Interview: Beth Murphy of Times New Viking
Times New Viking play the Siren Festival this Saturday, July 19 at 4pm on the Main Stage. Be there or be stupid.
"I don't think about big things like the meaning of life and all that shit. . . I just think about how to like wake up, get through my day, get one thing productive done, eat at least one thing that's good for me and have like one meaningful conversation and then go to sleep."
If, by chance, you stumble across Times New Viking's keyboardist Beth Murphy this weekend, do not bring up Pavement (even though they were also on Matador). Or Guided by Voices (even though they're also from Ohio). And even if you're trying to be complimentary, whatever you do, for God's sake, do not use the term "lo-fi." That is, if you know what's good for you.
Instead, try to steer the conversation towards healthy eating, the Whitney Museum of American Art or maybe even alternative rock in New Zealand. She'll appreciate it.
We began speaking to Beth promptly at 1:30 on Friday, July 11th, a little more than eight days from what could be the pinnacle of her band's short, though previously ascendant, career.
Yeah, it's because I'm not a musician anymore.
See, if I was still a musician I'd probably be calling you sometime tomorrow night.
Yeah, I'm surprised I'm awake right now, but it's working out.
I thought you were probably a big sleep until noon rock star type person.
Well, I mean, I try not to be, but last night we were up until like five in the morning actually recording, so I felt like I had a right to (sleep late) this morning.
And what were you working on?
We're trying to finish this 10-inch for Matador. Basically they like decided that we should do this 10-inch when we were on tour so we got home and we had like a week and a half to do it, so we're trying to bust it out real quick.
The phrase "10-inch" pretty much only applies to vinyl. Will the release be vinyl-only or will there also be extended EP issued on CD type thing?
It'll be a 10-inch vinyl and I guess it'll be released on CD too.
And if all goes to according to your plans, hopes and dreams, how many songs will be there be?
Well, there's like seven songs. We still have a lot of mixing to do. We still have to title it and we still have to make album art, and we have to do it by next Wednesday.
So I'm crossing my fingers [laughs].
Okay, so you're home for two and a half weeks from your last jaunt away from Columbus (Ohio) and you've got to do laundry, but basically you've just been working hard on recording and will be until it's time to leave again.
Yeah, exactly. I haven't had a chance to do laundry yet. I keep wearing like bathing suits as underwear which is not cool.
Well, it is summer.
Yeah, I know, but I'm not swimming [laughs].
So let me ask you a few quick questions. Tell me something that you've never ever done before in your life.
I've never ridden on a whale.
Okay, tell me something that you've done once and one time only.
Once I ate ostrich.
How was it?
It was good.
And what are you eating now? Because it's obviously not ostrich if you've only done that once.
Yeah, it's an apple. Sorry.
That's all right. Tell me the name of a book that you've read at least twice.
I'm currently reading Babylon's Burning (by Clinton Heylin) for the second time.
So we can pretend that we're talking two weeks from now and you'll have it done.
Yeah. By the time this goes to print it'll be done.
But you promise to finish it so there won't be any lies in the interview.
Okay, a movie that you've seen at least three times.
Lord of the Rings.
And who is your favorite Beatle?
So you're playing the Siren Festival. What kind of grades did you make in Greek mythology? Was that one of your better subjects in school?
No, I didn't take Greek mythology at all.
You never read Homer's The Odyssey.
I have not read The Odyssey, no.
Have you seen O Brother Where Art Thou?
No, I haven't [laughs].
You haven't seen O Brother Where Art Thou, you didn't take Greek mythology, you've never read The Odyssey, you're still wearing your bathing suit as underwear and you're eating an apple while you're talking on the phone.
[laughs] I don't know. I think that's pretty good. I've done other things.
Do you know who the Sirens were?
The Sirens? They're like the little creatures that sang in the sea.
Yeah, except they're actually up on the rocks. They're women and they sing this very alluring song to get ships to come real close, and then the ships crash on the rocks and they die.
And they die. Yeah, that's me. That's what you're alluding to, right?
Well, it was supposed to be more of a question than an allusion. The term "siren song" refers to like an appeal that is hard to resist but will inevitably lead to a bad result. Does that ring any bells? Does that sound like you? When you look in the mirror do you think, 'Yes, I'm quite enticing but ultimately I'm going to make you crash your boat?'
Oh, I think, maybe as a band we're the opposite. Like we're not enticing. At first we're very abrasive, but when you get to know us we're actually quite cuddly.
So the charm of Times New Viking is slowly acquired. Maybe like the taste of ostrich.
Right. Like the taste of ostrich.
Okay, so when you form this band only one out of the three of you really knows what they're doing with their instrument. Is that right?
It's Jared. Jared's junior Jimi Hendrix.
So Jared knew how to play guitar, and then somebody is up late, until five o'clock in the morning, eating an apple and not doing laundry, and says, 'You know what? We should form a band.'
Well, Adam and Jared were in a band prior. I like took piano lessons when I was in second grade, but not much of that stuck. I mean, it's like, you know, being in a band with someone who doesn't know how to play an instrument. It's not exactly reinventing the wheel. That's something we stole from, you know, punks and all that kind of stuff.
But if they're already on drums and guitars, that doesn't leave you much, right? I mean, did you have to play keyboards or did you have a choice?
Yeah, I mean, it was my choice. It was the one instrument that I knew a little bit of, and it's the easiest one to kind of learn because you're just kind of banging of the keys, so I thought, 'Yeah, keyboard. Sounds good.'
And you're all in art school when the band started. Where? Ohio State?
No, we went to Columbus College of Art & Design.
And what was your area of concentration?
We all did printmaking.
Other than designing album covers, is there anything about your combined background as printmaking students that informs the band? Like is there anything about printmaking that can be helpful with songwriting?
I think the method we go about piecing together songs or ideas, it's like mostly based on like collage or like appropriation.
So the structural principles are similar.
Yeah, like the way we talk about it. Like we'll be like, 'Insert here.' We'll do this kind of psychedelic jam-out thing, then we'll do like a real Meat Puppets thing, and we're just using, you know, different established groups and stuff. I mean, kind of loosely . . . I mean, we're not plagiarizing, but acknowledging that you can use things that are already in existence in order to piece together your new music.
Well, there are only so many notes. I mean, you've got 88 but there are still limits.
And there's only so many riffs.
That's absolutely true. Let's take one of the songs from Rip It Off and dissect it like it was an embalmed frog on a 9th grade biology table.
Which would be the easiest to discuss as a songwriting process? Is there one off the top of your head or should we throw a dart?
Okay. I'm going to go with "Faces on Fire" for $200.
So tell me about the moment of conception. Who comes in with what idea that ends up being "Faces on Fire"?
I think it was a mix of things, but my initial inspiration was I was at this party and this guy kept telling everyone that Bob Dylan was dead. And like, you know, people could've figured it out. I mean, like in the whole information age like do people believe that or do they just like go and check out the website or whatever. But some of the lines like "I'm writing down something that you said," that was based on that. And then it was also a time when like a lot of people in town were experiencing tragedy and stuff like that and kind of just how they were dealing with it and that kind of thing. So those are some of the lyrics. And then "I see something that hasn't been done yet," that was just kind of like a joke. That kind of thing.
So the lyrics come first.
Well, Jared had the melody, the riff already. And it was like really beautiful, and I was like, 'I have to write something over this. Or try.' And so then he had that and I already has this kind of like loose kind of poem thing and then we just put it together.
Was this a party in Columbus?
Does the person walking around telling people that Bob Dylan is dead realize that he contributed to that song?
I don't know. I don't know if he does. Probably not. No. I'm going to tell him. I'm going to tell him now, right when I get off the phone with you, though. When he sees this interview, he'll remember it then. He'll be like, 'Hey, that was me.'
When bands first start releasing records, when they're first breaking onto the national scene as it were, musical reviewer types scramble through their iPods and they always end up saying something like, 'They sound like this band.'
Which 'Times New Viking sounds like this band' comparison annoys you most?
Not that I don't like Pavement but I just don't think we sound like Pavement.
Yeah, that's interesting, like how record reviewers, that's immediately what they do, and they're expected to do that, but if we do that coming from the other end, like, 'We're going to sound like this and this and this,' that's a little bit different. But yeah, Pavement and Guided by Voices. I think those are easy associations because we're from Ohio and now we're on Matador.
And there's a certain lo-fi quality there too.
Right. Yeah. I mean, not that I don't understand it. Maybe it's just been run into the ground and it's just annoying. And we don't listen to that music anymore per se, you know. I mean, not that we haven't listened to all those bands, it's just like, 'Get over it. Jesus.'
Has there been one of those 'Times New Viking sounds like this' that hasn't been overused, run into the ground, that's not too easy, that maybe only came out once, but it made you feel good for a moment?
Oh yeah, like when we get compared to like Kiwi pop or The Clean or early Expressway stuff. We like that.
But probably you wouldn't if people had been writing it once a week for a couple of years.
I don't know. Until we go to New Zealand and like record with Chris Knox, people can say that all they want.
So that's another thing that you haven't done. You've never been to New Zealand.
Okay. So between the Siren Festival a week from tomorrow and the Pitchfork Festival 9 days from now, I'm going to guess that's the most people that Times New Viking has ever played in front of over any two day period in the band's existence.
You would be correct.
Any nerves? There's going to be thousands of people in both places, and you're going to wake up in New York, play a big show, get on a plane, fly to Chicago, and play another big show. That's almost as rock star as wearing bathing suits as underwear and not getting up until after noon. Is this an exciting couple of days coming up for you?
Yeah, it's exciting. And you know, I have a feeling that this is kind of a one-time thing. Like it probably won't get bigger than this. I mean, I can't say how exciting that's going to be necessarily because I've never played in front of that many people. I have a feeling like after a couple hundred it doesn't really matter, but what was really exciting recently was when we played at the Whitney Museum. There was like so many kids there. I mean, just a couple hundred, but they were so excited and dancing at a modern art museum and they were freaking out like they were at a house party. And we broke the breaker and they were like standing on the monitors and dancing. I don't know. That's the highlight of our career, so far.
That's your favorite gig ever of all-time.
Yeah. Plus it was just hilarious that we were at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
That's great. Playing in front of kids who really, really want to be there has to give you the warm fuzzies, I would think.
Oh yeah. I had a tear in my eye. I had to hold back [laughs].
The weekend after next will be a big deal for your band, but I believe what you said was, 'It probably won't get bigger than this.'
Now when you say that, are you attempting to manage expectations, that if you don't hope for too much you won't be disappointed, or do you really think that highest point of Times New Viking's career is less than two weeks away and it's all downhill from there?
[laughs] Well, we've always had fun. I'm not hoping for too much and not getting disappointed. I'm usually more of an optimistic person, but because I have no experience prior to this band and we just started as a hobby, every single thing that happens to us I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? This is not happening.' So, I mean, I have to take it every step of the way, because this is just like a dream.
Well, I hope you're keeping a journal or a photo diary or perhaps using your previous skills to print your thoughts because I imagine you know already, just from doing this a few years, this goes by quickly. Even if you're still doing this when you're 50 it's going to feel like kind of a blink of an eye.
Right. I think a lot of what we do pertains to the youth and to being young at heart so, I mean, I think it's going to be something that has its moments.
Should we discuss the meaning of life?
I don't think about big things like the meaning of life and all that shit so I wouldn't be able to answer that. I just think about how to like wake up, get through my day, get one thing productive done, eat at least one thing that's good for me and have like one meaningful conversation and then go to sleep.
Okay, you've gotten up and apples are healthy.
I've had the apple. Check. I'm talking to you. This might turn out good. I'm not sure. We'll see.
Do you think this might be the meaningful conversation?
It might be, but I'm planning on having lunch with one of my roommate's friends so she might trump this. I'm not sure.
I'm going to put my money on her. [laughs]
Matador's kind of a big deal. I mean, they're a major indie label. They've got cool points. What, if anything, changed when you went from Siltbreeze to Matador? I know the distribution is better and so people can buy the record from more stores, but what other than having your record available more places has really changed?
I think just like being on labels like Matador you get offers from festivals. You get more interviews. We've got a guy who's like pimping us out to radio stations and stuff like that. There's also been a little bit of a backlash. I mean, anytime you like raise yourself from the totem pole in any way, like people become skeptics a little bit. But just being talked about and asked questions, I guess.
I thought backlash only happened when you signed with major labels like Geffen. Who's going to backlash you for signing with Matador? I mean, that's Yo La Tengo and Mission of Burma and Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville? Who's got a problem with that?
I don't know. People that are just a little bit misinformed. People that are able to sustain themselves without any kind of major label backing because they're using the Internet and they're using their own media, which is something that is admirable but like it's too much work to have to limit yourself in that arena in this day and age. I mean, everything is connected and if you want to get your message out there and get your music out there you have to like take a couple kicks along the way.
Despite the fact that your career may reach its peak nine days from now, to this point it's done nothing but grow. If we created a graph, the movement would be up and then come to an abrupt stop on the 29th, I guess. When you signed with Matador, did you see any backlash in your home community or do most people take you more seriously now because this big, cool record company in New York pretty much says, 'Yeah, they're good.' What was the hometown reaction like?
Well, I don't know how it looked, but it was positive. I mean, our shows in Columbus, we came home after two months of touring and played at this free show in this parking lot. And it was like the best show. I mean, it was just right up there with like playing at the Whitney because people in Columbus just love music. Period. And like it's just the best vibe when you come home and play Columbus, so I can't complain about how we've been received in here. I think a lot more kids that didn't know about us before because they weren't into the Columbus dive bar rock scene, that were maybe were just like in high school or went to Ohio State, they found out about us because we were on Matador and they started coming out and we started seeing new faces, because it's usually just like the same group of people that go to all the shows. Which is great. So I mean, I think overall it's been positive.
I mean, the backlash has been minimal, you know. I mean, I just bring it up because it just recently came up, you know. More of the like conversation points and kind of like a backlash have been over the production quality of our music. And I hate to even bring that up because, wow, you haven't brought that up once. That is amazing.
[laughs] Let's just forget I said that.
Nope. Too late. But I would be surprised if there's an article written on Times New Viking that doesn't contain the five characters: lo-fi.
Absolutely it would.
Is that as annoying as the Guided by Voices and Pavement comparisons or is it something you can understand because it's really kind of a fair assessment?
No, I mean, I understand that it's like the first thing you hear and it's hard for people who don't listen to abrasive music or have never listened to abrasive music to kind of wrap their head around. And you have to listen to it many, many times to really understand the song structures, I think, and what's going on. I mean, we already understand them. We wrote them. So I listen to it and I just hear the songs. And I mean, it takes a lot of patience and it takes someone who doesn't think they're being put on, I guess, to write about it in that sense.
I mean, I think it's caused an interesting debate, because some people are pissed off because of how abrasive it sounds. I mean, I had no idea.
What's the last album that you actually paid for with your own money.
We always buy records when we go on tour. I bought the new Velvet Underground bootleg, (Live at) The Gymnasium.
What album have you listened to more than any other album in your entire life?
I think that has to be Freewheelin' Bob Dylan or Neil Young After The Goldrush.
So, by extension, is Freewheelin' your favorite Dylan album?
Yeah, my dad had that album so I listened to it. It was one of the first records I listened to.
Let's go to a question closer to the meaning of life. How are Times New Viking's collective parents about being supportive of your career? You know, their kids enter a fine art college and then all of a sudden they're playing in a band full-time. Are everybody's parents good with what you're doing?
Are you a dad?
No, I'm not. I'm an uncle.
Okay, that's just a very observant question and I had to ask that. My dad didn't get it, didn't get it, didn't get it, didn't get it for years and then we played at the Wexner Center which is the Columbus, Ohio contemporary arts center and we were featured in the Columbus Dispatch and he was like, 'Okay, I get it.' And now he like saves everything that we're in and tells us when he hears about us on the news and stuff, so he's really proud. Our parents are probably equally excited and confused by what we're doing. I mean, if you have weird kids, what do you expect? You just try to understand them.
I think an attempt at understanding is about all you can hope for.
All right, the last question for the boat, the trailer and the motor home and I'll let you go find a more meaningful conversation. Are you ready?
Yeah, okay. Hit me.
You go to South by Southwest. You are falsely accused of murder. Unfortunately you are tried, convicted and sentenced to death row. And since you're in Texas they're going to fry your ass.
What do you want for your last meal?
Vegan biscuits and gravy.
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