Deserts of Dave Murray: A Companion to RR Episode 81

Deserts of Dave Murray: A Companion to RR Episode 81

Our 81st episode circled around the works of drummer Dave Murray, surveying Estradasphere, (Deserts of) Traun, Tholus and Sculptured. Here, we dig into Murray’s mind in further efforts to discover what makes this all tick. And we will say this yet again: Dave Murray is one of the most underrated drummers on the planet, and his works in Traun and Tholus criminally overlooked. Please give those a listen and support if you like. And we do think you’ll like!!!

By 2006, death metal was out of steam, creatively, yet the Tholus record offered a fresh approach to the genre. It incorporated fusion elements but in no way sounded like Cynic or Atheist, taking instead a much more brutal tact. What possibilities do you think are still available to the death metal genre? Would you consider writing and recording another album in the style? 

Yes, I would love to do another Tholus album. I keep telling Mike Johnson it would be so easy now with the technology we have. Aside from that, I have been thinking there must be a way to do something really different since the genre is crowded and repetitive. I don’t keep up with the athleticism as much, so I want a way to still do something metal, remain musical, yet not make it about amazing endurance or speed. I’d like to see if there is something different I could pull out that is heavy yet new-ish. Maybe change up the core instruments… Will see if I get the inspiration and time. You have to have space and time to really pull out some new ideas

Now that you are writing more than performing live, how has your approach to the drum set evolved over the years? Do you see yourself more as an instrumentalist or as a composer, if indeed that matters?

Still more of an instrumentalist. Once I was composing my own material I was able to see the wisdom in playing less busy. It seems to make you want to listen more when it locks in and is refined versus really busy. You brought up Atheist. I remember thinking that drumming was amazing – yet i also never wanted to listen to more than a few minutes of it. Cynic aside (where the business was refined jazz level chops), I listened to Megadeth Rust In Peace the other day and was drawn in by Nick [Menza]’s consistent perfect beats. It fit so well with the music 

Tell us a bit about your compositional process. The Traun albums are large scale works, with motivic elements in each. How do you go about putting together these works? Do you settle on themes first and then write around them?

There might be 6 or 7 themes in the Traun series. I think, as I was creating a piece, when I got to a part where I end up in the right key, or a root note, I would remind myself that I could weave the Swamp theme in there (for example). As i compose I am just going through it trying to flesh it out, enrich it, and since I am telling a story, I like to bring in the themes, because it reminds the listener there is a connection with something earlier. 

Once a song gets completed it affects the story too. (The song inspires the visual/story). Yet at times, when the story concept was getting pretty solid I had to reverse that and write music with the sole purpose of reflecting a scene in the story (like film scoring). But I don’t write around the themes, I just try and abide by the notion that I should inject them when possible

For the new material, mostly I was messing with midi lanes, playing with a keyboard and virtual instruments. I have no real music theory or melodic training (not a humble brag) so the way I was able to ‘compose’ was by experimenting with midi in my DAW. Basically run multiple lanes of midi – see how it goes – use VI’s. Often I’d add some metal guitar with a great VI called “Shreddage” then add some bass, cimbolom and “Alicia Keys” piano. Then I’d loop it, see how it works, make adjustments etc. After that, usually I’d inject 16 bars of space, copy the previous 16 bars and change it up / harmonize. I would do the same over and over, but maybe next time create an interlude – perhaps utilize a different genre or electronics…Just a lot of experimenting. 

With the old material, or material that was composed by other members, I had more to work with, obviously. But I spent a lot more time trying to make those pieces interesting, and chop them up in various ways

Probably somewhat related to the previous query:  there is a 14-year release gap between the first Deserts of Traun album and the 3 EPs. I know a lot of the music from the album was re-envisioned and repurposed for the EPs. Does that mean the gestation period for the material on these EPs was 14 years, or even longer?

I pieced the Traun project together over a 9 year span. I just kept pushing that boulder up the mountain, committed to finishing it and unwilling to release the boulder and let it bury me as it hurled back down. Refining things was a challenge as well as making the music and the story work together. It was sort of a Rubik’s cube situation between the story and the music. So many edits and moving things around. I had to also deal with the fact that albums start with their best material up front, yet a story usually slowly builds. Later it hit me that the solution was to start the album in the future, then jump back to the beginning of the story. That is why I started with the “Escape from the Crystal Caverns” and “Aervalis.”

And why the change of band name from Deserts of Traun to simply Traun?
I just liked the shorter name better. 

Why no physical versions of these EPs?
Would have loved to create a physical copy with the art. Damn… Perhaps in the future I will. I just know how little physical copies sell these days. The music is also unclassifiable and no label wants to deal with that (or very few). 

You have always been involved in very eclectic projects, all of which require a broad vocabulary as a musician. I assume that you spent many years listening to music not only out of love for it but also for the purpose of educating yourself. When music ceases to serve a didactic purpose and is purely a source of pleasure, what music/artists do you most enjoy?
For pleasure currently : 
8bit video game music (SEGA/Nintendo). This was a huge influence as with many growing up in my era. 
The Cure (I was recently in a Cure cover band). 
Synth-wave and other ambient (hopefully quality stuff) 
Indian classical. 
Some jazz, like Miles Davis, but I don’t enjoy jazz for the sake of experimenting. Some of that shit just sounds like they are bored, and the music seems arbitrary and soulless. IDK. If there is soul there, I don’t feel it. 
Baroque Classical 
Peter Gabriel!
The Police
Sometimes ’80s stuff
Sometimes reggae