Traffic is a way of life in Southern California. When you’re stuck in that mess that feels like it will never clear, you have two options – you can let the road rage consume you or you can sit back, watch the passersby, and let it inspire you. Kaz Murphy chose the latter option.
A roots-based singer and songwriter who moved to Echo Park from Seattle seven years ago, Murphy finds the Los Angeles area to be overall inspiring, but it was during that seemingly endless stretch of time spent waiting out gridlock that the muse struck him, at least for two of the pieces on his latest album Home for Misfits.
“Below the Skin” has the sound of an instant hit, with hints of Tom Petty seeping through Murphy’s voice and a hook that is meant for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. Its opening line, “Stuck in Koreatown, like a chicken on a spit,” sets the stage for a fictionalized version of Murphy’s time spent inching down Western Avenue, watching mariachi musicians and homeless people as sirens blare around him and wondering what life is like under someone else’s epidermis.
“You can look in the cars and read people different ways, what they’re thinking about, how they feel,” he says. “When you get caught in that part of town in mid-afternoon traffic, you get all sides of life coming at you all at once. You just sit there.”
His song “Anything She Wants” is thematically similar, although it stems from an instance at another intersection.
“I saw her on the corner of Hollywood and Vine,” says Murphy of the woman who inspired the lines, “Somewhere back in the ’50s, she almost made the silver screen/Became a friend of the movie stars/And, one night, said she made love with James Dean.”
“She was wearing a purple dress and talking to herself, but she was like a movie star,” he explains. “I thought, I’m going to write this song about her.”
For Murphy, whose background includes a stint drumming for Allen Ginsburg, time as the singer for folk-rock outfit Mad Mad Nomad, and several solo albums, recording Home for Misfits was a two-year experience unlike his previous efforts. In the past, Murphy would enter the studio with a full band, which he found lent to finished products that were “a little too jumbled” for his tastes. This time around, he wrote and recorded the bulk of the song parts with just his acoustic guitar and a click track. After that, various members of his band came in to record layers of their own work. The end result is one that is full and polished without letting either the instrumentation or production deter from Murphy’s voice and lyrics that put an imaginative spin on life in the Southland.
Kaz Murphy plays O’Brien’s Pub and Restaurant on Main Street Saturday, November 10.