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  Sincerely, Iris 

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.

Roy: So what exactly is a license plate guitar and how did you come to have one?


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.

Roy: How is it tuned?


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#).

Roy: What was the first song you wrote on it?


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.

Roy: "Just Like A Dog," the first track on the album, has a raw and dirty sound, very edgy. Wanna run us through the writing and recording of this one?

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.

Roy: For me "Samson" is one of the standout tracks here. "He felt weak, like the rest of us are," is a great line that makes the song so much more than just a retelling of the story from the bible--more personal and very contemporary.

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 it.   I 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: You said that at least one of the songs on the new album was originally written on a standard guitar. I wrote a song once on a tenor guitar and then had to figure out how to play successfully it on a regular six-string after I had sold the tenor. It wasn't easy. Any tips?

Todd: Patience! Steve Martin said, “perseverance is a great substitute for talent.” I try to keep that in mind with anything in music. I don’t consider myself very talented, just sort of stubbornly persistent.  Since almost all of the songs on the album started on a normal 6 string guitar, I had to learn to be ok with certain notes missing from the chords when I played them on the license plate. I also had to learn to deaden strings with one of my fingers if the chord needed to be major, but barring all four strings with the slide made it minor. It was a learning process. When I first started the album, I didn’t really know what I was doing on this guitar. I’m still learning, but the limitations made me come up with new ideas. It’s sort of a Jack White way of thinking.

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.

Todd Murray blogs about the writing and recording of his album License Plate Sessions at http://sincerelyirismusic.tumblr.com where you can also watch his video for the album's opening track "Just Like A Dog."

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!