Everything that can happen, will happen. That’s the crux behind the so-called Murphy’s Law of inevitability, and if ever there was a place where it’s most applicable, it’s the world of live music.
West Michigan singer-songwriter Jacob Bullard can definitely relate. So when it came time to find a name for his band, the affinity he felt for the expression resonated right through in his decision.
“(The name Major Murphy) is from a book called Messengers of Deception, a nonfiction work by a French computer scientist, Jacques Vallee,” Bullard said. “The book investigates UFO accounts and phenomena. There is a character in the book Jacques refers to as Major Murphy, although that is an alias. It is a wild book and something about that name stuck out to me with its alliteration and enigma.”
As a project, Major Murphy goes back as far as 2013, when Bullard had started writing songs on his own. Previously, he had played as part of the collaborative collective CARE, headed by Grand Rapids to New York transplant Justin Majetich. Through CARE, Bullard met Indiana-based independent label Winspear, which soon expressed interest in his own music after hearing some of his home-recorded demos, offering to help get his music to the masses.
“It’s meant the world to me,” Bullard said of Winspear’s support. “They really have facilitated the Major Murphy project to even exist.”
Rather than put together a singer-songwriter project like Bullard had first anticipated, Winspear shared his vision for making Major Murphy into a band. Even before he had a lineup, the label helped him launch the idea and get serious about what was yet to come.
Together with bassist Jacki Warren (formerly of Grand Rapids indie ensemble The Soil & The Sun) and drummer Brian Voortman, Bullard began jamming on some of the songs he had written back in 2014. The group began home recording, crafting the majority of its first EP, Future Release, before ever setting foot onstage together.
“We started more on the recording and just jamming end,” Bullard said of the birth of Major Murphy. “It’s taken up until now to even start finding really what is our true sound or dynamic together, so I think we just wanted that to be as natural of a process as possible. But at the same time, we did have some common goals in regards to what we wanted to experiment with and different sounds we wanted to explore.”
Last year, Major Murphy released its second EP, On & Off Again, and began work on what would become its first full-length LP, simply titled No. 1, at Russian Recording studio in Bloomington, Ind., with producer Mike Bridavsky. Recorded entirely live, the LP taps into Bullard’s fondness for jangly-pop guitars and ’70s rock radio.
“I made a playlist that I shared with everyone involved in terms of sounds that I was interested in trying to capture,” Bullard said. “It includes everything from Stooges, like the Fun House record, to Paul McCartney. His band Wings has been a big inspiration for us for a long time. Early ’70s John Lennon stuff, in terms of the drum sound; Patti Smith was a big inspiration during the writing of some of the songs.”
With its new millennial take on the soft rock of yesteryear, Major Murphy has already earned a lot of attention online, just from the three singles it has already issued off the album ahead of its March 30 release date.
Leading up to the album drop, the band was invited down to Austin to showcase at the annual SXSW music conference in March, and later this month will embark on a short tour heading out to Canada, New York and Washington, D.C.
In between runs, the band will also play as part of the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s Concerts Under the Stars series, where it will explore the more stratospheric aspects of its sound.
“There’s a danger that I could put too much expectation or overinvest myself in it, because it is so exciting,” Bullard said about all the build up to the album’s release. “I’ve had to check myself a couple times. It’s just one record. I’m going to make more records, hopefully, and it’ll all work out. It’s an intense experience, but overall I’m extremely excited and lucky to have a band, and the support of the label, Winspear, behind us, 110 percent.”
Concerts Under The Stars
Grand Rapids Public Museum – Chaffee Planetarium
272 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids
April 12, 6:30 p.m., $12
grpm.org, (616) 929-1700