You never really know exactly what to expect when doing phone interviews; expressions can be hard to read, responses are difficult to judge, and the whole conversation can tend to feel less intimate. Well, this wasn’t the case when I spoke with Murray A. Lightburn, for as soon as I picked up the phone I knew this conversation was going to be delightful.
Before starting the actual interview, I told Murray that The Dears’ music has been playing in my house since I was two years old. This definitely sparked a reaction in him for he’s “starting to get into seeing the transition in [his] forties as an artist from being a younger, shit-disturbing type of guy.” It’s always a great feeling when an artist you look up to is as warm, honest, and humble as Murray is, so we appreciate him taking the time to speak with AMBY and for being so open with us and our readers.
Recently releasing his debut solo record MASS: LIGHT on August 20th, we thought the time was perfect to share our conversation with everyone. So, dig into our chat as we spoke about giving fans the shirt off his back, his DIY methodical approach to handling the MASS: LIGHT vinyls, The Dears, and more!
AMBY: What have you been up to lately?
Murray A. Lightburn: Honestly, every day of my life is kind of like that scene in Goodfellas –wait, have you seen that movie, Goodfellas?
AMBY: No, I actually haven’t yet.
Murray A. Lightburn: Well, there’s a scene in Goodfellas (you should watch it, it’s amazing) where the main character has a lot of things going on in one day; he’s got his family at home, this mistress, and he’s got cops looking for him, has to pick someone up at the airport, and he’s got to make the tomato sauce, and do the sausages. All of this stuff going on and it’s frantic, and amazing. And we would joke about how we would have a Goodfellas day where you’re just running around doing a million things, and that’s kind of what my life has been like. You know, with two kids, independently putting out an album. It’s a lot of work and you get to that point where there’s really not enough hours in the day— you realize “oh my god, it’s already seven ‘o’clock!” and you just haven’t done everything. I’m pretty good at managing my time; it just seems like every day I set these really ambitious goals of what I want to do with my day. I do achieve those things, but then I always want to take it a little step further [laughs]. So, that’s my life.
AMBY: Keeping busy.
Murray A. Lightburn: Exactly. I guess I just could have said “keeping busy.”
AMBY: I guess so! Now, I must tell you that we’re all anticipating the release of your debut solo album MASS: LIGHT. What was one of the highlights of recording it?
Murray A. Lightburn: It would be easier to ask me about the lowlights [laughs]. No, I mean it was kind of brutal because I was alone the entire home; I didn’t play a note, not even for Natalia, all of the first year I was working on it. Nobody heard anything. When people came to the studio and I was working I’d press stop, turn everything off, and leave. It’s not that I was working in secret, I just didn’t want to make any huge declarations, “I’m working on a solo album!” Because I didn’t know where it was going most of the time, I was just chasing the sounds and the vision. So it’s really hard to pinpoint the highlights because I wasn’t really looking at it that way. It was more about trying to get ‘er done, you know?
AMBY: [laughs] Definitely. And I know that there was a real do it yourself kind of approach when it came to handling the vinyls.
Murray A. Lightburn: Right.
AMBY: How important was it for you to practically deliver your record straight to your fans?
Murray A. Lightburn: I think I recognize that there’s a whole machine in the music business, and I just kind of wanting to break that down a bit– a lot, actually. I wanted to keep within the nature of a solo album, and who I wrote it for, and keeping it personal. So we’re doing all kinds of things. For years I’ve been wearing these polo shirts; these black, American Apparel polo shirts with the pocket. I’ve been wearing them like I’m Charlie Brown, all the time. I’m never not wearing them to the point that people think that I’m just wearing the same shirt every day. But, it is the same shirt but I have dozens of them. So, I decided to give a few away [laughs] and it was kind of random. If people order the vinyl they get a chance to get one of these shirts that I’ve been wearing for years because Natalia just wants me to get rid of them. I’ve kind of realized that it’s time to let go of that shirt and need to buy a new shirt, and buy dozens of that one. Do you know what I mean? Another thing I’m doing at one of my shows this year is that I’m going to be buying 100 tickets to my own show and giving them away.
AMBY: Oh, wow.
Murray A. Lightburn: Yea, so the first 100 tickets to the show get to bring a friend. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and I realize that when people make solo albums it could be a bit of a gamble, it can go either way and it’s a 50/50 thing. No one has heard it yet and it can be a total— people might just hate it, I don’t know! But I want to kind of leave the door open and as welcoming as possible.
AMBY: For sure. And if it’s as good as the single that’s already been released, then I’m sure we’ll all enjoy it! And speaking of that, I must let you know that—
Murray A. Lightburn: [laughs]
AMBY: You know what’s coming! I’ve been listening to the single a lot, Motherfuckers is an incredibly catchy and melodic song. What’s the track about?
Murray A. Lightburn: Well, it was kind of addressed to… It’s sort of auto-biographical but at the same time is a precautionary tale. You try to teach your kids to do the right thing, no matter what, even though— I mean, my kid, I’ve seen some bullshit at school and it’s totally not cool and it’s my seven year old. Now I have a son and I just remember some of the crap that I dealt with growing up, and in the space of that, kind of recognizing that you can’t let that sort of thing bring you down and force you to chance your values and principles. You know what I mean?
AMBY: Yes, for sure.
Murray A. Lightburn: It’s very, very abstract, I’m sorry.
AMBY: No, no, it makes sense to me. Well, onto the next question. Between The Dears’ great discography of 5 albums and your upcoming record, you have quite the discography. Which songs are the quintessential Murray Lightburn?
Murray A. Lightburn: Which songs?
Murray A. Lightburn: All of the songs on the record are for sure. It’s weird because there is a very sharp turn at some point between me and The Dears. The Dears kind of settled in to a style of delivery and a lot of times that was dictated by who’s playing in the band at the time. So, it’s hard for me to do this but I guess quintessential me would be songs like Lost in the Plot, or 22, or This is a Broadcast, or I don’t know… That’s what comes to my mind, those are the songs that I can be absolutely off my space, never pick up a guitar for five years, and be asked to stand in front of an audience and play a Dears’ song, and those are songs that I would just pull out of my ass and just play no matter what. I’ll never forget how to play them and they’re so deeply a part of me. There’s tons of Dears’ songs where if you asked me to play them right now, I could not even begin to. Even though I was on the other side of the guitar, writing them, I couldn’t play then for you at all. I can still recognize them, but not entirely as my songs since they are Dears’ songs.
AMBY: And speaking of your discography, I just wanted to point out— and I’m sure that you’re aware of this—that you’ve accomplished so much from playing with the world’s best to producing incredible music. So I wanted to ask you, what is your proudest achievement to date?
Murray A. Lightburn: Musically?
Murray A. Lightburn: Uhmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. It’s hard to say, it’s still too soon for me to say what’s my proudest to date. That’s a tough one actually; they’re like my children and I love all of my children [laughs]. It’s really hard to say because I love all of the records for different reasons. That’s probably the only way I can answer that question. I’m proud of all of them.
AMBY: And absolutely nothing wrong with that! So now we’re moving on to our goofier questions, so where would you go in a time machine?
Murray A. Lightburn: Oh wow. Awesome, I love time machines! Are we going into the future or the past?
AMBY: Wherever you want [laughs].
Murray A. Lightburn: Amazing! I’ll say the future; I don’t like looking back too much.
AMBY: Alright, and I read that a lot of the record is inspired by 80’s soul and funk music that you grew up listening to. So if you could hang out with any of your influences from back in the 80’s, who would you hang out with?
Murray A. Lightburn: Oh lord. I wouldn’t want to hang out with anybody in the 80’s, I mean fuck me!
AMBY: [laughs] Why so?
Murray A. Lightburn: I probably wouldn’t live through it. There was so much partying going on back then. I wouldn’t want to hang out with Rick James, that’s for sure. But I don’t know, I think I would love to spend a lot of time with Wendy Carlos, hanging out every day. That’s less of the eighties but more of the late seventies. But Wendy Carlos is a huge influences on me and always has been and for a really long time. So if I could hang out with anyone that influenced me it would be Wendy Carlos for sure because I would learn a lot and she would share with me. I would just be a sponge, just saying “teach me, everything” basically. “How did you make that sound? Show me exactly what you did. I’ll be there at 8AM sharp!” [laughs]
AMBY: [laughs] Great! And now we have our very last question which is kind of a stumper but you can say whatever you like. What’s something about Murray Lightburn that most people don’t know?
Murray A. Lightburn: Oh, a lot [laughs].
AMBY: Anything that you’d like to share?
Murray A. Lightburn: Well, I know that a lot of people have this preconceived sort of perception of me and idea of me being this great, big asshole and I fully recognize that I can be but I don’t think that I am. I think that what happens a lot of the time is always based on a misunderstanding and that’s always a bummer. But, most importantly, I don’t think that people realize that I have an enormous sense of humour and I’ve used it so subtly in The Dears on such a dry level for years that people don’t really get the jokes. But 90% of the time I’m ready to joke around. My friend summed it up perfectly and he’d joke around saying, “man, if your audience could see you right now in your Tasmanian Devil boxer shorts playing Play Station…” There you go.