Mick Murphy: My Ruin

April 1, 2009

“WE’RE AN UNDERGROUND BAND,” says My Ruin guitarist Mick Murphy. “You really have to seek us out. We’re not part of any scene, and we’re committed to doing our own thing on our own terms. We’re not plugged into the big machine trying to become a cookiecutter band, and doing whatever we’re told just to get famous. Our fundamental goals are not to take over the world, sell a lot of records, or be popular. We know what we are, we know what we want to do, and we’re not easily guided by outside forces. We are very difficult to work with, but I think we are one of the most independent bands out there.”

Although the above comments might sound like a manifesto of defiance, the words actually come from an extreme dedication to making music that’s unforced and natural and honest. And they’re voiced by a sweet guy who happens to be one of the most ferocious and creative hard rock guitarists you’ll hear underground, aboveground, or bouncing off satellites. My Ruin’s two latest releases—Throat Full of Heart and the live-in-the-U.K. CD/DVD, Alive On the Other Side [both Rovena]—are loaded with bulletproof guitar tones, surprising and memorable riffs, and absolutely screaming solos, and they stand as rhapsodic monuments to the glory of impassioned isolationism.

On Throat Full of Heart, you buck the popular trend of layering tons of guitars to create “heaviness,” instead choosing to focus on a single part.

Well, we’re a one-guitar band, so I don’t like our records to sound like walls of guitar textures. I doubled all of the leads and rhythms, but that’s it. I also go for the one-part approach because Tairrie [B., My Ruin vocalist] and I like things to sound raw and natural— natural reverb from the room the band records in, natural drum tones— which, in turn, produces a sense of space and openness around the tracks. If I layered guitars like crazy, all that air between the instruments would disappear, and I think the band would actually sound smaller.

You get a huge sound with a pretty minimal rig.

Yeah, I do keep it simple. I’m using BC Rich guitars. I’ve got two Eagles and two Mockingbird Specials. I used the Eagles on Throat Full of Heart, and I used a black Mockingbird Special on Alive On the Other Side. I use a Mesa/Boogie Stiletto Trident head with my vintage Marshall 4x12 cabinets in the U.S., and when I’m in England, I get hooked up with a Laney VH100R full stack. On Throat Full of Heart, I used my Stiletto head, some modified Fender Bassman heads, some Bogner heads, a vintage Marshall cabinet, and a Bogner cab. I’m still using Korg effects. I have an AX3000G floor pedal. For strings, I like the .010-.052 gauge, but I’m not partial to any brand.

Was there any reason why you kept to the Eagles for the record, and then took the Mockingbirds out live?

I actually had the Eagles before I had the Mockingbirds, but since I got the Mockingbirds, I haven’t really used my Eagles. I don’t really have a preference that much. It’s just that, right now, I’m into the Mockingbirds, and I’ve been using them pretty much every time we play.

Specifically, what has led you to bond with that model?

It looks different, but it has a real classic feel—kind of like a Les Paul—and I’ve always loved the shape ever since I saw Rick Derringer playing one.

When you’re switching between Mesa/Boogie Stilettos and LaneyVH100Rs as the band bounces back and forth between America and Great Britain, do you have to make any major tonal adjustments to get your sound?

They give me what I want in different ways. They definitely sound different, but I like them both a lot. The Laney has a very clear midrange, and it’s really loud and present without being too saturated. The Stiletto is also really loud, but its tone is a little more rounded, and it puts out more low end. All of my sounds come out of my programs in the AX3000G, so I like to have a good, powerful tube head outputting the tones.

So do you run the tube heads pretty clean in order to translate the AX3000G sounds accurately, or do you go for some edge on the amp, as well?

Mainly, I run the amps pretty clean. On the Stiletto, I switch it on Fat Clean mode just to push the low mids a bit, and I set the Mid and High knobs to around 6 or 7, and the Bass at 4. I go for pretty much the same tone on the Laney’s clean channel.

Your overdrive sounds are really organic. How do you set up the AX3000G to produce your distortion tones?

I look at the AX3000G as a pedalboard loaded with individual stompboxes—rather than a unit with effects chains—and I tend to go for the programs that are based off classic distortions, analog echoes, and ’70s and ’80s flangers and phasers. I don’t want the effects to overtake the whole sound—I just want them to add something slightly different to the tone. I usually stay as far way from presets as possible, so I start from scratch when I’m programming sounds. I’ll program a different patch for every song we do live, because I like to switch between different delay times and phase speeds. Onstage, I don’t change programs within a song. I go to a program for a specific song, and then I switch the AX3000G to Individual mode so I can the turn the pre-programmed effects off and on individually.

Do you employ the AX3000G for solo boosts, as well?

I don’t change volumes. I just make sure the basic sound is thick and present, and that the presence doesn’t drop out when I go to the solo. I’ll often turn on an echo or something underneath the solo, and that’s it. There’s really no need for a boost, because I’m the only guitar player in the band. The volume level for the solos is pretty much the same as it is when I’m playing rhythm.

Do you tend to stay in standard tuning?

No. The two tunings we use in the band are [low to high] C, G, C, F, A, D and D, G, C, F, A, D.

How would you chart your growth from the first full-length My Ruin album, 1999’s Speak and Destroy, and Throat Full of Heart?

It was actually a re-growth in a way. I started playing guitar in the early ’80s, caught on to it pretty quickly, and made a name for myself in the Tennessee guitar scene. Back then, I was all about shredding. But as I grew up, I learned more about what makes a song grab someone’s attention, and I started holding back. I wanted to be a more rounded player, and not show everything I could do in 15 seconds. When I got into My Ruin, I was still in that phase, I guess, and I didn’t feel like lead guitar was a big part of the band’s style. But as we played more shows, and gelled as a band, I started throwing more of my “old” self in there—more solos, more upbeat parts, more rock and roll,and a less rigid approach to making music.

When you close your eyes, do your hands automatically go to new and interesting parts, or do you have to fight the tendency to regurgitate past ideas?

The guitar has been such a big part of my life for so long that I can draw on years of playing and listening to find parts that work—at least for me [laughs]. Sometimes, I’ll do a first draft of a riff or solo, and something special will come out of it. Sometimes, I’ll tell myself, “Hey, you’ve done that before. Change it.” I try not to repeat myself.

Do you still practice?

Writing, rehearsing with the band, and doing gigs are my main forms of practice these days—as well as listening to music for inspiration. That’s huge. Getting an iPod changed everything for me, because I can instantly listen to bits of every era of my musical upbringing. Now, it’s difficult to nail down my influences. Everything I do has rolled into this one great big mental warehouse of the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, early punk rock, classic metal, thrash metal, classic rock and roll, and more. Having said all of this, I was listening to a lot of early Iron Maiden and Michael Schenker Group when we recorded Throat Full of Heart, and I think that comes out in the album’s sound. It sounds kind of, well, timeless. It doesn’t sound ultra-modern, and it doesn’t sound ultra-retro. It just sounds like a rock band.

It’s interesting how the more natural sounds employed by some early rock bands have aged so well—unlike some ’80s productions with heavily processed guitars, layered keyboards, and drum machine patterns.

Yeah—that’s why if you look up “Hard Rock” in the dictionary in the year 3000, you’ll probably see a picture of AC/DC.

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