Interview: Jamie Murphy (Dust, Space)
Published on November 6th, 2009 | Jonny Abrams
Rocksucker caught up with guitarist/co-songwriter Jamie Murphy in the welcoming environs of Hannah’s Bar in Liverpool city centre and sank a few over a discussion about his new band Dust, the glory days of Space and the recent passing away of original Space drummer and dear friend of his Andy Parle…
As with Space, Dust will have to buck the trend if you’re going to make an impact. You don’t really sound like much else that’s out there (thank goodness)…
JM: To be honest, it’s Franny [Griffiths, keyboardist of both Space and Dust] that makes the band, in my eyes. I’ll go in with a song on the acoustic, sounding like The La’s or something like that, and, when Franny puts everything [keyboards/electronics] on it, that turns it into what it is. I see what you’re saying, that we don’t sound like anybody. That was the good thing about Space: we didn’t sound like anyone else at the time. It was sink or swim and, luckily enough, we swam. Touch wood that’s what’ll happen with Dust.
Do you not think the music industry’s more of a closed shop these days? As opposed to the mid-nineties, when a band like Space could become successful. Whereas, now, you pretty much have to fit a certain niche…
JM: It’s all this b****cks in the music industry: “Oh, that sells, so let’s get more of that.” All that’s happened in the music industry is that the cash cow’s moved from record sales to live gigs. As soon as Napster and all that came along, it was always gonna be geared towards downloads. You get paid more for live shows now than you used to. When we were touring with Space, starting out at six or seven thousand seaters, we weren’t making any money off the gigs. Now you get paid three or four times as much ’cause bands are demanding it. When people say the music industry is on its arse…it’s not on its arse. That’s just something for record companies to come out with so they don’t have to pay bands in pubs.
The shift of emphasis towards live performances has eroded the importance of the physical artwork of a CD or vinyl, which I think is quite sad. Spiders, for instance, was defined by its front cover: creepy but colourful.
JM: So you’re the one who bought it! (Laughs) You can go and buy another one. It’s getting re-released soon. Everything’s getting re-released.
Will it come with any bonus material?
JM: I don’t know. It’s all been signed to a new record company, our old label. They bought everything and they’re gonna repackage and re-release everything. Also, I think we’re doing a tour next year, starting in the summer.
Well, that answers the ‘Will you ever reform?’ question. I wasn’t sure whether to ask you that as you seem to be happy with what you’re doing now.
JM: Really happy. But, at the end of the day, we’ve been offered Monopoly money. We’ve been offered loads of times, like for the 2008 [Capital of Culture] thing in Liverpool. We turned that down but, this time, the money was too big to say no. It’ll only take six to eight months, then we don’t have to see each other again until five years later when we’re all skint again! Then it’s back touring again.
What ever happened to what was supposed to be Space’s third album, I Love You More Than Football?
JM: We bought our own studio and we were arguing with the record company constantly. We’d spent about one and a half million quid recording this album. It got to the point of picking a single and the record company picked [Murphy compositions] ‘If I Ever’ or ‘Gravity’: it was gonna be one of them to lead the next album. But Tommy [Scott] was digging his heels in going, “No, no, no, it should be [Scott composition] ‘Diary of a Wimp’.” Within two weeks, I thought, “F*** this, I’m out of this, I’m gonna take all me stuff and start another band.” You get promised this and you get promised that, but in the end they changed it to ‘Diary of a Wimp’. Although that is one of me favourite Space songs, to be honest.
A lot of Space’s most experimental output was confined to B-sides. Was this a conscious decision or was it record company pressure to have all the most accessible stuff on the album proper?
JM: Bit of both, really. The worst thing we ever did was letting them [our label] hear ‘Female of the Species’. We went to a studio down in Surrey, in the middle of nowhere, and they left us there for about two months with loads of money. So, basically, f***-all got done. That’s when we were recording ‘Neighbourhood’. We get back to Liverpool and our manager calls us into his office and says, “Right, I’ve got a conference call with the record company; what the f***ing hell have you been doing for two months? That just cost me fifty grand and I can’t use any of it.” We were like, “F***.” Basically, all the money got spent on drugs and ale. I think we only went over to the studio for two days in about two months. But one night, while we were pissed and f***ing about, I came up with a riff on the piano which went (impersonates glockenspiel riff from ‘Female of the Species’)…
That was your riff?
JM: Yeah. But the worst thing we ever did was let them hear it. We said, “We’ve got some outtakes.” It was only me messing about and Tommy singing it, trying to be Sinatra, know what I mean? We were taking the piss. Don’t forget that, at the time, we thought we were Cypress Hill. So the boss of the record company heard it and he’s said, “Right, that’s the f***ing single”. We were like, “Wha’?” “That’s the f***ing single. I’m gonna put youse in the studio to record that properly.” And then, lo and behold. We were always tied into that thing of being a Sinatra-esque band after that, which was so not what we were about. The record company were always pressing the producers to make us sound like that, but it just wasn’t what we were about.
Can we talk about Andy?
He was a very distinctive drummer. Listening to his beats at a young age definitely made me more rhythmically-minded. I’ve always wondered how he recorded his drum parts, because they sound looped in places. Kind of hip hop-ish.
JM: Yeah, he did used to loop his own stuff. Every time we went to record…see this gap in the door here, from there to there? He’d have his kit set up in the live room with two mics. He’d have the whole kit all mic’ed up, and he’d have two mics recording what was coming through there. So he used to play whatever he was playing and then he’d take the track from that one and compress it all and then put it over the top so it did sound like it was all in loops. But it was all his beats, like. I don’t think he got enough credit for all of that, but he was really, really clever when it came to recording techniques.
I was gutted when he left. That wasn’t a great year all-round for you guys, the year or so after Spiders and before [second album] Tin Planet?
JM: No. Bear in mind I was only 18 or 19. Going from being nothing. It wasn’t like it was a build-up of success; it was just ‘BANG!’ straight away. We had a really bad time coming back from America. We had too much money. I remember getting my first royalty cheque, it was like nine hundred thousand quid. Should I have been given that? But we all got that. I love Andy from the bottom of my heart, but he was always really dark and he hated it. He loved it when it was just us four in [bassist/producer] Yorkie’s basement and he had enough money to go out and get pissed: that was what he loved. He f***ing hated all the interviews, photies, going on telly. He hated people coming up to him on the street. Loads of people said to me, “He’s an arrogant c***, that Andy Parle; I asked him to sign an autograph for me kids and he wouldn’t do it.” He couldn’t handle the attention.
I read Yorkie’s tribute around the time of his passing and he said that all Andy wanted was to be in a cult band.
JM: That’s what we were, man. Before we got signed, all the bands in Liverpool were just trying to be like The La’s. Like Cast and all that. Fair enough, they’re great bands, but we didn’t want to be like that, know what I mean? We saw a different light and Andy loved all that. Like I said, he loved it when it was just the four of us in a basement, jamming away. None of us ever expected it to take off like it did and, to drink and drugs and an already scarred mentality, he went the way he did. I’ve gone through it all in me head since he died; I’ve blamed meself for letting him get the way he was. He was living on the streets and all that. I’ve gone through it all, blaming meself for not doing more, but I’ve come to realise that he was unsaveable. Some stars just burn too bright and then they burn out. That’s the only way I can describe it. That’s what Andy was. He burned too fast and too bright. But I love the guy like a brother.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
JM: Oasis. The Who. The La’s. You get bands now who’ll say, “We wouldn’t class Oasis as an influence on us,” but they’re lying. You couldn’t help it. When I was a 19 year-old lad and Oasis was out there, it was f***ing liberating. Them and The La’s are a massive influence on me songwriting-wise. Lennon, obviously: he’s me f***ing hero. Keith Moon. Pete Townshend. Tommy [Scott, not Tommy by The Who!] as well. He used to be in a band called The Australians before [he was in] Space. I used to go watch them and they were f***ing boss. I’ve always said to him, “Why did you leave The Australians? That was your downfall, man!” They had this song called ‘All I Know’ and another one called ‘The Girl Who Loved Her Man Enough to Kill Him’: if you ever get a copy of them, they’re f***ing masterpieces. And he jibbed all that to start a band with me: that’s where I think he went wrong, really!
Are you and Tommy on good terms these days?
JM: F***ing right. The Drellas [Scott’s current band] have just been on tour. I went to see them play in Sheffield the other night – me and Vince out of Dust drove over to watch them – and I saw them at the O2 Academy up here. I love them. I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but I think they’re f***ing great. He’ll never go and sell a million records with The Drellas…
Lee [Murphy’s mate, also attendant]: ‘Rocky Horror Show Party’ is f***ing boss.
JM: …but he’s been there and done it all, hasn’t he? As we both have. I love him. To be honest, I never even left Space. I was forced out. They couldn’t sack me because it would have cost them too much money. They got the best lawyer and everything. And he had Tommy working for him as his butler. (Laughs) Anyway, when it was 3rd album time, I think we’d been away from it all for about a year and we had a tour while we had nothing out. We were doing 2000 capacity venues and there’d only be 400 people there. So we were going onstage every night going, “What the f***’s going on here? What have we done wrong?” We couldn’t understand it. Tommy and I were arguing a lot and, after that tour, our manager gave me a ring one day and said, “Listen, I think it might be wise for you to go and do your own thing.” And I was like, “What do you mean, go and do me own thing? You want me to leave?” It was my band, you know. Thought of the name and everything. Named it after a song by The Real People.
So it was a bit sh*t that Tommy never had the b****cks to come and say it to me face. When our manager said, “Go and do your own thing”, I said, “So you don’t want to sack me because it’ll cost too much money”…and I didn’t want to bankrupt the band; I had me own money, didn’t need a big load more. But I got what I was due and I went me own way. I’m not gonna lie to you; for a couple of years afterwards, I was bitter as f***. I hated them. They treated me like a piece of sh*t on a shoe. But we’ve spoken about it since and both Tommy and Franny have said, “It wasn’t ’cause we were disrespecting you, it was just that we loved you so much that if we tried telling you to your face, we couldn’t do it.” I didn’t see them for two years and now, all of a sudden, I’m back in a band with Franny. Mad, innit?
All the other guys in Space were a fair bit older than you. How did you come about to being in a band together?
JM: Tell you what happened. It was on this very street that we’re on now. D’you know The Picket? They used to put bands on in there. Like I said, Tommy was in The Australians and me uncle was in a band called Rain. The Australians had been signed and all that and they were supporting Rain at The Picket. I was only about 14 or 15 and I went and watched them. I got talking to Tommy after it and he was dead friendly. We were from the same area. I got the bus back home later and he was on the back of the bus, and he said, “Alright Jamie!” And we formed a band. I think he’s about 12 years older than me. Doesn’t look it though, the little c***. He still looks younger than me. But he’s getting on, the old timer! And I think Franny’s about 38 now. He’s clever as f***, Franny. It’s great recording with him ’cause he just sees things that we can’t see. Hears things that me and Vince can’t hear. When we were recording ‘Little Man’ [with Dust], we said [about Franny’s signature b-movie whirring noise as everything else fades out], “It’s a bit Space, innit?” So I came back in the next day and he’d changed it all [and it wasn’t as good]. We said, “It may be like Space but that’s what you brought to the band.”
What did you think of Suburban Rock & Roll, the album Space made after your departure?
JM: You know what, that’s me favourite Space album, believe it or not. ’20 Million Miles From Earth’ is a classic. And the other one…the slow one…it’s like a Nick Cave thing…’Pretty Suicide’, that’s it. I’m gutted I never played on that album because, for me, it’s much better than [second album] Tin Planet. Between me and you, I wouldn’t piss on Tin Planet if it was on fire.
But I remember reading an interview with you at the time of Tin Planet‘s release where you said something like “no one could possibly get a better album out of us”!
JM: Yeah, I know, but that’s when you’ve got the record company sitting behind you, poking you with a stick! And you’ve got all your PR and your managers there with a cattle prod.
So you didn’t want to go all Beta Band and announce that your new album’s rubbish and no-one should buy it…
JM: They got that from The La’s though, didn’t they? They were the first ones to say, “Our album’s sh*te.” What a way to sell your album though. Didn’t do Lee Mavers any harm, did it? They were given cult status.
Do you know Lee Mavers? What’s he like?
JM: Yeah. He’s a pr*ck. (Laughs) Nah, he’s sound. He just spends his time playing guitar and writing songs. Just a normal fella.