The Grand Rapids indie rock quartet of Jacob Bullard (vocals, guitar), Jacki Warren (bass, vocals), Brian Voortman (drums) and Chad Houseman (guitar, keys, percussion) seamlessly navigates undiscovered internal roads filled with uncertainty, contemplation and growth on their boundless sophomore album.
“You have to go rock bottom to be able to adequately move forward. At times, it can be a little dark, scary or intense, but ultimately if you don’t face some of those things, then you’ll be missing the point. Anxiety and stress are definitely fused into the record, but it’s for the purpose of being able to identify things and put them to rest,” Bullard said.
Major Murphy deeply revisits personal struggles and explores newfound intrinsic possibilities across nine introspective, cinematic and experimental tracks on Access, which arrived April 2 via Winspear on all streaming platforms.
Each thoughtful, captivating track weaves a reflective, relatable tale about arriving at an unexpected crossroads and grappling with the amount of control one has in life. Layered with choose-your-own-adventure insights, Access prompts listeners to decide the direction of their next fateful turn.
“I was going through a lot of big changes, and I started writing songs in 2017. Part of the optimism is saying even when everything around you shifts and you don’t really recognize it, the old way of being doesn’t need to hold precedent. You have the find the strength within yourself to accept the new reality and adapt,” Bullard said.
Along with his bandmates, Bullard ascends to new personal heights on the escalating, profound title track, which dropped in January. Crunchy, vibrant guitars, pulsating drums, soaring bass and whistling synths elevate Bullard as he sings, “Something in the way that I want to be part of it, like/Every single day that’s a world to be uncovered/Even in my own mind, I’m going back in time/And I’m hoping the pieces align.”
“I hope people can identify with the experiences and interpret them in their own way. I tried to push myself because I found myself stagnating lyrically in a way before I started on this album. I kept using the same words and rhymes over and over,” said Bullard, who also released a Major Murphy companion video filled with vintage-inspired studio footage directed by Ben Biondo and Chris Cox.
“There are so many brilliant artists who are putting themselves out there, and they’re taking a risk. I started thinking about the platform that we have and how I literally have a mic that’s amplifying my voice. I wanted to better use it in a way that’s constructive. I just tried to be as honest as I could and hope there’s something universal people can identify with.”
Major Murphy continues that hazy journey forward on “In the Meantime,” an anxious, parental retrospective about Bullard and Warren’s young son suffering from lead poisoning. Swift acoustic strums, buzzy electric guitars, propulsive drums and bouncy bass echo intense urgency as Bullard reveals, “When the whole world crumbles down I won’t be lost/I will evaporate and turn into a fog/I wonder where I’ll fall/In the meantime, I’ll survive.”
“That was about three years ago now. Some of the scariest stuff about it is that you really don’t know the effect that it has until years down the road. In real time, he’s teaching me so much about taking stock of the present moment. Benji lives in the present moment, so that’s honestly quite challenging, but also inspiring,” said Bullard, who also recently released two other tantalizing Access singles, “Unfazed” and “Real,” with Major Murphy.
In February, Major Murphy dropped a perceptive video for “In the Meantime,” which was co-directed by Bullard and Matthew Bouwense. It features all four band members enthralled with a silver rotating cube interspersed with gritty live performance footage. In a sense, the cube symbolizes an oracle that hypnotizes Major Murphy with reflections of the past and visions of the future.
After revisiting the past and contemplating the future, Major Murphy returns to the uncertain present on “Flower,” an uplifting, tranquil ode to family bonds. Subterranean, pensive bass, thumping drums and sheeny electric guitars envelope listeners in a welcoming, lasting embrace as Bullard reflects, “You’re amazing, everything you do/Has a meaning that is true to you/Like a flower sets itself in bloom/Only naturally I’m set on you.”
As a deep, refreshing album cut, “Flower” elegantly represents the cohesive, layered and atmospheric sound Major Murphy brings to Access. The band returned to Bloomington, Indiana’s Russian Recording in late 2018 to start tracking the album individually to a click track while layering warm, experimental sonic textures. They collaborated with co-producers Mike Bridavsky and Ben Lumsdaine to record their follow-up to 2018’s nostalgic, dreamy No. 1 debut album.
“I think it was a method that we hadn’t fully done before, and we wanted to try it just because we could. We thought it would be a new way to function in the studio, and it would feel really good and productive. There was more we wanted to track, and we felt like it was the right way to go,” said Bullard, who previously tracked everything live with the band for their prior release.
“When you’re recording to a metronome, and it’s not live, you can step away and come back in a way that is easier and do little overdubs. We wanted the ability to really tinker a lot, but I think we may be shifting back toward a hybrid approach for the next one.”
Enlisting Major Murphy
Major Murphy’s origins date back to 2015 when Bullard and Voortman initially formed as a trio with Warren. Bullard and Voortman decided to create their own project focused on Bullard’s songwriting after playing as a rhythm section in other Grand Rapids bands.
Together, they first met Warren while opening for her former band The Soil & The Sun. Bound by a love for Wings to Junip, the trio started playing together regularly and took their band moniker from a character in the 1979 extraterrestrial-themed book, “Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults” by French astrophysicist Jacques Vallee.
As a trio, they honed a retro sound filled with harmonic structures, melodic progressions and emotional shifts along with a musical approach that focused on concert-like, energetic recordings. (Longtime collaborator and now newly minted member Houseman would officially join five years later.)
Inspired by The Beatles, Paul McCartney and Wings, Patti Smith, John Lennon and T. Rex, No. 1’s 10 nostalgic tracks bristle with sensitivity for the present era and feature sudden velocity and mechanical repetitions mixed with contemplative, vintage soft rock.
A year later, Major Murphy released their six-track project, Lafayette EP, which chronicles the creative evolution of the band from a stripped-down solo project to a three-piece rock band. The tracks initially were recorded as demos in Bullard’s Grand Rapids-based house on Lafayette Avenue.
Meeting Waxahatchee & Looking Ahead
In February, the duo and members from Bonny Doon backed Crutchfield on a pre-recorded live performance of “Lilacs” for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Warren also joined Crutchfield and Morby for another series of live performances for CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions.
“Those were really sweet opportunities, but in all honesty, the experience was not quite as glamorous as you might think because of the pandemic. It’s still pretty weird because you go into this room, and there are five camera people in there. You just play the song, and then it’s over,” said Bullard, who first met Crutchfield with Warren through a mutual friend.
“Even though the performances were strange in a way, it was just so cool in this time to have a gig and play and sing with people. It was like, ‘Wow, we’re singing with human beings in this room with guitars plugged into amps.’ It just seemed so novel, but it was a great feeling.”
Major Murphy will continue to capture that feeling through the release of Access and plans for recording their next project. They’re also hopeful about getting back on an in-person live stage soon.
“I’m still in a ‘take it as it comes’ kind of thing. I’m open to things, and it’s been fun to get a couple of livestreams. The biggest thing I’m honestly excited about is getting back into the studio. We’ve learned a tremendous amount going through this whole process, and I just can’t wait to put it all into practice. We’ve got a little pile of songs that are just itching to go,” Bullard said.