New album: Tin Can Telephone
Essential tracks: “Butterfly Kisses,” “As Good As It Gets,” “The Flood,” “I-485”
Release party: Friday, August 6, 7:30pm at Mulligan’s on the Blue, 874-1131
To think that musician Murray Thorne might have ended up as a Canadian cabinet-maker hurts like a kiwae spike through the slippah of my Maui-music-loving soul. Sure, his early career choice might have made some north of the border kitchenistas happy, but our local scene would be missing some of its essential spice.
Happily for us, Thorne is the type who can’t help but heed the call to rock—and has come to call our no ka oi rock home. He’s the kind of guy you’d half-expect to bleed black notes from wounds inflicted by the voracity of his own chops, while carrying an effortless front-man demeanor topped with locks that seem to spike themselves. Though perhaps best recognized as the intrepidly piped six-stringer for the beloved Celtic Tigers, Thorne is returning to his rock roots with his latest album, Tin Can Telephone.
A CD release party is slated for this Friday (though Tigers fans ought fear not, as this solo endeavor is no disembarkation from Thorne’s Celtic claim to fame). Thorne promises it will be an all-rock and roll spectacle of unforgettable proportion, adding that host venue (and regular Tigers’ den) Mulligan’s on the Blue will be transformed into a “concert hall.”
Completed months ago, the disc had a soft drop last fall. Whereas you might have heard Thorne perform solo, acoustic versions of his 11-track release, Friday’s show is the first opportunity audiences will have to hear the album in all its live rock-band glory.
“It got its own momentum somehow,” says Thorne. “There was a lag for a few months, where I wondered what to do with the album. I just started making phone calls, and once I did, things just steamrolled.”
Gathering to him a crew of talented names that will be familiar to local listeners, the newly formed Murray Thorne Band lineup includes Tom Conway, Paul Marchetti, Toby Couture, Wolf and Eric Helmkamp. The night’s festivities begin with opening sets by Mary Jane Babashoff and fellow Mau-“ay” (sorry) rocker Erin Smith.
Thorne says the release party for the record came together through a pleasantly “weird chain of events,” and that the album itself was equally organic.
“I’ve always been a songwriter, but rarely—and only in the last couple years—have I been able to get out there and play my own stuff,” says Thorne. “It was really the result of people coming out, digging my solo shows and wanting to hear more of it that fueled me more.”
Writing is a constant for Thorne, who says actually creating the material was not nearly as time-consuming as producing it—especially when doing so independently—and constantly re-imagining every highly-layered detail. “A big part of it all is the fact that it became accessible and feasible to have a home studio,” says Thorne. “I was able to make a good-sounding album without having to go out and spend thousands of dollars a day in a studio.” Thorne says being immersed in a community of musician friends, including legendary producer Bob Rock, taught him “how to do it right.”
When it comes to learning how to do it right, Thorne’s the first to say he’s had a fortunate and thorough education.
One of Thorne’s first defining musical moments came during high school in hometown Manitoba, Canada, when he and his band mates channeled Kiss, The Knack and Alice Cooper in a talent show-stopper that included sneaky pyrotechnics, a visit from the fire department and a wag of the principal’s finger—in addition to a win. Afterward, he toured with big names across the country while learning vital biz-lessons from the pros.
“I was really lucky for a long time in that I was getting gigs [and] touring with amazing people that had iconic backgrounds,” recalls Thorne.
“In the end, it served me well,” says Thorne of his “fly on the wall” sideman stints. “Had I not learned those lessons—the valuable insight from meeting record execs, managers, movers and shakers and long-time industry people—I might have made some bad decisions and wound up broke and poor on the road somewhere instead of on Maui with friends and family.”
Thorne says the decision to re-root on the Valley Isle in the late-’90s was easy. “I wasn’t really leaving anything behind,” he says. “I was in Vancouver at the time, and the bottom of the music scene was falling out badly.” Also at the time, Rock was building his Maui studio, and by the connection of Thorne’s longtime collaborator Eric Helmkamp, the invitation was extended to “help labor building [Rock’s] studio.” Thorne obliged and never looked back.
Now a North Shore family man with a wife and eight-year-old son (who stars in the music video for “Sally Blue,” on YouTube), Thorne’s overall experiences have given him an unflappable, real-world perspective on what it takes to have a music career in this modern, changing market.
Also ‘ohana-inspired is his album’s title. “When you have a kid, it changes your perspective on everything,” he says. “You think you’ve got the world figured out until you hear their perspective. They’re so good at telling the truth. Before they’re taught to think a certain way, there are no walls—it’s so untouched and pure. So the significance behind Tin Can Telephone is, if you could talk to yourself as a child, what advice would that child give you?”
For Thorne, the best lyrics come from that internal communication with his truer self. “When you’re just trying to put together words that sound cool, it never works,” he says, adding that he always expects more out of lyricism, especially his own.
While there are many notable gems—Thorne saying he favors each of them for different reason—I can’t help but be partial to the quirky closing track “I-485”—a grainy ukulele ditty that while too-short (only 51 seconds) quickly burrowed into my brain. Its lyrics easily skip off the tongue if you’re inclined to sing along: “I am just an immigrant / trying to belong / in a place where no one’s innocent / in a place where no one’s wrong.” The melody then fades into the sound bite of the crackle and pop of the last inner edge of a vinyl B-side, at which point your Pavlovian instincts kick in and you’re ready to repeat the disc.
It’s just the sort of thing Thorne says he hopes might resonate most with listeners—a personal connection to the substance of lyrics and appreciation for the technical depth of the music. Tin Can Telephone accomplishes all that, much better than cabinets ever could.