“Lyrically it’s about living in the moment and doing stupid shit…there’s people who are all about security and driven by their fears of various things. It’s sung from the perspective of a person who doesn’t like this kind of lifestyle, who wants to take risks.”
– Murphy on her upcoming solo track.
It was a sixteen year old Murphy who joined Swiss folk metal group Eluveitie back in 2006, with her flute, hurdy-gurdy and instantly striking voice.
Nearly 27 and having made it on her own since debut solo record Cellar Darling (2013), she’s truly ready to soar. She’s also recorded and performed with many talented artists along the way, including Tor-Helge Skei (Manes) in experimental project Lethe and neofolk alt-metal collective Nucleus Torn. Since leaving Eluveitie with bandmates Merlin Sutter (drums, percussion) and Ivo Henzi (guitar) earlier this year, Murphy now fronts three-piece Cellar Darling, named after her solo album.
The depth of her work in composing, producing, mixing and performing knows no bounds, and I sat down with the songwriter to chat new material, learning not to take on too much and what she learnt from leaving Eluveitie.
Murphy hits Sydney and Melbourne late this month for two exclusive shows, and it was great to hear that gig prep over the past few weeks has being going “very well”, especially with everyone “doing a lot of things simultaneously because we’re also working on new music with the new band.”
It’s also exciting that ex-Eluveitie bassist Rafi Kirder (2004-2008) will be joining Murphy for the shows. Considering their two years together in the band, she cheekily affirmed “It was fun, and he’s quite a stage hog so the shows are definitely going to be filled with energy.”
Over two weeks ago, Murphy finished arranging a solo single at Soundfarm in Lucerne, Switzerland, a songwriting retreat for the musician. When I invited her to reflect on the writing process, she explained “I’ve been working on the track for quite a while, and it’s been stuck in my head for a few months now. I just never really had time to work on it. It’s exciting, and I hope people will like it.”
“Lyrically it’s about living in the moment and doing stupid shit…there’s people who are all about security and driven by their fears of various things. It’s sung from the sarcastic perspective of a person who doesn’t like this kind of lifestyle, who wants to take risks.”
I then asked the songwriter to consider whether that view stems from touring with other bands, to which she responded “Oh definitely! I’ve met so many people who are supposed to be ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ because of what they do, but they’re actually really bland, and it’s sad to see that. So I’m also addressing those people [laughs].”
Moving back to her solo work, Murphy reflected thoughtfully on Cellar Darling, where “back then, I didn’t really have a sound in mind, I just did whatever came to me. I think that’s why the album is so eclectic, because I would sit there, spit out tracks and not think about what the concept actually is as a whole… I was just overexcited and wanted to do everything. Maybe at times it was a bit too much.”
Talking to the gifted composer now, it’s a different story, with Murphy’s upcoming record set to be “a bit more minimalistic. There’s not going to be keyboards, strings and samples all over the place. I’m going to have more of a concept, and what I think is an interesting approach is if you ask yourself with every song what it actually needs. Drums, bass and vocals will certainly be the main thing, but some songs don’t actually need more to convey what they should.”
“At the same time we’re also working on material with Cellar Darling, and that’s obviously going to be harsher music, maybe heavy rock or metal. We don’t really know yet to be honest,” she admitted.
After reflecting on the sheer creativity Murphy exercises daily, I mentioned Cellar Darling making their live debut in support of the eclectic yet heavy Dutch duo The Gentle Storm to close out the year. Murphy’s excitement was palpable.
“We’ve been friends with Anneke van Giersbergen [vocalist for The Gentle Storm] because I actually toured with her on my solo stuff. So we’ve been keeping in touch, and she and her husband ,who also managers her, asked us to play the show. It’s really cool and proves that they have an extreme trust in us being a good band, since we haven’t released any music yet and already have this gig. So it’s really great and I can’t wait.”
Murphy then divulged Muse as her dream act to play alongside, with me sharing my own love for the rockers.
That moment of solidarity passed as we talked about her collaborations, with Murphy recording hurdy-gurdy on some of electro-folk/rock group Irij‘s impending sophomore album. However, working with Tor-Helge Skei in Lethe has been a clear highlight.
“I’ve been a huge fan of my collaborator for a very long time and always loved the music he creates. It was just by some weird coincidence that we got to work together. That was a really cool thing, and I’ve always liked weird experimental music. I probably feel most at home there.”
Shifting our chat to Eluveitie, I gained some unexpected insight into just how restricting the band often was for Murphy.
“Eluveitie has a very clear concept, so they don’t really have that platform where they can just do whatever they want. Obviously they also experiment, but they’re always going to have the lyrical concept, which until now has been the same on every album. There’s like a ‘red thread’, where they have a recipe when writing songs. So I couldn’t just tell them ‘Hey, I have this really weird idea which doesn’t fit at all. Should we do it?’ [laughs]. That’s why I’ve always had side projects, because Eluveitie alone has never given me 100% satisfaction, even in the beginning. So I needed that.”
However, she assured me that “They were a great ten years, very exciting. It was a huge privilege to have a job as a touring musician, especially at such a young age. I didn’t study music or anything. Some of the highlights were just touring in general, I love bus tours where you have a show every day. I enjoyed America the most, because it was something new… to just be in a different state every day was really cool.”
Inevitably, things shifted to the group’s split, and what got to Murphy the most was the lack of communication through it all.
“Tensions were there definitely, but I just don’t see how people don’t talk to each other. At least sit down, open your mouth and grow a pair… Even if it leads to people punching people from time to time [laughs], that’s healthier than bottling it and doing something weird like what happened with us.”
“But I’ve learnt a lot from that situation. I will definitely always try to speak my mind… Things like that don’t happen anymore.”
That’s certainly a relief, and on a final, lighter note, I mentioned one of the most positive fan responses to her solo record yet:
“I can officially say that Anna Murphy is what I’ve been looking for in music, and I am glad I’ve finally found it.”
“I didn’t know if they were good songs, if I sang well enough… I just did them because I felt I had to,” Murphy chuckled in response. “It’s not like I was an established songwriter or anything, so to get the feeling that some people really like that stuff was nice. Then doing my first tour as a solo artist, and then someone like Anneke even wanting me as a support… that was amazing.”
“There have been a lot of things that have made me feel better as a musician. I’m not at the point yet where I would think great things about myself, but it’s given me confidence to do it at least [laughs].”
Don’t miss Anna Murphy when she heads down to Australia for her debut shows later this month, or keep up-to-date with ALL her projects here.