Interview by Daniel Liberto
Composed of Eazy E’s former rap protégé, ex-Manhole/Tura Satana lead vocalist Tairrie B and her multi-instrumentalist husband Mick Murphy, My Ruin first broke onto the scene in 1999 as a vehicle for Tairrie’s solo material. Releasing her debut album, Speak and Destroy, that same year, the band have since distributed numerous LPs including their most recent 6th studio effort, the “reflective and apocalyptic” concept album, Ghosts and Good Stories.Defined by a sound consisting of “passionate vocals set against heavy rock beats”, in the early days the group, led by rapper turned metal vocalist Tairrie B, was made up of four members. As chopping and changing became an ever-present feature of the band’s identity, much like Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails, My Ruin was to essentially be a project that reflected Tairrie’s aesthetic direction.Such changes were too however be steadied by the presence of Mick Murphy, a versatile, multi-instrumentalist musician who has assumed the role as My Ruin’s principal songwriter, producer and musical director. Establishing his trademark southern-drenched sound alongside Tairrie’s screaming, heartfelt vocals, the Los Angeles-based duo finally found their musical utopia as an authentic underground DIY band, following years of frustration tangled within the greedy constraints of music industry politics.
This rejection of contemporary, superficial industry ethics is further characterized by the duo’s friendly and very much humble nature. Illustrating a generosity that has over the years benefited many up and coming bands, it is their magnetic aura coupled with a hungry, irrefutable passion for music that has enabled cult independent bands, such as My Ruin, to flourish amidst times of global recession and uncertainty.As a testament to their dedicated, workaholic attributes, since completing their UK tour the band are currently juggling various other projects that include: Death Work Professionals – a throwback to old school gangsta rap, Blasphemous Girl Designs – Tairrie’s own custom jewelry line, a book documenting their vast experiences in the industry and a new music video that is set to air within the next few weeks. Indicating the levels of hunger and drive still inherent within these “old school” music veterans, OHZ sat down with the band to discuss topics as diverse as religion, the evolution of music industry politics, their new album and the story behind Tairrie’s acquaintance with rap pioneer and celebrated legend Eazy E.
MY RUIN - EXCOMMUNICATED
OHZ: How has “Ghosts and Good Stories “ so far faired on both a commercial and critical level?
TBM – My Ruin is not really a commercial band. We never have been. We don’t make music to appeal to the masses with a label and management team directing our every move behind the scenes. We make music for ourselves so that term really does not apply to us. On a critical level, the press has been amazing. We’ve received some of the best reviews of our career with this new album and we’re very proud that so many fans who have listened to it have embraced it and also given us such a great response both online and at the live shows. It’s always heartwarming to see people screaming along with me in the audience and rocking out to our new material the same way they do with our older songs.With each new album we record I feel we grow and learn about ourselves as artists and become better at our craft. I’ve come a long way since ‘Speak & Destroy’ which was the first My Ruin album [and without Mick] that I recorded in 1999. ‘G&GS’ is definitely a testament to our staying power as a band and as a couple. Over the years together, we’ve really worked hard to hone our own style that is unique to us and we feel ‘G&GS’ is our finest work to date.
OHZ: Listening to the album, it’s evident that religion plays a key role in underpinning your frustrations with contemporary society. What are your key issues with the church?
TBM – Sadly religion has been the cause of much hatred, violence and murder all over the world for centuries, turning man against man and man against woman in various cultures and societies. It has fueled wars, rapes, killings and terrorism. That being said, I myself sometimes do not understand why I am drawn to it or why it has always played a heavy role within my lyrics throughout the years, dating back to my days in Manhole and Tura Satana.I suppose you could say that I’m a hammer and nails type of girl because I enjoy using religious imagery explicitly in the metaphorical sense, yet I don’t just gravitate to it for its aesthetic. I find the potency conjured up by certain words and phrases to exude an array of mixed emotions within myself and others. I love the language of The Bible and it has often been an inspiring muse with its exciting and dramatic tales being both frightening and comforting. I don’t necessarily find it all that believable but I do find it to be one hell of an interesting story. As far as the Church goes, I have many key issues that reach far beyond the Catholic and Christian religion, which is evident on ‘Eyes Black’, a song both deep and, because of its subject matter, difficult to write. However, I felt it needed to be addressed just as the situation of so many women suffering and forced to live in submission worldwide needs to be addressed. ‘Abusing the Muse’ is another track that I felt compelled to write where I am not using religion in the typical form I am used to. Instead, it is a full frontal assault, call and response condemnation of the Church and all the self righteous evangelists, preachers, priests and prophets that judge and persecute others in the name of God as they pray for profit. I am certainly not in a band to push my personal agenda or preach from my pulpit, but I do have many strong opinions on organized religion based on personal knowledge. I’m not in favor of brainwashing. I believe in free thinking so it’s hard for me to get behind the idea of certain aspects of the Church and what it represents. While heavy metal and rock & roll are about as anti-establishment as it gets, religion is the extreme opposite. I know the two contradict each other completely and make for strange bedfellows, yet I find when they are combined in the way I bring them together, they make for a fiery dichotomy which is really intriguing to me musically speaking. I loathe talking religion because I am really not an authority on the subject and it’s hard to explain how my mind works when I write.
OHZ: As is often the case with the majority of metal albums, the content of your latest release is brimming with anger. Does this aura of hostility play a role in your everyday lives or are you characteristically laidback when away from the recording studio?
MM – I am a pretty laid back person in general but I can get angry or frustrated just like anybody can. I really like music with energy and aggression so I write with a lot of both. Tairrie’s lyrics are intelligent, confrontational and venomous so this inspires me to come up with riffs and songs that innovatively throw down in a musical way.
TBM – Back in the day I could have easily answered yes to this question but now I hope I’m a much more calm and relaxed person. Like with most artists, my music is my therapy and a release for me. Many things make me angry and sometimes those emotions do help to fuel my lyrical content, but I consider what I do as a vocalist to be more about passion than hatred. I prefer substance over fluff and I don’t scream for the sake of screaming or write confrontational lyrics just to show how pissed off and mean I can be. I write them to convey a clear and concise message of intent which goes hand in hand with the instruments. Many of our songs are strong message oriented anthems of defiance and rock & roll middle fingers that both men and women can connect with and relate to. I try not to label myself as an angry artist because I have many sides, just as our music has many sides and that’s the beauty of what we do. In our everyday life I am a pussycat. Just ask my husband. Meow!
OHZ: In terms of your collaborative process, do you both tend to write the album’s lyrics or is the songwriting process considered to be more Tairrie’s terrain?
TBM – I write the lyrics however, I enjoy running thoughts and concepts by Mick and getting his input on my ideas. We work as a team in our songwriting and he does the same thing with me when he is demo-ing a song. Mick has always been the main music writer in My Ruin nd now he’s also producing our albums and playing the bass and drums in the studio, as well as the guitar. He’s become a one man band when it comes to the recording and we know each other so well after 11 years that our music comes very natural to us.
OHZ: Who came up with the album’s title and to what extent do you feel that it effectively represents the music on display?
TBM – I came up with the title and also with the cover art, which is actually a vintage shot that was taken of my great grandparents in front of their house back in the early 1900’s in Michigan. From the moment I saw the image it spoke to me with its very otherworldly and somewhat haunting mystique surrounding it. I set the photo aside on the desk in my office and found myself looking at it daily during the time we were in the studio. After writing ‘Diggin’ for Ghosts’ – which is the opening track on the new album – the photo just sort of became my silent muse to the point where I knew it had to be the cover art. ‘Deathknell’, which is the album’s closer, was written as a love letter to Mick with the photo as inspiration for lyrics. It’s a very epic sounding, ominous doom, heavy spoken word tale of a couple who have weathered so much in the house they built together and with all the trials and tribulations they have experienced from outside forces, yet still remain as strong as the music they make. It represents us completely.
OHZ: How would you compare “Ghosts and Good Stories” to your previously released material?
MM- I think it fits our evolution nicely. It takes the music to new places while staying true to our style and roots. I’m really happy with how “G&GS” turned out, from the songs and production to the artwork, and I believe it is our best one yet.
OHZ: What would you define as being the major difference between the US and UK metal scene and what factors do you attribute to your success in the UK, in relation to your reputation in your homeland?
MM- I don’t really claim to be an expert on the modern metal “scene”. The UK has been great to us for many years and it has become our home away from home. We have also had great experiences in France, as well as many amazing shows in our hometown of Los Angeles and all over the USA, where we discovered that there are many My Ruin fans spread all over America.
OHZ: What are the key reasons behind My Ruin’s transformation from a traditional four-piece band into a present-day two person project?
MM- Simplicity. I write the music and I know the parts inside out, so why not just play all the instruments on the record? It saves time, money and energy however, I obviously cannot play everything myself live so we have a rhythm section that we take on the road with us when we tour. For our last big LA show and UK tour in March it was Luciano Ferrea on bass, who is new to My Ruin, and Matt LeChevalier, who previously toured with us in 2006 and recorded drums on our album “Throat Full of Heart”.
OHZ: When, where and how did you first meet each other?
TBM – I met Mick in 2000 at the home of fashion designer Terri King. I had modeled in her show earlier that evening at the El Rey Theatre and was at the after party in the Hollywood Hills when I was introduced to him by a mutual musician friend who had toured with me in 1999. I was sitting on a purple velvet couch at the time. During the evening I remember telling another friend that he was the man I was going to marry. My friend laughed and said I was drunk and didn’t even know the guy, but after exchanging phone numbers, written in my red lipstick on brown paper bags, here we are still together 11 years later and married. We tied the knot in 2008 on Christmas Eve in Mick’s hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee so I guess I was right!
OHZ: Does your status as an “underground” band ever frustrate you and are you ever tempted to sign a deal with a major record label?
MM- I have a hard time imagining My Ruin on a major label, however it does get frustrating when you feel like your band isn’t getting the promotion it deserves from a label or from the people hired to work your record. It would be nice to have the budget to buy on bigger tours in the US and Europe like other bands, but we don’t have a team financially supporting the band by bankrolling everything. When we tour, we usually have to headline the shows ourselves and that can be a little frustrating as well at times because it gets difficult to build your fan base outside of the people who already follow My Ruin.
TBM – I’ve been signed to more than a few labels in my career, both big and small, and it’s all the same. Today it’s almost harder to get a decent booking agent than a label. I am not excited about the idea of working with another one at this point. I want to self release our next album. Looking back, I wish we had done this with ‘Ghosts and Good Stories’ because it would have saved us the headache and aggravation of having to deal with Tiefdruck Musik and owner Daniel Heerdmann, who is the Devil in my opinion. Releasing our album on this label was the worst experience we have ever had dealing with someone in the music industry and that says a lot considering our history. We cut all ties with Tiefdruck right before our record was released and we’ve never regretted the decision.
OHZ: Has the rise of downloading and subsequent decline of record sales at any point threatened the existence of future My Ruin projects?
MM- It certainly doesn’t help. You can pretty much forget record sales if you’re underground. You have to find other ways to survive and that’s what we do. You really have to do this for the love of making music because, more often than not, it’s going to get downloaded for free.
OHZ: Do you consider the music industry to be financially viable for new up and coming DIY groups?
MM – Some bands will do well and many more will fail. That’s just how it goes. The game has changed immensely over the past 10 years so the methods of business, for better or worse, have evolved with those changes. The internet and social networking sites are now flooded with self promotion to the point where it’s a sea of spam, so it has gotten harder to stand out from the crowd in certain aspects, but on the other hand you can reach the whole planet from your garage studio too. It is a completely different world from when I started 20 plus years ago.
OHZ: What type of music do you both tend to listen to in your spare time?
TBM – We listen to a lot of classic rock & metal, old school gangster rap, early punk & hardcore, low rider oldies and stoner doom. At the moment we’re listening to a couple of bands we recently discovered called “Firebird” & “Ghost”, who I believe may be slowly putting a spell on me with their not so hidden satanic messages and romantic vocals. They sound a bit like Blue Oyster Cult meets Mercyful Fate and Pentagram.
OHZ: To date, what do you both consider as being your greatest achievement?
MM – Having stayed true to ourselves and our musical beliefs.
MY RUIN – UK TOUR MOVIE – 2011
OHZ: Given the fact that your vocals require a great deal of screaming etc, what is the secret behind you being able to consistently perform while touring?
TBM- There is no great secret, touring is hard on everyone vocally and it can take its toll when having to deal with harsh weather conditions, cold venue temperatures and germs, which get passed from fans to bands because of all of us being in such close proximity. I also enjoy getting into the crowd and sharing my microphone with the fans which, despite being characteristic of My Ruin and well worth the risk, probably doesn’t help matters much. I try to stay as healthy as possible before and during our tours but, being a California girl, I’m used to a warmer climate and sometimes the change is very shocking to my body. Although I’ve been going to the UK & Europe since 1996, I’m still not used to it. I make sure to drink a lot of tea on the road and in the studio. Throat Coat is the best with honey and fresh peeled ginger root added to the mix. I also use a throat spray called Vocal Eze which is a bronchio-dilator and strong respiratory anti-viral, anti bronchical that lubricates and stimulates immunity. Vocal Eze contains a mixure of herbal remedies like marshmello, ginger, osha, echiancea and licorice roots, along with propolis that together help to soothe and heal a raw throat. I never tour without it.
OHZ: Having been involved in the music industry since the 1980s, how much do you feel the industry has changed and to what extent do you feel these developments have had a positive or negative effect?
TBM – A great deal has changed since the days when I first started in the business and many things have remained the same. Being that I came from the rap world, the majority of my experiences were on a different level than what I have had to deal with in the rock world, but there will always be those similarities that exist on both sides and still hold as true today as they did back then, especially when it comes to men and women. I am not a fan of the music industry in general, based on what I have been through on both major and indie labels. I would like to believe things are slowly changing for the better so that one day labels will be extinct and artists can do it all for themselves, but that may just be wishful thinking because labels seem to make artists so deeply dependent on them. Another negative would be that, thanks to the internet, there is really no mystery left in music these days. Everything is there at the push of a button and sometimes even the things you don’t want to know about someone. Mick & I always remember when we were growing up and used to buy an album to read the sleeve and this was all that we really knew about the bands we loved, other than interviews we read about them in certain rock magazines at the time. Now the internet has taken over and with the invention of so many social media outlets like My Space, Facebook, Blogger and Twitter, where people feel the need to inform the public on every move they make and thought they have all day, it really does not leave much to the imagination and I am guilty of this myself. My Space is done and dusted for all intents and purposes and we recently deleted our Twitter accounts because it just became too much. I love connecting with the fans and friends of our band on Facebook, but even that can get a bit scary at times because it’s so personal and can start to feel a bit invasive when people get creepy and cross the line. Back in the day, MTV started as a positive. It was a groundbreaking company that introduced the world to the art of music video and many amazing bands and musicians. However these days it just caters to the lowest common denominator and promotes bad behavior with its ridiculous reality shows and lack of decent music. As far as music goes, there is nothing I find interesting on MTV or VHI. Most of it is of no value because it’s all so dumbed down lyrically and watered down musically. The current landscape of women in music leaves a lot to be desired and little I find I can relate to as a woman. As an artist, I understand that times change and you have to grow and go with it in order for what you do to remain relevant, however, this does not mean following every trend and becoming something you are not comfortable with to satisfy someone at a label who simply wants to make money and views you as a product not a person. We all view the world in our own way and what I might deem, musically speaking, to be intellectually defunct or lacking substance, because it’s sold a million copies to a mainstream audience yet still sounds like complete rubbish to my ears, someone else might see as creative genius based on those same figures, without necessarily paying attention to the lyrics or music and just the hot half naked chick singer. The music industry is a shallow graveyard filled with dead bodies of rockstars who became famous and couldn’t handle it, or who couldn’t handle it because they never became famous. It’s an ugly place that I would not recommend anyone entering unless they have a thick skin and can take rejection. It takes a great deal of dedication and hard work to keep your dream alive in the rock underworld. As far as the positive attributes of the industry go – we love making music and connecting with the fans of our band, and it’s hard to imagine doing anything else because we love it like we do despite all the drama that comes with it. We’re very grateful there are people out there who care enough about our music to continue to want to hear it and inspire us to continue creating it. We enjoy playing live, writing and recording. This is what keeps us going. Everything else is bullshit.
OHZ: What were the circumstances behind you initially meeting and signing a deal with Eazy E and overall how was your working relationship with the late, controversial rapper?
TBM - I was introduced to Eazy through Jerry Heller, who was his manager at the time and co-founder of Ruthless Records. I met Jerry through a friend of mine backstage at a rap show. When he found out I was a rapper he was surprised because I was white, but he gave me his card and invited me down to meet him and Eazy at Audio Achievements, the recording studio where NWA worked during this time. I went to the studio a few days later by myself and armed with only a one song demo called “Foxy Lady”, which was produced by Quincy Jones Jr [QD3]. This track featured a sampled hook of the original song by Jimi Hendrix, scratchin by DJ Crazy Toones [Ice Cube’s current DJ and little brother of WC from Westside Connection] along with some beat boxing by DJ Lethal of Limp Bizkit & House of Pain. Eazy, Dr Dre, MC Ren, Yella and The D.O.C were all there. Eazy listened to the track and was very quiet so I thought he didn’t like what he heard. I took my cassette tape, said my goodbyes and started to leave and that’s when he asked me if I wanted a record deal. I thought he was joking because I only had one song, but he wasn’t and I signed with his new Comptown Records label via MCA soon after.
OHZ: How would you describe the climate at Ruthless Records in your period signed there and how did you find the experience of being a white female in an industry largely dominated by machismo and gangster personas?
TBM – I found it exciting one minute and frightening the next. I went through a lot of crazy experiences in a short time of only a few years while being signed with Eazy’s label. There are also some very far fetched misconceptions and rumors about how and why I got signed, which I find hilarious to read or have people ask me about on occasion. For the record I was never personally involved with anyone within the Ruthless family and I left the label on my own terms because I wanted to start a rock band. Eazy did not understand this and I left without his blessing and did not get contractually released from my record agreement until two years after I left and only weeks before his untimely and unexpected death on March 26, 1995. There are machismo and gangster personas in the rock world as well as the rap world and I think my being white was almost secondary at times to my being female. There is and has always been a double standard when it comes to women in music and misogynist attitudes can be found in all areas of the music business no matter what side of the stage you’re on, so it’s important to have self-respect and integrity in what you do. I had no problem holding my own and speaking my mind back then and I still don’t. The only thing that’s changed is my hair color.
OHZ: During this period, did you witness any tension concerning the ongoing beef between Ruthless and Death Row?
TBM – I witnessed a lot of things when I went to the Ruthless offices for meetings and was privy to various intense conversations and stories by both Eazy and Jerry Heller, when he was showing off and acting like a big shot trying to impress me and my female manager at the time. There were bodyguards, guns and many shady characters which were not the normal things you find when at a record label and it began to make me uncomfortable when I was frisked just to enter the building for a meeting. The atmosphere was always thick with tension because of whatever drama was happening at the moment and you could cut it with a knife, whether Eazy was there at the time or not. I knew about the conflicts with Ice Cube and later Dre, but I tried to steer clear of other people’s business and personal affairs because I had enough problems of my own dealing with Jerry Heller. Over time and once I grew to know what a creep he was, I began to completely understand why both Ice Cube and Dre hated the man and felt the need to leave Ruthless. They both made the right decision and obviously their careers were better for it in the end.
OHZ: What is the story behind your metamorphosis from rap to metal?
TBM - Well, that’s a very long story which would require more than a paragraph so I think I should save that one for my book, which I have been quietly working on this past year. I’m a screamer. It has come very naturally for me since the beginning. I feel it was what I was meant to be doing on the microphone and I have recorded many albums with both My Ruin and my previous bands, Manhole & Tura Satana, that I am extremely proud of. However I will always have a special place in my heart and respect for old school rap and the hip hop culture which I revisited recently with my side project “Death Work Professionals”, a collaboration with Mick and my good friend Rhiis Lopez, vocalist of the metal band Ana Kefr. We got together in the studio and recorded a fun little cover and video of Dr Dre and Ice Cube’s classic rap track, ‘Natural Born Killaz’. In fact since people seemed to enjoy it so much, we have recently started writing and working on new material for the project, which you can download for free at www.deathworkprofessionals.bandcamp.com
DEATH WORK PROFESSIONALS - NATURAL BORN KILLAZ
OHZ: Before meeting Tairrie and jumping onboard the My Ruin music train, what type of projects were you pursuing?
MM – From 1989-1995, I was in a progressive metal punk band called Hypertribe. We were based out of my hometown of Knoxville, TN where we built a large following and played many insane shows. We toured the eastern US from Florida to Ohio, self released many demo tapes and released an independently distributed full length CD on our own label in 1994. In mid ’95, we played a string of shows in Hollywood. After that we decided to move to L.A. and changed the name of the band to Movement, as our style had morphed into a darker, stoner alternative metal. From 1996-1999, Movement played around Los Angeles looking to be “discovered” and eventually sparked a demo deal with Noise Records in ’99. Despite everything it didn’t work out, so after 10 years of rock n roll evolution and adventure, the band called it a day.
OHZ: Do you ever feel any frustration towards the fact that Tairrie is often the first name to be associated with My Ruin?
MM – No that does not frustrate me at all because she started the band and she fronts the band. Her lyrics, vocals and imagery are a huge part of what the band is. Tairrie has been a trailblazer for women in modern heavy music and she deserves recognition and respect. There are a few women in other bands from her past who she’s helped through the years and even put on record and introduced to her fans & friends by way of speaking about them positively in the press or taking their past bands on tour, yet they seem to continue to have a hard on for her by demonizing her to anyone who will give them and their current shitty bands the time of day. It’s pretty pathetic considering how much she helped them get known in their own careers. Both Manhole & Tura Satana were bands that were ahead of their time and Tairrie opened the doors for many of the female screamers out there today. She has stayed true to herself as an artist doing heavy music since 1993, when she first left the rap world to pursue metal alone and without the comfort of a manager or label to guide her. She’s made mistakes along the way, learned some very harsh lessons in business and in loyalty, but on the flipside she has made some records that will forever stand the test of time and for that she can and will always hold her head up high. I’m proud to have her in my life, both in my band and as my wife.
OHZ: Despite being able to play many instruments, which particular one do you consider to be your personal favourite?
MM – I would have to choose guitar by a mile. Rock guitar has been a huge obsession of mine since I was 4 years old, rocking to my older brother’s KISS Alive! record.
OHZ: Have you always, from a musical perspective, associated yourself with the genre of metal?
MM – It’s always been about music with attitude, interesting guitar work and riffs. My favorite genres are probably classic rock, heavy metal, jazz, fusion, thrash, punk, hardcore, alternative, doom and stoner rock.
MY RUIN - DIGGIN FOR GHOSTS - Live: April 2011