Interview with Elliott Murphy: It takes a worried man

Interview about Murphy’s 2013 album It takes a worried man.

Poetic Justice: It’s an obvious question to ask, but are you generally “a worried man”?

Elliott Murphy: Sorry to say but yes, I suppose I am. Still, that begs the question if we are not all worried men (and women) living in this “Age of Anxiety” (my term by the way!) where religion is just another scandal of the elite and the barbarians are inside the gate. When I first started my career it was so simple: you knocked on record company doors, you played the A&R man your demo, and if he liked it, you recorded an album that was sent to radio and press and you went on the road and hoped the whole thing worked. Now my son Gaspard is 22 and has got a record deal for his band Duplex, and the record company is always talking about creating a “buzz” even before the album is out. You’ve got to go viral! You’ve got to have 5,000 facebook followers! You’ve got to be all over Youtube! And this is all done without changing the strings on your guitar. But, having said that, I rest a rather optimistic albeit worried man. Rock ‘n roll, by its very nature, is a positive art form. Did you see this French film Amour? About two old people at the end of their lives? Show me one rock ‘n roll song that is as depressing as that? Even “Sister Morphine” is uplifting in some perverse way.

Poetic Justice: You quite often refer to popular culture in your songs. Is this where you find inspiration, or is it more from every day life?

Elliott Murphy: Inspiration is easy to talk about in the past tense. So like right now, today, rainy Sunday in Paris, where am I finding my inspiration? From this interview perhaps. You’re making me think about subjects I might not ordinarily ponder. I just sat in a cafe on the Rue de Faubourg St. Denis and was marvelling at the breasts of the waitress who served me my cafe au lait. Is that inspiration? And where do we define the lines that delineate inspiration, motivation, action and production? If you put me in a room with a guitar or piano and said if I write a song in an hour I’ll be paid 100 Euros, my only question would be what key do you want it in sir? And everyday life? What is that? The life that goes on within me or without me to paraphrase the late great George Harrison. I watch the news every day in all its horror and glory and I’ve yet to be at one event they describe. Is this part of my life? Ah, but the breasts of that waitress…

Poetic Justice: You’ve lived in Paris for a substantial amount of time now. Do you think your music has become progressively more European as a result?

Elliott Murphy: They call me the most French of all American songwriters so I suppose that explains my acceptance here. Do I follow the anarchist/romantic tradition of Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg? Or the expatriate charm of Josephine Baker and Henry Miller? I know that living in France where art itself is associated with freedom of expression gives one a sense of laissez faire that is difficult to realize in America where the bottom line is always business even if you’re a stoned cold painter or damned poet. If Bukovsky didn’t sell would anyone have heard of him? My band is all French and Olivier Durand, although he probably wouldn’t admit it, is a very European guitarist. His sense of time and rhythm is slightly different from that of the dreaded anglo-saxons. And he throws a few Django Reinhardt curves into his solos as well. But Europeans tend to favour American singer-songwriters like Dylan, Springsteen and Waits anyway. Those on the continent who care about this sort of thing expect great edgy bands from the UK and iconoclastic solo acts from the US. I know that’s a broad generalization with many exceptions, but so be it.

Poetic Justice: When was the last time you played in London, and are there any plans to return?

Elliott Murphy: I played a Light of Day show in London last November at the Half Moon in Richmond with Garland Jeffreys and James Maddox that was a lot of fun. The desire is there – I want to play in the UK if for no other reason to be in front of an audience that understands English. Recently I was contacted about playing a folk club in Yorkshire. We use to play at the Borderline in Soho quite a few times but the booker changed and contact was lost. Wasn’t it Samuel Johnson who said that when a man grows tired of London he grows tired of life? The French say that when you stop looking forward to your next morning cafe its over. Well, I’m still ready to return to London and drink a morning cafe. If there’s one thing I can tell you, its that I’ve got plans man! Big plans!

Read our review of It takes a worried man here

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(photo: Michel Jolyot)