Interview: My Ruin’s Mick Murphy talks Neanderthal, Heavy Seventies and guitar heroes!

Micky Murphy by Andy Watson (crop)
Mick Murphy – photo by Andy Watson

LA-based but Tennessee born and bred, guitarist, bassist, drummer and producer Mick Murphy may well be the hardest working gent in metal. Best known for his role as axe-slinger and musical mastermind of veteran metal band My Ruin, as well as being a key part of The Birds of Satan and Chevy Metal with Foo Fighters’ sticksman Taylor Hawkins and bassist Wiley Hodgden, Murphy has a busy six months ahead.

Tomorrow (July 17th) sees the release of his latest solo EP Rock Formation, released under Murphy’s own Neanderthal moniker (trust us, we’ve heard it, it’s killer!) He’s also soon to launch new covers band Heavy Seventies. Then at the end of July comes Greatest Hits Vol.1, the debut album by Teenage Time Killers, the star-studded punk, rock and metal project spearheaded by Corrosion Of Conformity’s Reed Mullin, Murphy and producer/engineer John “Lou” Lousteau.

Fortunately the good man found the time in his hectic schedule to talk to Skin Back Alley about that new solo EP, Heavy Seventies, his work ethic and the current state of guitar music.

SBA: July is set to be a busy month for you! You’re releasing your new EP from solo instrumental project Neanderthal, Rock Formation, you’ve started a new covers project called Heavy Seventies AND the 31st will see the highly anticipated release of Greatest Hits Vol.1, the debut album by Teenage Time Killers. How are you fitting it all in?!

=MM= Well, the new Neanderthal EP has been finished for about a month now and we completed the TTK album a long time ago so as far as those records are concerned, I’m just anxiously awaiting both of their releases. The main thing I’ve been doing recently is working out interpretations of ‘70s hard rock songs in the jamroom with Heavy Seventies. I’m having a lot of fun paying homage to some of my favourite songs of all time.

Having heard it, I’m happily telling everyone who will listen that Rock Formation is just stunning, so congrats – it’s killer! When and where did the tracks that make up Rock Formation come together?

Thanks. I worked on Rock Formation sporadically over the past 6 months or so. A little more than half the record is made up of brand new material and the rest is revamped/rearranged ideas that I’ve had for up to 25 years. I tracked the drums in the jamroom and I added the guitars and bass at home. I took my time and enjoyed every minute of the process.

What are some of the things that have influenced the writing of Rock Formation and how do you think it differs from your previous Neanderthal releases?

The main influence on Rock Formation was a desire to not hold back at all and do the record that represents exactly what I want to do, rules and genres be damned. As far as how it differs from my previous releases, I think they are all different from each other, but I will say that this one has an adventurous spirit like the music I made in my youth. It’s the most musically dynamic and it has the best sound quality of any Neanderthal album so far. It’s a strong batch of unique songs and I’m really stoked about it.

Rock Formation EP cover

And when you say Neanderthal is a solo project, it really is, isn’t it. You write the music yourself, you typically play guitar, bass and drums yourself, as well as producing and engineering the whole thing?

Yes, with Neanderthal I write all the music, I play the drums, bass and guitar and I do the engineering, editing, mixing and mastering as well as the video editing. I do everything. It’s basically a form of therapy for me. It’s a pure and personal creative outlet with complete musical freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy writing and collaborating with others in all kinds of situations but sometimes I just need to indulge my musical urges on my own and that’s when I make a new Neanderthal record.

Can you see a time in the future when you might produce and engineer music for others? Is that a possible new string to the already well-stocked Mick Murphy bow?

I did just co-produce Tairrie’s new rap album with her which was a new experience for me. I welcomed the challenge of being creative in a different way. I was heavily involved in the engineering and mixing as well and I played some bass and guitar, but the classic west coast vibe of the album mostly called for heavy beats, so my main musical contribution was live drums. I’ve also produced some demos for other people throughout the years and I enjoyed that as well. It has to be the right situation for me though because I can’t put my heart into something that I’m just not feeling. Music is very personal to me.

Rock Formation is out on the 17th of July – your birthday that you share with Grover Jackson of GJ2 Guitars who made your Triple M signature model guitar and who you are rostered with. What’s it like having the support of such a renowned guitar maker, and how are you enjoying the Triple M having had a couple of years to get to know it?!

Grover’s support is a true honour. He has built guitars for many of my heroes including Randy Rhoads who is one of my biggest influences. The Triple M guitars are really nice. I couldn’t ask for a higher quality instrument. All of GJ2’s guitars are well built precision pieces of art. I truly appreciate the love they have shown me and I feel very fortunate to work with them. They make the best guitars you can get today.

Mick Murphy by Tour Bus Live com
Photo by Tour Bus Live.com

You played two full 20 minute sets of Neanderthal material on My Ruin’s most recent tour of the UK in 2014. What were those shows like for you and what was the reception on the part of the crowd like?

Those gigs were exciting and very satisfying. Luciano (Ferrea) and Matt (LeChevalier) were cool enough to work up a 6 song set with me the week prior to the tour and everything came together nicely. The crowds were enthusiastic and receptive and both shows were a real good time. We recorded while we were there as well and I plan to make that available as a Live In The U.K. free EP in the near future.

Given that you work so hard in different projects and bands (you’re also in My Ruin of course, as well as Birds of Satan and Chevy Metal) your work under the Neanderthal moniker intrigues me. How do you know when something is going to become a Neanderthal track and what does Neanderthal allow you to do as an artist that your other bands and projects don’t?

When I write songs for My Ruin, I have Tairrie’s vocal style, vision and the overall vibe of the band in mind so I steer things in that direction. The Birds Of Satan is Taylor’s vision. He’s the leader and main songwriter in that band so I work within the realm of what that entails. Neanderthal is my baby and like I said before, it allows me to freely express myself.

What influenced your decision to give your Neanderthal EPs away for free?

When My Ruin made A Southern Revelation available as a free download back in 2012, we didn’t know quite what to expect. With almost no marketing, it got so many downloads off our Bandcamp page that I’d be willing to bet that more people own ASR than many of the My Ruin records that were marketed and physically distributed worldwide through record labels. At this point, I feel that if you want to own and listen to my Neanderthal records then go for it. There is an option to “name your price” for those who like to pay for their music, but it is not required. When someone donates to the cause, that’s great and it’s really appreciated, but otherwise the music is absolutely free, in keeping with the complete musical freedom I was talking about.

You’ve recently started up a new covers band by the name of Heavy Seventies with Luciano Ferrea on bass and Mike Gryciuk on drums. The name suggests you’ll be focussing on classic heavy music from the decade that helped develop your love of rock?

That’s correct. We’re doing heavy’d up versions of stuff from the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s, which probably is my overall favourite era of music. Bands like Kiss, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Van Halen, Pentagram, Judas Priest, Cheap Trick, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones and Jeff Beck.

Fans will know a little bit about Luciano Ferrea, as he’s played live with My Ruin on several of your previous tours. How did the idea for Heavy Seventies come together and how did you come to work with Mike Gryciuk?

Yes, Luciano rocks, and has been playing bass with My Ruin for a long time now. He and I have loosely kicked around the idea of starting a cover band for a while. My experience with Chevy Metal has showed me how much fun that can be, so we decided to go for it and we fired up Heavy Seventies. Mike G is a killer drummer, we’re having a great time jamming with him as well and the band is gelling very quickly. We’ve known Mike for a few years now through the L.A. music scene and he actually almost did the last My Ruin UK tour but had to have surgery on his wrist at the time, so he couldn’t do it.

Micky Murphy by Jesse Silva (crop)
Photo by Jesse Silva

And am I right in thinking that you’ll be handling vocal duties for Heavy Seventies – something that you haven’t done since your days in 90’s thrash-metal-punk hybrid band Movement?

Yeah, I’ve been getting my singing voice back in shape. I’m actually enjoying it. Didn’t really think I’d ever sing for a band again but doing covers is fun. I did sing with Tairrie on a couple covers My Ruin recorded on past My Ruin albums, but other than that I stopped singing all together for a long time.

Can we expect to see Heavy Seventies playing live any time soon? Will you be “launching” the band in any particular way?

We are doing a Rock And Roll Pizza gig in September as well as a Whisky show in October. More details will emerge in the coming weeks and more dates will be booked. I’m also starting a Heavy Seventies Bandcamp page where I plan to upload raw live rehearsal recordings of our versions of the tunes we’re doing, so people can get a sample.

And will you be recording any material together do you think, or will the band remain a live-only prospect?

We may do some more involved higher quality recordings in the future but for now I’m just taping us with a mini stereo digital recorder. It sounds pretty good.

How will Heavy Seventies’ focus differ from Chevy Metal, the classic rock covers band that you’re in with Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins and bassist Wiley Hodgden?

We’re like Chevy Metal’s less melodic bastard cousin, haha. It is different from Chevy though, in that we’re focusing on the heavier side of old school rock and metal. There is no new wave or pop in the set at all. We’re also not doing any of the same songs that Chevy does, with the exception of Ace Frehley’s “Snow Blind”, because I sing that one.

You’ve had an obsession with the guitar from a very young age and have become a very accomplished musician. Your work rate is phenomenal and your talent is clear to anyone with ears. Do you ever feel that you would have liked a wider recognition as a guitarist at this point in your career?

In a word, yes, but it is what it is. Thanks for the kind words.

Slayer’s Kerry King recently said that he thought today’s rock music scene was lacking guitar heroes that up-and-coming players could aspire to be like. Do you think that kind of “guitar hero” status is still possible in today’s music business, and – with stellar players such as yourself around – is King just not looking hard enough?

As far as looking hard enough for the next guitar hero goes? There is so much noise on the internet now that the next EVH could fall through the cracks and be completely ignored. You can probably find 100 ridiculously talented guitar players out there, but no one really pays attention because they are so overwhelmed by the infinite amount of useless information instantly available at their fingertips. Rather than search out great new independent music or any other grass roots talent, the masses mindlessly scroll through goofy duck-face selfies on Instagram, smart assed shit talking posts on Twitter and videos of chicks beating the shit out of each other on Youtube.

Beck, Hendrix, Paige, Winter, Blackmore, Iommi, Derringer, Schenker, Frehley, Van Halen, Rhoads… 1966-1982 was the electric guitar golden era in my opinion. It probably won’t ever happen in such a massive way like that again and it’s a bummer. People were just more receptive to it back then so it flourished. Times have changed and unfortunately, guitar glory has faded.

Today’s entertainment scene in general, with the exception of a precious few, is lacking a lot more than guitar heroes. It’s a cliquey cheesy circus factory churning out overexposed bloated mega-stars, over-the-top narcissistic clowns and talent-less dead eyed pop culture “icons”, all acting ridiculous just to try and stay relevant while being over marketed through a bitchy lazy elitist media to a jaded desensitized mass audience. Idiots are treated like royalty and it’s gross. The appreciation for sincerity, creativity, originality and actual talent is dying out. It’s all about money, hype, controversy and shock value… mostly money.

For me, it’s simple. It’s all about music. It always has been. That’s what makes me feel alive.

You can DOWNLOAD Neadnerthal’s catalogue for FREE now via www.neanderthal.bandcamp.com, including the new ROCK FORMATION EP upon its release on the 17th of July

Connect with Mick Murphy at:
Neanderthal on Facebook: facebook.com/neanderthalrocks
Heavy Seventies on Facebook: facebook.com/heavyseventies
My Ruin on Facebook: facebook.com/myruinofficial
Mick Murphy on Facebook: facebook.com/mickmurphy71
Mick Murphy on Instagram: instagram.com/mickmurphy71
Mick Murphy at GJ2 Guitars: gj2guitars.com/gj2-artists/mick-murphy
Micky Murphy at Laney Amps: laney.co.uk/artists/mick_murphy

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