John Murry

Tupelo ex-junkie tells of redemption via cathartic, gothic Americana.

John Murry

Fact Sheet

  • For fans of Wilco, Sparklehorse, Josh T. Pearson, Father John Misty.
  • Murry’s guitar has ‘Tim’ gaffer-taped on it in tribute to the album’s producer and his musical soul mate, former American Music Club drummer Tim Mooney, who died of a heart attack shortly after they finished recording.
  • Fellow San Francisco-dweller Chuck Prophet was also helped mentor Murry. After kicking heroin, Prophet told Murry that he didn’t have a choice about making his album.

Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis, has a special status among historically significant rock destinations. “Two doors down from where I grew up lived Mr George Booth, and he sold Elvis his first guitar,” says Tupelo native John Murry, whose brooding, drug-ravaged debut solo album The Graceless Age is released this month. “There’s a famous early picture of Elvis playing in Tupelo, with all these little hands reaching out to touch him on-stage. One of those hands is my mother’s.”

Everyone is connected to Elvis in this town, but it’s a dark place too, and when Murry’s wife was offered a job in San Francisco they took the chance to flee from the perpetual undercurrent of redneck violence. “If you’re a woman, you should leave. If you’re black, you better leave. If you’re gay, you really better leave. Imagine what it’s like for a gay black woman.”

You can take the boy out of Mississippi, but even several years later Murry still hates California. He shares that ambivalence with his late grandfather, the great American author William Faulkner, who once said, “Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder.” It’s also one of the stark truths of The Graceless Age, a Southern gothic Americana symphony that twists beautiful, maudlin melodies around the dramatically brutal story of Murry’s personal fall.

“I’ve apologised for those days. I’ve apologised a lot.”

After the move West, he became increasingly involved with drugs, eventually winding up sleeping in a mission, a hopeless junkie. It cost him
his wife and child and briefly, as told on the 10-minute epic Little Colored Balloons, his life when he overdosed and died – for a full five minutes – in the back of an ambulance.

It is a product of the way Murry writes about the grit and drama and desperation of those days that makes The Graceless Age unique. He offers almost no apologies, nor does he glamorise the situation or revel in it; he is just compellingly honest.

“Oh, I’ve apologised for those days,” he says in his Southern drawl. “I’ve apologised a lot. When I started writing the album it was kind of a way to get my wife and daughter back, to try and explain that it wasn’t always all my fault.”

It worked – the family is reunited and stable – but the naked honesty within the songs has led to much being made of the horrors Murry was drawn into. Less, however, is said about The Graceless Age’s brighter message: the very fact he’s alive, and has embraced this second chance, is
a huge positive to be taken from the carnage within.

“People always fetishise the drugs, but to me the album is about redemption and survival. I’m a different person to who I was then, but it’s still part of me… it’s difficult to figure out why other people find it entertaining, though.”

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