The return of Uncle Murl: A chat with Ambrose of The Murlocs

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With a heatwave of fresh sounds coming from down under, it’s no surprise that Aussie R&B rockers The Murlocs are whipping up a storm in the UK. Having just released two new videos for singles ‘Comfort Zone’, ‘Withstand’ and announced the ‘Manic Candid Episode’ album, the band have been powering through the European & UK legs of their busy tour. Here, in London, with the vibration of the Underground and the picturesque sound of London traffic sailing by, we caught up with Ambrose to talk serial killers, touring life and the future of The Murlocs.

BL: How’s it going today man?

Ambrose: Yeah it’s been good, we drove from Paris this morning which was dusky. Up at 8am! It’s been nice weather in Paris and it’s nice here too.

So you’ve been on a mammoth European tour, it’s been a little while since you were last here. How’s the tour been treating you?

Yeah it’s been sweet! Every show has been real good. We did the UK at the start for like a week, that was awesome, and then went around Europe. Last night in Paris was sold out!

So the tour was all announced before your new single came out?

Yeah, I don’t get a huge amount of time to tour with The Murlocs, because of King Gizzard commitments, so I’ve just got to jump on whatever opportunities I have. We knew we had the album in the pipeline so we just thought to book a tour in.

And I guess for people in the UK and Europe, we haven’t had The Murlocs over in a little while?

Yeah, 2017 was the last time! We’re just doing the same club run thing again.

A couple of bigger venues this time though!

Yeah yeah, It’s all stepped up a bit!

You’ve got two new singles out. For me, ‘Comfort Zone’ was the real stand out track. My housemate at the time got me listening to it. It’s really something quite different from your other music.

Yeah, I think it was a good idea to put it out first, and the second single we just put out ‘Withstand’, is a bit more like us - more ‘Murlocs-y’ I guess. But Comfort Zone I kinda just came up with at home with just a little shitty keyboard, it’s a pretty basic song but that’s how I like it!

And the newest one ’Withstand’, again like you say it’s different from Comfort Zone but it’s got more of a traditional Murlocs sound.

Yeah, Cook wrote that song, demoed it and then I wrote the words and stuff. Then we kinda heavily edited it at the end. It used to be a bit longer and have more space between the parts, so we just made it a bit less clustered…

Can we expect that kind of diversity with the new record? It’s good to have that, especially for a listener. There’s only so many times you can hear the same album over and over.

I hope so. There’s definitely some softer songs in there and then more upbeat songs. I think it’s pretty versatile, there’s one song that’s even almost medieval [laughs], it’s a funny odd one out. I think it’s definitely the best thing we’ve done so far.

Which I guess is what the albums Gizz do are so good at. I remember Cyboogie just dropped and I was reading the comments on the video, people were commenting “so they leave us for a year and then come back with this absolutely batshit-crazy synth based thing”. You’re all in a synth inside the video, why not!

Mmm, yeah yeah! [Laughs]

Like you say, you spend so much time touring with King Gizzard, especially over the last couple of years with all the records coming out in 2017. Does it feel good to get The Murlocs up and running?

Yeah it feels great! It’s like stepping back a few years and playing the same venues that Gizzard played. We both started at the same time but then Gizzard took off a lot quicker. For a few years we were only a couple of steps behind and then Gizz got to go overseas and it blew out of proportion, so it’s been nice to finally get the ball rolling with the Murlocs.

How do you find jumping between two bands? Is it hard to do at times?

Yeah it’s good, but it’s hard. It’s hard to tour and keep Murlocs going, because obviously we want to do as much as we can but King Gizzard shadows it sometimes. So it’s nice to step out of that shadow and get our own sorta vibe going for a bit.

I imagine it’s a bit of a different writing and recording process?

Yeah it’s a lot different. The Murlocs is more of a collaborative thing. I guess with Gizzard it’s collaborative as well, but the main mastermind is Stu (Mackenzie). Whereas in the Murlocs it’s like, you know, I’ll come up with some chords and the song, the lyrics and melody and then Cal will contribute some good riffs and stuff. Cook will write his own bass lines, so when we get together we try and encourage each other to contribute and throw ideas around.

About the video for Comfort Zone, there seems to be a lot of classic horror references in it, particularly the shower Psycho scene. Was it meant to be like that?

Yeah it was taken from that movie Halloween and ideas from other old 70’s horrors. I guess because the director thought the song was so faint-hearted it needed some sort of opposite end of the spectrum, to flip it a bit. He didn’t let me see any of it until it was done. We didn’t really have much time anyway. But yeah, the idea is the the song is about hiding in your shell and ignoring all the chaos that’s going on in the world, so it kinda made sense to me that I was in the chair seeing through the perspective of an Australian psycho!

Even the song sonically, because we were saying it was a little bit different from previous stuff that Murlocs fans have been able to hear. It’s kinda got a similar brooding quality to Changes by Black Sabbath.

Ah cool! Most people have been saying it’s like Rocket Man, which I didn’t even know why. I guess I realised the chorus is similar to Rocket Man, in some ways. My favourite bands are The Band, and all those classic sounding things so naturally I wanted it to be a bit more lush. The whole record more sonically ‘hi-fi’ than our last ones too.

Some bands these days that are actually doing choruses and then you notice other bands are skipping out the chorus, but when you go back to the 70s. the chorus was the whole song! Some of your songs, like Young Blindness and Adolescence, both have quite a melancholic feel to them. There is a tinge of sadness and regret. Have you written about anything that you ever regret?

Yeah definitely, I think Wolf Creep is probably one of them. I was watching too many serial killer documentaries, I think the message gets a bit confused. It’s about a girl being abducted on a walk home, so it’s more of what I like to think of as our stranger danger song you know. I like to play till 11pm for a set and then make sure everyone gets home safe sorta vibe, but some people take it the wrong way, like the whole Comfort Zone video. They might think it’s more pro violence when it’s supposed to be anti…

What have you been listening to recently?

There’s a new Traffik Island record that Flightless Records are putting out that’s really good. Gonzo just put out a great record, stuff from our friends mostly. Also Reverberation Radio by Allah-Las, we usually put that on and it’s good background music. Sometimes there’s some real random stuff in some of their playlists but I usually stick to the folky, singer-songwriter ones.

I read in an interview this morning you guys did in maybe 2016/17 that said when you started The Murlocs, you always had a clear vision of what The Murlocs would be and what you wanted the songs to be. Now that you’ve come up to 10 years as a band, is it still the same? Have you still got that vision?

Yeah. Comfort Zone is probably the most it’s gone in another direction. It’s always sort of been about what the main core is of being a blues/R&B band. I’d like to expand more, I think for years we were always pretty narrow-minded with a stick-to-your-guns kind of vibe. Each album we’re trying to spread the wings a little bit more. Naturally once Cal starts playing guitar it’s already got a signature sound, throw some harmonica in it too, that routine is kind of hard to step away from sometimes.

Those who witnessed the Murlocs brand of psycho-indie R&B will know how electric the new album is live. Uncle Murl will be heading over to America this April and their new album ‘Manic Candid Episode’ comes out March 22nd on Flightless Records.

Interviewed by Nathan McLaren-Stewart and Kurt Fletcher.

Write up by Kurt Fletcher.