Kevin Murphy wants to make it clear that he wore stripes for the duration of this interview. Confirming this wardrobe choice, however, proves difficult since the frontman of Seattle’s the Moondoggies speaks from a less-than-stellar cell-phone connection from New York that finds the band in the midst of a whirlwind day promoting its sophomore record, “Tidelands.”
Along with getting slammed for a kooky moniker, the band’s penchant for unruly facial-hair follicles and raiding Paul Bunyan’s closet elicits the ire of those focused on the gift wrap instead of the delightful present inside. “I’ve heard a lot of people just bitch about it,” Murphy says. “I think that when people criticize it they usually seem to be people who take things way too seriously. That seems like a weird, superficial non-thing.”
And, on appearance alone, the Moondoggies could find themselves pigeonholed into a tripped-out hippie category—the kind that people use as a soundtrack to rhythmic hula hooping, but musically, the band eschews stereotypes and delivers sitting-around-the-fire harmonies with a punk-rock aesthetic, albeit one enamored with seventies icons. It’s as if Neil Young grew up in a house with the Meat Puppets as his older brothers.
While the band’s debut, 2008’s “Don’t Be a Stranger,” fit the confines of a social gathering, “Tidelands” is better suited to solitary confinement. The downtrodden mood of the record mirrors both Murphy’s physical location while writing the songs (the quiet wilderness of Alaska) and his contemplative mental state. Themes of dislocation and watery images kept creeping up in the compositions and instead of trying to distance himself from the darker territory, Murphy constructed the whole project around it.
“It’s not really like a concept, but it’s more like having a solid theme from beginning to end,” Murphy explains. “I think the whole doing it as a theme was more like out of a need, out of a necessity once it started. I really like the idea, ’cause a lot of it has to deal with engaging in certain frustrations—not necessarily truly like depression—but those kinds of…when you need to have a conversation with yourself a little bit and music seems to be a good way of putting things in perspective. So, I realized that while we were writing the songs that that’s what I was doing and rather than try to get away from that, I was embracing it.”
Murphy doesn’t divulge what exactly was eating away at him other than admitting he felt burned out, but calls the experience of making this record “therapeutic.” “I was kind of worried about it being overdramatic or over-whiney, but it was a necessary thing for me to go ahead and go at it. It felt really good getting out certain things.”
Instead of caving in to the pressures of the dreaded sophomore slump, the Moondoggies forged ahead this time around with excitement and ambition and, if anything, more freedom to flesh things out in the studio. “We didn’t just have ten days and that was it and hoped you got the best,” Murphy says. “Personally, I enjoyed making this album more, just as far as being able to kind of construct it rather than, with the first album we paid for it by ourselves initially and then Hardly Art picked it up and this one we had a little more confidence in going into it and being able to create something more comprehensive.”
With drummer Carl Dahlen, keyboardist Caleb Quick and bassist Robert Terreberry by his side, Murphy looks forward to playing the songs live on tour regardless of the memories they might conjure up.
“I see it as a positive thing. I’ve met people like that before where [it’s] like, ah, I can’t play that song. It’s too near, too dark or hurts or something. I don’t know, if something really tragic happens or something and I have to write a song about my dead dog, I’d tear up every time. That’s not so much the case for this,” he says.
The Moondoggies embark on a tour with Dawes that, in a strange turn of events, pits the two against each other at competing venues on the Chicago stop. When notified of the situation, Murphy states (tongue-in-cheek, of course), “make the right choice.”
November 10 at Schubas, 3159 North Southport, (773)525-2508, 8pm, $8-$10.