I first met Stephen Murray six or seven years ago when he and his band, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, rolled into Bristol, Tenn., for a performance. Murray and friends were blending Dixieland jazz with Beatles-era psychedelic rock and putting on one of the most energetic live shows I had seen in a long, long while.
Along with being banjo player, guitar picker, and singer for Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Murray can now add solo artist to his resume. Last month he released The Backlot Sessions, his first solo effort. A collection of nine tunes he recorded with an ensemble called The Backlot Collective, The Backlot Sessions is an absolutely dandy of a record. Just check out “Sweet Stephanie,” which is featured on this month’s Trail Mix.
Trail Mix recently caught up with Stephen Murray to chat about guitars, the North Country, and songwriting.
Blue Ride Outdoors – You are no stranger to recording, but this is your first record without your mates in Holy Ghost Tent Revival. How was this experience different from recording with the band?
Stephen Murray – I had nine songs in mind and I wanted to release them as soon as possible. With the band, we let songs build up over time and cultivate them and take turns arranging and writing parts. We can let a song sit for months before we think it’s ready for the studio. This project was all of the same, just warped into a two month period. The group I worked with, called The Backlot Collective, followed the structure of the tunes but changed them into what they are now simply by bringing their ideas to the table. We never really discussed who should play what or if a part wasn’t right. We just let the process unfold organically.
BRO – We are featuring “Sweet Stephanie” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
SM – It’s a song I wrote years ago about my wife. Originally, it was a ragtime tune with a two-beat feel. My wife called me one day and said, “I keep hearing this song as a rock & roll number with big horns and heavy drums.” Since I already had a ragtime tune, “Cabin, Captain, Cabin,” worked out for the record, I thought this was a good move. Lyrically, it’s a simple song. There’s a line that starts, “Oh, the coast of Carolina,” which was originally about time I spent with my wife at her family’s beach house, which ended up being where we got married.
BRO – What’s the most listened to track on your iPod right now?
SM – I don’t have an iPod, and I just now got a working phone, but I’ve got Willie Nelson’s Redheaded Stranger on my turntable right now.
BRO – You originally hail from Canada. Favorite band from your homeland?
SM – The Band. Even though they are thought of as an American rock band, there were four members from up north. They’re my favorite.
BRO – Tell me about your favorite guitar.
SM – It’s a 1976 Rickenbacker 360. It’s the guitar I normally play with Holy Ghost Tent Revival and mainly what I am playing on this record. Mmmmmmm . . . . . it’s beautiful.
BRO – If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
SM – I really don’t know. I think about that a lot, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Sometimes I daydream about having a farmhouse with a studio, but that’s still making music. I used to be an actor, so maybe I’d try to get back into that.
BRO – Best place to grab a beer in Greensboro?
SM – My house. We’ll have you over and play cards.
Stephen, you might want to be careful with those invites. I just might show up. In the meantime, I am going to keep spinning The Backlot Sessions, and I highly recommend that all of you out there grab your own copy.
You can download the record right now at www.stephenmurray.bandcamp.com/ or send in an order for a copy of the disc at stephenmurraymusic.com. Also, keep your eyes peeled for when Stephen drops by your town for a solo show or a gig with Holy Ghost Tent Revival. You’ll want to be there.