Baltimore trio Creepy Murdle — drummer Clay Holland and husband-and-wife Richard (guitar/vocals) and Anne Feinstein (bass)—cut albums that zip by in a svelte, trashy blur. One minute you’re cueing up debut The Little Things That Kill You or recent follow-up La Womb De Mecanique (both MT6 Records) and pouring yourself a nice cup of tea; the next, you’re waking up under a dumpster reeking of formaldehyde, wallet missing, with no real idea where you are or how you got there. The formula is simple: pogoing punk/metal quickies that get in, commandeer and pummel your mental jukebox, then split. That’s it. There are lyrics, with everything happening in these compact little maelstroms of virulent melody, it’s hard to zero in on those—plus, anyway, Richard seems to be screaming at you through a busted fast-food microphone in the rain. It’s entirely possible to steamroll through the Creepy Murdle catalog in one sitting without once looking at or thinking about the song titles, because with this band, song titles aren’t really important; I have done this without any sense of shame. In advance of the band’s performance at MT6 Summer Fest 2011, I put some questions to Richard Feinstein via email.
SPLICE TODAY: What does the name "Creepy Murdle" mean?
RICHARD FEINSTEIN: "Creepy Murdle" is a play on words from the plant creeping myrtle. I thought it would be a weird name for a band and then our drummer Clay changed the "Myrtle" spelling to what it is today.
ST: How did the three of you meet, and how and when did Creepy Murdle come into being?
RF: We met Clay while I was recording his old band, Paperback Tragedy, at our studio in 2006. Since he's a great drummer, he finished his tracks quickly and got to hang out while the rest of the band continued recording. Every time I took a break I would find Clay in the kitchen with Anne. They spent hours talking and becoming friends.
In the summer of 2008, we heard that Clay had become available and Anne and I were ready to try something new. When we first asked Clay to join us, I was going through an anti-guitar phase, so we started with Anne on fuzz bass, Clay on drums and I played synth and about eight effects pedals.
ST: Do any recordings exist from those early days? I ask because everything I've heard from you guys is super shreddy.
RF: Yeah, there's evidence; we're set up to record everything. In the beginning Anne and Clay really locked as a rhythm section. Some of those jams became part of songs once I switched over to guitar.
ST: Did you guys grow up and go to school in the Baltimore area? What was the scene like when you first started playing in bands?
RF: Clay is originally from North Carolina, and moved around a lot as a kid. He eventually settled in Washington State through high school. Clay finally moved to Baltimore after serving in the Army for four years. Anne grew up in Baltimore and went to school at Western High and Towson State University. I grew up in Randallstown, went to Randallstown High and Catonsville Community College.
When I first started playing in bands, it was a totally different world. There were a lot of clubs to choose from, but the scene was quite compartmentalized. There were the rock/metal bands, the Top 40 bands and a very small punk scene was starting to thrive. We would go to Dulaney Inn and The Famous Ballroom and see bands like Thee Katatonix and Jerry's Kids. Seeing all of this happening really made a lasting impression on me. I was a Heavy Metal kid and didn't know what to think when I started seeing these indie/punk bands, but it all seemed very real to me, there was an intensity in the music that made my Metal look very contrived.
ST: In adolescence the divide between punk and metal seems like this huge, gaping chasm - but then we grow up and in some ways the similarities are startling.
RF: You're right, looking back, I see the common thread. It's kind of in the packaging, how a band is marketed. Once you get past the cover, the book could be a surprising read.
ST: How did you get hooked up with MT6 Records?
RF: I met Alex Strama from MT6 Records in 1998; I played some shows with his old band Operation Huss at the Cafe Tattoo. As time went by, I started hearing about MT6 around town. Our friend and mentor Mike Bell mentioned that Alex had released some of his material, and told me to speak with him about our band.
Now, I can't say enough good things about Alex. He is a kindred soul. He's the most supportive guy and has become a good friend. Most of the artists on MT6 are from the fringes of the music/performance art scene. But they are so real: no one is faking it. I feel very lucky and proud to be part of this community.
ST: For some reason when I listen to your new album, I want to think of it as a concept record, a unit, more so than The Little Things That Kill You. It seems like it's harder, more insular, less friendly, while still being quintessentially Creepy Murdle. Does the new album have a particular theme or story? Were the writing and recording circumstances especially different?
RF: The new album La Womb De Mecanique isn't quite a concept record but it does have some common themes. "Hate Man Kills Love" and "Susceptible to Change" are based on obsession and murder. "Red Line" and "Last Dance" are stories of loss and wanting. "The New Miss Sawgrass" and "22nd Street" are about falling from grace. Dark stuff.
When we started writing this new album, we felt like we knew who we were and what we wanted to say. All of these songs are based on observations of a cynic who wants a better world but is afraid it will never change. In some ways, the second album was easier to make because we were no longer searching, but it was also harder to record because we pushed ourselves even further musically.
ST: What do the three of you do for day jobs?
RF: During the day, Anne is a legal secretary in downtown Baltimore. Clay is a desktop support technician in Glen Burnie. And I run a recording studio called Cone of Silence in Hamilton.
ST: Are you a recording engineer? If so, how did you get into that line of work?
RF: I've been an engineer and producer for 20 years. I've loved music since I was a kid and started on guitar at 12. I started doing live sound when I was 16 at the 8x10 back when it was Joe's Organic Bar. My fascination with sound drove me to get a four-track cassette recorder and then the quest for knowledge really began. I briefly interned at Oz Recording and then moved up to assistant engineer. I got a chance to learn the real workings of a studio and how a great producer could make a good band even better. After a few years I was thrown into the fire and started running my own sessions. I never looked back.
ST: As a singer, you have a very unique, very intense vocal inflection that reminds me a bit of Billy Corgan, but sort of more strained and clenched. Is there a filter or microphone setting you sing through on record?
RF: That's all part of the Creepy sound. In my travels, I came across a pair of old AT&T operator headsets from the 1960s. (For reference, you can see these type of headsets in the NASA control room scenes from the movie Apollo 13.) I modified the earpiece into a microphone, then I made a mounting system and now it's part of the band.
When we first started recording tracks with this microphone, we thought they were still too clean. After a great suggestion from Clay, the solution was to run the microphone back into a tube guitar amp to give it some more hair. It's funny, I use this microphone live too and it always gets strange looks from the sound guy when I set it up.
ST: That's brilliant. You always sound like you're radioing in via CB from a funny car racing through the deserts of Hell at 120 miles per hour or something. Do you have extra backups of these headsets in case these two break or get damaged?
RF: No, they're pretty indestructible.
ST: Did the three of you bond over any particular bands or sounds while gelling as a unit?
RF: Each one of us brought different influences that we could use to our advantage. We always kind of focused on intensity. Certain bands like Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips and Nirvana were starting points for common ground.
ST: So heavy and driving, but with an unmistakable sense of melody.
RF: That's us in a nutshell.
ST: I remember that one of the great shocks for me with Creepy Murdle, when I first heard The Little Things That Kill You, was how accessible and radio-friendly the band sounded in contrast to your label mates, who are more noisy and insane in terms of songwriting. It was shocking, in a really great way, to experience guitar rock that was really going for it. How was that first record received?
RF: When we released the first record, we were surprised at the response. As we started writing, we lived a kind of cloistered existence until we started previewing tracks to our friends and the label. We got really great feedback and that helped to solidify a confidence in our sound. Thanks to MT6 Records we were able to get the album out to some very open-minded people. Some fans have said we remind them of an interesting mix of bands like The Poster Children, Gun Club and Girls Against Boys.
ST: Creepy Murdle songs tend to be short, punchy, and loud. Is that by design, or have you guys ever gone for longer, more elongated stuff only to have it not quite work? Are you prone to jam in rehearsals?
RF: Most of our songs come in around the three-minute mark. They are written that way because, well, think of it like this: if you can get to the point, then get there! We cut out all the excess fat and what’s left is the song. I guess that's where our love of old-school punk shines through.
After our experimental noise phase, we spent some time finding our sound. I decided to use all open tunings on guitar, this way it always sounds really full. Anne's bass is fuzzed-out for maximum impact and Clay's drum kit has some weird cymbals and a Drumble that goes on his second snare. Our M.O. is to push the limits of what we can do as a three-piece band. "Ontro" and "Brass" from the first album started as jams, but most of our songs are written and then time is spent crafting them into proper form.
ST: If you had single out one punk or hardcore band as a model of economy or expediency, who would you pick?
RF: The godfathers of punk 1,2,3,4—The Ramones. Their longest song is 4:33.
ST: What's the atmosphere at a Creepy Murdle show like, the energy? Do mosh pits and hardcore scrums erupt? There's a sweatiness to your songs that would seem to translate to a hothouse atmosphere in tiny clubs.
RF: On a good night it's like we're at one with the crowd. Some of our best shows have been at the MT6 Fests. The energy in the room is electric and that pushes us into high gear. And then it happens: we connect. Not a mosh pit, but fists pumping, head banging and bunch of sweaty people right on the edge of frenzy. The crazier they get, the harder we play.
And then I look down at my right hand and see the blood. Yeah, I cut myself on my guitar again—keep going. I look at the set list and boom, last song. “Damn, that went quickly.” The best shows are over before you know it.
Creepy Murdle play MT6 Summer Fest 2011 at Overlea Station with Zind, The Tritons, Newagehillbilly, Chief Pokawa, and Museless Elf on August 20.