Perfect Sound Forever


Shoving the Misery and Runaways in/out of the Twin Cities
Dan Murphy interview by Peter Crigler, Part 2

If you can in here from elsewhere... here's Part 1 of the interview

PSF: What was success like? How did everybody react to it?

DM: We were out in the middle of a MTV Alternative Nation tour, so all of a sudden, we got really famous for a couple weeks. Like, you'd order food and everybody would want to take your picture. It got really weird. Everybody reacted differently, you know? I don't know. It was like, it was kind of fun, but looking back, I wish it was more fun.

It certainly had its moments, but it was like, I don't know, just, it affects everybody in the band differently, success and... And it kind of, for us, I think sadly, it kind of killed a little bit of the camaraderie that we had. You know, it was always "one for all and all for one," the whole collection of personalities and faces and things was bigger than the thing. I'm not saying that Dave turned into a dick or anything, but it just got to be where he was such a focus of the face of our band. I think it made Dave very uncomfortable, too.

Like, we'd go to Japan and we'd go to do these photo shoots in Germany and shit. Bill Sullivan was a really cool tour manager. He'd bring in the magazines of the fuckin' people, like Pop Candy Germany. He's like, "I just want you to know, here's the shit you're doing an interview for," and it'd be like Vanilla Ice and shit. They'd try to wrap Dave in American flags, shirtless on a dresser and shit, and all this stuff he's doing. We're like, "What the fuck, this isn't what our band's about, this is ridiculous." So I don't think we had very good quality control. He's literally bringing these magazines, he's like, "holy fuck, this is gonna fuckin' ruin you a year down the line."

David Hasselhoff was in this shit, and it was just fuckin' nothing to do with what we were about. It was really frustrating, because, you go to Germany, your people there for... Sony's a huge company, they're supposed to do their job, but they don't really get the fuckin' persona of the band. They don't get where we came from. They just think, "Oh they told me to get press, I'll get press," you know.

PSF: I've heard that the "Runaway Train" video actually brought a bunch of kids home.

DM: Yeah, a few, I think. You know, some girl met us, she was like "You fuckers ruined my life," and I was like, "What are you talking about?" She was in San Diego, she was living with her boyfriend. She was, like, 15, she ran away. She's like, "I'm sitting there, TV, there's my face." That was kind of funny. And I was like, "Sorry," you know, what do you say to that? At this time, she was like 17. And then some dude, he was a firefighter, I remember in Boston, whatever, the World Amphitheater, somewhere out there. Came to a show and his little girl was in the video, he was... His estranged wife had buried the girl in his back yard and shit. Everybody got so emotional, you know?

And the crazy thing about that is, we had nothing to do with that video other than we really liked this guy Tony Kaye. He was a fucking genius. And he really made us look good, and he was like, we had nothing to do with the concept of that. Nothing to do with the video. Yeah, but I really got him. He was just, he was so... I felt so comfortable being in front of him as he filmed the band, you know? And he just... He saturated the films, it was all technicolor, I just thought he was brilliant. It was another thing just out of luck, we met 20 video directors, and I go, "I fuckin' like this Tony Kaye guy," and he's like, "You know what, if we could actually do the milk carton thing, we could actually save kids." That was his only concept. Genius.

It's just one of those fortuitous things that happened in your life where you're taking the meeting and you've taken a lot of meetings that you're not excited about, some guy you really connect with. He did everything. He's like, that whole haven where we were playing, he was like, it was supposed to be a runaway shelter. We were on tour in fuckin' Orlando. We find some place north of there. We did all that in between tour dates, all that whole video. And it's like, "Oh yeah, I got a place on location, drive 70 miles up there," and then you spend 5 hours before sound check. Because we were playing every night at that time, you know? And then we saw the first takes and were like, "Holy shit, this is good." Not knowing at all what to expect. That was one of the few times in many years of doing this I was actually blown away. I was like, "Fuck, this guy gets it," you know?

I mean, it's a beautiful song, and you know, it's really lovely lyric, and it's... I don't know, I was just, I'm glad someone took it as seriously as he did to create something that he created with us as people in the video, but that was him. Very little to do with us.

PSF: I'm one of those people that kind of got tired of hearing that song after a while...

DM: Oh, God, yes. It's a lovely song, you know? I totally hear you. But it's like... The first time I heard Dave, I said "Holy shit, that's good. Man, you don't got nothing." Now it's like... It was weird timing because punk rock had kind of broke, and you know, I don't know, it was the weirdest timing in the world. But I don't know, I believe in that song and, you know, it's kind of not really indicative of what we did a lot of...

PSF: What ultimately caused Grant's departure, and do you feel that bringing Sterling in ultimately helped the band?

DM: Yeah, Grant wasn't super easy to tour with and he... I don't know, it was really hard. It should have been easier to record drums.

Yeah. It was really hard, actually. He was really angry with us. And, I don't know, it's just like, we should have done that sooner. And Grant wasn't even our original drummer, so I didn't feel like, "Oh, this is the guy we started out with," I felt like we kind of picked him up because we were rehearsing in the place and he was a roommate there that said he played drums. I didn't know anything about him. But I don't really have any animosity. I've actually seen Grant a few times. Doing that was really hard, but what do you do?

You're trying to create something that is obvious in its intent as... If you write songs, you're trying to create stuff like that, it's obvious in your intent when you're thinking of it, you have a kernel of what the song is about. And if it's really hard for everybody to interpret that, you're fucked. Whether it's your drummer, your bass player, your guitar player, but you're really trying to create something that, when you hear a song, you have a kernel, "Oh, it could be like this, it could be like this," but if everybody's not contributing to what that kernel could be like, you're not gonna get... It's not gonna be what you want, and we were really at that place. Sterling was great. I wish he would have toured with us at that time. I thought he was really good. He was funny, and he's a very, very good drummer. I mean, he's phenomenally good.

PSF: What was it like recording Let Your Dim Light Shine with Butch Vig?

DM: We kind of knew Butch. He had a place called Smart Studios, and Dave recorded there- And he obviously did Nirvana and other stuff. So we kind of knew him and stuff. We kind of really clicked. That was a hard record to make, for some reason though, because... I don't know, it was, like, in fuckin' L.A. for seven months making that shit. For me, I really lost track of spontaneity. It was like, it was frustrating, because it was like the very beginning of what turned into ProTools, where you could put stuff into the thing, he called 'the hopper,' you could move stuff around. It just took forever to push back a guitar track, and I said, "Did you want me to play it some more? Why don't you just fuckin' ask me to play it again? Because it won't take you fuckin' seven hours to get a take?" That was like... I felt kind of like we were fighting against technology in that record. It's good stuff on there, I mean, it's good music on that, but I don't think that was the follow-up record we needed to make. And again, we were on tour forever. And then maybe you take four months off, and you say, "Okay, what do you got for new record?"

PSF: What happened with the unreleased album Creatures record that turned into Candy from a Stranger?

DM: Oh, that was a nightmare, actually. We did a record with Matt Hyde in this really cool studio in L.A. that Funkadelic used to record at. It looked like a fuckin' Commodores video from 1972. It was so cool. But it didn't sound great. We spent all this time doing a record, and I was in New York with Dave and Donnie Ienner, who was our A&R guy still. He was kind of disappointed with the one before. There was a long time after that, we actually spent a long time, like maybe three or four years between records. And he asked me to bring up the DAT, before it was CD or whatever it was, of the new record. I sat there in his office and played it for 40 minutes. Dave wouldn't go to the meeting, I was kind of pissed about that. And he's like, "You know what? I don't like this record. I don't think I'd ever want to listen to it again, you know?" I was like, "That kind of sucks!" You know? He's like, "Yeah, it just doesn't excite me." He's like talking sonically a lot. So then we hired Chris Kimsey to make kind of the same record. There's about four of five different things. We did that in Miami. That was a weird experience. I mean, there's some good stuff on that record, but yeah. I don't know. For me, if I were to look at our volume of work, I think definitely probably Grave Dancer is probably the best record. I think the one, Let Your Dim Light Shine is a really good album. It's really produced well. The Silver Lining I think is really good. By that time, no one cared about our band, but there's really good music on there. I'm serious! That's a good record, man.

PSF: I remember reading after Candy, you guys were on the bottom of the bill with Matchbox Twenty and like Semisonic or something?

DM: Yeah. No, we were in the middle of the bill... It was written that we were on the bottom of the bill. That wasn't Matchbox 20's fault. I liked the singer okay. He was very nice to us, but we didn't take that very seriously. One time, we like just decked ourselves out and Semisonic, you know, fucking windbreakers and umbrellas and scarves and hats and sweatpants. We all dressed up in their gear, and we opened with Jump, that Van Halen song. I go, "That's a Hollywood Bowl in L.A." And he was sitting on the side of the stage. I think it was the funniest thing in the world. It endeared us to people's parents that took their kids to the show, but the kids didn't really did it. Rob [Thomas, Matchbox 20 singer], I mean he was very, very nice. I don't know. It just seemed like... I don't know. We were basically forced to do that. Like, "Hey, if you don't do this tour, you're going to miss four months of promotion on your record." We're like, "Fuck," you know? At that point, I think we've always made the mistake of opening for bands that we don't really have any affection for, and that's never fun.

It's true. You should play music with people that you really admire, and want to sit on the side of the stage and watch your show every night. I don't think I watched one of their fucking shows. Not that they're a terrible band, it's just not my cup of tea. Literally, you know? It didn't speak to me.

PSF: Was there a hiatus after that record?

DM: Yeah, I think Dave made a solo record, and I started playing a lot with Golden Smog, the other band that I'm in. You know, I don't mean to be a dick, but it's like diminishing returns, right? Your opportunities are less and less frequent. You know, I was thinking about doing something different. You know, I like playing music, but I gave it my whole life and my teens and my twenties and my thirties, and by the time I was in my forties, I was like, "Fucking A, I've never really done anything else. I like art and I like travel." There's so many other things. I was like, "Well, if you don't want me to play for seven months, that sounds great. I'll just go to fucking Cambodia or whatever, just do other things."

At that point, I was 20 years into a career where I was... God, we probably played you know, 100 to 250 shows a year all those years. It was constant travel.

PSF: What ultimately caused your departure?

DM: I wasn't happy with the records we were making, and I didn't connect with Dave anymore. I kind of felt like... I can be really candid. This is weird, but I remember we were recording the last record I played, and I can't remember the name of it. It's called...

PSF: Delayed Reaction (429).

DM: Yeah, yeah, okay, so I played on that. And everybody at that point, Tommy [Stinson, bassist, also of The Replacements] had his own studio. He was doing stuff in Philadelphia. Dave had a place in New Orleans. I was going to this place in Minneapolis, and Michael was kind of... you know, so everybody was playing their own parts. Mailing this shit around, MP3 files, I was like, "Holy shit." So I was in the studio trying to make sense of a song that I really love, called "By the Way," which actually came out okay on the record.

I was trying to struggle with us, and there was like 58 or 72 tracks of shit that everybody recorded, not listening to what anybody else had played. Like Tommy said, "Oh, I didn't even have your guitar line when I was playing bass." I was like, "Well that fucking note Rob, it doesn't work at all." You know, I said to the engineer, "What happens if you put on all 70 tracks of this shit at the same time?" And it sounded like fucking Captain Beefheart on crack, it was so bad. I was like, "I can't do this."

The thing I loved about being in a band is having some kind of ensemble feel. You react to what happens in the room. That's what I loved about Golden Smog. You don't have a super set... you know the chord changes, but someone might come in, "Hey, we got a piano player," like someone was going to play this, and he plays stuff that's beautiful. As a guitar player you say, "Oh God, I could fucking do this on that," and then you get this whole ensemble feel.

In that era of solo town, it was just like, everybody just was like, "Oh, I'll just cut the bass in my studio," and no one was even in the same room. I was like, "This is not a record, don't even put my name on it." I wasn't into it at all. It's really... kind of like a non-circular way to make a record.

Yeah but for me, I was like, having the engineer put on what everybody thought would be a good thing to put on this track at the same time. When you put it on, there was no direction, there was no... there was not anything to be proud of. I was like, "Wow, that hurts," you know?

But I just think that ship lost its rudder, and it just got to be really shit show. I don't know. I haven't talked to Dave in a really long time. I think he's an amazingly talented person, and he was really charismatic, but I don't think he was a very good advocate of his talents, and his contribution to music. I think he kind of gets portrayed as someone that's kind of off the fucking hook, because he is, and that's sad. Maybe he's a real original. Maybe he's a real... I don't know. But it's frustrating after a while, for me to just be around someone that's unhinged that much of the time, and that sad, and that angry. It's just like, "fucking A, man. You had it all. Why so blue?"

PSF: I think they did the summer and nostalgia tour a couple years ago, and it feels like he plays a lot of state fairs now.

DM: Yeah, I don't know what he does. The early years of the band, we were really brothers. We really fought it out. We were really close during Grave Dancers, but it just got to be where... I don't know. But I tell people, "Am I sad about it? No, because two guys that are in a band together for 31 years that aren't lovers and don't have sex. How can you not hate that person after 31 years?" I mean, it's just inevitable. It literally is. Because you're trying to navigate some landscape that's full of fucking potholes and pratfalls, and shit. When it doesn't go well, it's human nature to say, "Well, if fucking Dan would have done this, if Dave would have done this." It's a game you're playing.

I feel like it would be nice to have some contact with Dave, but I'm not surprised we don't. I wish him well, and I think he's an amazingly talented guy. I just don't think he really knew how to advocate for himself, and that to me is frustrating, because I think he didn't listen. He's kind of... driven by voices in his head that he's kind of trying to beat back and stuff. It's weird. Even in the heyday of the band, it seems like he's always in conflict with himself.

PSF: Aside from Dave, do you keep in touch with anybody?

DM: Karl died, he was like my dearest friend on the road. That was really heartbreaking. I'm very close with his widow. Michael Bland I like quite a bit, I really enjoyed playing with him. I like Winston [Roye, bassist] who was in the band, Tommy I'm in touch with. You know, there was a lot of people that kind of came and went for a little while there. I don't know. Managers and stuff I'm not that close with anymore.

Our first manager, David Ayers is going to come stay with me for a while. The only guy who never made a dime off Soul Asylum, it's kind of ironic, because he kind of manages as a recording geek. But you know, for me, I mean I'm proud of that moment, those moments, and I'm proud of our work but it's like, fuck. That was a long time ago, you know?

I'm very pragmatic where Dave wasn't pragmatic at all. I think that was between us, that was effective. I was like, "He's a dreamer because he writes great songs," and I'm more like, "Fuck, you've got to do this, because I think differently, completely." That's kind of why it worked, and at the end that's kind of why it didn't work.

PSF: What are your fondest memories of Karl?

DM: Karl was my roommate on the road. We shared rooms. Karl was kind of like the fucking bullshit detector in the band, you know? Maybe my fondest one, like some guy, I think it was Bob Rock from Canada, Mr. Producer Guy. He did Journey and shit. This was for Hang Time, they tried to get us a rock and roll producer, you know? He's sitting at this dinner with us, and he's talking about all this shit, and he starts singing like the guy in Journey. Because he's just done that record, you know? The guy's like... Steve Perry, the singer? "That guy has such an amazing talent." Karl has three or four drinks. He goes, "You know what? But that shit is just fucking so awful."

I was just like, "You go, Karl." Everybody kind of got real quiet. He's like, "I can't sit here and fucking listen to that shit, that shit is fucking unlistenable." So he was totally like the bullshit guy. I respect him for doing that so much. Did we do the record with Bob Rock, Mr. Producer guy from Canada? No, but it was a perfect answer.

PSF: Tell me a little bit about your gallery, what you're up to now.

DM: I got into it in the nineties and eighties, I started collecting art and illustration. Mostly we sell pieces that were created for magazine covers, or pinup calendars. A lot of the calendar industry was based in Minneapolis, so what we do is we kind of scrounged down... when someone made a pinup calendar from 1954, it had a beautiful girl on it, the value was only equated to like, "How do you turn that painting into a calendar? Then put it on a calendar, and you get advertising for it." Then there's companies, big calendar companies, that didn't treat the art very seriously, but they treated the usage and the placement of the art really seriously, and that was the monetary means for it.

The art just kind of got thrown away or displaced, or given to employees when they retired. Then in the 1980's, people started going, "What happened to this art?" There was incredible painters. It was a very competitive field, so the people that were really good, they'd paint a painting of a pinup girl with a poodle. It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting, they were so technique oriented, and in oils, on canvas and stuff.

So we started collecting all this shit, and it kind of really took off five years ago. My wife co-wrote a book that Taschen put out called The Art of Pinup. It's like an 18 pound, 800 page book. There's hundreds of our paintings that we sold to clients and stuff. Yeah, it turned into this... Dave was always kind of envious of that, or jealous. Because a lull in a tour somewhere I'd sit in my hotel room, like, "Holy shit, this is not going to last forever. What the fuck am I going to do next?" You play a show and there would be 300 people when there should have been 800.

So I always had a getaway strategy and exit plan for everything. I started collecting stuff when the band was doing really well, kind of putting it in storage. Then I don't know, about 15 years ago, I spent years writing all these bios on artists and collecting data. I launched a website when that was kind of a brand new thing to do, sort of.

I was in New York City, and some woman called me up and she bought like three paintings, like the third day of my gallery for $27,000. I was like, "holy shit, this might work." Because you have no idea. That's when it was called the World Wide Web. Who would find your stuff? Who would it resonate with? You just kind of do it, because it was like the wild, wild west back then. Kind of brand new shit, you know?

Much to my surprise, we have thousands and thousands of visitors, and have sold just a ridiculous amount of art. It was really fun, but I'm tired of that now, too, so I'm thinking I'm going to kind of do something different. 15 years I've done it, and stuff, and it's been very fun and successful, but I've done it long enough where we've sold the paintings like three or four times now, now it's probably time to move on to something else, you know?

PSF: What do you think is the impact of alternative rock in the nineties?

DM: I don't know. To me, you listen to stuff like, Husker Du and just put on, Don't Want to Know if You Were Lonely. The Foo Fighters, my God, the Foo Fighters. They're technically better and it sounds better, but that's so influenced by that obviously, you know?

I don't know. Sonic Youth, they kind of came and went, but "Teenage Riot," good stuff. The nineties thing, I remember... what label? Geffen, is that was Nirvana was on?

I remember this A&R guy was in New York, a friend of our friend Julie Panebianco she just had this new record, "It's going to be huge." It was a Nirvana record. She played the first cuts, holy shit. It sounded so much like the Replacements, but it was so much better played and produced.

But I don't know, I think if we would have put out Grave Dancers like two years earlier, it would have been better for us, because it would have been more like, we weren't trying to mop up on grunge rock, we were grunge rock. But the timing of that just kind of seemed like there's this burgeoning thing that people had no fucking idea we'd been kicking around for 11 years. No one had any idea. It was kind of frustrating to us. It was like, "holy fuck. Why do people want to jump up on the stage and stage dive, and shit, you know?"

Back in the day, when you would tour it's like, start your own fucking band. Don't crowd my show, you know. Yeah, it was weird. At that point, we were kind of all in our thirties, early thirties. We're kind of seasoned vets, and played a lot of clubs and shit. Then we'd play all these clubs in Europe and shit, and there'd be 180 dudes, and for that record, there would be like 5000 women there. It was like girls and shit, it was really weird. We weren't prepared for it at all, you know?

We could tell it wouldn't be good for the longevity of our band. Just like, "holy shit. Anytime girls are screaming at a quiet part of the show, that's not our bag, you know?" So, I don't know if we were prepared to deal with it, but we did the best we could at that time. Hindsight it's like, we never really were the kind of band that micromanaged every decision we made. We just kind of were like, "Fuck it, let's just do this and see what it's like." If we were in a bad situation, like a shitty tour, we weren't the kind of band that would cancel after four days. "Oh, 10 weeks of this, I could do anything for 10 weeks, but I'll never do this again." You'd do a shitty tour that you hated.

PSF: What do you ultimately hope the band's legacy will be?

DM: I don't know. I'm going to have you write something about that, because you seem to be familiar with the band. I think the band was better than it's remembered as. I don't know.

Well people like at my age, forties and fifties are like, "I can't believe you used to be in a fucking cool band. What happened?" You know, I have no idea.

For me, I've said this before, but I think Dave is a very talented writer. I think he had a really unique voice, and he was certainly part of something. I think he was a really big part of it initially, and it's kind of sad to see in hindsight, it seems like it's such a fucking zit on the elephant man. It's like, it means almost nothing to people.

I think on the way up, as long as you're a great writer, and when you're on the top, it's great. But I don't think any of us were prepared for what it's like on the way down, you know?

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