Short before this summer, Chris Murray released his second solo record on Asian Man Records called "4-Trackaganza", with an awesome mix of Ska/ 2tone/ Rocksteady/ Reggae/ Rock. Before doing his solo stuff he was the head of the Toronto based King Apparatus, which are still known as one of the best Canadian Ska/ 2 tone Bands and over the years he also worked together with bands like The Slackers, hellcat or The Skatalites. I took the chance and did an email interview with him, which can find here (uncut).
1. You were really busy over the last 15 years, could give a short cut of your history, a short timeline ?
King Apparatus, which began in 1987, was the first band I'd been in that took being a professional band seriously. I'd been in other bands before, but it was never about anything more than having fun and jamming. King Apparatus released our first EP, Loud Party, in 1989, our self-titled debut album in 1991 and our second album, Marbles, in 1993. Our final tour before the group stopped playing was 1995. My first album, The 4-Track Adventures Of Venice Shoreline Chris, came out on Moon in 1996, which is also when I started performing solo acoustic. As things started to slow down for ska in the US, I decided to take some time off from touring heavily as conditions were highly unfavorable and I didn't want to burn myself out and end up feeling bitter about what I do. I released an EP, Six Songs, on Asian Man Records in 2000 and went on the Plea For Peace tour that summer, which was my first national tour since 1997. My current album, 4-Trackaganza!, was released on Asian Man in early 2001. Since then I've been more active with live appearances and have started to get back into the tour groove. That brings me pretty much up to date.
2. Was "King Apparatus the first band you played in? How did you come into 2tone/ rocksteady/ ska/ reaggae?
I heard Two Tone ska back when it first came out and became a fan right away. Through my high school and university years I was a big ska fan, although there really wasn't much happening with ska at the time. King Apparatus started up during my last year of college and initially we played all kinds of music, although ska was always part of our mix. Around 1989, we started to think more seriously about making the band our primary focus rather than a fun hobby, at which time we made a conscious decision to direct our energies into being a ska band and playing our own songs.
3. Is King Apparatus still active? I think I saw somewhere that you played some shows not long ago? What were the reasons you broke up and what happend/ changed that you came back together (if you did)?
There were various factors that led to King Apparatus becoming inactive. The major factor that led to our reformation was having our two albums reissued by Asian Man last year. We did a reunion tour of 12 dates across Canada, which was excellent. We were able to recruit the top players from the various line ups we'd had over the years, so musically the band was better than ever. The crowds were great and we had a lot of fun playing again. Once the tour was completed, we all got together and decided we'd like to keep the door open for future King Apparatus activity, since we were all enjoying what we had just done together. Since then we've recorded six new tracks at a 24-track studio, which sound better than anything we've done before to my ear. I'm not sure what we'll do next, but I'm excited that we're thinking about the future again and not the past.
4. Maybe ist a little strange if I ask you about a song, which is 8 years old, but I really love "Hold me Down", is there are story behind that song? Were there many things crossing your way cause also "Aesthetics" handels about the same.
Aesthetics was written by our bass player Mitch, so anything you find it has in common with Hold Me Down is probably coincidental or at least unconscious. I originally wrote Hold Me Down for a reggae band called One that was good friends with King Apparatus. In the end, KA started playing the tune live and I never offered it to One. The song didn't really speak from my own life experience particularly, but was one of the first times I tried to write a song specifically for someone else to sing.
5. When did you start to write solo stuff? Was it a thing that already came up during King Appartus?
With King Apparatus, I feel we kind of established ska as the realm we were going to work within, but not as a limit to the ways we could express ourselves musically. We had a very open attitude about what qualified as being ska and ways in which ska could be played that could stretch the limits of the ways people perceived the style. By the time we were making Marbles, being innovative within ska was one of our primary objectives. We fooled around with different time signatures, different sounds and different attitudes.
We'd started to tour in California and the trad scene that was developing out there really touched my heart. Although I was striving to innovate and stretch the limits of ska, I was also getting more in touch with the roots of the style. Among other elements, the roots vibe worked its way more deeply into the King Apparatus approach as we widened our musical range. Songs like Rock Steady, So Many Roads, Brave New Brian and Boyo were originally part of the King Apparatus songbook and part of our live set.
6. Where do you write most of the songs, you need a special kind of amthosphere?
Songs come to me no matter where I am, although it's always nice to have a space to work uninterrupted. I've written songs in restaurants, at friend's places, backstage at clubs, just about every place.
7. I read the name "the Venice Shoreline Chris experience" somewhere, what's up with this?
The name Venice Shoreline Chris is a pun on Venice Shoreline Crips(a hardcore LA street gang), which is ultimately why I stopped using it. Eventually I started to think it would be better in the long run not to invite trouble. I'm not sure where the "experience" part of what you read came from. Someone was probably being creative.
8. You moved from Toronto to LA, did this also have an influence on your music?
I think it must have. Definitely it reinforced the influence of roots ska, rock steady and reggae in my work.
9. Live you play alone with your accoustic guitar, I never saw you live and it's hard to imagine how you sound live and how it works out. Why do you play alone?
After having been in King Apparatus for close to 9 years, the last thing I felt like doing was starting up another band, even though it was an opportune moment for ska bands. Growing up I'd had a lot of experience as a camp counsellor leading campfire singalongs, so standing up in front of a group with an acoustic guitar and saying, "Alright everybody, clap your hands and sing along", was pretty natural for me, although it's obviously an oddity in the ska scene.
When I first started out, a lot of people were confused by what I was doing, but now people have come to understand my approach and are usually set to participate in the show. I rarely work with a setlist, so I just go with the flow of what's happening night by night. When I'm playing with bands I know well, usually there will be some guest appearances during my set. Each show ends up being unique, which is fun for me.
Just last weekend I played a show in LA and Deston and Alex from Hepcat sang five songs with me during my set, which was amazing. The next couple of nights Vic Ruggiero from The Slackers guested playing guitar and singing with me. We hadn't really rehearsed, but know each other musically well enough to pull off a set, even when Vic has no idea what song I'll call next. When you're in a band, you end up playing the same songs with the same people night after night after night. There are good things and bad things about that for the artist. For the past five years, I've really enjoyed the opportunity to play with a wide variety of talented musical people in a wide range of contexts.
10. Your new record is called "4-Trackaganza" and is recorded on four tracks. What you like about 4 tracks so much? Is it also challenge to make a 4 track record?
I started 4-tracking as a way to introduce new songs to King Apparatus. I was the least musically literate member of the group, but I always knew exactly what sound I was going for, the way a song sounded in my head. Making a recording became a more effective way for me to communicate what I was hearing than trying to put it into words and then have the other members translate words back into music on their instruments.
After King Apparatus stopped touring, I had a lot more time for writing and recording than I'd had before, so I kept doing it and using the 4-track because it was on hand and I was comfortable with it. Eventually, I found I had a bunch of recordings that I kept enjoying purely as a listener and a ska fan, which led to me compile the album for Moon. One nice thing about using the 4-track is that you have no studio clock ticking away at $50-100 an hour. For me, creating is not a process I like to rush through or feel pressure during, so the 4-track allows me to work wherever I am, whenever I'm feeling inspired, which I know affects the vibes of the final recordings.
It's definitely a challenge to make a 4-track album. The more I use the 4-track, the more I find ways to work within its parameters and make the recordings sound stronger and more textured. Whatever medium you're working with, it always presents some kind of challenge.
11. You got this song Dinosaur and I didn't get the lyrics 100% (probably cause I'm german), but do you see yourself as a dinosaur?
The song Dinosaurs tells two stories, the story of the dinosaurs and the story of mankind. I attempted to show ways in which those stories were similar. Just as man is today, dinosaurs were once the dominant species on earth. The fact that the dominant species of an era can become totally extinct in a relatively short time frame is what I wanted to point out. To see the parallels between what happened to the dinosaurs and what could happen to the human race can be frightening, but to deny that reality is to stick your head in the sand. In the post 9/11 world, people have realized that everything we know and take for granted could end tomorrow. If there's anything good to be found in what has happened, I think it may be that we've become more aware of how fragile our own existence really is.
12. What do you do, aside your solo stuff? Are you activ in any other musical projects?
I've worked with a lot of bands and artists in various ways since King Apparatus stopped playing in 1995. I've produced albums and written songs for other artists and collaborated with many people on a wide assortment of projects. Sometime within the next year or two I'm planning to compile an album of tracks I've recorded with different people. I feel lucky to have worked with so many talented people.
13. You toured in europe last year (?), what were you impressions, were did you actually tour, also in germany?
I toured in Germany in 1997. At the time, my first impression was that people there understood that ska was big in the US, but were really only aware of groups like the Bosstones, No Doubt and Sublime that were getting commercial radio play in the US.
14. Any plans to come back soon? Whats coming up next?
I'm talking with a few labels about releasing my recordings in Europe. Whenever that gets arranged and some of my releases do get distributed in Europe, I'm looking forward to coming back and touring more extensively.
15. Any last words?
Overall, despite the ups and down ska music has had over the past 15 years, I feel fortunate to have been involved in something I've cared about deeply through that time. I'm glad I wasn't working at some desk job all those years, although I probably would have made a lot more money. I love what I do and hope to be able to keep doing it for a long time. I hope these are not really my last words.