Saturday, September 26, 2015

Interview with Patrick Murphy from Mountain Man (ex-Last Lights, I Rise, etc.)

In simple terms, Mountain Man is a hardcore band from Massachusetts that has been doing their thing for the last 5 or 6 years. However, their new record "Rumination" which just dropped this past week is far from simple, nor is it confined to the sonic palette of most hardcore bands. While their earlier material often raged at a frenetic pace with songs rarely clocking in over a minute, they've become steadily more expansive over time. The new effort, a mere five songs, clocks in at nearly 30 minutes, and over the course of its running time incorporates acoustic guitar, violin, and glockenspiel (I think that's what I'm hearing!). In doing so it calls to mind the more epic sides of Defeater or Modern Life is War, as well as the more desperate and meandering sounds of later There Were Wires or Curl Up and Die.

Comparisons aside, I've been following Patrick Murphy's bands for quite a while now (he's also played with the incredible Last Lights and I Rise, among many others), so I figured it was time to reach out to him and learn a little bit more.

"Rumination" is definitely one of the top 5 records of the year for me; check out the links at the end to pre-order and stream the entire thing.

I know you've been doing bands for quite a long time....discuss your background a little bit and how you got into underground music. When did you start playing drums? Did you come from a particularly musical family where your parents encouraged it or did you start playing after getting involved in punk and hardcore?
I started playing drums when I was 9 years old or so. My brother is a few years older than me and he also played too. Our school had an amazing music program, so getting involved was super easy. My parents were awesome about it, but I didn't get a drum set until I was about 12, which was around the time I was getting into punk and stuff.
I was always obsessed with music at a young age. I remember Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Green Day specifically being appealing to me and made me want to join a band when I was older. I'm the youngest of 4 so a lot of what my siblings were listening to resonated with me. My oldest sister was always listening to stuff like Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Poe, you know? Stuff like that.
Around 2000 or so is when I discovered punk and hardcore. My brother was into bands like Crass, Conflict, Doom, Code 13 and Dead Kennedy's. His friends were all involved with the Straight Edge scene, which is what I gravitated towards. Earth Crisis, Sick of it All, Converge and Strife were the first hardcore bands I became obsessed with. Around that time I started my first band and started booking shows. Everything changed when I heard Bane and Ten Yard Fight, then bands like American Nightmare and Panic came out and they were sort of the gateway to everything at that point.
I'm lucky enough that I lived pretty close to where all this stuff was happening, and even at a young age I got to see these bands come out and blow the doors open.
Yeah I got to see Panic once, AN a few times and obviously Bane a bunch, but I can't imagine how incredible it must have been to have all that going on right in your backyard. Talk a little bit more about that you think people realized how special all that was at the time or was it just sort of routine for kids from there?
It was definitely evident how special it was, to me at least it seemed like everyone understood. Every show I went to there was always a million kids who were actually excited to be there. Every show, every kid was just going completely bananas. There were definitely bands I saw every week that I didn't appreciate until later on though. For a time it felt like The Hope Conspiracy were on every show, and I definitely didn't get into them until "Death Knows Your Name" came out, and at that point they weren't playing much.
There is one show in Worcester that stands out to me, that really had me like "Holy shit, this is such a great time to be going to shows."  It was Horror Show's first show with American Nightmare, Panic and Count Me Out (there might have been 1 more.) Every band's set was just insane, there wasn't a single person not totally captivated by every band. I'm really grateful I got to be a part of that.
Alright so at what point did you go from attending and booking shows to doing bands? What were some of your early bands prior to I Rise and Last Lights?
They all sort of happened simultaneously honestly. A friend and I started a band, so then we started booking our own shows and attending shows at the same time. That band was called Raise Your Fist and I think that started around 2001. After that band stopped I started a band called Morris!, then I was in The Agony, Eva Braun/Apparitions, God & Country and Ligeia. I think that's it, I've played in a million different bands, I don't really remember the time lines.
Alright so I Rise. I absolutely love the stuff you guys did, particularly the SC split and "Down". It seemed like things were moving very quickly, then all the sudden you did "For Redemption" and the band pretty quickly fell off the map. What happened with that band?
So, I actually joined I Rise after Last Lights, so I wasn't even on any recordings. The dudes from I Rise were some of the first kids I met playing shows, so we had been friends for a really long time. Right when Last Lights was starting to pick up, they sort of became one of the bands we were constantly with.
I honestly don't really remember how me or Jesse (who was also in Last Lights and is in MM) joined I Rise, it just sort of happened.
Obviously things ended tragically for Last Lights with the passing of vocalist Dominic Mallory, and Mountain Man was born from the ashes of LL. Talk a little bit about how MM came together....the bulk of your material has seemed to center around coping with death; I have to imagine those early practices and writing sessions were truly as much about collective therapy as they were about becoming a band.
Mountain Man really wasn't ever supposed to be anything other than a recording. Josh Smith (our vocalist) had these 4 songs written for a few months and had actually been talking to Jesse, Dom and I about recording them. After Dom passed away it was a few months before Josh approached us about doing it again. Josh, Jesse and I all got together and recorded our demo. The lyrics at that time were more about work and the bleakness of life etc., etc.
As we started to become more serious, everything started to take a different turn. You're right about the material dealing with coping with death, and not just lyrically. Musically it definitely started taking more of a "desperate" sound I guess you could say.
Dom is constantly an influence to us, and I personally feel like writing music is the best way to pay tribute to him. He was honestly an insanely talented musician, a phenomenal writer and incredibly smart. Above all that, he was one of my best friends and I'm truly fortunate to have been able to play in 3 bands with him and collaborate on his solo stuff too.

Yeah I've definitely noticed that in your sound over the years, but it's especially prominent on "Rumination". I've always thought you guys were a solid band, but I feel like the new record hits in a way that the earlier material hasn'’s more dynamic, it just resonates in a different way somehow. Talk a little bit about the collective headspace you were in while writing/recording the new record....what were you trying to accomplish this time around sonically, lyrically, emotionally, etc.?
Writing these songs was drastically different. In 2011, Josh moved to California, and the writing process used to be Jesse, Josh and myself. Typically, Josh would come in with some riff ideas then Jesse and I would help form it into something a bit more cohesive. With these songs, it was just Jesse and I, and the two of us spent so much time getting them to feel exactly how we wanted. We really wanted to achieve something dynamic, experimental and sparse at the same time. The past few years have been tough for all of us outside of the band, so I definitely think that translates to the material.
As far as the lyrical content goes, that's really for Josh to answer. He never practiced these songs with us and recorded them out in California, so when he sent us the files back that's the first time we heard anything. We didn't even really see the lyrics until afterwards either. Jesse contributes a lot of vocals too, so splitting them up was also a little different.
I noticed just scrolling through photos that you added a second drummer a few years ago. What does that look like in terms of the writing process as well as playing live? I hear a couple parts on the new record with multiple/layered percussion; in a live setting are you playing different parts or the same parts for added power/emphasis? (I ask this question as a shitty drummer myself who can barely keep time with guitar and bass, let alone adding a second drummer into the mix, haha).
As I said before, the writing process was just Jesse and I. With the 2 drummers thing, he and I just kind of worked on what we wanted the parts to be (on the record at least.) There is only one song on the new record with 2 drum sets playing at the same time, the other stuff is different snare and tom parts played by myself, Jesse or Kevin (who plays live with us.)
In a live setting it's a bit different. A lot of it is Kevin and I doing close to the same thing throughout the old material and just playing back and forth off each other. I think the misconception is we have a lot of gear and 2 drummers solely to be super loud. I see it as a way to be more dynamic and open more sonic possibilities. In classical music, they have multiple people playing the same part on the same instruments, and it's not to be loud and abrasive. It's so they can really achieve the dynamics that the piece calls for.
Label-wise you guys have hopped around a bunch from Think Fast to Mightier Than Sword, to No Sleep and now to End Result Productions so you've obviously gained a lot of experience dealing with labels. What would you say you look for in a label and how can they be most beneficial for smaller hardcore punk bands?
We got pretty lucky with our friends helping us put out our records for us at first, and I truly feel like End Result was the perfect label to release this record. All we really look for in a label is someone who is cool with our insane ideas, gets behind the music as much as we do and will work to get more people to hear us. How can they benefit a younger band? It depends on who you're working with. I'll keep some of our experiences to myself, but if you can get someone to pay to put out a record when you can't, it's very helpful.
Touring-wise you guys seem to do somewhat frequent runs up and down the East Coast and I noticed you just joined forces with Tone Deaf Touring. Any chance kids east of PA might be seeing you at any point?
Our lives outside of the band kind of keep us from touring as much as we used to/wish we could. Teaming up with Tone Deaf is great because they'll be able to alleviate the stress of booking larger scale tours or weekends. We want to do more with this record, maybe go out west or to Europe, but as it stands now we won't be doing a full US anytime in the foreseeable future.
You've obviously been at this thing for well over a decade now, and have played in tons of bands. What would you say it is about music generally, and hardcore punk specifically that keeps you inspired to write and play?
I just love playing drums and creating music. I think what attracted me to being in punk bands was the idea that anyone could do it and anyone could play shows. I feel pretty out of touch with the scene now and can't really relate to it like I did before, but music as a whole means more to me now than it ever has. I can't really explain what brings me back to it, but I am constantly inspired to create. All the members of the band could talk for hours about things they hear, read, or see that make us want to play music. The only time I actually feel like myself is when I'm creating music.

Promo photo by Ryan Martin. Some of the live photos by Reid Haithcock ( The rest pulled from the Mountain Man Facebook.

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