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Wicked Whispers - Interview

  by Richard Lewis

published: 13 / 8 / 2012

Wicked Whispers - Interview


Richard Lewis chats to Mike Murphy, the singer-songwriter with psychedelic Liverpool-based band the Wicked Whispers, about his group's new EP, which was produced by White Stripes producer Liam Watson

Following their recording debut, the four tracks of whimsical melodicism that comprised of 'The Dark Delights of…' EP, Liverpool psych band the Wicked Whispers are about to release their first single, 'Dandelion Eyes'. The 45 comes twelve months after the release of the EP which sold out within weeks of release, becoming an instant collector’s item with one presently listed on Amazon for £40. 'The Dark Delights of…' opening track, ‘Amanda Lavender’, backed with a promo clip filmed in a mist-shrouded garden maze in Snowdonia, was warmly praised with BBC 6Music DJ Stuart Maconie hailing the five-piece as "a great psychedelic pop group." Dealing in concise bursts of kaleidoscopic 60's pop that clock in under the three minute mark, the band’s brevity extends to live performance, rattling through a complete set of a dozen songs in just over thirty minutes, in what feels only a fraction of the time. "After the EP the next thing for the band and for the label (the band’s own, Electone) would be to do a single," lead singer and songwriter Mike Murphy explains of the group’s plans while sat in a Liverpool city centre café. ‘Dandelion Eyes’ offers a different take on the pastoral English psychedelia minted on the first record, switching focus to hone in on the song’s foundations. Beginning with the rhythm track before the introduction of Ste Penn’s spiralling Vox Continental organ riff and Andrew Smith’s guitar work the song is the most immediate track the band have cut to date. Before arriving at its final version however, the song underwent several revisions. "It started off very, very different. It was more folk. It was the first time I relinquished full control to the band," Mike says of the song’s re-arrangement. "Everyone’s opinions are always brought to the table. The standout players on the single are Toby and Pete (bassist/vocalist and drummer respectively). It’s a groove-orientated song. It’s almost got elements of Funkadelia in there." "It wasn’t really intended as a single," Mike continues. "Then it was like, ‘This is quite poppy and upbeat’ and it’s very straightforward. It’s a bass hook all the way through." After the EP shifted its entire order of three hundred copies, the band are upping the number of issues for the single with five hundred available on 7” as well as making the tracks available for download for the first time. A trip down to the Smoke was required to record at the celebrated Toerag Studios, home of acclaimed producer Liam Watson to capture the sound the band envisioned for the single. A Grammy Award winner for his work on the White Stripes’ modern classic 'Elephant', the band had hoped to record the track in Watson’s famed workplace from the outset. "Yeah, we wanted to get the right producer. We wanted Liam to do it," Mike nods. A studio that famously shuns any piece of recording equipment that isn’t from the analogue age with digital mixing also eschewed, the location was a veritable lair of vintage recording gear. "It’s like going round to Bruce Wayne’s house and him showing you the Batcave," Mike grins. "It’s his arena. He spends a lot of time in there. It’s a small but very awe-inspiring studio, some of the stuff that’s been done there." "The boffin in me was coming out," Mike says. "All the gadgets, everything was analogue. The mixing desk was the first one used in Abbey Road. He bought it from them and built it up from there. I was watching him during the mixing process. That’s what he won his Grammy for." "With the EP I co-produced it with (renowned Liverpool-based producer) Steve Powell," Mike explains. "With this I completely stepped back. It was something I wanted to do as I wanted to see what someone else would do with it." "It mightn’t be right for every song we do," Mike says of the preference of tape over hard drive. For the present single however, an unvarnished feel was essential. "It’s quite raw. It’s literally a performance piece, recorded with a couple of overdubs and that’s as real as it is. It’s weird really. I thought when you’re talking singles it comes down to preciseness and get it as polished as possible for radio but it seems to be the opposite. As a band we’re ten times tighter than what we were when we did the EP though. We recorded another single there which we’re going to have out before Christmas." Along with nailing the right sound, the arcane skill producers possess in being able to spot the definitive take of a song came to the fore during the sessions. "The take for the next one, that happened instantly. He just said, ‘That’s it’," Mike recalls. "He got quite aggressive and said ‘Don’t ask me to re-record that.I’m telling you now you’re not going to get better than that'." With the single’s lead feature helmed by a revered producer du jour, the flip side ‘Flying Round in Circles’ features the input of acclaimed engineer and mixer John Wood. Holder of a CV that includes classic albums by Fairport Convention and John Martyn, Wood developed a close working relationship with the notoriously reclusive Nick Drake, engineering all three of his albums. Now working as a freelancer, following his association with production legends Joe Boyd and Norman Smith, Wood approached the band personally. "He contacted us and wanted to mix the EP," Mike explains. "We decided not to go with him ‘cos we wanted to be hands-on. So we thought, ‘Let’s see what he can do with some B-sides.’ He’s mixed two tracks from the EP and put one each on each single as a B-side. He worked on the early Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett stuff, Nick Drake, along with one of my favourite groups the Incredible String Band." One of the most visible practitioners of psychedelic music in a city that boasts scores of bands influenced by the form, the Wicked Whispers’ listening tastes largely focus on the initial flowering of the genre in the mid to late sixties in San Francisco and London. Aside from the contemporary likes of LA/Cambodian six-piece Dengue Fever and at the poppier end of the spectrum Toy and Best Coast, Mike confesses to largely avoiding most music being released at present. With the next two 45s safely in the can the band head out on their first headlining tour in the Autumn, culminating with their biggest hometown at the Academy in October. Fond adherents of Don Van Vliet’s work, last year saw the group turn in a memorable appearance supporting the Magic Band at Liverpool’s Kazimier on the anniversary of Captain Beefheart’s death, a date the band had arranged themselves. In keeping with this DIY ethos aside from a booking agent the group handle all their affairs in house, releasing music via their Electone Records label. "I’d like to get the LP recorded this year, then release it next year," Mike says of where the band are headed next. "I think if you’re doing it yourself you need a clear year to see it through. There’s so much to consider," he smiles. ‘Dandelion Eyes’ b/w ‘Flying Round in Circles’ is available on Electone Records on 27th August. The photographs of the Wicked Whispers that accompany this article were taken at FestEvol, The Kazimier, Liverpool by Marie Hazelwood.

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Wicked Whispers - Interview

Wicked Whispers - Interview

Wicked Whispers - Interview

Wicked Whispers - Interview

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