Story About a Crazy Hesher from the Underground Music Scene in the ‘90s Kevin Murhpy

Kevin Murphy is known to many as a crazy hesher with long hair, the drummer from Headset, the guitarist for 411 and, of course, Farside. Living most of his life in Southern California, he attended San Diego State University to please his parents, graduating with a degree in US History with a minor in Comparative Religion. At 8 he got terrified by Gene Simmons from Kiss at his first concert, and when he was 11, the 1984 Black Flag show changed his life. After 5 lessons from a guy at the guitar store he started to master his guitar skills and eventually figured out drums. Practice teaching killed the ambition to become a teacher, and an unconscious drive to be in the New Wave, combined with the influence of his elder uncle, took over his life. Preferring to create rather than learning the music of others, he became an influential character in the history of the underground music scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s in America. Let’s see what he has to tell about his long experience in music, after numerous changes in his life.

How did it all start?

The first band that actually did anything was a metal band, Cryonics, in Memphis,TN. We were 14-15 and we wanted to be a mixture of Slayer and Hirax, so everything was an E chord and “chugga chugga”, superfast-terrible. But we played some shows that our parents had to drive us to. In 1985-86 being a punk rocker was almost dangerous. You would go to a show and it would be 14 rednecks and 14 punk rock kids. Then in California I met Aaron Sonnenberg, I joined up with him and that eventually became Headfirst. Then I started playing in 411. 411 went on 2-3 tours and it was all the same material, so we went our separate ways. Mike (Popeye) Vogelsang, the singer for Farside, contacted me and said “Hey, Rob (guitar player) quit Farside and we’ve already got this European tour booked and the plane tickets are non-refundable, so we’re going.Can you fill in?” I didn’t have anything else going on, so I agreed. While we were in Europe I realized that this kind of watery REM is not what these guys want, they are really tuned in to stay catchy, put in the hooks and do things that people can sing along to but make it really loud. That’s what we all wanted to do, so I stayed on board.

What were the main themes of lyrics and inspiration for Farside?

The lyrics that Popeye wrote were drawn directly from his real life. The song “I Hope You’re Unhappy” is literally a snapshot of 3 weeks of Popeye’s life: he had broke up with his girl and he had been previously living in the loft above somebody’s house. He didn’t have a kitchen, just a hot plate. When he moved into this new apartment he was like-”wow, I have a kitchen”. I can listen to those songs and I remember all of those stories. I tried to keep things vaguer and open to interpretation. In “This Pill is Hard to Swallow” the lyrics seem to be abstract, but it’s actually about drinking Prozac. I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed and I’ve tried a whole string of different medications, these days life is great. I felt like I was cheating nature, and that’s what the song is about: I didn’t want to take this but it’s chemical, it works, it’s science, it’s not a reflection of me. I think people reading those lyrics probably don’t get it, because they were very personal songs, which is one of the reasons I don’t want to do one of these reunion shows. Farside was a very important thing to everyone in the band. Those times have come and gone. Now you think back and it’s good music and it’s powerful, but the context of where that band and songs were coming from really plays into the impact that the music can make. For me the context has changed, so I feel like it would almost be insulting to get up there and perform. I apparently take myself very seriously.

What was Farside’s relationship with the audience?

I never paid much attention to the audience: sometimes I spent the whole show with my back to the audience (it was easier to hear what was going on that way). Farside put on a good show but in between songs we were extremely awkward, we told a lot of nervous jokes, we really didn’t know what to do. Especially when you finish and there’s polite clapping and they just stand there looking at you like “what’s next”? I liked playing, but I don’t think I ever did it for the benefit of anyone else. That sounds awful. I was fairly unhappy and extremely angry during the ‘90s. I would make an effort of talking to fans, never was rude, but I am a quiet person and people wanting my time was very uncomfortable.

Why didn’t you want to go on a major label?

Speaking for myself, I knew a number of bands that had signed to a major label and things didn’t work out very well. Smile eventually signed to a major label – it was a disaster. They got their 1st record out but then the label wouldn’t put out their 2nd record. They had a phenomenal second record and it didn’t come out for 5 years. When it eventually did, it was back on an independent label. You can sign and you get all these dudes that want to direct your career and have their hand in it, and you still get paid $300.00 and end up working in the bookstore. Or you can be on an independent label and do everything yourself and see how it goes. That was my philosophy. The high and mighty reason was what I always liked about punk and hardcore: it was music for outsiders. If you’re a weirdo you could get into the scene and you’d fit in. The thought of being on MTV, playing in stadiums, opening it up for all these people, who 3 years ago would have beat you up. I didn’t like it, I liked it being exclusive. When you’re young it’s important to have and create your own identity. I really liked the fact that I was part of something that other people didn’t quite understand or like, or thought was dangerous. I was a nice kid, but I liked the fact that people were afraid of that guy with crazy hair and clothing, regardless of the band sound.

Music was part of your life for quite a while and then it was gone, how did you feel?

In 1999-2001 there was a whole series of things that went wrong: my first wife and I got divorced, I lost my job, I stopped playing music, I wound up living in a car for a while. Everything ended and started over. Up until then the only frame of reference that I had for myself was: “I’m Kevin, I play music”. Now I don’t do it, so who am I? I didn’t know. I had a useless university degree, job experience such as working at sandwich shops and pizza stores.I was absolutely lost, and I also abandoned straight edge – “uuuuu”. Coincidence? It was rough. I was lucky that I started dating Jennifer, whom I’m now married to. We’d known each other for a while but she said: “Come live with me, we’ll make it work”. I needed to start over from scratch. I didn’t know what I was capable of, ended up doing background searches on people who applied for jobs. That led to working for a credit card/auto finance company, verifying documents. I happened to find out that people were committing fraud because I am extremely anal-retentive and have obsessive-compulsive disorder, so I see little details in everything. So I started a fraud prevention department and now I’m working for the multinational corporation Expedia in Prague. It turned out that a lot of things that I learned in a band actually translated into what I’m doing now.

You don’t really want to do music; did something turn you off of it?

I don’t really know. I’m sure part of it is psychological. Have you ever been in the relationships with someone and after you break up you think that you’re never going to do it again? That’s the same thing. I did this for a long time and it ended kind of ugly. When I think of being in a band I can only picture the hustle and all the disappointment that goes with it. Which I realize is not the full picture. The other thing is I don’t really know how to write songs anymore. I have a guitar, but these days my songs are about breakfast and I play them to annoy my wife.

What do you think about hardcore today?

It will sound cheesy but, hardcore belongs to the young, I don’t think people of my age can really appreciate it the way it needs to be because it’s emotional, it’s raw. Those sharp edges that you have as a person tend to get wore down over time and you find new outlets for expressing those emotions. I love that hardcore outlived music that had no substance to it. In ‘50-‘60s there was explosion of folk music in Greenwich Village, NYC and it was a backlash against jazz and rock ’n’ roll. The whole point was to strip it down to its bare essence: it’s a guy singing and a guitar – you don’t need more. Punk and hardcore music was the same. Here is this Genesis of music – nobody could play their music. Here comes the band: 3 chords and it’s 4 bozos just making noise, anyone can do it. But not really, you have to do it right.

What is your dream?

I’m trying to keep my life very simple. I want to go to the places that most people don’t go to: Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the South Pole. Realistically, I just want to be content with where I’m at. I focus on the day to day. My job is important but it doesn’t ruin my life. I take it seriously, which I don’t think would have come out of my mouth 10 years ago.

Photo: From the archive of Kevin Murhpy

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