Dog Days: The evolution of Morgan Murphy's Mothpuppy

Baltimore City Paper

Mothpuppy frontwoman and founder Morgan Murphy isn't sure why she's even being interviewed, though maybe that impression is just a misinterpretation of her wry, deflective humor—the same kind that shows up in the lyrics of her simple but idiosyncratic songs. Or maybe it's because until about a year and a half ago, she had no idea that she'd be writing music or forming a band, let alone a band that books out-of-state tours like the nine-show tour Mothpuppy finished up over the summer, let alone one that gives interviews.

"Every time someone asks me to play I'm like, 'Oh my god, really? Awesome, I'll do it for free,'" says Murphy. "I'm just always surprised."

Murphy's enthusiasm sometimes backfires, though. "I think I get a little too gung-ho," she says. "I'll sign up for a show really far away and be like 'Oh wait a minute, I don't know how to get there. Anyone wanna come hang out with me?'"

Outside of Charmington's, Murphy sits upright and far back in her chair, maybe because I'm leaning a little too far forward from the edge of mine. Perhaps unconsciously, she keeps glancing at the interview questions on the open notebook across the table from her. Murphy's majoring in English at Goucher College.

"I actually know nothing about grammar," she half-jokes. "I don't know where to put commas. I think they're fake." Murphy, a sophomore, comes from Long Island, which she says doesn't have the kind of art scene that she's come to know in Baltimore. "There's not many people doing stuff in Long Island as far as I knew," she hesitates, before adding, "Well, I didn't really leave my house that much in high school so I guess I wouldn't know."

Moving to Baltimore wasn't an attempt to escape from Long Island's dreariness to some kind of musical Eden. It wasn't until she got here that Murphy learned about the city's artistic climate. "I got invited to some shows and then I was like 'Oh cool, I didn't know people did this,'" says Murphy. "I definitely didn't think I would get involved."

The music community that she wasn't looking for found her anyway. She began writing songs under the moniker Mothpuppy, her nickname based on the Snapchat username she chose only because Math Puppy was taken. During her freshman year, Murphy was invited to sing with her friend's band Drul, which, as her first time singing in front of a band, was a revelation. "I was like, 'This is fun, I didn't know I could do that,'" she says.

Eventually, Murphy began playing her own shows as Mothpuppy. When fellow Goucher student Ryan Vieira was putting together a show of all female-fronted bands and invited Murphy to play, and suggested that she get a band to back her up. Murphy thought that would be fun, so she added Vieira on bass, Shawn Durham on drums, Rebecca Willis on lead guitar—the same Rebecca referred to in the Mothpuppy song 'Becca' ("We don't play that one," says Murphy. "It makes her cry"). Later on, Becca Kotula joined Mothpuppy as violinist.

"They're all super solid at their instrument, which is funny because I'm not," Murphy says.

Before adding the other members to Mothpuppy, Murphy's writing and recording setup was just her in her dorm room with an acoustic guitar and a single mic. That's still kind of how it works—Murphy writes the foundation of the songs with vocals and guitar, but now her bandmates add parts for their instruments, too. Knowing that the rest of the band will eventually add to her songs has already affected how Murphy writes. "Now I actually keep time," she says.

Her recording environment has changed, too. Murphy and Vieira recently moved to an off-campus townhouse where they're hoping to record with the full band. But the townhouse poses its own difficulties. "We have a neighbor with a 2-year-old, so I'm a little nervous about the drums," says Murphy. Still, "There's gonna be times where the baby's not there. We'll figure it out."

Now that Mothpuppy is a full band with a recording space slightly more substantial than a dorm room, all Murphy's solo recordings, including the nine-song "Camp Hero" she released earlier this year, are essentially equivalent to demos. That seems promising though, given that "Camp Hero" is lonely, oft-kilter, and touching. The instrumentation is sparse, almost exclusively Murphy's acoustic guitar except for on 'Camp Hero State Park' where there's something resembling a glockenspiel. Her resonant voice skips across the plain chords, layered over itself in dissonant, slightly eerie harmonies. Murphy's lyrics, which display her omnipresent humor in a more vulnerable mode, are like ballads of the mundane (see 'Trash Day' or the line "I got a lot I wanna do tomorrow/I've got to wash my laundry" on 'goodness gracious').

Over the summer, Murphy wrote songs that Mothpuppy rerecorded as a full band when the rest of the members returned to the city from break. Recording with a full band is another new thing for Murphy, but something she's looking forward to. "It's definitely hard and kind of makes me a little self-conscious because I don't really know what I'm doing, but it's something that I feel I've gotten a little bit better at," she says. "Hopefully, that'll keep on happening."

Mothpuppy play the Crown on Nov. 13 with Ari Roar, Micah E. Wood, and Max Muffler.

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