When Jeff Murphy describes his new solo album, Cantilever (Black Vinyl, 2007), he says it's all about the music and about being human. Murphy, who has been recording with his high school friends in the band Shoes for the past 30 years, wanted to re-create the euphoria he felt when listening to Paul McCartney's album McCartney (Capitol, 1970) when it was released. “I wanted to be just a guy with a recorder making music at home. It's so tempting nowadays to make tracks perfect by quantizing, looping, and pitch-correcting them into a highly polished, finished song. But I really miss the blemishes and hiccups that come from actually playing.”
Murphy played every instrument on Cantilever and also produced and engineered the entire CD from his home. “That's one of the reasons it is called Cantilever. I felt like I was hanging it all out there,” he says. “For this album, if I couldn't play the sound, I didn't include it.”
Besides his Fender and Gibson guitars, Murphy used some unconventional “instruments” on the album. “I would get a sound in my head and I'd try to find an instrument that satisfied that thirst,” he recalls. For example, in the song “A Couple of Words,” he heard a percussive “ping” sound in his head, so he started going through the cupboard banging on things until he found a little metal candy dish that made that sound. Murphy's “organic” sound design is also evident on “I'm a Tool for You,” the CD's opening cut. “I went out in the garage and got a pry bar and a hammer and experimented,” he says. “I wanted that ‘Working in a Coal Mine’ clank. I could have gotten a sample of it, but I wanted to play it. It is so much more exciting to do that.”
Recording at home was a big step in achieving the organic sound Murphy wanted on this CD. He has come full circle. Back in the 1970s when Shoes was formed, he purchased one of the first home-recording tape machines, the Teac 3340. “That machine gave Shoes our career. On it, we learned how to write and sing, play, record, engineer, and produce,” says Murphy.
Cantilever CD cover
But for the past 20 years, Murphy and his bandmates not only recorded in some of the best studios around the world, but also owned their own, Short Order Recorder, in Zion, Illinois. Eventually, Murphy and friends sold that studio, and it was then that Murphy began to set up at home. He based his home rig around a Korg D32XD personal digital studio, which he set up in a converted spare bedroom. “I'm an old-school guy, so I wanted something that felt like a tape recorder, that had faders you could grab and move along.”
For monitoring, Murphy has both Event ASP8 and Tannoy PBM 6.5 monitors. “I've got a Hiwatt guitar amp and a Vox AC30. I don't have many mics because I'm recording myself. I only use one or two mics at a time.” On this CD, Murphy used his “trusted old friend,” a Shure SM57, as well as an AKG C 451 and C 3000B, a Sennheiser MD 421, and a beyerdynamic M69.
“While I was a studio owner, I engineered and produced other bands. Now I want to focus on being a musician and not getting bogged down in the technology.” Did he achieve that? It's all pretty organic when the listener can hear Murphy's mother-in-law's phone call at the end of “She Don't Drive.”
Home base: Zion, Illinois
Multitrack of choice: Korg D32XD
Favorite mic: Shure SM57
Web site: http://blackvinyl.com