The Murlocs

Live At The Teragram Ballroom
Calm Ya Farm
Bittersweet Demons

Uncanny purveyors of garage-blues thrills with a sideline in resonant songcraft, The Murlocs have been making music together since the end of their high school years, though their connection goes back even further than that. Leader of the gang for 13 years and counting, Ambrose Kenny-Smith has known drummer Matt Blach since primary school, though they hadn’t playing music together much until Ambrose connected with guitarist Cal Shortal at a house party. The trio would jam in the basement bar of Blach’s parents’ home – “Manny’s Bar” it was called, inspiring a song off the Murlocs’ second EP, Tee Pee.

Their hometown of Geelong hosted a thriving garage-rock community, all worshiping the Nuggets compilations like their Bible.  The Murlocs began their career with a pair of rough-edged EPs in 2012, their self-titled debut and Tee Pee, “recorded at a family friend’s studio as a favour”. They added Cook Craig on bass and knuckled down a little more for their debut full-length, 2014’s Loopholes.

Their line-up augmented by guitarist/singer Mladen Milinkovic, 2016’s Young Blindness drew The Murlocs’ mysterious garage-blues hybrid into tighter focus, bringing new darkness and depth to lairy anthems like ‘Reassurance’ and the stinging, unforgettable ‘Wolf Creep’. “Mladen was a great stage presence, a fresh element,” Kenny-Smith says. Milinkovic exited the group soon after, however, and they began work on follow-up Old Locomotive as a four-piece. Before they were done, the final crucial piece of the Murlocs puzzle fell into place: keyboardist Tim Karmouche.

Indeed, The Murlocs’ golden age was about to begin, as this ramshackle quintet located their ambition and unleashed their potential. 2019’s Manic Candid Episode rang the changes, relocating them from bedrooms and garages to a proper studio with decent gear. The earlier lo-fi vibe had suited the crazed likes of ‘Shit Storm’, where the chaos was the point. But as the group’s songwriting chops evolved, clarity was what was called for, these ragged rockers finessed by hollered harmonies, knife-edged riffs, and a weightiness that drove their message home.

Kenny-Smith planned “a heavy record” for their next LP, but pulled a 180 before work began. “I was listening to a lot of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, early Elton John, Nilsson’s Pussy Cats,” he remembers. “I wanted something more ‘classic rock’, more ballad-y. I’d listen to Lennon’s ‘Mother’ over and over, thinking about how personal it was, how from the heart. I thought, ‘I’ve written about my anxieties for so long, I might as well take it as deep as I can.’” The resulting Bittersweet Demons would be Kenny-Smith’s most confessional album yet, a series of portraits of those close to him and those he’d lost.

“Putting these people in my songs, I felt a bit naked and vulnerable,” he continues. But the album taught him it’s worth taking such creative risks.

The Murlocs’ next album told the story of someone he knew very well: Ambrose Kenny-Smith, or a fantasized version of him, anyway. The album also offered the singer/songwriter a little escapism at the very moment he needed it most. Like everyone else, Kenny-Smith found 2020 a miserable drag; he’d spent the preceding decade wandering the planet and playing music. Now, he was locked down at home.

“We all started working on new material alone, and Cal was on a winning streak, cutting demos at home and sending me new tracks daily,” he remembers. With a stack of new Shortal jams at his disposal, Kenny-Smith focused on a lyrical concept for the new record, a romanticized vision of his wildling youth. Indeed, 2021’s Rapscallion chronicles the story of a wastrel cutting loose the bonds of the small town he grew up in, hitching to the big city to find adventure and love. Instead, he finds bad drugs and worse violence. Allied to Shortal’s meat-cleaver riffs and the band’s garage-y malevolence, it’s a widescreen adventure for the mind.

“I get more excited with each album we make,” Kenny-Smith continues. “As we progress, we get better.” And so to the latest album in the Murlocs saga, 2023’s Calm Ya Farm. “We decided to go ‘country’, I guess,” he grins, though those who fear the twang should rest assured that the seventh Murlocs epic channels the down-home funk and homespun vibes of The Band’s first two albums more than any rhinestone cowboy theatrics. It’s a full band collaboration, with songs penned by all members, and a little extra polish applied this time around. The family vibe of the album suits a group where the connections run deep, where the indelible identities of the individual musicians within it define the character of the band itself.