Kevin Murphy isn’t afraid to go to the darker places, even if that entails going off the grid and taking refuge in a remote fishing village in Alaska. In fact, he prefers it. There, among the hard-working people of Ketchikan, the din of salmon and halibut boats in the distance and the fjords nearby, Murphy was able to think clearly and attempt to get right with himself, and where his life was heading at the time.

While in the studio during the early winter months of 2010 with producer Erik Flood (who also oversaw production of the quartet’s 2008 debut, Don’t Be a Stranger), Murphy found himself thinking back on his time in Alaska, mining his internal dialogues for what would frame the majority of Tidelands’ phenomenally heart-rending material. The end result is a captivating album of deeply personal admissions and emotional excavations, set to the hazy sonics, soul-stirring harmonies and widescreen dynamism the Seattle-based Moondoggies have earned a solid and ever-growing reputation for.

The Moondoggies play New York’s Mercury Lounge on Wednesday, October 27th.

With your debut Don’t Be a Stranger, there was a palpable spiritual tinge to some of the lyrics, but Tidelands feels far more ruminative. Could that have been greatly influenced by the fact that it was recording during the winter months? It feels so internally contemptuous, if that makes any sense.

The purpose of this record specifically for me was to focus on a few ideas and write about them. Don’t Be a Stranger was all over the place lyrically. This album was supposed to dwell on exercising certain demons or engage in the conversation with myself. It’s laid out to develop to the end of the record. I don’t know if I’ll do that again but as it was happening here I really enjoyed [it]. 

Would you say this is the band’s most personal work to date?

Absolutely.

You worked with Erik Blood again on Tidelands. Did he have to twist you and the rest of the band’s arm to branch out creatively as opposed to your debut? Admittedly, the album does have a hazier, more fluid vibe.

No, not really. I think we always wanna push ourselves and push forward stylistically to get where you wanna be creatively, have no limitations with songs. Every album, I think, has been building on something.

Fans and critics have found fascination with your time spent alone in Alaska. Perhaps because Alaska feels so foreign to those of us in the Lower 48, but because Ketchikan is a somewhat remote fishing village with fjords nearby. Did you work out what you needed to up there surrounded by so much water?

I found that theme coming up a lot in reference to all the things I was feeling, and when things keep surfacing you have to follow your gut creatively. I tend to be very influenced by my immediate surrounds so it just seeped right in. It was a heavy time, so going back there in reference to the feelings of the songs was helpful to the feeling of the record.

Tidelands – as a title, and with the album cover, is so perfectly evocative of someone who feels submerged by high tide. A perfect illusion to what you are putting forth lyrically on the album on “It’s a Shame,” the title track, and even “Down the Well.” How long did it take the band to settle on this title as the right one?

I don’t remember it taking too long. I know I had it in the back of my head for a while and when it was all done I thought it was still the right name. None of us came up with a more fitting title, basically.

“We Can’t All Be Blessed” is pretty haunting. When you say, “The past is not forgiving. Play it close to your chest because the dead have misgivings..,” it reminds me of that quote from the movie Magnolia where it says “We might be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.” With this album, are you working through how hard it is to break free from one’s past and regrets?

Yeah, that song’s the culmination of going through all the motions. The lyric is actually “the debt of misgivings.” However, I think your quote still applies. The line refers to the price you’ll pay with your mistakes and how important it is to not be destroyed by that and try to learn from it. In the end it’s a song about acceptance and perspective. 

Does it make you cringe when writers describe the band as “Southern Rock” and “country rock” or have you just learned to shrug and laugh at the need for pigeonholes in rock criticism?

Well, I can see it a little on certain songs, and the South does seem to dig it. I’m just not a fan of describing music, I think “rock” is pretty wide and all encompassing so I just call it that.

You’re finally returning to New York on October 27th. Coming from the Northwest and with the vibes of your record – more laidback, but widescreen all the same – do you generally enjoy your time here?

I love it there. I’ll never live there, but I always have a blast. 

–Carrie Alison

 
  1. A fantastic album! These guys are going to be favorites of mine for years to come. Thanks for providing some insight into the lyrics, Carrie.

    [Reply]

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