Michael Murphy, vocalist from Written By Wolves dropped in for a zoom chat recently to talk about The Collab Project. Anything that supports mental health gets a massive thumbs up from me.
This is the perfect time to be talking about mental health with the latest lockdowns here looking like they are going to be around for a while. I know so many people are struggling right now.
That’s it. It is something that is already bad enough, it is already so insanely prevalent that we have just kind of buried and forgotten about for as long as we possibly could. We have allowed society to ignore it and make it something that we don’t talk about, and we don’t deal with and you just hide it away. Then you add in Covid times as well, the insane pressures and strains that people are under at the moment in so many different industries. The music one being hugely affected, we can barley exist as far as so many musicians make their income or livelihood from live music. If you cant be in a room with people, what can you do? All of a sudden your entire existence doesn’t exist. Something that you have built your entire identity around all of a sudden you can’t do. That affects people hugely, there are no two ways about it. We are already in a tough industry; music is already one that we bear bits of our soul and then throw it out to the world to have a go at it. You know to tell us whether they like it or not.
Yeah to tell you whether it’s good enough or not.
Yeah. It’s already a hard gig you know!
I know a lot of my muso friends also work in the business. They run their own studios, do lighting for gigs, have their own photography businesses. Their jobs revolve around their passion.
That’s it. So much of what we do, whether we are in off-shoots of it like you said as in lighting or sound, there are not to many parts of this industry that don’t involve being around people. That’s the whole thing, we bring joy and entertainment to people. As soon as you cut out being able to be around people you are taking out a big section of what it is that we do. As we were saying earlier, we are so lucky over here in New Zealand, that we have been able to keep doing shows for a relatively long period of time. There will come a point where we have to go overseas. For my particular band I think New Zealand, and I don’t mean this in any disrespectful way to my country because I love it, it’s barley even in the top 20 of our top territories right now and this is the only place we can play.
That makes it really tough.
Absolutely and for so much of where the band is at right now, we need to be playing in these places like Australia, America and the UK and Europe. That is where our fans are.
I just looked at your Spotify earlier and you have over 300k followers on there, that’s huge.
It’s pretty amazing. I pinch myself most days to be honest. I think that is the beauty of the world now and the music industry that we live in. There are a lot of people that have issues with digital and I totally understand all those issues but the flip side of it is that I can be here in NZ making music and putting things out and have a fan base around the world that continues to grow. It’s accessible and it can get to them quickly.
I think Covid has made people that were previously “anti” digital or not fans of social media realise that they would be completely screwed if they didn’t have those platforms.
Absolutely, there are only so many CD’s I can ship around the world to try and get people to listen. There is no way that tomorrow I could send 300k CD’s out to people to make sure they listen to out music whereas 300k people can listen as soon as they are up which is incredible. Like I said we pinch ourselves everyday that YouTube and Spotify have managed to do that for us. It means that we can connect with fans all around the world daily. The hardest thing for me is working out time zone differences!! We have a great team of people around us now but so much of my time was spent working out when I could fit in an interview, not only in my schedule but the schedule of someone who is on the other side of the world when its not even the same day!!!
100%! Thank god Zoom has that little drop down box that helps you work it out.
Ha yeah I noticed that it’s brilliant. Had you heard of Zoom pre-covid?
Nope. I had to get a mate to talk me through it so I could use it….
I think everyone has some great yarns about the start of lockdown and the things we had to do really, really quickly. It’s quite amazing how quickly you have to adapt and how quickly everyone can adapt when you are put in that position. I think one of the greatest things about it all for me, and I am talking silver linings here obviously, I have a home studio now. I always wanted one but I knew that it was going to be one of those things I probably wouldn’t get the time to get around to doing. I have two small kids so time is of the essence. I do session vocals for a few studios over here and I got a call from one the day it was announced that we were going into lockdown saying ‘You know that home studio you keep talking about? Has that happened?’ I said I would make it my lockdown project, I had ordered a bit of equipment and it had turned up, I’ll see what I can do. He said, ‘Well mate you have 24 hours because I have all this stuff I need done!’ I raced out to K-Mart and places to grab anything I could find that would possibly dampen down the sound and the sat on YouTube for the next 24 hours trying to work out how to use everything. (laughs)
And now you have a studio!
That’s right, silver linings here! I am one of those singers who isn’t very good at playing anything, I will be the first to admit that, so then we had to work out how to get people playing in different rooms and how we could do it. How to do live streaming and various different performances, filming live stuff that you can then cut together. It’s been an experience; I’ve had some weird space ship like set ups in my lounge room for live streams over the last year or so which has been quite crazy. Four screens going at once and mixing desks and everything.
And two kids running around!!
There is some pretty insane scheduling that has to go on when you are working around a four year old and an eighteen month old! Finding time to record and write new stuff, to live streaming at night it was just crazy.
Okay how did The Collab Project come about?
This is something that is super close to my heart and to the rest of the band as well. We have done a lot of work with mental health over here in New Zealand. I think it stems from. In a sense, that music is kind of like my therapy. It’s what I do to get things off my chest or maybe release some emotions that are bottling up inside. I too have been a part of this society that we have kind of created where we don’t really talk about these things. We don’t let them out. I’m a New Zealand male , we tough it out. I’m not saying that it is something specific to Kiwis or to males but it’s something that we definitely have as part of out culture. We suck it up and we get hard and that’s it. Music became a real outlet for me and I think the ‘Secrets’ album, which we released at the end of 2018, essentially became a kind of a concept album about the whole idea around secrets and about sharing thoughts and feelings that we weren’t usually very comfortable with doing. I think the moment we did that, and the moment I realised that’s what that album had come about for me, lyrically and with all the meanings of the songs, we decided that it was maybe time to do more. It snowballed from there. The whole time this band has been in existence we have been getting messages from fans around the world telling us what our music means to them and what it’s done to them. In some cases fans have said that it has saved their lives. We felt, not a duty, but it was almost that we can do more and what can we do. That is the question that we were asking ourselves. The Collab Project snowballed into an idea, what was the message that we needed to get out; the message we needed to get across to our fans, followers, friends and family. It was basically that what ever you are doing and whatever you are going through, you don’t have to go through it alone. We wanted to start our own initiative to get this message out. That initiative is really to get that message across but also to help to try and start talking about these things and break down the stigma that is attached to mental health. We won’t do that alone but we can be apart of the conversation. From there we had to work what the best way to go about it was. We thought if the idea is essentially talking to people and showing them a sense of togetherness then let’s do some collaborations of some of our favourite songs. Let’s see who wants to jump onboard with us. We have been shocked to be honest.
Yes! Looking at the collab's I would say that you have every right to be shocked!! There are some pretty big names involved.
It’s massive man, we are just this little band from New Zealand and we are working with the likes of Kellin Quinn (Sleeping With Sirens). This next track has Trenton from Hands Like Houses on it. He is incredible. He actually mixed the track as well. We have developed a great relationship with him, he is an amazing dude. It’s just another beautiful silver lining product of doing something like this. I think maybe that is what the Collab Project is all about and what it might be able to do, connect people. I suppose for us it was quite a ballsy move to reach out to these people and ask if they would be interested in doing this. That can be mirrored a bit in this mental health realm, it is a terrifying thing to try and talk to the people and talk about what you are doing. I don’t think we expect with what we are doing for people to reach out and try and get help themselves, but the idea is to try and break down the stigma and change the way we look at these things so that you feel like you can. It’s all well and good for us to say check in on your mates and make sure they are okay, that’s fantastic and I think it is an incredible thing that we should all start trying to do rather than expect someone to reach out and say they are struggling. I think ultimately we can put the ambulance somewhere else completely and go let’s just change this and make it a normal thing. It is so normal; we are all going through stuff. There are minimal amounts of us that haven’t dealt with something like this in the past or are dealing with stuff now. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. I know for me I have never really wanted to admit to these things because I felt like it was weak or I was showing weakness within myself. The more that I have started to open up about these things, and predominantly because we are doing this, I have had to put myself right out of my comfort zone and talk about these things in really public places. It hasn’t been easy but I have just realised that this is what I have to do. If we are going to do this and change the way people look at things then I have to come out and start talking about myself. If I’m not doing it then I’m not walking the walk. It has been really scary and I know it will be like that for everyone else that is felling similar ways but it just has to happen because we are losing too many people. We just aren’t doing a good enough job at this and we are happy to be apart of that conversation to change it.
I am always happy to be a part of the conversation too. Mental Health is something I am very passionate about.
It’s just so sad that we have managed to allow this kind of societal norm that it has taken people taking their own lives to say hey we have to do something about this. It is still not perceived in the way it should be and I think there are so many people now that are starting to stand up and go ‘No, no, no we have to change this.’ It’s just shit that that has been the catalyst, is losing people.
It shouldn’t take that.
Someone shouldn’t have to get to the point where they take their life because society isn’t allowing them to help themselves or to find help. We can put as many phone numbers at the bottom of a message about seeking help but it needs to be broader. That will happen, there are more people that are starting to understand that it has to.
You also scored Sonny from P.O.D that’s a bit of a scoop!
That’s where I was going next. Man, I tell you what it took everything in my power not to yell that from the top of a mountain!! I remember getting the first email back and it saying, ‘Yeah Sonny digs your band, he’s into it’ and just going ‘You’re shitting me!’ And not being able to tell anyone. I had to keep that under my hat, having these conversations over email with Sonny. I remember the day that it happened and he had sent me back some takes and things, I was doing a radio interview here in New Zealand and I kind of said ‘Look I can’t tell you what’s going on but literally I have just been emailing one of my childhood hero’s, he has sent me some stuff today’ I couldn’t contain that much, I just had to say something!! I was about to explode I was so excited. I can’t wait for the world to hear that one and we have some really cool stuff happening with the video for that one too. There is a great company in Melbourne working on that one, it’s going to be cool. It’s going to be very heavy but I think it’s going to do some cool stuff. Sonny is a legend.
I saw P.O.D last time they came to Australia. They are such an amazing band.
It’s been awhile for me but hopefully we can get some borders down soon and get some things sorted out.
Get over there and tour with them!!
That would be huge, I’m going to have to keep working on that one!
You can sing on stage together then!
That is the dream. With all these tracks I just can’t wait to have the opportunity to actually get these artist to so it live with us. You know even if it is only once that would just be huge. Fingers crossed we can make that happen with Sonny and also the track with Kellin. I am going to make sure that we do it with Trenton, I’m going to make sure that we get him onstage at some point very soon so we can do this. Man you wait till you hear what he has done, what a killer dude, what a killer voice. All of them. There is another one that will be coming out as well which actually features my wife which is pretty amazing. The track that she sings on has always been my favourite. It was always my favourite on the album, it always made me cry. We started talking about The Collab Project and what we were going to do and I started looking around at people because we wanted a female voice on the track. I was looking around at who I should ask and Dave our guitarist was like ‘Becks, you have to get her its perfect voice for it. You wrote the bloody song about her, get her on the track’. I went ‘Oh, shit , yeah!’ (laughs)
The beauty of it was I asked her if she would do it and she was like ‘Well I can’t say no can I?’
I always tell young bands to ask. The worst thing someone can say is no.
We are in this uber connected world now with digital and everything like that. Just throw it out there. I mean some people you might not hear back from but man its only a worth having a try. There’s no point in saying oh they won’t reply because you don’t know. Find out, ask the question.
That is that inner voice telling you that you aren’t good enough for some one of that calibre.
That is just it. It’s where all the self-doubt starts to kick in, its where we start go ‘They don’t want to work with us’. But man, I think I we have a pretty exciting time in music coming up. I mean obviously people have dealt with some pretty heavy shit over the last few years. People are also connected so much now; I can be here in NZ and Sonny from P.O.D can be sitting in his studio sending me shit and we can whack it in the mix. I think we will see some pretty crazy stuff in the next few years. You only have to see what people have done, new tracks that have been recorded and come out after lockdowns.
Bands are being true to themselves. I’ve found that a lot of the bands I have spoken to during lockdowns have said that they have gone fuck it, we are going to play what we want. If that means experimenting with their sound then so be it. Man it has made for some insane tunes being released.
It’s kind of given people a license I suppose to just do. Bands can’t tour at the moment so a release can just be whatever they want it to be. They don’t need it to be something they can tour for the next few years. It can simply exist in this time/space for now.
The creative freedom has gone through the roof.
Yeah it’s gone crazy.
I’m loving that there is this constant stream of music being released due to bands changing up how they release. You know every 6-8 weeks a lot of bands are releasing singles now instead of dropping an album or EP. I’ve found that people are actually listening more due to only having one song to immerse yourself in at a time. By the time the EP is released you have already been able to listen to it all individually.
I think peoples habits have changed now too. We have been at home for so long that we have time to do that. It doesn’t take long to create a habit. Man my release radar every Friday at the moment it insane.
My emails on a Friday are nuts. My phone just spends the whole day pinging!!
It’s exciting times though isn’t it. Once the world opens up again four tours, which it will do eventually, with all the incredible music that has been written and created it will be a great time to be a music fan.
Speaking of fans you guys have shared the stage with Machine Gun Kelly!!
Yeah that was pretty rad, it was the first ever festival we were on. I was right up the front, we got to see him from right there. It was incredible. He didn’t take his guitar off for like three hours after he came offstage. He still had no shirt on and had this guitar strapped to his back. He was still in this vibe obviously were he wasn’t ready to finish! He was walking around drinking with it still on, just running around being MGK. It was pretty amazing. He is probably the only reason we got on that festival, there’s not a lot of space especially in NZ at the moment, a lot of them have moved away from rock music so because he was on this festival and had that rock edge it gave us the chance to be put on the line-up. So thank you MGK!
I think Tickets To My Downfall is probably one of my most played vinyls.
What an album though hey!
Absolutely, I didn’t know who he was prior to that album so I didn’t understand the criticism that he got; I think it’s a brilliant album.
I think that is the beauty of this day and age as well, with digital and things like that. We were talking about creative freedom and stuff, you have got the ability to change your sound whenever you want to, because you can release music so easily and get it out to people quickly. So if I decide I want to release some crazy kind of album or just a track, you can. There will always be fans that won’t be happy with that. I don’t want to say it would be throw away because it’s music and it will always be there but we are digesting it quicker as music lovers. There is so much coming out, everything is quick. It’s not that the life of it is shorter because it still exists but our attention spans are growing smaller and smaller.
I made an isolations playlist and I have that on shuffle quite often. The amount of times a song will come on and I’ll be like damn I forgot all about that one, even if it was from last year!
Depending on what mood I am in now, like if I am going for a long drive, I will put on a whole album that kind of suits the mood. Like one from my childhood or something I haven’t listened to forever. Its been really fun.
It’s always exciting when you remember the words too! Like goddamn I haven’t forgotten a single word!!!
We both came back at the same time with ‘I can’t remember what I did yesterday!’ which sent us in to fits of laughter.
I know! It’s amazing hey. It just shows the power of music hey; that it can be imprinted in you like that.