It’s an early start for Ambrose Kenny-Smith as working on loading a livestream show in the early summer this past year. The process seems to be taking a little bit longer than Smith had been anticipating due to what he claims to be lousy internet service. “We had rehearsal last night and I had to drive out to the suburbs, so I decided to just sleep on it,” he explained as he turned away from the screen featuring himself and me. “It still only downloaded about ten percent. Once it gets to eleven percent, then I will relax (laughs).”
When we connected, Smith’s band The Murlocs was just days away from releasing their fifth album, Bittersweet Demons. Coming together as teens along the Victoria’s Surf Coast in Australia, the band relied on covering tracks from Ray Charles and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The Murlocs at first didn’t have too many of a plan; according to Smith, the group went up on stage to have a good time. Over time, The Murlocs found their footing and quickly began writing their songs.
Bittersweet Demons was a slight departure from its predecessors but still maintains the core principles that the band carries. The eleven tracks incorporate a deeply emotional pull centering on those who have come and gone from their lives. Captured brilliantly from start to finish is the overwhelming body of work that shines a light on how fragility plays a part in our lives.
Did you and the band write the album throughout 2020, or was the album already finished before the pandemic started?
We finished mixing in March 2020, just as COVID was starting. We had it mixed with a gentleman who lives five kilometers down the road, but I’ve still never met him in person yet (laughs). Maybe next album. So it’s been a long time coming.
It’s fun to come back. We are used to waiting with Murdocs albums to drop. Once we finish a record, we sort of wait until almost a year or under a year before we feel it’s the right time to tour it and bring it justice. It depends on what the band is doing.
With Bittersweet Demons, you wrote some of your most personal and more conceptual songs to date. Was this direction you took planned, or did you see it fall into place?
I was on tour when my friend Keegan passed away, and that was my first hardcore, really shaken experience with death. I was in New York when I found out, and I couldn’t be further away. That rocked me pretty hard, and I just wanted to dive into that. I just scanned the whole record as seeing myself being at an age where it could be personal and a bit of closure. It felt good to make a song for him and then make a whole album that riffed on my life. I always write pretty about anxiety and mentally based stuff. I don’t know. It’s just what I’m drawn to, and it probably just sums me up as a person.
Do you suffer from anxiety?
I feel like I do, but not as intense. Like, I think I get waves of it. When you experienced others, you know, like loved ones and friends sought to have it intentionally, it’s pretty, pretty full-on. I think it’s a way to bring light to those subjects of people who don’t have to express it, especially like a lot of my old friends and stuff that I have. I feel like many people don’t know how to talk about it.
So there are parts of that on the album…songs about my mom, dad, and life. There’s a song about their relationship and then the songs about kids I went to school with friends and stuff. I just wrote things metaphorically, like from my perspective. But I thought that I had to move on from this. I said to myself that I’m just going to have to really dive deep and go as hard as I can into that so I could fully sort of put it to bed and like, you know, got go a different path with my writing and stuff. It did feel like a lot like closure and relief. I feel like now all the stuff I’m writing is more fiction than fact. It feels better to change direction. I’ve been revisiting all the songs, and I haven’t finished off recently and it’s been hard to go back into that same state of mind. I think Bittersweet Demons was sort of did all that for me.
Do you feel like that would go back to being as personal as you were when writing new material?
I don’t know. I always seem to go back to it (laughs). I think I just had a weird soft spot for being a bit emo, I guess. I feel better and get way more into something if it’s got a heart and soul. Something that gives you tingles and makes you feel a certain way rather than like being old bubbly and la la, pretending that the world is fine. I think ultimately, I just get off on more people just sort of pouring their heart out and doing it well.
Did any of the other band members write lyrics for the album?
I write all of the lyrics…I always have. The guys – they’re all capable songwriters. I think it’s just because I’ve always been surrounded in my life and been around so many musicians that are just so talented and being pigeonholed as a lyricist that it gets hard to catch up with their musical capabilities. You just always get like thrown these ideas and they’re like, oh, write some words to it or sing to this or whatever. So I’m always just doing that. All the time I say to myself, ‘I would like to probably learn to play the piano properly or stuff like that. And then next thing, it just keeps snowballing. So like every day I go and I work on tunes. Treat as a nine to five…I think it’s what I’m better at. I guess it comes a bit quicker and easier to me as the music side of things come quicker for others.
This time in writing I think it ended up going so soft and laid back because I was just writing songs on piano and listening to a lot of Lennon, Harry Nelson, and John and Emma Rhodes. Stuff that really resonated with me. I always sort of like more chilled music as well. I like to rock, don’t get me wrong. I like to, um, most of the music I listened to is very chill, so it’s kind of, you know, what I wanted to do more of.
What was it about the artists you mentioned above that resonated with you so much at this time?
I don’t know. I just started digging deeper into that stuff. Um, and I always loved the Plastic Ono/John Lennon record like many people and…I don’t know. As I said, I get off on sort of simple things that have a deeper meaning behind them. If you can pull something pretty basic, but you know, it sends a message and has a vibe that if sends you tangled, then that’s what I want to do.
I like that there’s still a bluesy element to each of your albums. I can hear the influences of bluesy, garage rock, but you aren’t afraid to explore other sounds.
It was a much-needed direction change, that’s for sure. I’m glad we went in that way, and now we’re going the other way for the next one. You know we couldn’t; I do benefit from being advanced. I couldn’t get stick because I think I would probably just end up making another blues-rock album.
The thing with Murlocs is that It’s always been built mainly around like, I guess mainly around guitarist Cal Shortal and his voice. He has a distinctive playing style, so everything just turns once I start singing with his guitar playing. It does also help when the other three contribute some ideas cause because they come from different influences. The drummer Matt (Blach) comes from more of a like 70’s glam sort of way. Cook Craig on bass is far out there. It’s hard to pigeonhole him; he makes sounds like you’re at the circus or like Christmas dinner. And Tim Karmouche adds another element to songwriting that comes from a similar direction to Coke; it could be a bit more 80s and playful. All together collaboratively. That’s a good combination to have.
I’m just curious: As much time as you guys are together and working with other projects, do you still find yourself picking up things you haven’t picked up before?
I think we know each other pretty and we will know how things are going to go. It felt good to shake things up a bit with this one and try to push it into being into a softer record. I think it was a bit of a challenge for a lot of people.
We had to pull one that was leftover from the Manic Candidate Episode session, “Skyrocket,” which was much needed. We needed a bit more of a rockier tone with that one. Everything was piano-based and chill, but even the other songs like “Eating At You” surrounded Blach. “Misinterpreted” and “Francesca” were written by Tim, and “No Self Control” was written by Cook. So they all have something new and adapted to what I was going for.
Photo Courtesy: Joey Walker