Chris Murray - Six Questions
Interview by Abram Jones

Abram: What got you into music?

Chris MurrayChris Murray: I was always around music, both of my parents played instruments, My mom played piano and violin, and my dad piano and guitar. Both sang in choirs. I always remember music being there. Two tone got me into ska music. In ontario school went from seventh to 12th grade. At school dances I would hear what the seniors were playing (they ran the turntables), and very early on I would hear lots of cool music from the two tone/punk/new wave era. When I first got in there, a lot were listening to Jethro Tull and Genesis. The vibe chagned pretty quickly when two tone hit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AJ: You're a multiinstrumentalist. Do you have any favorites, and are you learning any new ones?

Chris MurrayCM: I'm self taught on pretty much everything. I learn something when I need to make the sound, more or less. Guitar is my first instrument beyond my voice, but I love to play drums. However, being a real drummer takes more discipline than I have right now.

AJ: There are bands like Monkey who do trad songs and instrumentals, LGB used to be very trad, Hepcat is sticking to their ska/rocksteady roots (with a little help from you on "I can't wait" on 'Right on Time'). But the context for creating the true, heavy ska supersound (i.e. post-independence Jamaica) has been all but lost, and the money and fame dont' seem to go to the bands that don't wear matching shirts and sport a uniform haircut, with a horn tooting here and there over a powerpop backdrop. Where do you think we can go with ska, both musically and commercially?

CM: In the first two waves image was an important thing too, the two tone bands and the Jamaicans were highly commercial. Depending on where they were they were kind of headed towards the spirit of the moment. The music was never directed at a subculture. How many of those early Jamaican recordings were versions of american R&B songs? All the (Jamaican) producers were motivated by money and to a lesser degree art. In the post two tone era, I think a lot of the bands who have played ska since then have not looked at themselves as subculture bands. Having a subculture revolving around a style of music means it'll never go away, ever. In the mid 90s there was a big pop explosion for ska, "the next big thing, and the next last thing", which is what the music industry has done for a while. Then you had a group of ska bands that started to think of themselves as pop bands. There were a lot of pop bands where ska was an element, but I would be hard pressed to call them ska bands, such as Sublime and No Doubt, they are great bands but they are not really ska bands from the point of view of someone on the scene. But also, I had a conversation with the Specials (I did some work with them in Canada in 94). I was amazed by how they perceived themselves. Americans would say "They're a ska band". Some of the Specials were surprised by that perception - they looked at themselves as an amalgam of styles. Neville and Lynval were both born in Jamaica, then moved to Britain. There's not really much of that going on in current ska. The (English) Beat had Saxa who was an original Jamaican playing in Britain. The ska today keeps getting one step further and further away from that direct involvement with the roots. The retro type bands don't treat themselves as pop bands at all; they're not thinking "we need to make a single, we need to go to radio". Despite the fact that they're making good songs and touring and recording they're not perceiving themselves as pop bands.

Where can we go? We can stay where we are in a sense, where there's a subculture, a following, where ska is an outside style. I think ultimately there's bound to be another wave when the industry has gone through a dozen "next big thing"s . Then there will be bands who kind of played ska and then will reform themselves as pop bands, kind of like No Doubt. If ska bands want to remain true to their skaness it would help them to think about what is commercial. Differences in how you would record a song, your arrangements, etc. If it's for radio you can't have four minutes of soloing. A lot of bands will say " yeah it's time for his solo". Ultimately the quality of the music is really going to determine how many people love it. Just like in any music, I think that people who get into it for the right reason, they love what they do, they stick with it, get good at it. You can tell when someone loves it because they get very good at it. And you can tell when they are in it for fame or money. There are artists that come along who have a great vibe that people can groove on, both from inside and outside the scene.

AJ: What sparked the breakup of King Apparatus, and how did you get together again?

CM: A lot of things sparked it. People weren't enjoying doing it enough to warrant continuing. One of the major reasons was, when our second album came out in '93, we recorded for an indie label called Raw Energy. We were one of the first bands to work with them. We had a friend type of relationship with them. There were some ways that things happened out of the label that upset us; we lost confidence that we were in the right place. When the second album came out we 'knew better' we didnt' make the same mistakes as on the first album. After leaving Raw Entergy, we retained ownership of the masters and went to Cargo. King ApparatusThey released the album about six mohths after Raw Energy had released it, which was a bad business decision. The company went bankrupt and the masters came back to us, but by that time we'd had it. You can only climb a slippery slope before somebody's had enough. what really sparked the reunion was, I was approached by a friend of mine who worked for Emusic.com at the time and wanted to put some of my and King Apparatus' stuff up on the site. I called Mitch (the bassist for King Apparatus) and we started talking about preparing the masters for emusic. An agent came down from Toronto to L.A. and told me that ska was still pretty stable in Canada. It never boomed and fizzled like in the U.S. "If you want to do a reunion tour this would be a great time to do it!" he said. Mike Park was a big reason we decided to go for it. Mike Park is a down to earth businessman. lots of indie lables have a musician running the company not a businessman. His first priority is the label, though he does lots of musical stuff. We put together a great lineup to go out and did 12 dates across Canada in March of this year. The tour was great, the shows were awesome, it was a fun time. There was none of the expectation that you have when you're releasing an album and have been on the road for three years. We got a lineup that included some of the best guys that we ever had at playing what they were playing (the King Apparatus all-stars). Playing on stage was therefore very satisfying to us. We figured out that we wanted to keep moving forward with the band. Taking our time not running into anything headlong. People's lives have changed since before. The way we approach the band will be affected by that. We just recorded three songs from Chemical Sound in Toronto. They came out very nice. At this point we're going to work with a good friend and entertainment lawyer and see what might be out there for the group. Everybody would probably be happy in a situation where we were able to keep doing it over a long term rather than a short explosion followed by nothing. Our eggs are not all in one basket anymore.

AJ: For the first few years I listened to you I never saw your picture, and for some reason you sounded like a black man to me.(CM: You're not the first to say that.) I always assumed you were until I saw your picture on "Six Songs". You have a very soulful, folksy voice that I think lends more authenticity to your music. Do you think this quality of your voice helps you to "go where no honky has gone before"?

CM: The way I sing is just a result of what I listen to and what I have sung over the years. My listening diet is jamaican dominated. I love what King Chris MurrayApparatus does but I dont' listen to hard aggressive rock at home any more. I listen to a lot of reggae, old ska. There are some amazing singers. There's always an absorption factor when a musician listens to a style of music. It's not something that I ever try to 'put on', How you talk always affects and is affected by how you think. some of their thoughts are pretty far out there for a western mind . I'm not overly wrapped up in it, but listening to so much rasta music has definitely introduced me to what those poeple are thinking and saying. Now when I listen to reggae I can understand the words people are saying and what they mean a lot more than when I started. Ghetto Jamaica is largely an oral culture. It's about a communal use of the language in which ideas are supported.

AJ: You've had the opportunity to work with many legends of Jamaican music. Do you have any favorites or any funny stories about any of them?

CM: My hands-down favorite would be the Skatalites. I saw them for the first time in 1990 at Jackie Mittoo's last show. I didn't know everybody's name at the time. A month later jackie died and I started seeing them as individuals not a band. Over the years I've had great opportunities come along where I could work with them as a band. That has been amazing.

Chris MurrayI went out with them in 94 as a tour manager. I was his (Tommy McCook's) roommate one night. That really woke me up to where ska came from, to talk to Tommy and all of them and to hear that what they're thinking about is Jazz. I'd always heard skatalites around and dug it, but I was focused on two tone. But to see how it progressed as a style was great. I did some work with Carlos Malcolm and he was telling me how the roots of ska are really blues and how in WWII so many American ships were coming through Jamaica. Locals would make deals with soldiers to bring records over. There were some mento recordings arount but the popular music was American R&B. I was a blues fan before I was into reggae, now when I listen to reggae I know why I liked it right away.

Carlos is a well educated smooth guy, not a yard guy. Way before ska ever happened he was a really trained musician. He was the director for JBC (like the BBC in Jamaica) when ska was happening. Every Friday during the golden age of ska JBC would host a dance. The radio station would survey the local shops and determine what the top 20 songs on the island were. Then Carlos' big band, the Afro-Jamaican rhythms, would back all the local singers playing their latest hits. Also the tour I did with the Specials was an amazing experience, they're my favorite two tone band. It might sound airy but I went on tour with the Skatalites about a month after what was the last King Apparatus tour, and about six months later I was on the road with the specials. it seemed really like a fateful thing for me with my band breaking up to all of a sudden be in a situation with people who had for decades been involved with ska music. It was very powerful to get exposed to that as well as an amazing learning experience to see these players night after night, to understand some of the techniques they used even. I feel very lucky to have had such a closehand experience with all these people who were monumental in creating ska, this music I've been crazy about for so long.

 

 
.: reviews : top ska sites : interviews : inet radio : back issues : contact : links : home :.