Flying solo

Local fave Trish Murphy walks a Crooked Mile to the headliner slot



Scott Williams

Editor in Chief

The last time Trish Murphy was performing in Houston at a two-day gig opening for country-folkster Robert Earl Keen, she faced the challenge of trying to entertain a roomful of concert-goers, most of whom were there not to see her, but Keen. Still, she said, she was not intimidated.

"The main thing about opening, the cardinal rule, is never to say the headliner's name," she said, "because the challenge is to try to have some command of the room, knowing people are not there to see you. The cool thing is that people come expecting to see the headliner, and when I entertain as an opening act, it's a toehold for me to get new fans. I get to garner command of the room on my own terms."

When the former Houston resident brings her southern-fried, electric pop-folk back to town, she will not have to worry about warming up an audience for someone else. The Fabulous Satellite Lounge crowd will be all hers.

"I single out Houston as being kind of a homecoming for me," Murphy said. Her latest stop is in support of her debut solo recording, Crooked Mile, which she described as a "stylistic exploration." The songs on the album, she said, provide "a mining of everything in myself and a much more in-depth exploration of my musical identity."

Murphy's favorite track on the album, "The Concession Stand Song," kicks off the CD. The song was "written in utter solitude," she said. "When you isolate yourself enough and get all the distractions out of the way, you begin to hear things from inside your head." She paused, then added, "Or from a more dangerous, provocative place."

Although she had fond memories of her years as one-half of the band Trish and Darin, which she formed with brother Darin Murphy, much of the deeply personal songwriting in Crooked Mile stemmed from her desire to evolve musically from what she called the "pop leanings of Trish and Darin. I wanted to ferret down to the influences that went farther back, to that Texas mystique."

Other early influences for Murphy were singer-songwriters Bob Dylan and John Prine. Those influences are evident in the homespun wisdom in the lyrics of Crooked Mile's songs.

In the song "Wrong Side of Town," she proclaims that "Jesus was wrong about all us sinners/That we'd take a stump for the sign of the times/We're running for shelter like nobody's business/We don't even notice the face in the sky."

Although Dylan and Prine write about complex subjects, she said she found it easy to embrace them, even as a child. "It's funny, because (Bruce) Springsteen is another great songwriter, and I didn't get Springsteen until a few years ago, but I got Prine. His humor is not lost on children especially. He had a wry way with words, and he would swing from mature and complex themes. I think ("The Concession Stand Song") draws from that."

Those influences have erupted in Murphy as a powerful force that is too Texas to be rock 'n' roll, but too hard-driving to be country. Her refusal to conveniently slide into predetermined genre boundaries may be one of the reasons her songs receive very little airplay in Houston, with the exception of public radio station KPFT-FM.

"Every other major radio market in Texas - Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, even Amarillo, has at least one station that's supportive of Texas music. It seems logical to me that Houston will at some point. There's got to be a way to invent cable radio. I secretly think it would be great if you could splinter music into a million formats, the way we do TV programming."

She said the most challenging aspect of recording as a solo artist after being part of a group is "recognizing where the limitations are and figuring out how to get around them. Trying to figure out what will make a song stand out is challenging."

The key to overcoming this, she said, is her "continuing quest to surround myself with the best people I can find. To me, it is a great thing if you can find someone who can take the songs to a place you can't."

Her favorite part about being on her own? "I have total control," she said, laughing. "Seriously, it's interesting to see how, just by singing so much, I can finally develop my own, individual style."

That style will be in evidence Saturday. "It's going to be pretty in-your-face at the Satellite," Murphy said. "I like it that way. I like to put on an arena-type show as opposed to a sit-down, listening kind of thing. We're going to just slam from song to song and build momentum."

Her next effort, she said, will branch out from the influences on her current release and feature more hard-driving pop sounds. She added that while she would like to release another album in 1998, she might retool Crooked Mile for wider release (it is currently available in only a few states). Murphy described the songs written since the completion of Crooked Mile as "a welling up of emotional things that reflect my feeling now more empowered. Songwriting for me fits into the bigger frame of reference of my life. I'm rediscovering the value of patience in life, at a time when things are spiraling forward at a pace that leaves my jaw stretching into my ear canal."

In the more immediate future, Murphy is talking with several major labels interested in signing her, she is set to tape the national public radio show World Café in November and has submitted songs for MTV's The Real World.

Still, she said, worldwide fame is not her primary objective. "I am pretty much on a day-to-day basis, and a lot of that is recognizing that I'm trying to build a career for myself, not necessarily trying get famous. The thing I want to do is keep myself on an upward trajectory. It's like pro tennis - 5 percent of pro tennis players are on TV, and they're the ones who are famous. The other 95 percent are having great careers, even though you never see them on TV."

For now, she added, "it's just really great to see things building and growing."

Trish Murphy appears Saturday at The Fabulous Satellite Lounge (3616 Washington), where doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6. Phil Pritchett opens. Call (713) 869-COOL for more information.

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