so filthy rich we could demand for dwarfs on giraffes to entertain us backstage and drive limo’s out of pools (into pools was already done), but rather quick we found out we weren’t living in the 70’s anymore. We adjusted the aim a tiny bit. We’re musicians in the first place, we put our heart and soul in a song to get recognition and appreciation from real music lovers. That is what really counts. The audience we aim for are people who are aware that there is a bit of a quality gap between let’s say, Focus and Kanye West. When you get positive feedback from those listeners, it feels damn good! For me as silly Belgian it was unthinkable that folks from Mexico or South Africa to name few, would ever hear our music. Saying this, big thanks to all dj’s that give us airplay, and to all our fans and friends for spreading the word!

To my ears, Murky Red is a striking new melting of sounds : the hypnotic/smokey late-60s vibe, the psychedelic fury of 70s rock, be it the dark poetry of The Doors, more incantatory ceremonials touches/soundscapes and a sprinkling of heavy stoner atmospheres… It evokes to me a handful of mystical groups like the The Velvet Underground, Swans of The Stooges… On another hand, I am reminded of bands like Atomic Rooster, Blue Öyster Cult, and Nazareth, part of the so-called “classic hard rock” scene that was quite innovative, open and progressive in its own way. Can you list some of your influences and/or reference points for this project ?

Underground, Stooges and Swans weren’t on the list of ingredients, but all the rest is correct. First of all, I love the ‘uncompressed sound’ from the 60’s and 70′. A snare drum sounded like a snare drum, and not like some idiot smashing a woman’s purse on the plastic seat of a mobile toilet. Colin Tench (Corvus Stone, CTP, Bunchakeze …) understands our music so well and gives it that natural sound in his mixing. We’re always happy when he has the time to mix and master our albums.

Musically we are mostly inspired by classic rock and prog, but also blues, stoner, and a sniff of thrash metal. I love rhythm sections like Geezer Butler/Bill Ward and Roger Glover/Ian Paice. When I need a bass-line, I start with: ‘what would Geezer do?’
But sometimes Murky Red tracks end up as some kind of tribute to a certain band or song.
‘Wild Flower’ is inspired on ‘Bird of Paradise’ from Snowy White. Probably not on first sight, but some elements and the guitar leads reflect to Bird.
‘Bad wolf of the pack’ starts Floydian and the up-tempo ending has the feel of ‘Don’t fear the reaper’ from B.O.C.
‘Stoned & horny’ is our humble Doors-tribute with a little Led Zeppelin interruption. To play safe I avoided all Morrison-poetry and narrated the manual of the song during the stoned part.
‘Mermaids’ has some Manzarek/Krieger inspired parts.
Black Sabbath and Dire Straits are also often in the neighborhood.

Do you have any desert island discs to recommend to us ?

Anything from Frank Zappa or The Muppet Show to stay happy. ‘Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do’ – Hawkwind, in case the island provides the right herbs and/or toads. Anything from Pink Floyd to stay mentally sane. ‘Reign in Blood’ – Slayer, for bad hair days.

Can you tell us a bit about the conception and recording of your last album, No Pocus Without Hocus ?

I can’t tell anything about the conception, maybe young kids are reading this. We did all recordings ourselves in my very humble home studio. It was hard to get all members together at the same time, so we did it bit by bit. It was a long process but in the end it was worth the effort. Colin Tench recorded his guitar parts on ‘Collateral Damage’ in Sweden.

While collecting info on Murky Red and experiencing your songs for the first time, what struck me immediately is the cardinal/prominent place of humor in your music, especially in the lyrics ? Did you keep an eye close to what Zappa was doing with his parodic stance and total mixing of styles, and the self-critical posture of Canterbury bands like Egg, Gong and the early Soft Machine with Robert Wyatt ? Any extramusical inspirations for this ? (I am particularly fond of the “problems to get back to the first part of the song” bit and the quite Zappaesque Mermaid)

I learned from Zappa that everything is possible, music- and lyric-wise. I’m also a big Monty Python fan. So for me it doesn’t have to be too serious all the time. Using music to preach and complain is not my thing. I prefer to make up stories that don’t make sense instead of singing about killing myself because of a third nipple. But it’s not comedy all the time, it’s mostly about love and daily life. Sometimes a struggle, sometimes wonderful. Wrapped in mystery-paper.

I love the bands you name. I probably absorb a lot of influences without realizing it.

‘Problem is to get back to the first part of the song': yeah, the ‘manual’ is a very silly thing. I thought it might be handy. And it’s a thing that happens a lot during songwriting. Sometimes the bridge gets out of control and at some point you realize you have to bring it home in a way it still makes sense, musically.

Any future plans and/or touring schedule for 2016 ?

Sadly not. Patrick en Luk (guitar and bass) left the band because of lack of time. Because it’s so hard to find musicians in our area, we decided to go further as a studio project with the remaining members. It’s a common thing these days. Maybe in the future we’ll go live again with some hired guns or new members. We’ll see when it starts to itch. First now comes songwriting for album 3.

I sense a Pink Floyd/Gilmour/Camel influence on most of the album’s cuts…something from the school of slower, lyrical, economical and more thoughtful guitar and organ solos. Is it an approach you defend ?

Yes! Gilmour is a huge influence for me as guitar player. I learned from him to pay attention to tiny details and to stay in service of the song. Also Mark Knopfler. For me he’s a style on his own. Discovering Sultans of Swing as a young kid was a revelation. And of course Krieger, Hendrix, Iommi, Blackmore, Page … you can learn so much by listening to these guys. Also a breed apart is Jan Akkerman.

What is the impact of different forms of folk & ethnic music – I’m thinking more precisely of indian raga, arabic and celtic folk – on Murky Red’s sound ?

Hard question. I never thought about it actually. I think it just happens. Sometimes it feels as if the song asks for it during songwriting. ‘She’s crying diamonds’ is build up around a few piano chords and an Indian-beat. It was enough to give it a desolate and lonesome feel. Replace the Indian beat with a steady rhythm and the whole atmosphere will collapse.

One last question : I like the freedom in your sounds, that seems to dissipate the boundaries between written & improvised sections, particularly on a multipart track like closer Elena. Does it reflect something in your writing process ? Is it a more or less collective affair ?

We always had a shortage of rehearsing-time which made collective songwriting impossible. I recorded demos of all tracks I wrote, so the band could hear immediately what I had in mind. The selection of the tracks was a band decision and the fine tuning happened during rehearsals.

Elena is actually a track that wasn’t written for Murky Red. When I write for Murky, I am bound to the number of band members to perform it on stage. To bring ‘Elena’ live, we would need at least 2 more keyboard players and a bunch of extra guitarists to give it the same energy as the recording. This track belongs to my solo work but Yolanda insisted to add it to ‘No Pocus Without Hocus’ because the album needed an epic last track. I had my doubts about it but she was right. Again. She’ll love to read this.

My solo work has a different approach. Because it’s not meant to perform live, the writing process has no limitations. If I want to use 5 keyboard or guitar layers, I just do it. I write songs by recording them. That’s how it builds up until a song is ready. It’s a fun thing, switching from guitar to bass, program some drums, play keys over it, record, erase, re-record … it’s my musical playground. I allow myself complete freedom for my solo stuff. These tracks are usually too weird for Murky Red in the end. Also the lyrics are more overall silly. But ‘Elena’ is a track that also fits on a Murky Red album. The plan is to release my solo album in the future. Obviously, it makes no sense to release it in the past.

That aside, I would like to personally thank you for injecting some unquestionable freshness and humour into Progressive Rock!

Thank you so much for the great comment. This makes me very proud, and is exactly what I mean with our aim. Way better than giraffes!

Take care, all the best to you!

Stef

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