The Murlocs inhabit a unique sphere of Aussie music, as a garage-rock band that is just as emotive, as they are complex.
Their latest offering, the title track from their upcoming album, Bittersweet Demons, only solidifies this unique vision further as a collection of ballads that began on piano, and sonically evolved into a richer, rockier sound.
In light of this recent release, Happy got the chance to sit down The Murlocs’ vocalist, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, to chat new directions, and twisting positivity.
HAPPY: I heard that a lot of the songs on Bittersweet Demons began on the piano. Is this a new practice for the Murlocs?
MURLOCS: Since the start, we have always been a pretty guitar-based band especially in a writing sense. When adding keys and other things it would always be thrown in at the end. On our previous album there was Comfort Zone which was probably the most keys based written thing we had ever done at that point. From the moment we started playing Comfort Zone I knew I wanted to take things further in that direction. So I started to gather together a bunch of rough ideas and the guys helped me bring them to life when we got together over time. Then the rest of the murls brought some more songs of theirs to the table that went perfectly alongside mine in that same stripped back and relaxed sense as mine. That’s how the beginning stages of the album came together. Later on in the piece, the album was starting to feel a bit too slow and laidback until Tim Karmouche showed us his demo for Francesca. So to match Francesca we decided to pull out a few offcuts from the last album session of Manic Candid Episode way back in 2018. Those few leftovers turned into being Skyrocket and Illuminate The Shade. I’m glad that we added these more up-tempo ones in at the last minute. It really helped tie together the record as a whole.
HAPPY: If so, did this take your writing in any strange new directions?
MURLOCS: I found myself singing a lot quieter and lower than normal which felt nice for a change. It was a great opportunity to experiment with different sounds and layers. Having the extra space in these songs was a dream when it came down to really focusing in on certain moments. Each song lyrically is based upon my own personal experience’s of growing up around the city, the country and the coast of Victoria. When I decided to start going down that road it was pretty scary and often challenging. Now it’s all starting to come out into the world I feel incredibly liberated and grateful.
HAPPY: You named Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band as a key reference for the tracks and recording process. What elements of that record resonated with you the most?
MURLOCS: The whole album from start to finish flows so well and the recordings are just so distinctive and isolated in a beautiful and unique way. The lyrics as well are very personal and straight to the point. Those vocal chord tearing screams towards the end of Mother really propel you into the stratosphere. Most days I would listen to Plastic Ono Band and Pussycats By Harry Nillson back to back. Both of those records were a big influence on Bittersweet Demons at the time.
HAPPY: The album artwork for Bittersweet Demons was done by artist Julian Hocking, and it’s got some mixed media, with a photo of a kid riding a tricycle by the beach. Any story behind that?
MURLOCS: Believe it or not that kid riding on the beach is me! I got all the guys to dig deep for their best baby photos and we put them all together on the insert sleeve of the album. Julian and I have been friends since a very young age. I met him at the Castlemaine Skate Park when I was about 9 years old. In those 18 months or so that I lived in Castlemaine, we skated together a lot all over the state.
Julian has done some art for us here and there over the years but when it came time to figure out what to do for ‘Bittersweet Demons’ artwork he immediately came into my mind first. Seeing as the record was heading on its way to be very personal it only made sense to get him involved for the imagery as some of these experiences I am singing about are ones that we somewhat experienced together.
HAPPY: As a side note, someone in the YouTube comments section asked you to describe the upcoming album with one word, and Tim commented “Cheekychickenparty”
MURLOCS: The phrase originally came from a silly song idea I had that was cut from ‘Manic Candid Episode’. It sounded like a medieval circus band travelling by horse and cart heading into battle. It was basically just crappy half-cooked idea with a very hilarious organ riff. It has never seen the light of day and most definitely never will, unless we get the call up for the next lord of the rings soundtrack.
HAPPY: Ambrose, you’ve said that you aspire to write songs with a “twisted positivity to them”. What does twisted positivity sound like to you?
MURLOCS: A ‘twisted positivity’ is something that can sound nice and innocent until the listener engages in what the lyrical content is portraying. Sometimes a darker picture needs to be painted to balance out the brightness of the music. I believe it’s always a great pairing. There are many underlying issues that are brought up throughout our songs. Often these subjects are not spoken about enough. The approach is to help raise awareness where it’s needed and to address these certain things when others won’t. Throwing them into the spotlight pushes people to come to terms with them quicker and easier than doing it themselves. Sometimes you need a little nudge in the right direction.’
Bittersweet Demons is out out June 25th on Flightless Records!
Interview by Tome Cameron