MUDKISS FANZINE

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TJ AND MURPHY: DOWN TO THEIR UNDERPANTS, STRIPPED BARE WITHOUT A FIG LEAF – INTERVIEW BY CHUMKI BANERJEE

We met in Leaf café in Liverpool, but there was none of the fig variety to hide TJ and Murphy’s modesty as I stripped them down to bare essentials. Luckily, the Liverpool duo seemed more than happy to reveal all, which they did with disarming wit, passion and honesty.

TJ and Murphy are Thomas-Joseph Mealey and David Murphy, two instinctive, intuitive musicians, whose emotive music has garnered many an accolade since their debut on the acoustic scene and first CD, gathering a snowball of loyal followers in their wake. Having first met Thomas in 2006, tightly coiled spring, fiery intensity barely contained by skin tight jeans and cock- a- hoop hat, I now realise where this explosion of emotion came from, Thomas and Dave were clinging to cusp of their musical event horizon, ready to plunge into swirling maelstrom of its Black Hole heart which brewed ‘Weary Nights’ and then fired them out, brightly shining, burnished meteor blazing a trail with second CD, ‘Hurricanes’.   

Mirroring their musical persona's Thomas and Dave speak in harmony, finish each other’s sentences in talking frankly about their lives as musicians, lessons in love, devotion , philosophy, the return of corporal punishment for guitar theft and what they really keep in their trousers. Coincidence seems to have featured heavily in the creation of TJ and Murphy and today, as I write this, Liverpool suffers Hurricane Ophelia’s howling tail lash, weeping rain mourns the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs, who is quoted as saying:  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else's life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” A lesson to us all and one definitely grasped, with all eight limbs, by these boys.

CHUMKI: Hello TJ and Murphy, I know there are loads of things people want to know about you. When and how did you both meet and how long have you been playing together??

DAVE: Coming up to 4 years. In secondary school, we sat next to each other in science, I was drawing chords out for myself, learning guitar, ended up giving drawings to him (Thomas) which he took home and started playing from. We lost touch but bumped into each other in hospital when I got wheeled into the bed next to him in hospital. After a few weird coincidences like that we got together and started playing. We had been in bands before but they fell away and then over a ten year period of getting together off and on, things finally clicked.

THOMAS: It was almost like, how many more chance meetings could we have before trying to make a go of it We were in a lot of bands and stuff and at a chance meeting in town I mentioned I was going on a busking trip around Europe. Murph (Dave) was doing a particular job at the time and I just said “there’s a space in the car if you want to come”, didn’t think anything of it, that he was going to come, but two days later he just knocked with a guitar and case. In Europe we learnt how to interplay together with guitars. That was where it started, I had a few songs, you (gesturing to Dave) had a few, so.....I said let’s work on an acoustic project, just for us, and see how it goes, so we wrote ‘Weary Nights’ (TJ and Murphy’s first CD) in my flat ,in a couple of months, went to open mics and started playing. We were getting a really good reaction so thought, let’s record this and do some gigs.

CHUMKI: What were your careers before becoming full time musicians and what gave you the courage to take the leap and make music your lives?

THOMAS: I was an engineer

DAVE: I was in and out of jobs, the music was always in me, so never settled down, never happy until I started playing .You’ve got to be happy in life haven’t you, so I chased it.

CHUMKI: How did you both first learn to play and find out you had musical talent?

DAVE: For me, I liked Oasis and remember trying to play ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon on vinyl, with guitar. My uncle used to play guitar, he tried to learn ‘Blackbird’, I had never heard the song before but he had the tab book, he had been trying to play it but I just picked it up when he was on a night out and realised I could play the thing. Different how we both started really

THOMAS: I didn’t actually pick the guitar up properly until I was sixteen, quite late I think. I just learnt chords and stuff but then found a natural ability to finger pick and many great players who see me play, say I play totally different. It’s quite odd, (CHUMKI: So it’s your own technique?) I don’t want to sound pretentious but we are self taught, even the way I hold my hand, the way I use fingers for particular strings, people say it works but it’s not how it’s generally done

DAVE: I think the pair of us play from here (hand over heart)

THOMAS: Don’t know the names of any of the chords I am playing

CHUMKI: Do you find you can just hear something in your head or being played and you can instantly pick that up on guitar and vocals?

DAVE/THOMAS: Yeah

DAVE: We do a cover of an Elvis song, ‘Falling in Love With You’, I dreamt that we were playing a version of it and I just played what I dreamed. We do that version of it now

THOMAS: We write over the phone as well. It’s funny, Murph (Dave) just moved really close to me  for convenience, our practice and gig schedules has gone up, so we do need to be close  He used to live about 8/9 miles away but we still write over the phone. It’s like we get an idea, go away and continue over the phone

CHUMKI: What gave you the courage and determination to persevere, to put in all the effort and practice to hone your skill? What gave you the impetus to keep going and going until you were confident enough to play to an audience?

DAVE/THOMAS: We didn’t ever feel like we struggle.

DAVE: We had it, the thing about being comfortable, though we’re still not totally comfortable, I don’t think you ever are but we can deal with it now, performing live, we enjoy it but there is always an element of being uncomfortable

THOMAS: I would say it’s an uncomfortable feeling that I am comfortable with.

CHUMKI: Why do you feel it’s uncomfortable? Though you are different people, you have a very close connection.

THOMAS: Talking about playing songs live, it’s not a normal situation. It’s completely un natural to get up and sing, tell people about something you hold so close, what they could dislike or ridicule maybe, just listening while I am giving them real insight into some of my deepest and darkest.

DAVE: Baring your soul

THOMAS: There’s a vulnerability to that, I think that’s why it is slightly uncomfortable.

CHUMKI: Your songs are very emotional, they make you sound very vulnerable because both of you, open your souls, you just said that is uncomfortable, it must be extremely difficult laying yourself so wide open to other people. How do you stop being over emotional about it?  

DAVE: For me. It’s the only way I get it out. I don’t become emotional with it, It’s my only vessel to get them feelings out, I don’t do it in any other way, it’s only through song.

CHUMKI: Does it get easier? At the beginning it must have taken so much courage to stand up and express deep emotion to a crowd you don’t know?  

DAVE: Now you say it, I’ve never really thought about it like that but makes me feel a bit differently about it.

THOMAS: I think it’s hard at the start but now we have been accepted to do that and people seem to want to come and hear and watch us do that , they want to pay for that, so it makes me more confident to do it in future

CHUMKI: Your lyrics are very poetic, you have a way of finding words to say what people think and feel. Do those lyrics come easily? How do you arrive at the right words, to fit the mood, to fit the music?

DAVE: Hard to explain. I think the poetry is there in its self, it’s about being true, not hiding behind too many metaphors, just saying how it really is, well that’s how I feel about

THOMAS: For me it’s all there. Sometimes I’ll write something and I don’t recall, almost as if it comes from somewhere subconscious, it’s not like I’ve actually though about what I want to say. It’s almost as if you get like a thread of it, a corner and keep peeling. Sometimes I wonder how did that get there. It’s like I’ve got parts of songs from three or four years ago which I may revisit or may not. It wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t finish, I wasn’t ready to finish them, almost like I don’t want to rush, finishing for the sake of finishing.

DAVE: We can start to write something and the subject becomes something we hadn’t even intended to write about, all of a sudden it’s there, all of this spills out and the song becomes that, without intention, It’s all in there, all there. Every song is different but the majority of it we try and take from past experience. With some of the early stuff, that came out naturally but every song is its own entity, all different in their own way. Never force a song out.

CHUMKI: What was your first instrument, where did it come from? And have you still got it?

DAVE: It was an acoustic guitar my father got me when I was about 13/14, cheap acoustic which I never played, until one day think my uncle came down and tuned it and when I picked it up, found something that I wanted to do, so chased it. Think it fell apart, it was that cheap.

THOMAS: My first instrument, an odd one this. Mine was left to me in a will before I could play, so it was just there. I remember writing stuff down when I was a teenager, just things what I thought about but couldn’t quite explain, it was cathartic to write things down. Remember looking at some of the lyrics, wasn’t songs these, just ideas, the start of what I am doing now obviously, playing, trying to sing some of the lyrics over it and I was always amazed how lyrics, it wasn’t poetry, how they could be almost dead on the page but with an instrument I could sing it and it would be 3-d, live and able to effect people in a way that just amazed me, so that’s the start definitely.

CHUMKI: A lot of your music is really descriptive, it does capture an atmosphere, for example ‘Island of the Saints’ you can almost see the place, a remarkable talent to be able to translate that feeling into music and it seems to come so easily, naturally.

THOMAS/: DAVE: Yes we’ve have never really struggled, never really thought about it

THOMAS: It’s remarkable, we do these interviews and get asked questions like that and each time it’s like the first time I think about it, must just be there.

CHUMKI: What was the first song you felt comfortable enough to perform to an audience?

DAVE/THOMAS: To be honest with you, would have to say when we started open mics and performed ‘Vinefields’, never comfortable ever before that.

CHUMKI: What’s ‘Vinefields’ about?

THOMAS: It’s about my childhood, about a lad I grew up with called Tony. It’s like a bittersweet childhood memory exploring how two people, me and Tony from exactly the same area, similar schools, similar everything but I end up doing this and Tony ended up going to jail. Basically it just keeps going back to when we were out on the Vinefields, the memories, how beautiful it was, how beautiful he was, how free it was, how things got twisted, he ended up going to jail whereas I know him for the free spirit that he is, the nice person that he is. The story is how in adult life looking back, thinking about things we used to say, how he wanted to  run away, start again, things that he said to me when he was 8 years of age, sort of struck me now as , well there was real problems there then but I just thought he wanted to be on adventures, this and that but there was a lot of deep rooted stuff with him Just really about how he didn’t bloom, Sad, just a memory really which we made into a story

CHUMKI: Thomas you take most of the lead vocal and Dave harmonisation. How as a duo did you decide /define your roles or did that just come naturally?  

THOMAS: Totally naturally, I think our styles determined that. Don’t think I am a better singer than Dave, we are completely different, what Dave does behind my voice is good as what I do.

DAVE: It’s just the way it was, the most natural option to go with considering our styles of guitar and  vocals ,it just makes us they way we are, the style, the way we do it, the best fit for everything to work.

THOMAS: Dave’s got a very delicate kind of voice which lends itself to harmony whereas I’m more baritone, bit deeper, bit more powerful .My style of guitar is rhythm finger picking, Dave plays more complex than me, inputs melodies over that, so It just sort of fell together. It wasn’t a decision, just what happened, I sing a lot of songs what Dave writes.

CHUMKI: Which leads me to another observation, your musical and vocal styles do fit  around each other so well, merge to fill gaps between, which makes for a very unified sound. Similarly with song writing, it is impossible to determine which is by whom, you seem to merge into one person. Do you equally share the song writing?

DAVE: Yeah, we always have done. Any tune, one of us will have an initial idea, show it to the other and they’ll come back with some ideas that fit with it and the song ends up a song that we both wrote. When one of us writes it always goes to the other as an idea and he will go, “how about this” and end up finishing the song together. That’s how it usually works.

THOMAS: If we did write something on our own, which we have, we always share credits.

DAVE: There is always the other person’s input, never entirely your own tune

CHUMKI: You are well known on the Liverpool circuit now and can pick your venues but when you first started what sort of venues did you play, to build an audience?

DAVE: We went to 3345, on Parr Street and other open mics, all the open mic scene, the best way to start. Did a lot with ‘Catacoustic’ in Wavertree, with Tony Elliott. We went round a lot of open mics but found in some of the places there wasn’t a really nice feeling towards us but in about a quarter of the places, the people who held the nights really liked us, believed in us, sort of pushed us

DAVE/THOMAS: In some places we got ignored and it could be a bit hostile, so we sort of tried to get out of that. To be honest couldn’t wait to get out of some of them, they were horrible, not very nice places, almost like a mutual appreciation society and if you weren’t involved in a particular kind of clique they didn’t really want you there. What they didn’t realise, we were really nervous and just wanted to get on and play.

DAVE: It seemed like people didn’t want you to do your own thing, like you had to be part of it. You could never be free. That was in the majority of places, nights at the time

DAVE/THOMAS: But there was that twenty five percent of venues which helped and pushed us. asked us back and it sort of snowballed

CHUMKI: Now you can choose your venues, how do you pick them?

DAVE: Over time we have learnt where we go down well, the sort of people that come and like our style. They are all factors where we play, you know, like the View Two art gallery is quiet, The Unity Theatre, The Bluecoat, places where people can sit down, not be disturbed by any noise and actually hear what we do, that’s a big factor.

THOMAS: That was the problem when we were starting out, with open mics we picked clubs and places where you’d have groups of people who had come to watch us, some who hadn’t ,people were telling each other to shut up , so that’s when we thought we ought to start finding ticketed or pay in places, as the amount of people coming to watch us got bigger, it wasn’t fair to tell people who hadn’t come to see us to shut up, so we felt we had to segregate, if we could or people could have got fed up. We had to start looking out and select venues suitable for us to play in Now we are looking at venues around the country

DAVE: Similar style venues around the country.

CHUMKI: You seem to be doing more festivals A different sort of audience I guess, how do you find that?

DAVE: We tailor our set to suit the festival, they are not big stadiums, so still an intimate gig and we have that variation of songs we can play different songs and get to play all our songs. Different songs for different venues. It’s good getting out and about meeting new people

THOMAS: Generally acoustic for festivals, people are there to listen and appreciate that.

CHUMKI: I know musicians are driven to play by passion and love but rightly get a bit upset when people don’t want to pay them. Do you find that sometimes influences which venues you play, when some have the attitude that music should be free.

THOMAS: I have an answer to that, I would like all musicians to get on to it, it’s always been a belief with me. Obviously when at the start, trying to get your name out, by all means go and play for free but if you believe in something you are doing, people are coming to watch it and you spend thousands of hours learning something well, don’t do it unless you get paid. If everybody who was half decent did that then, venues would soon have to start paying because otherwise they would have no music

Our manager said a great one, when we got a phone call from a gig promoter who wanted us to do something for nothing down South and you (turning to their manager) asked him to come and tile your bathroom the next day, for nothing.

DAVE/THOMAS: You got to care about the crack.

CHUMKI: You know one of my bug bears is inadequate sound systems at venues. Many of your songs are conceived acoustically, how do you make sure, when you have to use amplification, that the audience still hears the songs how you want them to, because amplification invariably puts forward a different interpretation of a song?

THOMAS: A hard one, with our own sound we are generally o.k. but at a place where you’ve got a sound man, you’re in his hands and we only hear what is coming through the monitors .It’s the holy grail to try and make an acoustic instrument sound acoustic through amplification because it’s a parlour instrument, never ever built to be amplified when it was made.

DAVE: That is one of the factors which determines where we play now. We have gone through venues with bad sound and sound engineers, so we know now and that is one of the really big factors why we pick a venue to play because the sound man is good and knows how we play.

THOMAS: For example, last week at the Unity it was a sell out show and everybody commented on the sound, how it was absolutely spot on.

DAVE: But you’ve got to trawl through all the other places to get down to the good few you will happily play at again, takes time.

CHUMKI: Let’s talk about your CDs. ‘Weary Nights’, your debut, was largely based around your acoustic guitars and vocals with guest musicians. All 14 songs are really expressive, quite introspective, drawing on deep emotions and interior feeling. How did you compose the songs, what was the inspiration?

THOMAS: We wrote Weary Nights in such a short period of time, about 4 months, when we very first started playing together as a duo. If I listen to Weary Nights now, which I haven’t done for a while, it was almost as if we had to write them 14 songs ,like that had to be got out of the way before we could move on.

DAVE: We got it all out, like a cleansing of the soul really, we let it all out.

THOMAS: Then we felt new, so we could work together how we wanted to work together.

CHUMKI: ‘Weary Nights’, what was the inspiration for that, the title track?

THOMAS: I started writing that while my girlfriend was in labour, by the side of the bed.

CHUMKI: I love ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Old Dog’ but I know, until you explained, I interpreted Old Dog completely differently from how you describe it.

THOMAS: That’s why I don’t generally tell people what songs are about.

DAVE: So they can put their own interpretation on.

CHUMKI: Ignoring that, ‘Iron Man’, what would be the inspiration behind that?

DAVE/THOMAS: It’s about how people get older and grow cold, how they lose because of that , how they lock themselves off.

DAVE: There are people like that. No one can approach them, they are the ones who are unhappy and lose out.

THOMAS: Who turn into something cold. They don’t really want to be like that, but they have gone too far to turn it back or they think they have.

CHUMKI: What about ‘Late Night Line’? A really emotional song.

THOMAS: It’s about losing somebody and imagining for that one night… sounds crazy…. I could be a DJ for a radio station which broadcasts whenever I want and I’d have a sort of  call line where people could call me and but I am only wanting one person to call ,who doesn’t , so the broadcast is completely…

CHUMKI: When you completed ‘Weary Nights’, your first CD ‘baby’, what did it feel like having this completed album delivered into your hands Was it how you expected, how you wanted it?   

THOMAS: It was recorded in somebody’s hall, we just went and did it without really understand what we were doing. A lot of songs seemed to have a different feel when we were recording them. We just needed some of our work catalogued. It was done so cheap but then when we handed it out to people, it seemed to strike a chord.

DAVE: We needed to get something down. It felt like a relief when It was all done and there and everyone was impressed. We were happy with the result, it proved we could work together and move on.

CHUMKI: You have a very clear sound so even when recorded on a budget and less than ideal conditions, the clarity of your voices and guitars have their own quality. However, the 2010 international guitar festival saw a bit of a transition, you played acoustically for the first half of your set and for the first time, had a dedicated band for the second. What made you decide to have a dedicated band and use more electronic instruments?

THOMAS: Basically, after ‘Weary Nights’ we wrote a ten track album which is still there, nobody’s heard it, all acoustic, in the style of ‘Weary Nights’ which we wrote over a period of time but then every new song idea after that didn’t seem to cut it just on acoustic, so we got some electrics and did them the way we wanted. It’s strange because we have just finished reworking ‘’Hurricanes’ acoustically.

DAVE/THOMAS: We’ve got that full album now; done the other way round, played it electric and now we can play it all acoustic.

CHUMKI: Who are your band members and how did you select them?

THOMAS: On drums we’ve got Alec Brits, a guy from South Africa who is studying here. I went to a gig and watched him play, really like his style, subtlety and skill, just walked up and got him, Jake Foord plays bass, he was a guy we had done some work with at the Weary Night’s stage and asked him to come back on board. We do have some other players as well which we use every now and then.

DAVE: They are the backbone now if we do band gigs.

CHUMKI: I know you are both very proud of your electric guitars. What guitars have you got and why did you choose them?

THOMAS: Mine’s a vintage Gibson Es-335 with P50 pickups in it .I loved it, tried a lot of guitars but because I’m a finger picker, an acoustic player, I didn’t like the Strats or the Telecaster because there is nothing to get your arm round, with the Gibson it’s a big bodied semi acoustic, so I feel at home playing it.

DAVE: He calls it ‘Big Momma’…Mine's a Fender Corona custom made Stratocaster, because of the sound of his (indicating Thomas) guitar, it’s like with the acoustics, he’s got a big sound on the Gib, mine is a really clear, smooth sound, it’s all about contrasts, they really work together, the two of them mix together, like the acoustic guitars, that’s the thought process behind that really.

CHUMKI: The album ‘Hurricanes’, are you happy with how its turned out, is it how you wanted it to be?

DAVE/THOMAS: It’s exactly how we wanted it to be, 10 songs, short and sweet, everything we intended it to be. We spoke about this at length before we recorded and think we got as close as we can and had a lot of fun recording it and I think you hear that.

CHUMKI: Where and how long did it take you to record?

DAVE/THOMAS: 4 days.

THOMAS: Parr Street, we went in and cut it live and then we mixed for the rest of the weeks.

DAVE: Then we put vocal over, piano and the rest.

DAVE/THOMAS: All the backbone was live because we wanted it to feel like that. The songs wouldn’t work if it sounded processed, they’ve got to be free to feel right, sound live.

THOMAS: We wanted it have the right feel, we didn’t want it to sound sterile, done to absolute perfection, overdubbed and overdubbed. I think music loses when it’s like that, so we went in, got everyone in a good mood, got a bit of energy and just hit it and recorded nonstop for 4 days and mixed for the rest.

CHUMKI: What was the inspiration for songs like Joe Crazy Rose, I love that one but I don’t know what it’s about?

DAVE: It’s about a friend of ours. He didn’t come from money, he came from love. He’s got a good heart, one of life’s characters who definitely deserve a song.

THOMAS: Just a great guy who gets himself sometimes into sometimes impossible situations but has a knack of getting himself out, he’s just an absolute character who busts himself out like a rambling rose

DAVE: Gets out of every situation, no one can hold him down.

CHUMKI: What about Hurricanes, the title track?

THOMAS: Hurricanes is just about a night out, a sequence of events, what happened on a night but there’s many hidden meanings in the story as well.

DAVE: It’s about a feeling really

CHUMKI: Are you concentrating on England at the moment or do you want to spread your wings further afield?

THOMAS: We have already been to Norway and looking to the end of the year to do some festivals abroad, in Europe.

DAVE: Maybe look to go to America, the further we can get our music the better but it’s difficult, you’ve got to plan these things properly, you can’t go all guns blazing, you’ve got to concentrate your efforts, that’s why we’ve got a great manager with us who knows what he is doing and...

THOMAS:...  like we were talking about before there is no point in just going and doing one gig here and one gig there. If we are going to do something we will be there for a while because, if you’re going out of town you need to make an impact. This summer we’ve focused on doing festivals, playing more out of town than Liverpool, we’ve only done 2 or 3 gigs in Liverpool this year as opposed to 30 the year before. It’s really getting spread out more and more and we are noticing more of an impact when we do play in Liverpool now because the places sell out.

DAVE: Because we are in the right venues We might be playing here less but the venues we are playing people appreciate it more, instead of playing 30 times a year at venues which don’t get the sound right, it’s more special.

CHUMKI: What’s coming up for you two that you would like to tell people about?

THOMAS: We’ve got a gig at the Unity theatre (Liverpool) on 16th November with Kate Walsh.

DAVE: We’ve got one on 8th November at Telford Warehouse with Nick Harper and after the Kate Walsh gig we’ve got the International guitar Festival at Birkenhead Priory on 19th November, which is Saturday night and we’re doing a special acoustic gig in December…

THOMAS:  …for Christmas. See what the New Year brings, there’s a lot in the pipeline. We’ve got a lot of travelling next year

CHUMKI: I’ve got to ask one question for Maureen, a fan in America, are you ever going to be wearing you’re rhinestone g-strings, she is dying to know. I think she would walk over water to see that.

THOMAS: To tell the truth I’ve got one on now

DAVE: Yeah we’ve got them on now. Tell her to come to every gig and one night you might see them (Much laughter)

I will tell her that. Thank you very much, TJ and Murphy.

www.myspace.com/thomasjosephandmurphy

Interview by Miss Chumki Banerjee
Photograph of band by Adrian Wharton