Pete Murray interviewOnce upon a time, long, long ago (the 1990's) in America, there was a group of choir boys, led by two talented lads named Pete Murray and Neil Godfrey, who formed a band called Ultraspank.
by Randy Patterson
Actually, the way the story is supposed to be told is that they formed a band called Spank but, due to certain quirky legalities (could someone possibly have the word "spank" licensed and trademarked? Only in America!), and with a kind suggestion from none other than Rob Zombie, they changed the band's name to Ultraspank. Take that, you crazy legal beagles! Well, the way lore is typically written by those who make a living writing lore, one would expect to read that "Ultraspank went on to play happily ever after." Well, the lore writers screwed up that story, forgetting that sometimes, record labels don't play along with scripts very well.
So, the way this particular tale goes, the band released their second album, which would've been great ‘cept those crazy record label guys forgot to read their part of the script and didn't promote the album. The label was shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you! – that the second album didn't sell and, figuring it was totally the band's fault, dropped Ultraspank. Not to be artistically deterred, Murray and Godfrey soldiered on to start a brand spankin' new band called Lo-Pro. The band signed on with Geffen Record subsidiary, 413 Records, and released their self-named debut album in 2003. They enjoyed decent success with their release and supported it with heavy touring.
This is where the lore writers would, gain, typically say "...and Lo-Pro went on to play happily ever after." Well, it didn't' exactly happen that way. After completing the grueling tour, Geffen dropped the band. No, really! They did! I think it must be something they teach in record label school or something. I must research that someday. Back to Lo-Pro.
In the years followed, Pete Murray and Neil Godfrey channeled their pain and frustration into incredibly crafted songs. Songs full of rage and venom. Songs that melodically grabs the listeners by the collar and lets you know in no uncertain terms what exactly is on their minds.
The result is the appropriately named CD, The Beautiful Sounds of Revenge, just about to come out now. I listened repeatedly to the advance copy I received of the disc and, I must say, it grabbed me by the ears and whipped me around like a mangy dog. I had to find out more about this band and this CD so I was fortunate enough to secure a phone interview with Pete Murray to learn more. When we synched up by phone, I wanted to hear in Murray's own words what the story was with him and the band.
"Yeah, well, basically, Neil Godfrey and I were in a band called Ultraspank years ago. We were on Epic Records for awhile and had kind of a bad experience with the music business, which is probably more common than not. And when that broke up, Neil and I kept writing and moved in to this next phase which is Lo-Pro.
"The name Lo-Pro really came about because we attracted the attention of Aaron Lewis (Staind front-man and rhythm guitarist) before we even started playing out or anything. Aaron basically signed us sight-unseen.
"So, when we were making our first record, we were hanging out in L.A. for awhile and we ran into some old friends of ours who asked, ‘What are you guys doing now?' and we're like, ‘We're making a record now. We got a deal with Geffen.' People were shocked that we were even making music. They had no idea. That's the reason why we came up with the name, Lo-Pro, because we made all this stuff happen while still maintaining a low profile."
We discussed how technology has made it infinitely easier to produce a record today than it did even ten years ago. Pete is very animated as he describes the processes behind Revenge.
"On this record, the technology is insane! I mean, we're all scattered around California, mostly. Actually, the other Pete (Ricci, guitarist for the band) lives out in Massachusetts. I'm able to record all those guys from my house here in San Diego by running their ProTools unit through my computer.
"It's frickin' insane, man! We're constantly e-mailing each other files, guitar tracks, drum tracks, this and that. The military snare drum thing on "Letting Go," one of the last songs on the record, Tommy Stewart was actually living in Atlanta at the time. He recorded it in his basement in Atlanta and e-mailed me the file and I dropped it in and we mixed it up. The technology is crazy right now, man!
"I remember back in the day when we were starting off, you would save a bunch of money, go into the studio and make a demo. You'd be stuck with that demo for a year until you could afford to make another one. Now, if you have an idea, you can record, mix it and make a video for it and slap it on the internet in one day. It's insane!
"You know, it's like Aaron Lewis, he's on this acoustic tour, he's obviously going to work on a solo record. He's trying out all of these new songs and I'll send him a text message and be like, ‘Hey, I dug that new song!'And he's like, ‘YouTube?' and I say, ‘Yep!' And he's like, ‘Well, I just played that for the first time 20 minutes ago!' It's on the Internet before the show is even over! It's crazy!"
I asked Murray what his musical influences were before he "went pro."
"I grew up on my brother's record collection. So, I was very much a classic rock guy. A lot of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Peter Gabriel. And, then, in high school I was really into U2. Now, I listen to everything. I think I wanted to be a singer after seeing Ministry for the first time live. But I listen to everything, man, EVERYTHING!"
"I listen to so much stuff – Sigur Ros; someone just sent me the new Def Tones record – I'm still a big fan of theirs. I LOVE Celtic Frost, Slash's new record, I love a guy named John Hopkins who did the intro on the Coldplay record – he's just put a record out. I'm into Snow Patrol. I listen to everything! I like Peter Gabriel's new record. It's pretty wild! It's a trip, man! It's him with an orchestra, basically. No band. It's frickin' amazing!"
Our conversation moved to the subject of The Beautiful Sounds of Revenge. I quoted a line from the press release where it admits that the album is an angry, confessional, introspective type of record. I then asked – only half seriously – "Did somebody say or do something to hack you off?"
With a laugh, Pete responds, "Honestly, there are a lot of angry songs on the record. We've been through a lot in the music business – some really unfortunate turns of events. Our deal with Geffen totally imploded. We just had a tough run at it. "But the record goes full circle. Immediately following our deal collapsing with Geffen, I wanted to inflict bodily harm on certain people. But honestly man, these days I am in such a great place. It (the album) starts off kind of angry but it just comes around with being happy with who and what you are. The things you can't control are the things you can't control. So, why get all up about it.
"There's definitely a full circle kind of thing happening on it but it starts off pretty angry, the first song on the record especially. But there are definitely some songs of hope in there as well. It's funny, somebody asked me today, ‘What fact about Lo-Pro would you say might surprise people?' My answer was, ‘We're not bitter!' People think we are because our songs are kind of angry but that's the release. That's where the magic happens, making music. It's definitely a diary of what has happened over the years and there's some anger in there."
I asked Murray about some of the songs on the album, starting out with the first cut of the album, "Blame Me." It comes across with biting sarcasm. I wanted to know what the story was behind that tune.
"'Blame Me' and 'Early Morning Anger' are both about the same incident. But it's this crazy thing, in the music business. When we were on Geffen (where) we had this ‘all star team,' we had all these people working for us. The minute we lost our deal with Geffen, thing changed– my Blackberry used to vibrate non-stop. It was constantly ringing or e-mails were coming in. The minute we were dropped, it went completely dead. I turned off the thing a couple of weeks later.
"The business is just brutal. When you're hot and there's money around, everybody is right there for you. And, then when things go a little south, you really figure out who your friends are and who your friends are not. And, in a lot of ways, it's great! It kind of wakes you up from this imaginary dream. At the end of the day, you have your music, you have your band mates and you have some close friends around. That's ALWAYS going to be it. All of these other players come in and out but at the end of the day, you've got to be happy with what you do.
"That's where those songs came from – a couple of incidents where I could feel these relationships with certain people disintegrating immediately and that's EXACTLY where that song came from. "
Related to this subject, Pete and I were comparing notes as to the shallowness of so-called friends. He shares his thoughts about a couple of people in his life who proved to be real friends.
"I'm really fortunate in having a friend like Neil Godfrey. He and I have written music together for twenty years now. And, I've got to say that Aaron Lewis is one of the only guys who didn't disappear during that whole thing (at Geffen). He's always been there for us and helping us out however he can. It wasn't his fault (what happened at Geffen). He brought us to Geffen and was under the same false pretenses that we were. He's really been there for us as a source of inspiration. It's all good at the end of the day."
As a Texas resident, I was curious about the song, "Texas." I told him that, when I hear the song, I envision hitting the open highway, pedal to the metal, and cranking this tune up LOUD.
"Perfect! Perfect! This song is sort of a fantasy about revenge, I suppose. But, ultimately, it's about picking up and starting over and not necessarily feeling that you have to give anybody a reason. Just basically hitting the ‘reset button,' that's what it's about."
One of my personal favorites on The Beautiful Sounds of Revenge is "A Life That's Just Begun." I commented to Murray that I felt that the song would grab a lot of attention for them and asked him for his thoughts about that song. "That was actually the last song that we wrote for the record. Funny enough, the drums on that song were the drums for "Letting Go." We started playing "Letting Go" when we did an acoustic tour and realized that the song worked way better as a down tempo acoustic track. So, we scrapped the rock version.
"We pulled those (original) tracks up one day and wrote "A Life That's Just Begun" around that killer drum beat. I love that song, obviously, because it's fresh and it's one of those magical songs that happened overnight. There are tracks on there that I recorded over the phone with Neil. The thing came together in a really cool way. That song is a reminder to me to not dwell on things. Embrace the day, basically. I'm glad that you picked that one up."
With regards to the song, "Wasting Away," I mentioned to Pete that it sounded like it was written for a TV show or movie. With a laugh, he says, "That song makes me think of a fisherman's wife, scanning the horizon for her husband to return from a storm or something. Again, it's this thing that stuck with me forever, wrestling with how much you're sacrificing for a dream or a pursuit in life. Is it worth it in the end – that kind of thing."
"Ingenious" is a little scary to listen to and I didn't mind telling Murray that the song almost made me wet the bed the night that I first listened to it. He cackled out loud on that bit of embarrassing news. If I didn't know any better, I would've thought that he was rather proud of the effect it had on me.
In all seriousness though, I suggested that the song sounded like "Wrapped" and "Fired" (both from Ultraspank's 1998 debut album) and jacked them up on steroids.
Again, with his infectious laugh, Pete responds, "Tommy is a BEAST on that song! Holy cow! He set the vibe for that track. Everything that followed was completely over the top."
When I asked what the crowd reaction to the song was like, Murray shared that, "Well, we toured last summer with Creed – the last thing we did. And, at the time, we had just released the EP which had some of the songs from the full length (disc). We actually, as difficult as it was, we kept a song like "Ingenious" in the bag because we didn't want to pull it out to quick because it will be on the Internet and all of that. We've rehearsed that song and it's a blast, but we haven't busted it out yet."
You've been warned, folks.
The eighth cut, "All I Have," is tied with "A Life That's Just Begun" for the first place spot of my favorites on this album. I knew when I heard the heart rendering lyrics of this incredible tune that there was an equally incredible story behind it. I asked Pete if the song was about a loved one going off to war.
"You nailed it! I had the good fortune to vacation in Fiji a few years ago. I had the greatest two weeks there – not a care in the word. I came back, went right back into auto-pilot and turned on the television – which is so unfortunate but that's what we do.
"The first thing that I saw was a report on soldiers saying goodbye to their families and heading off to Iraq. It just sucked the wind out of me. I was guilty, in a way, that there's this insane thing going on. At that time, the war was more intense than it is now. It just really made me take a step back.
"Then, there was an e-mail from a dear friend of mine who was heading off in a couple of weeks for his second tour of Iraq and, again, it was one of those songs that popped right out in a really short period of time. I think I wrote the thing in about ten minutes."
"We went on the acoustic tour with Aaron and played that song and it completely leveled people. I knew right away that I captured a moment that a lot of us can relate to. We're STILL sending our boys over there. It's CRAZY! My friends who've went, they've been on three tours . . . we've been there for SO long!
"It's insane! There's this whole other world going on! Are people even aware (of the war) anymore? We still have guys over there! We get tied up with what celebrities have had boob jobs. It's such a crazy reality! That's how the song came. I was really moved by these pictures of these guys. It just rips your heart out."
What can Lo-Pro fans expect in the way of touring or appearances from the band?
"We've been taking it one step at a time. We're looking at our options for touring this summer. We'll be playing around California as the record is close to being released. Then, once it comes out, we're hoping to get out there this summer." I always like to ask artists where they see themselves five years from now and I didn't spare Murray this question. His humorous answer showed his heart and passion for his craft.
"Hopefully, in everybody's iTunes playlist! But, if we're not, we're still going to be playing music. I can tell you that! It's been the most liberating thing for me. We've finally gotten to this point in this journey where I am going to make music forever – whether it's on a major label or not. No one can ever take that away from me.
"I would love to be on everybody's playlist but, if I'm not, it's all good because I'm still going to be making music. As long as things like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are out there, you'll be able to find it!"
As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Pete Murray if, in the spirit of "All I Have," he would like to give a shout out to our men and women in uniform.
"Hell yeah! I never forget what they're doing over there! It's a mind blowing thing to think how long they've been over there, doing what they do there for us. It's such a humbling thing. THOSE guys are the rock stars! Hopefully, we'll get them home soon!"
Lo-Pro's The Beautiful Sounds of Revenge is set to be released June 8th and is a must-have. You can keep up with Pete Murray and the boys at their website, lopromusic.com. Oh, and you lore writers assigned to writing the Lo-Pro story? In my best Donald Trump imitation, I'm telling you that you're fired and I'm taking over the task. So, here it goes: Pete Murray and Neil Godfrey led Lo-Pro to incredible success with The Beautiful Sounds of Revenge and continued to thrill with incredible music happily ever after.
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