The Murlocs are atypical members of Australia’s burgeoning retro garage rock scene, ones who mix psych, surf, and especially blues rock together in an unholy blend. The wailing harmonica played by their frontman Ambrose Kenny-Smith is an essential part of their sound – he’s been a fan of blues music from an early age, listening to Muddy Waters when everyone else was into Hanson. In a primary school art class he made a clay diorama of musicians playing harmonicas, saxophones and guitars, and called it The Blues. His teacher didn’t quite get it – seeing the name, she asked if he barracked for Carlton.
In high school, Kenny-Smith joined bands with names like Blu-Tac and Sambrose Automobile, mostly playing covers. He’s pretty disparaging when he looks back on those days. “We didn’t really know what we were trying to do,” he says. And Kenny-Smith admits The Murlocs didn’t have much of a goal in mind at first, either: “This thing started off as a sloppy group that kind of got our shit together.”
What finally motivated them was realising how much other people actually liked the music they were messing around with, especially once they started “being played on triple j and crap like that,” Kenny-Smith says. “We didn’t think anyone would really particularly enjoy our style just ’cause I’ve always been obsessed with blues-based – with a bit of psych and whatnot, but mainly blues-based – stuff, and never really thought of it being too publicly enjoyable. Other than to our parents.”
He’s not kidding about his parents being into it. Kenny-Smith’s father, Broderick Smith, was the singer and harmonica player for ’70s Oz-rock group and ARIA Hall of Famers The Dingoes, and he comes to most of their shows. His mother shows her fandom as well. “I’ve been trying to tell my mum to relax a bit lately – she just discovered Facebook, sadly enough, and has been sharing too many statuses.”
Kenny-Smith is also a member of fuzzbox sorcerers King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, whose lead singer Stu Mackenzie helped The Murlocs record their debut album, Loopholes. Tragedy struck when Mackenzie’s laptop was stolen with the only copy of three-quarters of Loopholes on it. “We were pretty shattered,” Kenny-Smith recalls, “but we managed to save [first single] ‘Space Cadet’ because we had that mixed and mastered, and put that out. Lucky we saved that one because that one was probably the most completed.”
He says losing most of their work turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since being forced to go back and re-record so much of the album made them realise how necessary that was. “It’s kind of good redoing a lot of the main bed stuff because we always do things a bit sloppy at first, like almost demo versions. Then we don’t get to hear mixes or anything for a while… by the time we do, we go, ‘Oh shit, could have done that a bit better.’ It kind of worked out alright in the end.”
‘Space Cadet’ was inspired by the guys who come up to bands after shows thinking that’s the best way to get their demos heard, or “begging to be signed to a big label.” Kenny-Smith is too laidback to have ever tried that kind of hustle, and the whole concept seems alien to him. “Everyone gets that at some point; you get random people throwing shit at you. It’s always kind of weird. I think if you just make good music and sit back and see what happens, more or less… I don’t know how to put it without sounding like an arsehole! We’re the bipolar opposite, not really giving much of a shit.”