Maryland band Mothpuppy make scuffed-up indie rock music that, in spite of its slightly melancholy side, is as warm and as comforting as that well-worn, increasingly threadbare jumper that you've had in your wardrobe for as long as you can remember. Their new LP Cool & Pretty is out now and Sad Cactus Records, and the band's singer/guitarist Morgan Murphy very generously agreed to answer a few of my questions about the album and how it came to be...
image source: facebook.com/mothpuppy
The Album Wall: So why did you call your band 'Mothpuppy'?
Morgan Murphy: I don't really have an interesting answer for that! It's something that people were calling me in my first year of college, and I couldn't think of anything else when I made my Bandcamp page. And then it stuck and people wouldn't let me change it.
TAW: Ha. And here I was looking at it and thinking 'ooh it's so interesting how they've put a universally reviled creature alongside a universally adored creature, I wonder what it means???'
MM: Ha, well I do love moths and puppies alike so maybe that was part of the reasoning.
TAW: What do you like about moths?
MM: I think they're beautiful and super-interesting to look at. Someone told me the reason they're attracted to light is because they're always trying to fly towards the moon - I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a nice thought.
TAW: Let's talk about your new album, then - I know that Cool & Pretty is named after a line in the song Basketball Court, but what does that phrase signify to you?
MM: Well, that song is about moments that were meant to perceived as romantic really kind of altering my perception of myself. In those instances, I was meant to be the feminine recipient of these really superficial or backhanded compliments, and I for some reason put a lot of value in those relationships - probably because I was raised to be devotional and nurturing, right?
And so when these people whose opinion I valued and whom I thought very highly of expressed how they felt about me - and it didn't match my own self-image - it kind of set off this miniature breakdown where it was like, 'what kind of person am I presenting to the world?' rather than 'there's nothing wrong with me, it's just that the people I am choosing to value aren't getting it and so maybe I need to change who I value'.
TAW: So do you feel like you're better at choosing what and who to value nowadays?
MM: Ha ha - after a lifetime of those sorts of experiences, yes.
TAW: One of the most striking elements of this album's sound is the violin - how did you end up with a violinist in the band?
MM: The violinist is our friend Becca Kotula, and I asked her to join because 1) she's wonderful, and 2) I'm kind of always trying to get people who play different instruments to play with me without really worrying about how it'll sound in the end. I feel like this habit will get me into a lot of organisational trouble one day; it's already hard to coordinate between 5 peoples' schedules, and I'm sort of in the market for a horn section at the moment too. You can see how this might only get more and more difficult.
TAW: How long have you been making music? Where did your life as a musician begin?
MM: I've been singing since I can remember. I was a big chorus kid in elementary school and junior high, so I have some traditional voice training; I've been playing the guitar since I was about 11, maybe? Weirdly enough, my youth group pastor taught me the basics in exchange for reading the bible with him for 15 minutes afterwards. I ended up playing guitar at church on Sundays even though I wasn't religious at all. I guess I just felt like I owed him, and it was good practice. I messed around with it a lot after that - I would play covers in secret when no one was home. I was really shy when I was in high school, but I wanted to perform in front of people so I would go on those live streaming sites, play a few songs, and then get embarrassed and log off.
I didn't start feeling confident enough to write and perform my own songs until I was about 18 or 19 years old.
TAW: How do you write songs? Do you write them yourself and then tell the band what to do, or is it a more collaborative process?
MM: I write the very base of the song - the basic guitar part and the vocal melody. Then I bring it to everyone and they all figure out their own parts. So it's kind of a mix of both: it's collaborative in the sense that I don't really have any bigger expectation for what the song should sound like, and I kind of just let it come together based on everyone's unique styles. It's really cool and fun because the end product is always way different then I anticipate, but I'm always happy about it.
TAW: What is Flea about? After what you said about moths, the title and the opening line ("Why'd you kill me? My body was perfect!") make me picture a little bug wondering why they've just been squashed, but then I'm not sure how the "I could have made millions" bit ties in with that...
MM: Okay, so that song is very literally about my house being infested with fleas and them living off of me while I slept. I really try my best to not kill bugs and treat every little creature with respect, but (and I'm not proud of this) I hated them. Their bodies are 'perfect' because they are really, really difficult to kill. They were ruining my life, but because of this I got really good at killing them by basically decapitating them with my fingernails (gross, sorry). I would kill every one that landed on me if I could.
TAW: Why do you want to go to space?
MM: Ha! lots of reasons.
I have the same kind of fascinations about space that I think a lot of us do. I watched a lot of Carl Sagan growing up. and so part of it is just that I think it'd be cool. But the song Space is also kind of about disassociating and leaving your body and becoming someone you don't recognise in bad situations, like the real you is looking down at yourself from space. Also I was watching an X-Files episode about astronauts when I wrote it.
TAW: What other bands have you been listening to lately?
MM: We played a show with Nana Grizol and Bad Moves recently, so I've been listening to them a bunch. Nana Grizol are a band I started loving in high school, so it's been really nostalgic and nice to listen to them again. I appreciate them a lot.
Bad Moves are new to me but they shred. Also my partner has gotten me into Cerce - they put them on if we're driving somewhere. They're awesome too, and it's somehow great driving music.
TAW: What do you hope your listeners will take away from Cool & Pretty?
MM: Art and music leave a lot of room for interpretation, and so I'm interested in all of the ways that people experience our music. Sometimes I disagree with with what someone thinks a song is about, but once it's out there it's out there, you know? What I really want is for people to just listen to it! As much as I write songs for myself, I get so much joy from sharing that with other people, and if people feel like it's had any positive effect on their life or been empowering in any way, that's amazing and part of the reason I love making music that hits close to home.