Chris Murray

interview mit dem bekannten ska musiker aus den usa. ein mann und seine gitarre!
August 2004

you have been so long active in the ska scene. when you look back, what was the best time?

That's a hard question to answer. Different times have been great for different reasons.
Before I started King Apparatus and went to shows just as a fan was a great time. There was no thought of making a living or business connected to the music and going to shows was simply a lot of fun.
After so many years of performing, I doubt I'll ever feel the way I did back then again. When things started rolling for King Apparatus was a great time. In the late '80s there weren't many bands playing ska at all, so when we played with any other ska bands it was exciting. We were lucky in Toronto that both American and European bands would come to town. King Apparatus played with a lot of great bands back in the day and there seemed like unlimited potential at the time.
When things were moving full speed for King Apparatus was a great time. Supporting yourself playing music is a special thing. Traveling from city to city and playing shows is a very cool existence, especially when you're young. For any underground band to survive takes an incredible amount of effort and focus. When King Apparatus was touring full time, the band and the ska scene were my 24/7 reality. There are positives and negatives to that kind of life, but living in that zone is incredible.
Starting to perform solo acoustic was a great time. In the mid to late '90s, the US ska scene was really doing well and there were lots of great shows to play and many good bands touring full time. Before ska music became overexposed, the acts that had been paying dues for years all felt like the hard work was about to pay off. For most, it didn't really pan out that way, but it was still an exciting time to be a ska artist. Setting out to perform solo acoustic in a realm where I was the only person doing that was also exciting.
Right now is a great time. I'm busier than ever with tours in Japan, Canada and Europe scheduled for this fall. I'm about to release a "best of" collection through labels in Japan, Europe and Brazil.
Having stuck it out through hard times for the US ska scene seems to be paying off in the big picture. For the past year I've been working with a drummer and bass player and performing around California as Chris Murray Combo, although most shows out of state I still perform solo. The new group has come a long way in a year and we've started working on an album. After years of performing solo only, performing both solo and with the combo right now is very enjoyable.

you are organizing shows in LA at a place called "Blue Beat Lounge". What was the idea behind the club and how is it going?

I was offered a residency at Knitting Factory in Hollywood, and have learned over the years to say yes when opportunity knocks then figure things out later. Once I agreed to the residency, I knew I needed a concept and approach to bring people out week after week, so I worked up the Bluebeat Lounge idea with Brian Dixon of The Aggrolites and started bringing different bands in each week to play with me, creating a small ska concert every Tuesday night.
Initially the venue suggested the residency might run three months. I'm thrilled and amazed to say that Bluebeat Lounge is now in its 19th month of operation and going stronger than ever. We've hosted ska bands from Japan, Australia, Russia, Canada, Ireland and all over the US plus had guest DJs such Paul and Steve from Intensified and Gaz Mayall participate. In a year and a half, Bluebeat Lounge has become internationally known and has done a lot to rejuvenate the LA ska scene. I couldn't be happier with how Bluebeat Lounge has evolved.

you have played a lot of shows on your own. only you and your guitar. didn't you get a few strange fews in the beginning?

My first tour as a solo performer was definitely the most challenging. I was on the road for 7 weeks with Let's Go Bowling in 1996. My debut album was supposed to be released just before the tour, but delays meant I didn't have copies until the final week of the tour. Additionally, there were communication problems between the band's manager and agent, which meant I wasn't billed on advance for any of the shows.
Ultimately, no one had heard my solo material, knew that I would be performing let alone understood that I'd be performing solo. That did lead to some surprised audiences. In larger markets with strong ska scenes it wasn't much of a problem as people knew me well from King
Apparatus, although the solo acoustic approach still caught most people off guard.
Every night I'd get up on stage and people would be wondering "who's this guy with the acoustic guitar"? Once they heard me play, most people understood and enjoyed what I was doing. In fact, some people were blown away, never having seen anything like it before. However, for others it took some time and reflection to appreciate my solo acoustic ska approach. After that tour I've never had any worries about performing solo.

now you have band again called hte "chris murray combo". what can we expect from this band? will you recorded anything?

Chris Murray Combo features Ben Farrar on drums . Ben was the original drummer for See Spot, an LA based roots ska band. The bass player in CMC is Jeff Roffredo, who had also gigged with See Spot (in later post-Ben line ups) and After Hours, but has played in LA's psychobilly scene for years.
Jeff plays upright bass for the ska material and some rock steady, switching to bass guitar for reggae and most of the rock steady. We all sing, and vocal harmony is a big part of our sound.
Primarily we play my songs, but also have a good repertoire of Jamaican oldies. CMC has started to record an album, but we're so busy playing shows these days I'm not sure when it will be completed – eventually is the best I can say at this moment.
CMC is touring Japan in September for ten days, which will be our first serious tour. I hope the group will tour more once we've finished our album.

i have heard you have done a few recordings with the Slackers. when will it be released?

I've recorded a full album of material with The Slackers backing me. A few of the tracks still need to mixed, but otherwise the album is completed. Both The Slackers and I have pretty full schedules and it has been over two years since we first started recording. I've stopped projecting when this album will be released, but some time in 2005 seems likely.

your old band, King Apparatus, isn't well known in europe. in canada, your home country, you were quite big, or?

King Apparatus did very well in Canada. When we started playing, record labels weren't interested in ska acts, feeling Two Tone had come and gone and that was all ska had to offer. We did things with a DIY independent approach and by working hard managed to build a strong following across the country and make enough money to subsidize initial forays into the US.
Things seemed to happen pretty smoothly for King Apparatus, although we had a series of crappy touring vans that kept breaking down. The second song I ever wrote for King Apparatus went #1 on the alternative rock station in our hometown Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, when the most serious recordings we had done were a three song demo cassette (CDs were barely heard of back then). We entered "Made For TV" in the station's annual local homegrown unsigned talent contest and listener requests took the song to #1, bumping a U2 song from the #1 spot – incredible.
That stroke of good fortune made a huge difference as we developed our career, quit jobs and go full time. It gave King Apparatus a type of credibility in the eyes of the Canadian music industry that ska bands rarely achieve, which made life a lot easier.

your top five albums?! and why!

Sorry, I'm going to have to list six albums. I can't leavie any of these of my list.

The Specials – The Specials
Though not the first ska I heard, without this album I'd probably be doing something else with my life. I listened to this album endlessly as a teenager and loved the energy, the songs and the vibe. It was totally of its time, yet timeless. I don't think a better modern ska album has been made.

The Skatalites – Stretching Out
This album has all the roughness and looseness of the original era recordings without any of the studio slickness I don't enjoy in later releases. So many great tracks, cool vocal introductions by Lord Tanamo, a handful of beautiful mistakes make this one of my favorites.

Elvis Costello – Get Happy
This was the first Elvis Costello album I ever owned and no other has come close to topping it for me. 20 amazing songs, intense lyrics and vocal performances, and The Attractions in top form.

The Upsetters – Super Ape
The first Lee Perry production I ever bought turned out to be his classic album – my good luck. I saw a used copy in the second hand record shop for a couple of months and kept looking at it and putting it back because I didn't really know what it was all about. Thankfully I eventually bought the record. This is clearly Lee Perry at his peak.

The Clash – The Clash (US version)
This album has more raw intensity, better vibe, and better songs than any punk record I know. Although I mostly listen to reggae now, growing up I was hugely influenced by the original punk wave. These days I like my music more on the groovy soothing side, but as a youth I loved the aggressiveness of punk, and this album in particular. The North American release of The Clash included White Man In Hammersmith Palais, which gives me shivers even now just thinking about it.

The Slits – Cut
Punk attitude and reggae production aesthetics don't come close to accurately describing this album. If you haven't heard Cut, go out andbuy it. The songs and arrangements are highly innovative. Ari Up's lead vocals are chilling. Dennis Bovell's production is inspired.
Absolutely classic.

why did you move to LA? how is the scene there?

I started passing through LA with King Apparatus in the early '90s. At that time, we'd started taking off a couple of months from touring in the heart of the winter when being on the road is really unpleasant and not entirely safe with road conditions.
Back then LA bands like Jump With Joey, Hepcat, Ocean 11, Mobtown, See Spot and Yeska were going back to the original era of ska as the starting point for their own sound, while most ska bands in America were looking back to Two Tone, or later on bands like The Toasters.
This really intrigued me. Other than The Skatalites, I'd never seen any bands playing roots ska, and these bands were getting it right.
Having made some good friends in LA, and experiencing how nice December and January can be somewhere considerably warmer than Canada, I started spending my time off around LA. A couple of years after King Apparatus stopped playing I settled here permanently.
When I started touring through California with King Apparatus, the LA ska scene was very strong and bands of all styles would play together on bills. Through the '90s, the traditional ska scene became very strong and it got to the point where traditional bands would only play with traditional bands. The upbeat/third wave ska scene essentially took hold in Orange County, a nearby suburb of LA, and produced bands like Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris.
The LA and OC scenes rarely mixed for years. If traditional ska was your thing, there wasn't a better scene anywhere than LA. On the down side, the LA scene became very rigid about what it would accept. It was even difficult for me when I started living here and performing solo acoustic regularly. If you didn't have a strong horn section and the right suits, the LA scene didn't want anything to do with you.
Eventually the LA scene embraced what I was doing because it spoke to them musically, but it took some time to break through attitude barriers.
These days, the LA scene has come full circle somewhat and bands of different styles do play together again. Bluebeat Lounge has been a big part of bringing that change about. I've consciously put bands of different styles together on bills and booked good bands that I knew
the LA roots scene wouldn't be into just because they were good bands.
The result has been a lot of kids who weren't previously exposed to the roots ska acts are now coming out to see groups like The Aggrolites or Go Jimmy Go, and older people in the scene who will never be third wave or skapunk fans have come to accept the various approaches to ska even though they have strong preferences towards roots ska and rock steady.
Overall, I find the LA scene much healthier, more vibrant and open minded than it's been for a long time.

you were in a backing band for Prince Buster. How was it? how is prince buster personal? have you planed more with him?

That was a great experience. We played Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, which is a large annual event in central California. The group did 4-5 rehearsals before we met Buster and then one rehearsal with him. For the show I sang backing vocals and played harmonica, but for the rehearsals I filled in on lead vocals.
The true highlight for me was the rehearsal with Buster. The festival had a small shack set up for groups that needed to rehearse and the backing band had started to jam before Buster arrived. I was singing Blackhead Chineman when I looked outside to see Buster walking up. I finished the first verse, then Buster came in, I handed him the microphone, the band kept playing and he sang the rest of the song.
After that we all met each other.
We didn't do a lot of socializing with Buster, but he was good to work with. Without being immodest (I was just playing harmonica in a 10 piece unit), the band was excellent and knew the material very well.
We could tell Buster was pleased with our sound right away, so that helped us relax and have a good time playing the songs.
At the time we gigged together, there was talk of doing more shows, but nothing came of it. I don't think he's played in the US since that one date last summer. I saw Buster again in London last December when I played Gaz's Rockin' Blues.

whats your opinion about downloading songs from soulseek and kazzaa? about cd copying? do you think it will be destroying our scene?
When I was a kid I taped albums I borrowed from friends and lent my albums to friends who would tape them. Technically it infringes copyright and creative property laws, but it's not exactly new and it hasn't destroyed anything yet.
I think there are positive and negative results. Most kids don't have a lot of money to buy albums, but it's when you're young that you have the time to really listen to music. A lot of people form musical tastes when they're young that stay with them for the rest of their lives. If someone gets into my music from downloading a track from the internet, then continues to listen to my music for years and buy albums, I think the overall effect for me is likely positive.
Most major label artists are perpetually in debt to the record company and make their money from touring, so it's really the labels that suffer. That doesn't make it right, but it doesn't hurt a major artist as much as it hurts an independent band that has spent their own money to press CDs and is struggling to make a living.
Definitely money is lost by artists when people illegally copy recordings. Whether that's ultimately offset by more people becoming aware of that artist is hard to say.

you are playing in a band, organizing shows and have published a zine (ska world). ever thought to start a record label?

I've thought about it, and it's been suggested to me many times. Perhaps some day I will start a label. Right now, I find myself too busy playing shows and living my life as an artist to take on an endeavor as big as starting a record label, especially if that meant bands would be depending on me to develop their careers and market their music.
If I were to start a label in the near future, it would most likely be to market my own recordings, scene oriented albums like I've made with The Slackers or the sampler album I'm putting together right now.
Working on a small scale and feeling responsible only to myself to generate results I could probably handle.
I'll give it more thought. Who knows, it could happen.


About redstar73

Barcelona Street Art 2011 - ?

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