California-based and Tupelo born singer-songwriter John Murry has just landed in Australia to share songs from his The Graceless Age album, a work that came out of a harrowing struggle with heroin addiction and separation from his long-term partner. Listed as one of the best singer-songwriter albums of all time by Uncut Magazine alongside the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Lou Reed, Graceless Age has continued to win accolades in just about every best of list worth paying attention too. Unpaved’s Les Thomas spoke to John Murry about his critical success, emotional catharsis and the fellow musicians that helped to realise his vision.
Your album has received an extraordinary critical response. What’s it been like to get that kind of support and appreciation?
Confusing. I made this record for my wife. And to survive emotionally. And now, some years later to have so many people seemingly relate to it is both creepy and supportive in some way. My wife gets so annoyed that I don’t take some validation in the year-end lists and don’t let that lift me up in any way. But honestly, I don’t know why people like this record. Unless they have a need for truth. To hear it from others and to get it out someway in their own lives. There’s so little honesty in the plastic age. I’m scared of this damn record. And sometimes I wonder why other people aren’t. They kinda should be. And I’m still broke. That’s the truth of all the notoriety. Life isn’t all that different.
Your adoptive family background includes William Faulkner, and you clearly have a great love of literature. What made you choose to express yourself through music?
I didn’t choose it. I was the black sheep of the family because of it. Ha..I still am. So was Faulkner. The family called him Count-no Count. Music chose me. I literally have to do it to stay sane. And the periods of not engaging in music are pretty clear evidence of this.
You were also involved in Occupy Oakland alongside Boots Riley of The Coup. What was that experience like, and I wonder if that informed your approach to writing songs in any way?
The original energy of Occupy really inspired me. My wife had been an environmental and anti-hate group activist dating back to the nineties and then the whole WTO thing and all that. But this was my first real experience with organized mass dissent. And it was a fucking mess, man. Too many factions. Too much ego. No one could work together well enough to stay focused. Labor was on board but the kids disrespected them and we lost a lot of mainstream support. It was eye-opening. I know there was a lot of creepy counter-insurgence stuff going on behind the scenes. I’m not an idiot … But, I think the human condition is pretty bleak. And modern western society is a total clusterfuck. I don’t know what I think it would take. A lot. Guns. I dunno.
How important was your wife to the making of this record?
She was the reason I made the record. I lost her and I thought if I could put it all out there I could reach her and win her back. And I did!
You had some help from some very tuned in musicians. Tell us about them.
Man, yeah. This whole thing started as like a magical collaboration between myself and Tim Mooney. Something just happened there and Timmy always made it all okay. You have to understand I recorded this album in full-on heroin addiction. But, we played off of each other and magic shit just happened. My truth came out. The stuff I really needed to get out. Not just emotionally, but sonically. Then there were some important musicians who came in, Michael Mullen being the most crucial. But really too many Bay Area folks to list: Chuck prophet, Tom Heyman, Mike Carnahan. Then when I couldn’t be objective anymore I sent the whole thing to Kevin Cubbins in Memphis. He had his own vision to add to the mix we had done. And he added Jana Misner on vocals and strings and his own insane guitar and made the whole thing fully realized. I like making music with people. That’s just how I do that.
What are you looking forward to about coming to Australia for the first time?
Surfing, snakes and wombats. And meeting the incredible people that have put this tour together. I’ve never had a more fluid and organized and painless experience planning a tour with anyone. Gaynor Crawford ought to run the whole music industry in Australia. She rocks that hard. Hell, maybe she already does. I’m also staying at my tour manager, Mark Stanley’s place for a couple of days. He lives on some land with kangaroos and crazy wildlife and a studio and a lot of cool-ass equipment. And he’s fun as hell, I can tell already. Aaron at Spunk is supposed to teach me to surf. It was part of the original record deal.