Murrieta finances debut album, hopes for cross-country expansion
It is minutes before show time and the members of Murrieta are in a state of confusion.
Lead guitarist Chris Cox is nowhere to be found. Neither is drummer Blair Furmanski. Bassist Randy Day is dancing around with his shoes off and convinces lead singer Mat Shaker to take his off as well. Keys player Jeremy Gratil needs to go to the bathroom.
Guitarist Ryan Scow is standing in the corner itching to go play.
And yet, minutes later, the folk rock band is playing its opening song on stage at Scottsdale's Pub Rock, which hosted the band's CD release party in front of its most loyal fans on Feb. 7.
The band released its debut album “A Head and Hand” earlier in the week on Feb. 4, which is available at live shows, through iTunes, Amazon and available to stream on Spotify.
Featuring two current ASU students, marketing junior Cox and business communication junior Scow, as well as ASU business management and entrepreneurship graduate Gratil, Murrieta's six members may act a bit silly behind the scenes.
But, they have taken a very serious step after releasing debut "A Head and Hand."
It all started when Shaker and Cox were shopping.
Well, they weren’t really shopping. Their girlfriends at the time were shopping, and Shaker and Cox were outside the store talking.
They bonded over mutual boredom and started talking about music. After learning they both had musical talent, they soon scheduled a jam session to try things out.
From that point on, Shaker and Cox played with each other almost every week.
That was back in 2010. Since then, the band has gone through a plethora of changes, like the addition of Day and Gratil to the band. Scow and Furmanski were key replacements of former members who were not as committed.
But the biggest change came after Shaker wrote the song “The Color Greene,” which appears on the band’s self-titled EP.
Up until that point, the band was actually called AV Club and played what Shaker described as, “super crappy pop” music, but this song had more of folky vibe.
When Shaker brought it to the rest of the band, it came together very quickly, and the new genre had a much better reception.
“I remember, I had just joined the band, and I hadn’t practiced with them yet,” Gratil said. “I was going to their show when I think it was the first time (they) ever played that (song) live, and I walked in, and I was like, 'This is different. This is good. This is much better from where they were.'”
Gratil was not the only one. Scow said even their fans would come up to them and say they liked the new songs more and that Murrieta should keep writing them like that.
Soon after the band fully embraced the folk sound, and the name AV Club just did not fit anymore. Scow suggested the name Murrieta after Joaquin Murrieta, the western legend.
It was the finishing touch, and now that the band had found its sound now it just needed an album.
The kick start
Murrieta is not signed to any record label, instead “A Head and Hand” was produced and financed by the band members with the help of some good friends.
Murrieta worked Justin Tyler, first year law student at ASU, to produce the album. Tyler had produced songs for members of the band in previous projects.
In the summer of 2013, he used empty space in an office building in Mesa owned by his father as a recording studio. He and Murrieta worked there until they finished the album in September.
Tyler could see the band member’s determination while making the album.
“This is a big project. It’s a full-length album. It’s kind of a bigger expense,” Tyler said. “So I think their commitment was demonstrated in the fact that they wanted to do a full album.”
According to the band’s manager Eric Downing, it cost the band $4,000 to produce the album.
This was a lot of money that the band simply did not have. With some money from merchandise sales, past gigs and a $1,000 donation by Downing or as Shaker called it, “The Bank of AmERICa,” the band had enough money to pay for Tyler’s front cost.
Kickstarter Takes Off
But the band members needed a way to pay Tyler, pay back Downing, pay for the production of the actual CDs and pay for a third party to distribute the album to online sources like iTunes. They also had to gather cash to make more merchandise to sell.
They came up with the idea to set up a Kickstarter page to crowd source for funding.
Gratil set up the page so Murrieta could finance its first album. Downing said the goal, which ran through Kickstarter for October of 2013, was to raise $5,000.
Murrieta offered different prize packages like a copy of the CD or a T-shirt, depending on how much someone donated.
The band raised about $5,600 even though the time limit made it a stressful time.
“It came down to the wire,” Downing said. “I think the last day we were just a little bit short, and somebody that we didn’t even know that was from California ended up putting us above the goal.”
The bandmates expected to receive monetary support from their friends and family, but this wasn't the majority of support.
Downing said they could see the names of each person that gave money to the fund and, to their surprise, they did not recognize most of them. He estimated that 60 percent of the money donated was from strangers or fans of the band.
Jason Woodbury, social media coordinator of Zia Records and a former music editor for the Phoenix New Times, has extensive knowledge about the Phoenix music scene. He said bands like Murrieta producing and financing their own albums is not a new trend.
Ever since the beginning of rock and roll, bands have produced their own work before getting signed. He said with the invention of digital online music the trend has only grown exponentially.
While it may not be a new trend to self-finance, Murrieta's use of Kickstarter is a twist on an old method.
“Lots of bands are turning to things like indiegogo and Kickstarter to finance their records,” Woodbury said. “That’s awesome, because if you have fans that want to finance your album then you’re sort of made. You’ve got a solid group who seem to have interest in your band.”
The next step
About halfway during the set at Pub Rock Gratil asks the crowd a question.
“Hey did you guys see the news about the Mexican train robber?” Gratil asked. “They don’t know much about him except that he had some loco motives.”
The joke gets some courteous chuckles from the audience. A joke from Gratil or a funny story from Shaker are common occurrences in-between songs at a Murrieta show. The group has even dedicated a performance to fans that had watched "Space Jam" recently.
With basically no filter, their true nature comes out on stage, which is a contrast from rigid indie performances where performers barely say anything at all in-between shows.
While the band members believe that stage presence is an integral part to retaining their fans, they now have a goal to bring their music and bad puns to new cities.
Gratil has a friend in a band in Salt Lake City, and he hopes Murrieta can open for that band some point in the future.
Steve Chilton of the Psyko Steve Presents concert promotion group has been booking Murrieta for a couple years. In his opinion, the best way for a band like Murrieta to get gigs in different cities is to build relationships with touring bands from other cities when they come to Phoenix.
“The venues or promoters sometimes aren’t the first ones to latch to, and a lot of times, it’s other bands and music fans,” Chilton said. “Having relationships with other bands in other cities is what’s going make those shows successful.”
For the time being, Murrieta will still be performing in the Phoenix area and are set to perform in the Viva PHX downtown Phoenix music festival on March 7.
They will be there barefoot, playing folk music and telling stories at venues around Phoenix and maybe in other cities in the future.
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