The Collapse Board interview: Beth Murphy (Times New Viking)
by Logan K. Young
Taking their name from my second favorite font next to Wingdings, Times New Viking have gone from the basement to the bar to indie bona fides in near record time. And in a world where yesterday’s blog buzz becomes next year’s Grammy winner, that ain’t nothin’ to scoff at. Staying power hasn’t really been a trope of bands born of the Aughts, but after five records and two EPs, TNV have proven that there’s life after lo-fi. And to be so goddamn ornery on wax, TNV keyboard/vocalist Beth Murphy is an utter delight on the phone.
2005’s Dig Yourself was my first time with Times New Viking. I’m curious as to how that record actually happened though, seeing as Siltbreeze hadn’t released anything new for a while.
It was a pretty organic thing. We had a few CD-Rs that we made early on, and we would just pass them along to our friends whenever we could. Tom [Lax from Siltbreeze] ended up getting a hold of one of those CD-Rs, and I guess he latched onto it. Pretty soon he invited us over to his house, cooked us all an amazing meal and told us he was interested in releasing something of ours. That’s how Dig Yourself got released, short answer.
I like short answers. They suffice.
Good, I’m glad. I wish that story were more exciting, now that I hear myself telling it.
After that noise-as-fuck debut, over the next three records, TNV cleaned up their act a bit for Matador. Dancer Equired, your latest effort on Merge, is a freakin’ diamond compared to Dig Yourself. How has your label influenced your sound?
Well, the Siltbreeze stuff was always very off-the-cuff and in-the-moment. There wasn’t a lot of planning involved; we’d just show up and do it. There wasn’t any pressure to do things a so-called Siltbreeze way. And I definitely wouldn’t say we cleaned up our sound or anything on our subsequent records. It wasn’t a conscious thing, anyways. We just wanted to make something more cohesive. Also, we were given more time to focus on what we wanted to achieve. I think that was really important to us as a band. And being on a great label with increased distribution wasn’t a bad thing either. We still had this collage-type approach to working – some distortion here, another effect here – but we never intentionally mixed something to make it sound cleaner. With the Matador records, it never felt like we were recording an album, in a studio, so to speak.
Since you brought it up, I’d be interested in the routine of how things went down – in a studio proper – this go ‘round.
Yeah, this was really our first time in one – Columbus Discount Recording. And with ‘Dancer’ at least, it did feel like we were making a record at times. What we didn’t want any part of though were computers. Going into CD-R, we had this analogue mantra … no computers, no computers! We did get to experiment with several expensive microphones and effects units, so that part alone was probably worth it. As far as the routine itself, that didn’t change all too much. We still brought in our demos from home and fleshed out the songs together. Maybe we added a few more layers than normal, but nothing too drastic. We remain a first or second take type of band, so if we do decide on an overdub, we want it to be necessary. And for the most part, that decision’s usually unanimous. There are some slower tempos and more things going on in the mid-ranges that were new for us. And personally, I think I sang better on this one than I ever have before.
Was that more important for you on this record?
You mean, for my voice to sound good?
Yes. I didn’t take you for a diva, and it sounds like an odd thing for TNV to concern themselves with.
I’ve never purposefully tried to sing badly. I just think my voice sounds better on this record than in records past. Again, I think it was those mics.
Columbus, Ohio is only about an hour from Bob Pollard’s Dayton. But Dayton is only about 150 miles from Cleveland, herself. Your debt to Guided By Voices is evident to anyone who saw you two tour, but I’m wondering if there’s also any allegiance to the proto-Cleveland art punks?
Guided By Voices were huge for us, of course. But we also got, and continue to get, a lot of inspiration from local Columbus bands, as well. There’s a ton of awesome music happening right here, right now. As for Cleveland bands, I always dug [Pere] Ubu. I’d mention electric eels, too. I really liked what they did. No offense to Cleveland, we’re just more aligned with the Columbus scene. That’s all.
Speaking of art, you’ve gone to great lengths in prior interviews to mention that you did, in fact, finish art school. In other words, you’re not an art damaged, art school dropout. How long then before you started playing music?
Jared [Phillips], Adam [Elliot] and myself didn’t officially meet until our senior printmaking class. We kept running into each other at Kinko’s, and once we started talking to one another, we soon realized we had similar tastes. We were big conceptual art kids at a smaller conservative school, and we bonded further over the same bands. Quite quickly, we started skipping classes to jam. That’s how this whole thing got started.
I certainly see an artist’s hand behind the visuals for the ‘No Room To Live’ video – the first single from Dancer Equired. Could you elaborate on the process? I’m to understand there’s a hand-drawn still something like every sixth frame.
That’s right. We accumulated something like 4,000 coloring book pages doing it that way. Basically, we wanted to experiment with technique and take ourselves out of the video as much as possible. To me, there’s nothing more boring in a music video than just watching the band play the song. Who wants to see that?
I agree. And it looks like you three are off to somewhere, on some kind of journey.
Really? You’re the second person to tell me that today.
Yeah, but I haven’t the faintest as to where you’re all headed.
I take it you’ve never been to Columbus then?
I went once, several years ago. All I can remember were a lot of Ohio State mascot signs. I’m sorry, The Ohio State mascot signs.
Yep, you’ll find a lot of those here.
So … go Buckeyes?!?
[Laughs] It’s kind of weird. People that aren’t from Columbus seem to get a whole different vibe from the video than the people that live here do. Honestly, we’re just walking– taking a mundane little stroll from Jared’s house where we practice to the corner bar.
TNV has been in the lo-fi game, in one guise or another, for going on seven years now — long enough to start bucking the very trend you help popularize. I get that. What are you thoughts, however, on TNV’s repaving the way for all the myriad ‘shit-fi’ followers?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Ultimately, I don’t think we’re any more or less responsible than anyone else. And we would never take credit for something like that. The lo-fi movement is a cyclical one. For me and my generation, Sebadoh were the kings of lo-fi. It’s more of a progression, now that I think about it. We started playing back when it was really easy to, once again, do-it-yourself. If anything, I’d say TNV is reactionary.
Printed across the Dig Yourself album, plain as day, was an instruction: “Please play loud.” Likewise, Born Again Revisited had the note, “mixed and fucked by TNV and Matt Horseshit.” Is there a phrase specific to Dancer Equired that we should read before we listen?
There are several on there, actually. But I guess you’re going to have to get the record to find out.