Talking Pop-litics with Glen Murray

By Ava Glendinning

Former mayor of Winnipeg Glen Murray has turned his considerable talents toward mastering the craft of instrumental indie pop. Just kidding. But the band that carries his namesake, comprised of bassist/guitarist Sam Koulack, keyboardist Jon Askholm, and drummer David B. Warkentin, will soon have Winnipeggers associating the name with more than just politics.  Glen Murray was formed nearly four years ago when Sam and Jon started jamming together, although Sam says he pocketed the moniker even earlier, after overhearing someone say that “Glen Murray” would make a good band name. “He may not have said that, but that’s what I heard!” And so a band was born.  David soon joined on to complete the trio of multi-instrumentalists, and the group has been playing shows around the city ever since.

Glen Murray’s debut EP (aptly titled EP), was recorded this past winter, after the group decided it was finally time to put the accumulated band fund towards something other than post-show pizza. The five tracks on the EP were recorded in one day by Grant Trippel at Exchange District Studios, an experience the band members all agree was positive. “It was a fun recording process,” says Jon. “I think it can often be grueling (but) we were practiced up, ready to go.”  David adds, “It was in the dead of winter, so it was a nice time to kind of hibernate inside.” And what an amazingly productive hibernation – the EP is a sparkling collection of irresistibly danceable grooves, spanning from melodic and synthy instrumental tracks to a goofy, guitar-driven pop song about daytime TV. The album is available to stream on their Bandcamp page.

Crafting compact and catchy instrumental pop gems is a great strength of the band. Their writing process often involves Jon bringing in songs mostly formed for the others to add their own parts to, although other songs have come together more collaboratively as the band captures musical ideas they like during jam sessions. “Quite often there’s some really good stuff in there, and it’s just a matter of whether we can recreate it,” says Jon. This is where recording helps. (They recall a tragic incident of a song idea that they really liked but was lost forever when a mischievous recording device failed to have been turned on.)

While it’s difficult to pin down an influence or sound-alike, the band says they’re often inspired by the sounds that they’re able to create with their instruments. “Sometimes ideas are born just out of a certain sound,” Jon says. Changing up instrumentation also keeps things interesting for them, as all of them are capable on multiple instruments; they have one song titled “Double Bass,” in which both Sam and Jon play basses. They also mention their ridiculous practice banter, and having once described their genre on a festival application as simply “fun.” I ask the band if humour inspires their music, and they reply by telling me about a song of theirs called Avid Milk Drinkers. “The song itself is just silly. It’s an instrumental song but it has some goofy sounds”, says Jon. Sam agrees, “It’s fun, you know. Why not have fun?”

While the energy and cohesiveness of the songs are very apparent on the EP, the band still has difficulty describing their sound. On choosing a genre descriptor, David muses, “It’s either so broad as to be self-evident, or so niche as to be absurd. There’s no middle ground.” They’ve tentatively settled on the term “weirdo dance pop” in past bios they’ve written, but Sam says this doesn’t necessarily describe some of their newer songs. It may be that Glen Murray’s style is just amorphous enough to keep their music engaging and unique, while they craft tunes that are still consistently accessible and fun. Jon says, “It’s always interesting, moving forward, to see what we’ll do next, because even though we’ve been playing together for three years or something, we’re still sort of coalescing, in a way… We certainly don’t have a formula we’re sticking to.”

“What do we do?” asks David. “We’re still answering that question.” Glen Murray may not be exactly sure what kind of music they make, but whatever it is, it is something weird and wonderful.

Glen Murray have plans for an official EP release this coming fall, but in the meantime you can catch Glen Murray live at the Park Theatre on Sunday, June 11th, at 8 P.M., where they’ll be playing a show with fellow local acts Robojom and PC Cherry.  They are also releasing a video, directed by Ashlyn Erickson, for their song Sock Hop, which will be worth checking out (they’ve promised costumes!).