INTERVIEW with legendary Murray McLauchlan speaks to Racism and Privilege on his NEW album Hourglass, out July 9 -True North Records.
What an honor it is to forward a few questions in the direction of 1 of Canada’s most recognizably distinctive, and versatile voices, who is a captivating multi-instrumentalist, a stimulative composing wordsmith, a compelling author, a phenomenal painter, and a multi-award-winning iconic musical gem, the legendary Gold-selling artist, Murray McLauchlan. Welcome Murray, to The Wire MEGAzine which has been on the music scene free as 1 of Canada’s longest-running tabloids, and nonprofit magazines since 1989.
and hurry, don’t delay, click on over there today and get your pre-sale and pre-save on at https://truenorthrecords.com/murraymclauchlan
As well, check out the new video for his song A Thomson Day (For Tom Thomson) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta5WrX94pRY
Murray McLauchlan began writing songs and performing them in his late teens. After playing at major music festivals, such as The Philadelphia Folk Festival, where he appeared alongside Jim Croce and John Prine, and Mariposa where he gave up half of his concert time so Joni Mitchell could play, he began to attract wider attention on the club circuit, playing such well known rooms as The Riverboat in Toronto, The Bitter End in New York, The Main Point in Philadelphia, and the famous Earl of Old Town in Chicago.
Before Murray had actually recorded an album of his own, his “Child’s Song” was already well known after being recorded by American folk star Tom Rush. Live versions of his song “Honky Red” were performed by Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Bobby Neuwirth. He received early song cuts by country music star George Hamilton IV.
His songs have been covered by many other artists as well as being featured in high school textbooks. He has played, both solo, and with bands in every major hall in Canada, from Massey Hall in Toronto to the Orpheum in Vancouver and all the Jubilees in between. His band “The Silver Tractors” is still remembered fondly from the TV special On the Boulevard for CBC and playing Maple Leaf Gardens with Gordon Lightfoot’s Olympic Team benefit in 1976.
Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Order of Canada recipient, and 11-time JUNO Award-winning artist Murray McLauchlan challenged himself to look within for issues pertaining to systemic racism, privilege, and economic disparity on his landmark 20th album, Hourglass, releases on July 9, 2021, through his long-time record label partnership with True North Records.
McLauchlan has always been unabashedly passionate about Canada and that great love collided with his love of aviation when he made a circumnavigation of the entire country, from Atlantic to Pacific to the Arctic, in a Cessna 185 floatplane, followed by a film crew. The result was the special “Floating over Canada” starring Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Ste. Marie, Levon Helm, Edith Butler, and a host of unsuspecting Canadians became involved. Murray has also been passionate about song-writing as an art form and starting in the mid 80’s he found an outlet as the host of the CBC weekly radio program “Swinging on a Star”, a showcase for and a celebration of the songwriter’s art in a live performance venue. It was the top-rated music show in the country with over 750,000 listeners every Saturday for five years.
Deb: Q. (1) When you first started out in the business at the age of 17, did you ever imagine that your career would unfold the way it has and that your songs would impact the world at large as they have?
Murray: “I don’t believe I’ve ever thought of what I do as a career. It’s more of an avocation. It’s something you do because you want to create art and maybe change your world. It has worked out very well and I’m very grateful that there are people out there who are willing to listen to what I do.“
Hourglass bears many of the trademarks of other McLauchlan albums, including powerful folk and country-flavored songs of a personal, philosophical and topical nature. But, this time around, the composer has refined his prose, distilling narratives down to their bare essentials. “I tried to make the compositions simple and accessible, like children’s songs for adults,” says McLauchlan. “I’ve never tried that before. I’m pushing 73 now and I still feel I’m getting better at what I do.” He adds: “Every album is a little different journey. You go where the muse leads You.”
Hourglass is also a collection of songs that address the shocking events of the recent past and the ongoing trajectory of a troubled world but also the sweetness of life itself. McLauchlan began with a deeply personal series of poems and then married them to rootsy guitar licks and riffs, to build one of his most political and personal albums. Soaring pedal steel, delicate piano melodies and deft guitar playing bring the lyrics to life, in a project that ultimately celebrates the resilience of the human spirit.
Deb: Q. (2) Share with us your iconic songwriting process on your latest 10 masterful arrows that surely dive deep inside your extensive songwriting quiver, while you walk us through your new 20th full-length album, Hourglass, which is releasing on July 9th, through your long-time record label partnership with True North Records.
Murray: “The unusual thing about the writing on the Hourglass album is that the songs all began life as poems. I had guitar lines that I’ve been playing for fun and for practice and the poems seemed to find their way to those guitar pieces. A good example would be the song ‘The One Percent.‘ When I first tried to put it to music the result was something that I disliked intensely. However, when it found its way to that beautiful little F sharp minor to E guitar lick, it found a kind of grace. All of the songs on Hourglass were created because of events that have occurred recently or less so or because of global problems. We all witnessed the murder of George Floyd, in the aftermath of the public killing of George Floyd in the U.S., a massive wave of revulsion against systemic racism swept the world,” McLauchlan prefaces of the previously-released single ‘I Live On A White Cloud’ as it prompted many of us, myself included, to look honestly into our hearts and not flinch from what we might find, and we all saw the pictures of poor little Alan Kurdy lying drowned on the Mediterranean shore and were forever changed,” Murray expressed and continued to say. “We’ve also witnessed the concentration of wealth among a very few at the expense of the vast majority of the human race. That will not end well. I needed to write about these things and this album was the result.”
McLauchlan began with a deeply personal series of poems and then married them to rootsy guitar licks and riffs, to build one of his most political and personal albums. Soaring pedal steel, delicate piano melodies, and deft guitar playing bring the lyrics to life, in a project that ultimately celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. When it came to the second single, “The One Percent,” it was McLauchlan’s pointed perspective of the rapidly widening chasm between those with outsized resources and the rest of the world’s population.
Murray certainly hasn’t been idle over his in-depth career and his songs continue to appear in the collections of other artists. Notably, his No Change in Me was a featured song in the musical “Needfire”, as well as being recorded by John McDermott, and The Ennis Sisters. Murray’s co-write with Tom Wilson, Burned Out Car, became a duet on the Junkhouse album, featuring Sarah McLachlan and Tom, and won the best video JUNO. Murray co-wrote You Should be Havin’ Fun with Barney Bentall and Bad Girl with Lorraine Segato of Parachute Club. Bentall, incidentally, produced McLauchlan’s 1996 album Gulliver’s Taxi, which featured The Odds from Vancouver, Billy Cowsill, Tom Wilson from Junkhouse, and a whole lot of collaborations with some great songwriters. Murray’s song, Honky Red, from his 1971 debut album, Songs From The Street, is still currently in heavy live rotation, and newly recorded by the American band Widespread Panic. As well, of course, Murray has also hooked up with the mega-songwriter band Lunch at Allen’s http://www.lunchatallens.ca and has four successful CDs to their credit on EMI and True North Records. They are selling out theatres across Canada. Back in the fall of 2011, Murray released what many think is his best album Human Writes. It was extensively played in the UK and Europe as well as Australia and appeared in the top 10 of the Cashbox Roots charts in the US. Coming hard off the heels of the very successful debut record Songs From The Street double CD on True North, it was a great time for Murray’s fans.
Deb: Q. (3) You have worn your share of hats inside the music biz, with being an 11-time JUNO and 3-time RPM award-winning singer, songwriting musician, a Fellow of the Royal Conservatory of Music, a board member of Room 217 Foundation, both a SOCAN board member and Vice President of the SOCAN Foundation, a Doctor of Laws, a recipient of both the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and a Member of the Order of Canada, as well, a Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer. Pre-Covid-19, had you seen or felt a major shift or change in the music realm compared to 1965 when your career 1st started?
Murray: “I think the music industry has undergone massive changes as anyone can see, and I also feel that music, which is created for other purposes than feeding disposable pop culture, still has a place.”
Deb: Q. (4) Who would you say influences you the most musically then and now?
Murray: “When I started out, I was very influenced by the New York writers who were combining contemporary lyrics with traditional folk forms. Now, I feel that I have, through working hard, developed my own voice. There are, of course, many artists that I greatly respect, and admire, and I am proud to be among them.”
Deb: Q. (5) Congratulations on a very successful 56 years inside the music industry! What was the best advice you were given about the ins and outs of music back in the day, as well, what advice would you offer to up-and-coming artists trying to break into the biz in this day and age?
Murray: “I don’t recollect getting any actual advice about how to proceed with regards to making music. As far as people who are starting out today I would say only this. Work hard at developing your own voice and style, and if you feel something works for you go for it.“
Deb: Q. (6) What would you say is your claim to fame and secret to longevity?
Murray: “Fame is a kind of an odd word. I think it just means that you’ve been around for a while. If there is something that has sustained me over the years, I think it is that I have a profound respect for anyone who will take the time to pay attention to the music that I try to create. I’m very grateful for that, and I think it shows on the concert stage.“
Deb: Q. (7) Some of the most historical and revered music always plays a deeper role in the transformation of societies. Some consider how their work relates to the current sociopolitical landscape or how the music can address these themes. Do you think some of your masterpiece originals touch on current social or political issues?
Murray: “Yes I do. One of my songs called, ‘Try Walking Away’ was about women who were in abusive relationships & finding the courage to walk away. Ironically the Toronto Blue Jays used it when a batter was walked down the first baseline.”
Much of Hourglass was written in the past year, during anxious Covid times of mask-wearing, social distancing, and seemingly endless lockdowns. Yet, even though there’s one song on the recording called “Pandemic Blues.” McLauchlin doesn’t think of Hourglass as a pandemic album, “I’d hesitate to call it that,” he says, “because the album reflects a view of the world and global events that have been evolving for some time.” In particular, McLauchlan sets his sights on chronic issues like systemic racism, economic disparity, and rampant consumerism, what he calls in one song the “global greed machine“.
“A while ago, when ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrations happened, many people scorned the demonstrators for being unable to articulate what they were there for,” McLauchlan recalls. “I remember thinking, however, this isn’t going away. As the accumulation of great wealth has increased for the very few, the vast majority of people have seen the opposite.” He continues to share, “I’m just a songwriter,” he says plainly. “That’s the only voice I have, other than my vote. But I do know this: If we can’t find a way to make the world a more equitable place for everyone, our future is in question.”
Murray McLauchlan is not one to rest on his laurels. Although he’s now approaching his sixth decade as a singer-songwriter, with shelves bursting with prizes including a prestigious Order of Canada and Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the vigorous musician remains as creatively active as ever. Hourglass finds McLauchlan still evolving artistically, crafting some of the best compositions in his long and celebrated career.
Deb: You also have explored your other great love–painting. Since being reunited with your teacher from art school days, Doris McCarthy, one of Canada’s great landscape painters, you have been more active publicly with your paintings. They are now hanging on the walls of EMI and the home of Pamela Wallin. Recently one of Murray’s donated works was auctioned off to raise money for the Nature Conservancy.
Deb: Some artists seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience of navigating the general music realm is, let alone add in Covid-19, and how hard it is to try to still be ambitious about getting their artwork seen, heard, and or sold. You are not just an all-around singer/songwriter/instrumentalist, you are an author too. In 1998 we saw the release of your book, a memoir titled Getting Out of Here Alive on Penguin/Viking. It had taken a year and a half to write it and provided a very well-lit snapshot of the early days of the Toronto music scene as well as some hard looks at its inhabitants. You have been very active on the business side as well, and were for a number of years a board member at SOCAN, the Canadian songwriters/publishers collective, championing the cause of author’s rights and copyright reform as well as Vice President of the SOCAN Foundation. Deb: Q. (8). What are some other unique ways you’ve chosen lately to engage with your legions of fans, whether that’s within the top echelon of international art circles, or based on your involvement within your local online community, despite the challenges and newly formatted audiences with Corona Virus restrictions?
Murray: “Certainly one of the ways that I have coped is by creating this new record. It was a lengthy process. From writing to producing to artwork and the creation of music videos, it has kept me very busy. There was the added benefit of maintaining contact with my musical friends and having the joy of creating together. I haven’t felt any pressure to return to the concert stage by digital means but would rather wait until I can have the very positive experience of playing for real people again in a theater.”
Deb: Q. (9) Last but not least, what does success mean to you?
Murray: “Success to me is the thrill that I get when I feel I’ve created something honest and real. It’s still the biggest thrill I get. It’s also a great feeling of success when I feel that my audience understands and appreciates what I’m trying to do. The popular definition of success I suppose is fame and money. I think if you’re doing what I do for those reasons, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.”
Thank you for your time today, Murray.
FANS, you can stay in tune with Murray by dropping by his social platforms below, https://www.murraymclauchlan.com