Ken Murdoch’s scene is one of contentment. The singer-songwriter and guitarist from legendary ‘70s Aussie rock band, TASTE, states that his scene is: “being incredibly happy with my band, my album and my life at the moment so don’t hassle me man!”
With their highly appraised new album Life On Earth unleashed in May, TASTE now embark on a national tour to support the release in July, proving that the past need not dictate the present and the future. Murdoch’s recollections of the past are not all terrible or regretful. Forming the band and playing round town would be the fulfilment of any teenager’s dreams. Growing up, Murdoch was inspired by the Beatles and The Who. They were, he states, “my obsessions.” He recalls: “I’d sit and sing every harmony part I could figure out with the Beatles. Trying to work their chords out was another matter. ‘I Am the Walrus’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ were hard. Pete Townsend just said everything I was thinking in his lyrics, especially Quadrophenia.” Murdoch continues: “Now I listen to Beatles and The Who, a little Puccini, B52s, Cheap Trick, Rufus Wainwright is big on my list. But not much new has captured my imagination. Although I do like Robot Child’s new album.”
Times, and music, seem more groundbreaking in the 70s, and right from the start, TASTE were up there with the best of them. The beginning was, as Murdoch explains: “Michael Tortoni, Virgil Donati and I were already well seasoned road dogs in a band called Cloud Nine and were pulling reasonable crowds everywhere so when we added Joey (Amenta) and became Taste -because of a TV ice cream ad -it was already established. The name change really helped getting on TV and radio.”
Appearing often on hit TV music and variety shows such as Countdown, Sounds, Hey Hey it’s Saturday, and The Don Lane show, Murdoch elaborates on how the media assisted Australian bands further their career: “A band on radio could perform on TV 2-3 times a month. Countdown was always fun because of all the other bands that you could play around with – Ted Mulry and I were pretty thick. [pullquote]I remember Bon Scott walking down the corridors of ABC smiling his head off. When I asked him why he was so happy, he replied, ‘New Teeth’![/pullquote] Most bands smuggled a bottle of scotch in their guitar cases. Sounds Unlimited in Sydney was fun but we had to be up early on Saturday morning which didn’t sit too well with us.”
As for touring, TASTE rubbed shoulders with the best of local and international acts. Murdoch reminisces: “Touring the local bands, Skyhooks etc, was a lot easier than the overseas acts, Sweet, Suzi Quatro, When a tour hit a country town, it was a big thing! Usually sold out crowds at the local town hall. The Aussie crews all knew us as friends so did their best to make our show as best as they could. The overseas acts were snobby and didn’t let Aussie bands use full production or even sound check. Status Quo were good guys. They had a fully manned bar area backstage.”
Yet TASTE’s assured road to success halted abruptly, leaving trails of broken dreams and regrets – from broken signing promises to unfulfilled US tour dreams and overlooked collaborative opportunities. Murdoch recalls opportunities for Australian and international success: “It was interesting that Queen showed some interest in us. They wore our t-shirts on the rest of the Australian tour. We could have toured US with them, but we weren’t financial then. They were very nice guys and very interesting to talk to. I even got to play Brian May’s legendary Red Special.” [pullquote]A lesson for new bands: Record labels sign management just as much as the band. [/pullquote]Murdoch continues: “Just before we changed management we had sat with Seymour Stein of Sire Records USA and were planning to sign with them but once we changed management, stupidly I might add, the deal went off the table.The new management that I’ve mentioned had no idea about the music industry but he did have a lot of money but in the end it didn’t help. He ended pitting us against each other. Joey and I got locked out of the Countdown Awards because of him!”
Other opportunities were also presented to Murdoch, though they are only seen as such now. Murdoch states: “Greg Macainsh heard Tickle Your Fancy and was impressed with the guitar sounds as Skyhoooks were looking to toughen up their sound. He suggested I might be interested in producing but I just couldn’t see myself trying to tell Shirley Strachan or Red Symons what to do. It didn’t seem like a good fit at the time. I’ve turned down lots of opportunities that I regret. Molly Meldrum had me over once to listen to a boy band from Brisbane that he wanted me to work with. I didn’t really get the concept so declined. That was Indecent Obsession who went to have hits all around the world! Another time Colin Hay asked if I was interested in writing with him. I told him I didn’t write with other people. One B side and I could have been a millionaire.”
With the benefit of hindsight, TASTE is back to finish what they started. Murdoch reasons: “We recorded Rock Is Dead in 2007 and it had some success but it all felt a bit unfinished so when I wrote I am God and sent it to the others, they wanted to get together and record another album. The songs came pretty quickly after that -even though it took a year to record!”
Murdoch attributes the ease of songwriting to words and stories. He states: “Sometimes to relax and get my thoughts in order I’ll sit and write a short story. I have hundreds of them. If one has an interesting theme to it Ill try to adapt it lyrically. Then I think about which part is the chorus, sit with a guitar or piano and work on that. Usually I’ll find a riff that I like and try to include that into a verse. Of course sometimes it’s the riff that came first. But usually lyrics.” This ease continues for completing and arranging the songs as Murdoch explains: “I’m pretty dictatorial about the arrangements at first, so I bring in a pretty completed demo. Then the guys rip it apart and make it their own. Very rarely has a song come from a jam.” Thus, as a whole, maintaining their signature sound without becoming dated occurs naturally. Murdoch explores this feeling, stating: “[pullquote]I just think good guitar sounds, drum sounds with lots of air to breathe is the secret. [/pullquote]We never try to flatten everything with compression or limiting. We’ve never really bothered to try and sound modern intentionally.” As such their fanbase is increasing rather than diminishing, Murdoch relishing devotees, stating: “The hardcore fans are the easiest to please. They are quite fanatical about the band. Two days after we released the iTunes version of Life On Earth, one girl emailed me to tell me she’d listened to the album 50 times already!”
As for his own thoughts and feelings on the latest relaase, he states that the most rewarding song was Is it Just A Dream because “Michael (Tortoni) orchestrated it. We brought in a string section and a French horn and flautist. It’s epic sounding and the strings are amazing. I like Room Full Of Angels too because I wrote that after the album was finished and everyone loved it and wanted it on the album so we rushed back into the studio and recorded it quite quickly. It was mixed in Boston one day and then mastered the next.” The track most reflective of his life is Blood. Murdoch states that it is the “most revealing” especially the chorus “Blood is not thicker at all” as it is about “the love of my life -my wife.”
The first release from the album however is I Am God, alongside an apocalyptic film clip by acclaimed Australian director Clayton Jacobson. Of the film making process, Murdoch states: “Clayton, the director, got us to suggest our favourite painters, movies, colors, dreams and then he revolved a theme about them. Making it was a hoot but I got dizzy on the carousel.”
Last year TASTE toured for the release of ‘Remasters – Best of TASTE album’ and it all just fell into place. Murdoch states: “Joey, Michael and I have been friends since high school and we share a love for all things Taste so getting back onstage together was just like putting on an old glove. This year we did two dates with our original drummer Virgil Donati with only one rehearsal and I threw some old songs at him and he played them like a trooper. It’s a very unusual band in that we still all think the same. Our teenage years were all spent together. Closer than brothers I guess.” Murdoch is excited about touring their new album, and TASTE fans should expect the unexpected as Murdoch concludes: “We love to experiment onstage so a song like Sanctuary, from Rock Is Dead, which normally goes for five minutes has been stretching out to ten onstage. So lots of surprises. Lots of songs from the new album and a couple of oldies.”
With this upcoming tour, Murdoch’s continued scene of contentment is assured, though he may be hassled for autographs and selfies.
Life On Earth is out now – available here.
Remastered versions of the band’s classic 70s albums, Tickle Your Fancy and Knights of Love, were released in late 2015, and are available here.
TASTE NATIONAL ‘LIFE ON EARTH’ TOUR, with Ken Murdoch (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Amenta (lead guitar, vocals), Damian Corniola (drums), Michael Tortoni (bass).
FRI 1 JUL | CROWBAR | BRISBANE, QLD | http://www.oztix.com.au
SAT 9 JUL | FOWLERS LIVE | ADELAIDE, SA | http://www.moshtix.com.au
THU 14 JUL | FRANKIE’S PIZZERIA | SYDNEY, NSW | FREE ENTRY
SAT 16 JUL | THE CORNER | MELB, VIC | www.ticketscout.com.au