On the brink of releasing his third studio album, John Murry reflected upon the tough times and how he learned to trust in the meditative process of writing a song.
John Murry has embraced the highs and lows in his life, transforming situations into music that speaks to fans from across the World. Drawing influence from everything around him, Murry’s music has evolved over time as he begins to trust himself and his fellow creatives more with each record. As he gears up to release his third album ‘The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes,’ Murry took time to reflect upon his journey up to this point; analysing the good times and bad and discussing the impact his music has had upon himself and those around him.
The Pursuit Of Music
He’s come a long way from Tupelo, Mississippi – the same Tupelo where Elvis Presley was born, “As a kid I’d have been surrounded by the same kind of things Elvis was surrounded by – I was surrounded by Country, Hip Hop and Gospel music. I grew up singing in the church choir, I must have been four and I did that three times a week.” Back then, Murry didn’t aspire to be a musician, he fought with the notion for a long time. “I was adopted, so no one in my family had any musical interests or anything like that but I loved it. I was leant a guitar by our youth director, he taught me a few chords, right after that I started writing songs. I saw Tom Petty when I was 13 years old and I thought, I can do that! He came from a similar background. I thought I didn’t have a right to do it though. Then I thought I didn’t have anything worth saying.”
It was whilst Murry was at Grad school that he put out his first record… a record of murder ballads! He did the album with his friend and invited one of his professors along to the album launch. “Mildred was my advisor, she’s the smartest person I ever met, she graduated from Harvard and she could have done anything she wanted to. She came to the release show and said “Why are you going to school?” I wanted to go to uni in Chicago, there was no reason to pursue music but I knew I was going to do it regardless. After several years of wrestling with it I think I accepted it then. I asked my bass player at the time “when did you decide you wanted to be a musician?” And he said “well I got up one day and people started asking me what I did for a living and I started telling them I was a professional musician” so I asked him when he decided on that and he said “That day, when I got up”. That’s what you have to do!”
The Healing Power Of A Song
Throughout the different stages of his life though, Murry has had his struggles, struggles that he’s coped with through the power of music and songwriting and also with his wicked sense of humour. “I was around sixteen or seventeen and my folks gave me a Martin guitar because they felt bad about putting me in drug rehab. It was a really nice guitar but it sounded like a dentist owned it or something because only a dentist would ever play it, it sounded too nice!” Murry has always been open about his drug addictions from that very first record he put out, ‘The Graceless Age’ which includes the song Little Coloured Balloons, “I wrote that really quickly, I thought it probably wouldn’t fit the record so it was easy to write but it became difficult to go back to that place after.” It was through his friends and collaborators that Murry managed to get through that song each night on tour. Speaking of the late Tim Mooney, a dear friend, mentor and collaborator to Murry, John said “Tim used to say to me ‘Remember, this is a document’ it took me a long time to understand what that meant but what he meant was that it’s a document in time and that I’m no longer attached to that. I think we have a strange relationship with the idea of the junkie, there’s a romantic element to it but then there’s this idea that ‘once a junkie, always a junkie’ I think for a long time I took that on. There’s a cultural discussion to be had on that. I realise though that that song can help others in different ways so now I don’t have to go back there when I play that song. It used to be triggering and it’s odd that I used to willingly do that to myself but it’s not like that anymore.”
Murry’s ability to help others through his music, really started after he learned how it could help him in a way that nothing else could. “I have a relationship with music, it’s precious to me” Murry begins. Growing up he had a tricky childhood partly due to his undiagnosed autism. We spoke in detail about the affects autism has on children whether diagnosed or not. In a previous role as an Early Years photographer I saw how children with autism often got left out of other activities with staff members saying to me “Don’t bother with him, he’s autistic.” Which usually led to me insisting they had the same chance as the other children. Despite not being diagnosed, did Murry feel the same way? Did music change that for him? “I don’t think I have a lot of perspective of how autism has affected me but if you look back in the year books there’s no photos of me, I wasn’t diagnosed back then but it was like no one noticed me. A photographer I worked with was also on the spectrum too, it’s funny that you brought it up that way as there’s something about photographing someone – seeing that they exist. Also if the spectrum exists then we’re all on it, if you’ve met an autistic person then you’ve met one person, everyone’s different. It’s nice that that upset you, that person being left out. That person probably didn’t know how to include themselves. Music allowed me to include myself and connect from afar. It was like a spiritual thing, it brings people together. It allowed me a place in the World. So I think music is a way for me to connect with a World that seems a bit mad to me.”
Trusting The Process
Despite Murry’s clear talent for conveying his own personal stories through song and helping others that way, he is adapting the way he writes and produces work and learning to trust the process more, thus helping to create a different sound to his previous records. “I used to think, ‘this is the thing I want to say’, now I trust more that it will happen itself. So for this last record, I’d intentionally put myself in weird positions where I had to finish songs in the video for example, and I did that because I wanted to see what would happen, if it’d work. The more you trust in the process, the more meditative the thing becomes, you can look back on it and understand yourself more. The things I write now are in a lot of ways more meaningful than what I wrote then.”
An example of this can be seen on the lead single Oscar Wilde (Came Here To Make Fun Of You), “It’s one of those that I’m still figuring out what I’m trying to say. I think a lot of it is very literal. You can build a bomb with ammonium nitrate, that’s all over the place like in Beirut or Afghanistan or Oklahoma City so I think that, that bomb really should have been enough, it’s absurd that we don’t learn. We have a weird relationship with war and conflict, we’ve become so inhumane. We give noble peace prizes to people who build dynamite, we give it to people who could be considered war criminals – we’re idiots. So I think a lot of the song is about that and perhaps making fun of what we’ve become. I also wanted to take influence from other people’s poetry, I’m concerned with how little poetry we read now.”
The video for that track was filmed by a good friend of Murry’s, actor Aidan Gillen, again as with his own writing, he had to put a lot of trust in the process and his collaborator in order to achieve what they wanted. “Aidan had this idea about a doll, he filmed it all with his iPhone in five different countries, taking this doll of me with him. He recorded about two hours worth of footage and edited it all down, I’m pretty sure he has the doll, but he says it got lost, I think he still has it!” John says with a laugh. “He’s never directed anything before but he really wanted to do this. It’s been fun to do stuff with other people but not necessarily being directly involved with that process, to trust others to do those other artistic parts.”
Worth The Wait
John Murry teamed up with producer John Parish for ‘The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes’ and it was a collaboration that had been a long time coming. “John and I had been talking about doing a record together for several years. I was playing at a festival that Oliver Gray runs in Winchester and John Parish was playing too. I turned to Oliver and said this is incredible, John is incredible. In his best English Country voice he said ‘I’m glad you’ve said that, he produced some of your favourite records’ I didn’t realise, so we talked about a collaboration seven or eight years ago.” However, Parish and Murry had various projects in the pipeline and it was only now that they could make it work. Despite being tentative in the beginning, Murry learnt to trust his producer and Parish ran with many or Murry’s ideas in return. “When we got around to it, he was so in tune with how I wanted to make a record, he picked amazing places and people to work with. I thought I was going to have to go in and argue my point with John but he encouraged all my mad ideas! There’s this process of trusting a producer – the more you let go the more things worked in a way I didn’t think was possible so it became an incredible process; I feel really lucky, he’s an incredible producer and person.” ‘The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes’ was born!
The whole process could have been hindered greatly by the current situation, planning a tour is nigh on impossible for a start but John Murry is looking at it in a different light, a more positive way. “It’s a really strange time but I’ve been alright. It’s not been all bad. I hate a lot of aspects of the industry; I think it’s become very bloated so I think things will change for the better. Just like I’m excited to get back to performing, people will be excited to see it and the quality will improve. It’s given me the time to think about the value of things and question what do I really want to do.” So as things slowly begin to normalise, Murry goes back to thinking about where he fells most comfortable within the industry – the stage! “I feel more comfortable there than when I’m doing anything else. I think when you perform the goal is to transform something. It’s a meditative thing for me. It’s a connection between you and the audience and I can’t wait to connect with people again.”
The future is bright for John Murry; as he waits eagerly in the wings, he continues to think of new ways to create music, new people to collaborate with and new ways to connect with his fans. Murry has come a long way from singing in the church choir back in Tupelo but his talent has blossomed and he has found a way to say exactly what his fans need to hear. ‘The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes’ with all of its imagery, lyrical ingenuity and black humour is Murry’s most vivid and noteworthy record to date.
YOU CAN READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE LATEST ISSUE OF MAVERICK MAGAZINE AVAILABLE HERE!