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5 Minutes With Nick Murray

Photo by Kirsten McTernan
Photo by Kirsten McTernan

If you have been to almost any music festival in the last four years you’ve probably seen Nick Murray on percussion/drums. Nick has played with Thee Oh Sees, Cate Le Bon, John Webster Johns, Mikal Cronin, Growlers, DRINKS, and White Fence (the list goes on). Nick grew up in Minneapolis with his twin brother, an accomplished guitarist-turned-filmmaker. With hopes to start a band with his brother, Nick picked up drums at age 10 and has never stopped playing.

Since he is constantly on tour I sent him a few questions while on the road to which he graciously replied.

Catch him in August in Europe touring alongside Tim Presley in White Fence.


Where did you grow up? Do you think that had an influence on your inclination to play music?

I grew up in Minneapolis. My brother learned to play guitar really young and I wanted to play drums so that we could have a band together. The weather and the seasons are pretty extreme there. The winters last a long time, so I would be inside playing drums for hours before and after school.

When did you first pick up the drums?

I first started playing drums when I was 10. For the first two years of playing all I had was a snare drum with a mute on it. My parents were not thrilled by the idea of drums in the house. I had lessons for the first couple of years that taught me stick control, grip and technique. I learned a lot just on one drum. Until I had a full kit, I set up boxes in place of the missing drums and referenced setups I saw on MTV.

Who were your main early influences?

It was the mid-90s and I was listening to a lot of Sonic Youth. I remember Steve Shelley & Jimmy Chamberlain of the Smashing Pumpkins having a pretty big influence on my approach to style when I was younger—a lot of fast single-strokes, and tom rolls.

The biggest influence for me was, and still is, Mitch Mitchell. His style was truly unique, bringing a really colorful jazz style into rock music. He never really seemed to play the same thing twice. He played the melody on drums and kind of treated it as a lead instrument.

What was your first drum kit?

My first drum kit was a red Percussion Plus. I was so tiny as a kid I had trouble holding my arms up to use the ride cymbal.

What do you currently play? What is your set up like?

I currently use Istanbul cymbals and a C&C drum kit I had customized from the ground up.

As far as the drums, I wanted to rid of boomstands which have been driving me crazy for years. I wanted to have a colorful sounding drum kit (modelled after the 60’s Gretsch kits) that had control and balance. C&C built me the perfect kit. It’s a root beer sparkle with maple/gumwood shells, stick saver rims.

Photo by Stephanie Nicole Smith
Photo by Stephanie Nicole Smith

Nick’s Set Up:

  • 22 x 13 kick drum
  • 16 x 15 floor Tom
  • 13 x 9 rack Tom
  • 14 x 5 Ludwig Supraphonic Snare
  • 15″ Istanbul Light Hi Hats
  • 22″ Istanbul Mel Lewis Ride cymbal
  • 20″ Istanbul Agop Crash Cymbal

What is your favorite recording setup like? Amps, mics, etc.?

The wallet-on-the-snare trick never seems to fail. I’m mostly a fan of recording drums really open. Having to dampen toms and cymbals always makes me a little sad. I usually have an engineer working with me in the studio so I’m not as privy to the specific amps or microphones used.

My favorite studio, however, is Seahorse Sound Studios. There’s a good vibe in that place. It’s where we recorded Cate Le Bon’s ‘Mug Museum’ LP. It was a really special experience.

Which players should aspiring drummers study and learn from?

I think most aspiring drummers should study a metronome. I spent a lot of years ignoring it and I’m still regretting it. I was told Stewart Copeland was doing a drum clinic a while ago and played a solid four on the floor beat on the kit for five minutes straight and said that the ability to do something so basic had become a lost art form. I think there is some truth in there. A lot of drummers want to skip learning basic technique, practicing to a metronome, fundamentals, etc, and would rather go straight to playing huge flashy drum fills. I think it’s good to for some kind of discipline for basics and building a good sense of inner rhythm and tempo.

What other instruments do you play?

I studied and played Balinise Gamelan for few years which was like learning this incredible ancient language. It is completely separated from any western music. I would like to return to that sometime soon.

What are you currently working on / any new releases in the works?

I recorded drums for the new Thee Oh Sees LP Mutilator Defeated at Last (released on Castle Face / May 2015).

I just finished recording an album with Tim Presley (White Fence) and Cate Le Bon for their record under the moniker “DRINKS” called Hermits On Holiday. The first single was released July 2015. You can find a review of the record on Pitchfork Catch Nick on his upcoming tour with White Fence:

  • 08-12 Luxembourg, Luxembourg – Exit 07
  • 08-13 Haldern, Germany – Haldern Pop Festival
  • 08-14 Goteborg, Sweden – Way Out West Festival
  • 08-15 Oslo, Norway – Oya Festival
  • 08-17 Berlin, Germany – Bi Nuu
  • 08-18 Leipzig, Germany – Goldhorn
  • 08-20 Paredes deCoura, Portugal – Festival Paredes de Coura
  • 08-22 Brecon Beacons, UK – Green Man Festival

Stephanie Nicole Smith is a visual artist and make up artist in Los Angeles, CA. You can find her work at stephanienicolesmith.com and follow her @stephanienicolesmith. She currently contributes to The Fuzz Guide via her Five Minutes series.



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