Playing Jan. 12 at Guido's New York Pizzeria, 416 21st Ave. S.
Eric Quiram and Ryan Murphey are busy young men. The two budding songwriters have served in varying capacities in the Nashville music business, producing children's albums, working closely with the country and contemporary Christian industries, and penning songs both under contract and on their own. They've worked separately and in collaboration, and when, according to Murphey, they “got bored just getting together to write country songs,” the duo began to experiment with pop and jazz forms. Drafting bassist David Lane and drummer Blaine Barcus, they cut some demos and started playing around about once a month under the name Ulysses.
“We didn't really expect a good response,” Quiram admits, and then Murphey finishes his thought by saying, “It started as a hobby and almost as a joke, but lately we've been writing songs for the band almost exclusively.”
Those songs are elegantly constructed, smart and tuneful, built around the interplay of Quiram's piano and Murphey's guitar. Quiram cops to some difficulty in meshing two instruments that tend to generate wholly different kinds of songwriting. “The goal is not to have either instrument be subservient,” he says. “Sometimes I feel at a disadvantage. I need the band because the guitar's more rhythmic. Up-tempo songs are harder to pull off on a piano.”
Quiram adds that when he begins a Ulysses song, “I usually hear a beat in my head, then I pick the tempo and find a rhythm that I like.” Murphey continues, “One of us will have an idea where the melody's going, and one where the chord's going. Or sometimes I'll say something like, 'Let's write a song in 6/8 time,' or 'Let's [borrow from] Sarah MacLachlan and the bass line from Wayne Shorter's “Footprints,” transposed to a major key.' ”
Quiram finds the process more satisfying than having to modify his natural style for the demands of country or Christian pop. “When I first started working in Nashville, I was more interested in the CCM industry, but it got really frustrating. There's a lot of imitation there, and sometimes there's more honesty in country. But I still don't consider myself a deep-rooted country guy.”
Murphey, the son of country-pop hitmaker Michael Martin Murphey, acknowledges that country music is “deep in my background.... It kind of creeps up on you.” But he says that with Ulysses, “Melodically, the changes are away from country. We're so jazz-oriented that we're probably closer to that. The guitar has more open notes. It's more stacked-up, more fluid. We both love jazz, especially Bill Evans. We used to play as a piano-guitar duo at coffeehouses.”
Quiram chuckles, “We try not to put it in in an overbearing way. That's the quickest way to turn people off in the rock industry.” Indeed, there is a definite modern rock influence at work in Ulysses' music as well. “I'm a huge fan of Peter Gabriel and Elvis Costello,” Murphey says, “and lately I've been getting into Coldplay and Radiohead.... Eric's been teaching me the pop.”
As for the band's name, the collaborators agree that it's based on the James Joyce novel, but while Murphey simply says that “I love Joyce because of what he stands for,” Quiram takes the issue a bit further. “I wrote a song called 'I Don't Get Ulysses,' about the idea that the art community suddenly dictates that a work of art is art, and if people say that they don't understand it, they're castigated. That kind of elitismI find it irritating.”
Quiram often tries to work his feelings about the state of things into his music. “I like to comment on how culture shapes people and how people shape culture. I have a song 'Albert' that started out about the bomb, Hiroshima, and then it became about Einstein, that event from his perspective.”
Though Murphey worries that the subject matter of Ulysses' songs may be “too literary...too intelligent,” the sophisticated arrangement and delicate melodicism of a song like “Green” is what will likely stick in the listener's head more than the elaborate lyrical examination of how jealousy feels. There's a relaxed yet crafty feel to Ulysses' music that runs counter to the leaders' ambitions and their cramped schedules.
If you want to fit them into your own schedule, the band's next appearance will be Saturday at Guido's.
I just got done reading your article, and really enjoyed it, thank you. Here is…
I hope Bonnie and Clyde is better than Mob City, which was - as far…
The only website you can call directly is 1-800-FLOWERS.com.
Not the first time Mario Lopez has been snubbed (see Kapowski, Kelly).
I was all like "how do you get the phone number for TMZ?!?!" you can't…