Daniel Ward-Murphy, The Bottom-End Interview

dwm-thumbIt’s a new year and Sellaband artist Daniel Ward-Murphy is hitting the ground running. His debut album, Until The Morning Light,  produced in London by studio veteran Tony Platt, is receiving rave reviews from the Sellaband community. I recently cornered Daniel in the men’s room of the home office and forced him to grant an interview on threat of denying him the last available stall…okay, okay! So I emailed him…but the time we spent together at our keyboards gave me the inside scoop on Daniel’s quest to bring his music to the public, his unique band line-up and working with a legendary producer. Enjoy!

Bottom-End: Producer Tony Platt has had a hand in many great recordings by a variety of artists spanning thirty some years and across many genres. How were you able to secure Tony’s services?

Daniel Ward Murphy: “I was lucky enough to be introduced to Tony in the summer of 2006, with a mind to potentially working together. It was a great compliment that after we had chatted through the sound I was looking to achieve and he had heard some of my repertoire he wanted to record a few songs with me.  These three songs were partly responsible for propelling me toward $50,000 on Sellaband and kind of felt like the beginning of a journey rather than the end.  We went on to record Songs from Soho (a live audience attended recording session) together, so when the time came I just wanted to continue this journey and luckily for me he wanted to do the same.”

Tony Platt

Tony Platt

B-E: What made Tony Platt the right producer for your new album?

DWM: “Tony simply knows how to record sound and I was looking for someone to capture sound and performances rather than synthesising the right sounds.  There are people such as Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams/Ray Lamontagne) and Charlie Fink (Laura Marling) whose great production has really caught my attention but before, during and after the recording, in my mind Tony was always the right man for this album.”
B-E: The lyrical content of Until The Morning Light is very personal and much of the album takes a one-on-one approach. You seem to be singing either to or about specific individuals as opposed to abstract concepts. To what degree do you write from personal experience?

DWM: “This question has really forced me to think (!) as writing lyrics is quite a natural process for me.  Some of my lyrics are about individuals past and present but some of them I personalise and put  in the first person. For example, the characters in Soldier’s Song are not me (nor are they all my observations) but I sing ‘I’ and ‘you’ throughout.  Empathy is a big part of my writing and I suppose my whole outlook.  I write about beauty, I write about human spirit and I find the romantic in the tragic.  I tend to not stay in the present, I write about the past, present and the future; I write about the real and the unreal and use plenty of metaphors.  I try to avoid any lyrics that sound pious and I try to avoid huge chunks of lyrics that are about domesticity and everyday feelings.  There are a few artists whose music I like but the lyrics are completely heart-on-sleeve and talk about love and living with their wife/husband and children.  It may sound harsh, but whilst that is very nice I think they are personal feelings and they kind of bore me.  Give them a backpack, a few notes in their pocket and a travel ticket to somewhere and they could write killer songs with something to say rather than personal diary entries.  I know that sounds a bit opinionated but I think if artists take their work outside of the house they should have something to say other than what goes on in their house!”

B-E: The band roster is rather unique in comparison to most contemporary pop recordings. Violinist/violist Helen Twomey and cellist Milo Bird play parts traditionally covered by keyboard and bass instruments. How did you arrive at the idea of casting string instruments as an integral part of the rhythm section?

DWM: “When I took the decision to ‘go solo’ a few years ago, I knew didn’t want to simply join the army of stripped-down singer/songwriters out there.  I still wanted a full band around me to give the dynamics and the instrumentation and musicians around me to best showcase my songs.  Strong melodies are always prevalent in my song-writing but I suppose the non-vocal ones are always a bit more subtle and the violin has been great for carrying these.  Helen is great at switching between playing music that is at the forefront of songs and more gentle background accompaniment.  There are three songs on the album that we decided to supplement the cello with bass guitar but generally, due to Milo’s great rhythm, it provides the required bass element and allows us to feature Milo’s excellent musicianship and playing at the same time.  It is a core part of the sound and important to me – I am trying to clone him as we speak – stay still Milo or this won’t work…!”

B-E: Is this instrumentation specific to this body of work?

DWM: “This sound was not established just for an album project so this core instrumentation will continue with hopefully the addition of some guitar/keyboard/piano in places if success dictates and I manage to find the right person.”

B-E: Again, in reference to your band, do you write specifically with this line-up in mind and has the sonic palette had an effect on your evolution as a songwriter? Did you experience either limitations or greater freedom in framing your lyrics with this instrumentation?

DWM: “I am a bit of a chameleon when it comes to writing as I tend to write for the musicians I have around me.  When I was in my traditional 4-piece band I wrote songs that suited bass/electric guitar and when I occasionally came up with something that didn’t I tended to try and leave it alone and put it in storage.  The reverse happens every now and again now and I have songs that may suit a 4-piece arrangement better, but generally I am really comfortable writing for my current line-up.”

Pravin Mukhi

Pravin Mukhi

B-E: Drummer Pravin Mukhi lays down solid grooves while never stepping outside the organic quality that defines Until The Morning Light. How did you approach the recording of basic tracks?

DWM: “Pravin is a really sensitive drummer who gets a kick out of playing most kinds of music.  It is one thing having rhythm and being good at hitting things and another to give the songs what they need and provide the right dynamics.  Before a drum was hit we talked about how we wanted the drums to have real earthy, supporting, percussive style and then in album rehearsals we really put each section under the microscope.  Pravin is a natural player though and has great awareness of the song and what everyone else is playing.”

B-E: Were you able to play and record together or did you build the tracks individually?

DWM: “One of the great things about working with Tony was that we weren’t starting from square one and he knew 75% of the material – so we were able to sit down and talk about how we wanted to record the songs.  We thought that 3 of the 11 songs (I Think I Made You Smile, The Genius of Myra and Under The Wire) were best recorded by capturing my solo performance and then adding accompaniment around it and most of the others were attacked by getting Pravin and Milo’s groove down first, with me playing an as-live-performance guide guitar/vocals, so we could re-create some of that live magic!”

B-E: Vocalist Jennifer Delaney’s contribution to the album is a prominent one. The sections you sing together feel very spontaneous. Did you sing together in the studio or overdub her parts after the fact?

DWM: “When I went solo I set about building a band and a sound that as an audience member I would enjoy listening to.  Variety is important to me and one of the things that make us different to most acts is the male/female vocal blend and the fact Jennifer takes the microphone for big chunks of the set.  I have been singing with Jen for many years now and I think the hundreds of rehearsals and gigs show in the recordings.

DWM & Jennifer Delaney

DWM & Jennifer Delaney

For the actual sessions we didn’t sing at the same time though hopefully it might sound like we are in the same room.  We wanted to take the pressure off and let Jen concentrate on the performance but in the album rehearsals where most of the defining takes place, we obviously sang together and worked on the delivery of certain lines.  In Flame for example, the lyrics in the verse are quite conversational and the delivery almost needs to be acted, so to get across the right meanings we faced each other throughout and made eye contact to get that closeness and interaction.  This gets locked in and then the studio can be more about capturing the fruits of this work as well as those bits of inspiration that make the difference.”

B-E: In your album credits you acknowledge Sellaband A&R Head Adam Sieff with the comment, “I hope I did you and your guitar justice.” Can you shed some light on this for those who may not know Adam as a musician.

DWM: “I was introduced to Adam a few months prior to Sellaband’s launch in 2006. He is a very talented guitarist who has played with all kinds of wonderful artists but I haven’t actually ever played with him before.  What struck me about him was his enthusiasm for music in general and he has been very complimentary and supportive of my music since he first heard it.  He first introduced me to Tony Platt and unfortunately, your potential for success is often tied to which musicians, artists, producers and industry professionals you happen to know, so I have a lot to be thankful for. This support culminated in the loan of a gorgeous Fender Telecaster for one of the sessions which I really enjoyed playing on a few parts of the album which obviously led to the comment on the album sleeve notes.”

B-E: Recording a studio album with a producer of Tony Platt’s stature is a dream that will remain unfulfilled for most aspiring artists. As you scratch this from of your “to do” list, what’s next for Daniel Ward-Murphy?

DWM: “It was a privilege and a great creative time. We all enjoyed that experience but I think it becomes even more appreciated if this album goes on to do well.  So the now is about doing what I can to promote the album and then after that hopefully I will get the opportunity to make a second album, play some big shows and have a lengthy career.”

B-E: How badly do you want to get back into the studio for round two and what can fans expect from you as far as live performances?

DWM: “The recording process was so enjoyable and stress-free that a month after the final session I was ready to do it all again. Since the recording I have written and introduced The Liberation of the Female Kind to the live set and I have another one nearly all ready to go that I am excited about so this desire to record gets bigger, but I know I will only get to do that if this album is a success – so that is the focus.  Keep rehearsing, gigging, do interviews, stay in touch with fans, let as many people as possible know about the album and try to inspire others to spread the message!”

Until The Morning Light is a thoughtful collection of words and music from a thoughtful young Englishman with a lot on his mind. The new album is available to preview and buy on Sellaband, Amazon and BOL.

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