Editor’s Note: On Monday, May 16th, Matt McMillan spoke with Dustin Murdock regarding his band The Mullberries. The group had recently released two new tracks ahead of a planned full-length and were scheduled to perform next month at Grant’s Lounge. Tragically, on Friday, May 20th, we were saddened and shocked to hear of Dustin’s passing. We present this interview with the great hope that you will continue to seek out his music so that it and his memory may endure.
In the wake of Dustin’s passing, all of us closest to him have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and grief from his vast community. Dustin was a complex and beautiful soul and I hope people will hear that in his music. After a tragedy like this, I think there may be a tendency to hear a sort of one-dimensional darkness. While that darkness is present, his music is also full of wit, hope, love and so much more. It always seemed to me that when Dustin wrote a tune, it was an act of redemption. Through song, he would retrieve his creative spirit and reject the nihilism with which he wrestled. Our hope is that his music will provide courage for those who are mourning his loss. For those who never had the pleasure of knowing Dustin, maybe these songs can serve as a window into a rare and precious soul.
–– Steven Ledbetter
Authenticity, that long-sought-after quality that gives art power to stir the soul, often comes in many different shades, and yet one thing remains true among them all: its presence is obvious. The Mullberries, a band founded by Dustin Murdock and Steven Ledbetter, have painted their music with an elusive hue of truth that regularly escapes many artists. Through a marriage of sauntering, tranquil guitar and electric piano reminiscent of late ’60s psychedelia to the earthy tones of well-placed banjo and pedal steel, The Mullberries have created a sound singularly their own. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Murdock, a Bibb County native who has become a pillar in the Macon music community, to discuss the band’s latest work and passion for the craft.
MM- Let’s talk about The Mullberries– online it refers to the band as a duo. Is that how you perform live as well?
DM- Well, as far as recording and songwriting, it is me and Steve, but when we play live, we include Clark Bush on bass and Mary Katherine Dunwoody on drums.
How long have The Mulberries been around?
Me, Steve, and Clark used to be in a band called Xavii, and we played math-rock for a while, which that scene is completely gone now. We recorded at Manchester Orchestra’s studio and played a show at the Hargray [Capitol Theatre], and a couple shows in Athens. We had a small label going on for a while called Macon Noise Records, which it’s not really a thing anymore, but we’re trying to bring it back. As for the tracks that just came out, they’re probably a year and a half or so old, we’ve kind of been sitting on them for a while. But The Mullberries as a concept is just now getting out there. We did a show a year ago at JBA and that was the first Mullberries show, and then a few months later, we opened for the Cordovas at Grant’s. We’re finally seeing the band come to fruition and starting to get our name out there.
So, you and Steve write together for The Mullberries– did that start in Xavii?
Yeah, we had always written collaboratively in that band, but then we went separate ways for a couple of years. We both started writing our own material, but eventually, we came back together and found that the slightly simpler, less complicated mode of delivery seemed to work better for us. You know, kind of the “three chords and the truth” sort of thing. When you start out you want to be a bit pretentious, and you’re like, “Man, where are all the seventh chords?” But as you get older, that fades away. It’s all about the authenticity of it for me now!
Yeah, as I was reading about The Mullberries online, I noticed the phrase “antidote of authenticity within the dilution.” What does that mean to you?
I just feel like the Americana genre has been flooded. Just because you know one Tyler Childers song doesn’t mean you’re writing that kind of music. I think you have to have a certain appreciation and respect for the old-time music. That’s how I learned how to play– my granddad would take me to bluegrass festivals, and I was able to learn from the old timers there. I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been around it since I was little, but it gets in you deep. I haven’t been able to express that love musically in any band I’ve been in until The Mulberries.
So is that where the phrase “UnAmericana” comes from when you describe your sound online?
The good thing about the Americana scene, is that the forerunners– kind of like the Dixie Chicks, for example– were not afraid to express beliefs that weren’t your traditional conservative American values, but they did so in a country setting. So, it’s a cooler, different shade, but now that the genre has been flooded, it’s not quite the same. Also, if you look around right now, regardless of your political leanings, America is kind of a scary place.
You said you lived in Athens for a while, and to my ears that makes a ton of sense because there are some definite Athens vibes, especially on “Quasimodo”.
Yeah, I had always wanted to move up to Athens. The music scene has always been up and down, but regardless, there are always every kind of genre in the studios influenced by whatever the weirdness that the town seems to impart on everyone.
In terms of the studio, you said that’s in Athens, right?
Yeah, Steven has a place up there called Gift Horse Studios and we’re open for business. It’s Steve’s studio and I do some engineering and producing up there a little bit. Steven is still in Athens, and he’s the one that is kind of bringing that Athens, indie breath to the Mulberries.
If that’s what Steven Ledbetter is bringing, what is Dustin Murdock bringing to The Mullberries?
Steve had never considered playing country music until I proposed it, really. We were both in indie bands, and country always seemed to be on the opposite spectrum, especially being from the South ’cause it’s so oversaturated. But I realized that’s not a reason to avoid something entirely. I’ve gotten to a point where I actually like some country when it’s done well, and so we’re trying to combine all of that while focusing on authentic, direct songwriting where the most important thing is how well it communicates what we’re trying to say in a tasteful arrangement that’s not overcomplicated for the sake of complication.
Is there anything you would like to say about The Mullberries that might not have been covered?
Yeah, I would like to say to Denny Hanson that The Mullberries is the greatest thing to come out of Macon since Nomenclature.