Modern blues is a tough genre. It's easy to fall into the trap of what everyone thinks blues sounds like without becoming a cliche. Thankfully, Todd Murray, AKA Sincerely, Iris, writes smartly and--ahem, sincerely--and pulls off a rare feat on his newest release, License Plate Sessions. Six modern blues songs played on a four-string license plate guitar with slide.
Roy: First, I want to say
that this a great album. Everything
fits, all the song complement each other
nicely. This an album that's meant to be
listened to as an "album" not just a
song here and there. A throwback? Sure,
but a good one.
Todd: Thanks for the kind
words man. I’m glad you feel that way. I
always take a lot of time thinking about
the track order for my albums. I’m sure
using the same guitar for all of the
songs helped that a little bit too.
Todd: My license plate guitar uses the top 4 strings of a regular guitar. You can make them with more or less strings. Mine doesn’t have frets, just the fret markers, so you can only play it with a slide. Because of the metal license plate it has a sound sort of similar to a dobro.
It was a surprise
Christmas present from my mom in 2012.
My cousin built one for my brother and
I. My brother’s was made out of a cigar
box and mine from my old license plate
from when I lived in Colorado. I was
convinced I was going to play it at a
gig two days later. That didn’t really
happen. It took me about 6 months to
figure out how to sort of play it.
Todd: I usually keep it
in tuned to the first 4 strings of open
E (EBEG#) or open E minor (EBEG) tuning.
If I remember right the song Samson is
tuned to open D (DADF#).
Todd: The only song on
the album that was written solely on the
license plate was the last song
“Eternal.” “Just Like a Dog” was the
first song that I wrote for this album.
“Hellhound on My Mind” and “Samson” are
also new. “Cemetery Blues” and “The
Ghosts of My Hometown” are older songs
of mine from previous releases that I
reworked for this album.
Todd: Initially, this song was about all the bad relationships that made me feel like a dog. Then it was all of the places I’ve lived that have treated me that way. Eventually, it just became about life in general treating you like a dog sometimes. Hopefully other people can relate to those feelings.
It was the first song
that I recorded for this album. It
started on the regular acoustic, but
really changed when I arranged it for
the license plate. In the beginning I
limited myself to only the license plate
guitar, vocals and my foot. Eventually,
I broke those rules when I heard how
well that guitar played with others, but
this song is just license plate, vocal,
foot and a little bit of bass.
The cousin who made the
guitar, Jay Patton, produced this album
for me. I recorded everything on my
8-track recorder at home and then
emailed him the tracks to mix. This
album was supposed to be just a fun
little side thing. An EP between albums
where mistakes would be OK. Hopefully
that gave the music a more raw vibe that
my other stuff.
Todd: Thanks man. That song almost got cut from the album. I think it was the last one I finished. It took me a while to get the vocals to a place where I was happy. I’m not a big time churchgoer now, but I went pretty often when I was a little kid.
The story of Samson and
Delilah popped into my head one day from
randomly seeing the title of an old
blues song by Reverend Gary Davis in a
guitar magazine. I didn’t actually
listen to his song until after I had
recorded my song for this album. I
wanted to approach the subject like a
folk artist would by maybe embellishing
the story to be more contemporary with
put myself in Samson’s shoes a little. I
thought it would sort of be how Superman
would feel if he lost his powers. He
probably wouldn’t go into work anymore.
He’d be sitting at the bar bitter about
how much it sucks to not be a superhero.
Being regular is hard, especially if you
were born able to pick up cars and shit.
Roy: The album ends with "Eternal," an instrumental song. I love instrumentals, especially ones with character. Some folks think that instrumentals aren't "real" songs but I've always felt that the right one can tell a story just fine. What inspired this tune?
Todd: I was the guitarist for a play a few months ago called PostSecret: The Show. It required me to buy a looper pedal. About halfway through the run of the show I was messing around at home and decided to hook up the license plate guitar to it. I came up with the beginning of Eternal and sort of forgot about it til after PostSecret was over.
All of the weird effects on this song (backwards guitar, half speed) were done with the looper. For me, it’s one of the few examples of technology inspiring the entire direction of a song. It was a very emotional show that dealt with real people’s secrets and being a part of that for a month straight inspired me too. It’s my first instrumental on an album ever. It originally was called "Eternal Blues," but I didn’t see it as a sad song. I saw it as more spacey or spiritual.
License Plate Sessions is available on Bandcamp.com as a direct download or a real deal physical CD. http://sincerelyiris.bandcamp.com/album/license-plate-sessions
And check out http://www.sincerelyiris.com/ for updates and more!