(EDITOR’S NOTE — 1120 Press is thankful to Murder! guitarist Gus Walters for taking the time to speak with us at length about not only the band’s excellent new video (see video at bottom of this page) for the song “Faith In Me,” but also its recently released new EP, approach to songwriting, and surviving and working through personnel changes with the departure in the fall of bassist Mario Nobilio and drummer Jacob Gibbs. Heading into the new year, Murder! expects to release a new EP in early 2024 and is eyeing a regional tour. The band is now comprised of Tina Williams – Vocals; Peter Myhalenko – Drums; Conn Sullivan – Bass; and Gus Walters – Electric guitar.)
1120 PRESS: Thank you for speaking with us and congratulations on the video release for the song ‘Faith in Me.’ It’s really high-quality work. Who did the band work with on the video and what can you tell us about the concept? Also, what was the experience like in making the video?
GUS WALTERS: Absolutely! Thank you very much 1120 Press for being interested in the band called Murder! as well as the kind words on our video.
We worked with Nick Stroczkowski from Brothers & Sisters Films LLC on the cinematography, and the actress featured in it is Amber Anne. We used my company WMS Entertainment to produce and edit the video together. I am a big fan of cinematic, storytelling music videos and for Faith in Me, we wanted to simply show someone at their lowest, go on a journey with a goal in mind, have a major setback, find the strength to carry on, and complete what they set out to do. It's that faith in yourself, that drive, that helps you accomplish anything you set your mind to. We gave "faith" a form, an element — flame. This became the physical visual effect in the video which set up the tagline “what started as a flame…became the fire that everyone should see.” The band in the video is basically the soundtrack, the cheerleader, to this person's journey.
The shoot was planned for one day, and it was shot at my parents’ 55-acre property in Leon N.Y. We started at 2pm and the final wrap was at nightfall (which at the time of year was about 8:45pm). We shot it pretty much in order of how you see it, which was how it was storyboarded. We had four pre-production meetings leading up to the shoot, so we had a good plan for the scenes, the locations, and it was up to Nick and Amber to execute. The only bummer was we ran out of daylight (literally) and had to forego some drone shots we had planned.
Amber, who has been gaining some serious traction on the Actor circuit, really took the outline of a story, just thoughts on paper and breathed life into it, totally conveying the emotion of every stage of what is outlined above. One scene that stood out for me that we shot, the "attack of self-doubt" bridge section — we had that part of the song playing on an iPhone (as we wanted it choreographed as close to the timing within the song, almost like a dance), and the whole time I was shouting directions over top of it — Amber just killed it. That shot was all one take, probably my favorite moment in the video, and I can’t imagine anyone else having done a better job. The video looks great because Nick took chances while shooting, wasn’t afraid to roll around in the dirt with a high-priced piece of equipment and the colors he chose for the final print was perfect. The band can’t say enough good things about that crew, and I look forward to working with them again.
1120: Was ‘Faith in Me’ chosen for the video because it is the title track of the band’s new EP, or was there something in particular about that song that you wanted to convey?
GW: Faith in Me was originally titled “I Won’t Let You Down.” The song concept centered around “faith in yourself first” before people can have faith in you. It's that old, "Hey give me another chance, I won't let you down this time" spiel that happens from time to time with relationships in your life.
An addict can probably smell this next part coming a mile away: It’s that “One Bad Day” scenario or life-altering setback where you are at your lowest because of some sort of self-inflicted trauma, where people don’t, can’t, or won’t trust you anymore. That “One Bad Day” can ruin your life if you let it. So begins a road to redemption. Ultimately erasing that One Bad Day.
Early on, the simple video concept of someone carrying a candle and heaving it out to the world, making it a bonfire for more to see, started to represent a lyric in the song, “faith in me.” This is what the video became about, which made me rethink the song title, and became a great theme for an EP collection of songs.
1120: Can you talk about your songwriting approach? In the band’s bio information, it notes your interest in injecting ‘songs within songs,’ and that method is very noticeable in songs like ‘Faith in Me’ and especially ‘Literal Masterpiece.’ What is it about that approach — the tempo changes, multiple parts, etc. — that appeals to the band? It’s very interesting.
GW: I appreciate you noticing that. With songs, we love a good formula. Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge or middle 8, chorus. Interject some tasty riffs and time changes and you have a Murder! song, lol. The bridge or middle 8 though, that’s the chef’s kiss and for me is the most fun part of the entire song. Take 75 percent of a song you are happy with, now for 25 percent of it, right after that second chorus – turn it on its head, make people go “what the fuck just happened?!?” and then before they know it, the familiarity of the song comes back into focus, and you end it strong. Faith in Me's bridge, I wanted it to have a viscerally anxious feel to convey having a relapse or a manic episode. Literal Masterpiece's middle 8 was a dramatic downshift, spoken-word poetry? Tina pulls out bubble guns when we play it live during that part, and it's great. Gives everyone a breather, as it's the calm before the storm before we rip back into it again. Survival's middle 8 was just a fun build to introduce a hardcore breakdown, and head into the chilled-out last chorus. Guilt>Love is a basic ballad that does a 180, goes double time, and turns into a rock-out at the end. Something metal bands liked to do a lot back in the 80s. I also can’t solo for shit, so trying to write different sections to make up for lack of talent helps. Plus, while writing I try to picture myself seeing the band Murder! for the first time and try and keep it like a kid on Christmas with never knowing what you are going to get next. Hoping that people get sucked in, and have that “what did I just witness?” feeling afterward.
1120: Along that same line, Tina’s vocals have such power and range. When you have a vocalist like her, does it free you, in a sense, in what the band can do (attempt/pull off)?
GW: Having a vocalist — like an actual vocalist — like Tina Marie Williams be able to take my pitchy demo shit and turn it into gold is the most rewarding part of the entire process. It’s — we might as well stay on concept with this piece — the "faith" you have in yourself that what you have is good, you just need someone to actually make it SOUND good. Tina absolutely does that. Her background is Folk, gospel, and country but she’s got a Viking warrior heart, and a metal AF approach to the work. She is a fantastic accomplished songwriter in her own right, a great performer and is totally down to get weird. When she became available, I knew she’d fit, and she is perfect for this sound. Totally pulls off anything we throw at her. Vocalists, to me, are the band, and they are your sound. Tina is Murder!
I’d like to lightly pivot here, but it gives credence to your question about having “a vocalist with power and range,” which gave me the experience to seek out Tina Williams by bringing up another great example and talent: THE vocalist that got me to actually start believing in myself as a songwriter was Megan Brown (Grosh). We were in a band named Dirty Smile together and the work we did really helped build my confidence. Eternally grateful to her for helping me on my journey in showing how songs get catapulted to the next level when you have legit talent and someone who will do the work.
1120: The songs on the EP have that perfect combination of power, speed and melody. Can you tell us about the writing process and its recording? Was there a specific sound or message you were aiming for?
GW: My love for pop music, and the skate punk/melodic hardcore genre especially. When (the band) Turnstile's “Glow” dropped, it totally blew me away. I hadn't heard anything that catchy and in your face in a long time. When I hear a great album, it immediately gets me to want to write songs. With that motivation, I wanted to go back to my teenage roots of writing Pennywise rip off songs, but with a more mature heart, and throw some musical curveballs with a lead singer who has miles of emotional tred to belt out. Before even writing a note, I reached out to Tina to see if she was willing to sing some punk rock, and she immediately replied "in." We had a hilarious back and forth regarding what to call it, and Murder! was born.
The EP was tracked at my studio. I used acoustic drums (lightly sampled during the mixing process to give the drums some punch). For the electric guitar, I used a Mesa Boogie Mark IV amp model (which I use live with a Kemper amp), and for the bass tone I used an Ampeg SVT Rock model. Like I said, I love the genre, and Murder! and the Faith.in.Me EP was that attempt. Jake, Mario, and Tina really brought my shitty demos to life.
1120: The lyrics and their tone/subject matter really stand out. We’re curious: Was this EP written from a particular emotional place at that given time?
GW: Surviving bland workdays, guilt, social media burnout, addiction, lost love, self-loathing … all themes and subject matter that are a constant cycle in the current human condition. My Roman Catholic upbringing is the background, and my messy journey to adulthood sets the stage and has been something I can tap into rather effortlessly. I can summon the worst times of my life, decisions, situations, and mistakes all for the sake of a descriptive verse and sing-along chorus.
1120: The band went through a personnel change in the fall. That sort of thing is
never really seamless in terms of transition for any band. How would you say the band did in weathering that change?
GW: We have had changes with our entire rhythm section, yes, drums and bass. Mario, our bass player, had to move. The winters here are just brutal, and I totally understand. He’s been my best friend over the last decade, and he’s a Swiss Army knife of a bass player for a music producer. The guy can play anything. He won’t remember it, but he can play it! You are right, the band dynamic changes greatly with those pieces missing, but I think we will weather this just fine. Mario, to his credit, sought out and found his replacement. He introduced me to Conn Sullivan at a Vertigo Child show. Conn is a regional talent, a teacher, and who’s first instrument is classical guitar, but has a great ear, as well as an appetite for playing these songs on bass. We brought on a monster of a drummer, Peter Myhalenko (Crown Conscious/Vertigo Child), a Berkley grad, and a friend of mine who became available right as Mario was leaving. I had to have him in the band. I won’t have him long, he’s that good.
1120: What’s next for Murder! What’s on the agenda for 2024?
GW: Very excited to show everyone the new lineup of Murder! Currently we are in the process of tracking our next EP called “Paper Heart.” It’s going to be 4 songs, one of which Tina wrote, and hoping to have it released in early 2024. The plan is we are going to continue writing and releasing more songs and making more videos in 2024. Tina has a bunch of song concepts I’m dying to get into the catalog, plus I usually take a week at the end of the year to just try and churn out songs that the band can work on for the rest of the year. We are open for booking and are trying to get dates lined up regionally here in Western New York, Rochester, and Southern Ontario for 2024.
1120: Thank you so much for speaking with us and Happy Holidays. Is there anything else you want to add that we haven’t covered?
GW: Thank you, 1120 Press, for getting the word out on original music, especially with this genre. Absolutely appreciate everything you and your crew do. Happy Holidays!