Q&A with drummer/songwriter Mark Murdock, carrying the innovative torch on Jazz - Prog Rock genre of music

"The artist conveys the times in which we live onto canvas, or in musical composition. You would think there would be a lot of dark colors painted onto the canvas or diminished chords nowadays. Still, I follow my instincts when writing, per bar or measure,  each note leads to a new opening which is what the world is currently doing, waiting for the cure or the next news."

Mark Murdock: Phoenix Has Risen (Again)

Phoenix Has Risen (2020) represents the work of drummer/songwriter Mark Murdock whose previous works included Cymbalic Encounters (With Brand X musicians) and Empire (Peter Banks of YES) and most recently The New Empire’s Second Lifetime release on Forward Motion Records. Mark was also a guest on the YES 50th Anniversary tribute album by Dave Kerzner and Fernando Perdomo. The Phoenix Has Risen was composed and produced by Mark during the lockdown of 2020. Mark sites the Phoenix in the title as a symbol of hope in these pandemic times. Mark just happens to be from Phoenix, Arizona but now resides in Tokyo. The music leans more to the Prog side with hints of rock and pop embellished in it. The 12 song CD features guest artists, not only including guitarist Fernando Perdomo, but veteran prog drummer Ronald Howden of Nektar who guests on two songs, and bassist Alan Thomson, who played with John Martyn and currently the Martin Barres Band, U.K. vocalist Tim Pepper and Joe Berger lead guitar and more.

Mark not only composed all music and lyrics but all the keyboard tracks including orchestral sections. The album was mixed and mastered by Murdock and Joe Berger at BEAM Audio, New York City. Artwork is by Synergy/Leon Alvarado. Mark Murdock started playing drums at a young age in Phoenix, Arizona. He played in a local jazz-rock band 'Seacloud' gaining local recognition and featured on Phoenix radio KDKB sponsored album. Mark's British connections eventually led him to Peter Banks, original guitarist with YES, who he teamed up with in Peter Banks Empire in Los Angeles where he showcased in Empire and recorded a demo which later was released on CD as 'Empire Mark III' on One Way Records. Mark was also mentioned in the Peter Banks biography (co-written by Billy James) 'Beyond And Before'.

Interview by Michael Limnios         Special Thanks: Bill James (Glass Onyon PR)

How has the Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Being a 70’s drummer, I have witnessed before me the 60’s hippie/flower power movement. Music inspired, and still does, in its listeners to voice their emotions against the landscape of various world issues; war and other inequalities. It was in this setting that Prog music emerged. I was inspired by many of those early on Prog bands like; YES, Genesis, Nektar, Camel and a long list of others.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

In the case of The Phoenix Has Risen, there are orchestral sounds under the music, I would have to say that the sounds led me to composing the ideas and of course in many cases the rhythmical grooves pull the chords and melodies in.

Someone described the recording as ‘Symphonic Prog’ which is new territory for me, as most of what I had done in the past leaned more to jazz-rock with suggestions of Prog as in my previous works on Cymbalic Encounters featuring Brand X. On TPHR there are lyrics in some of the songs that refer to Greek Mythology, as the Phoenix symbol implies. I attempted to write a concept album in the beginning but the music invoked a variety of thoughts.

"I’m still in the learning stage. Every musical endeavor has its own unique challenges. Some have collapsed and some have risen. Regardless, I’m always grateful to have crossed musical paths with many great encounters. I am still discovering new artists who to my surprise have shown interest in my music and are willing to contribute tracks on my 2021 projects." (Photo: Mark Murdock)

Do you have any interesting stories about "The Phoenix Has Risen" sessions? What does "Phoenix" mean to you?

Firstly, I’m from Phoenix Arizona, so it was more authentic for myself, than others using the title. The music was mainly composed during lockdown. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, I envision it as the battle of the Phoenix (the cure) over the toll the virus has taken.

The recording process involved myself and some selected musicians in Tokyo and others contributed tracks from overseas, including guest drummer, Ron Howden of NEKTAR, whom I listened extensively to as a teenager and admired the musicality in his drumming, multi-instrumentalist Fernando Perdomo, whom I have had the honor of being involved in a number of his recordings and most recently ‘The New Empire’ release ‘Second Lifetime’ on Forward Motion Records. Fernando plays a beautiful tribute to Peter Banks of YES on the record, whom I once played for in a band called EMPIRE. Also on The Phoenix Has Risen is bassist Alan Thomson of Martin Barres Band, whom I admired Alan’s work with the late John Martyn.

What´s been the highlights in your career so far? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

As with the previous question, I have had the great privilege of engaging with some great artists. I attribute any success I might have had to keeping in great company. One of my treasured experiences was co-writing songs with keyboardist, David Sancious. As I mentioned Cymbalic Encounters which featured Brand X’s, John Goodsall and Percy Jones whom I met in London at the invite of Phil Collins in 1975. I have further featured artists on my recordings; keyboardist, Alan Zavod from Zappa/Jean-Luc Ponty fame, violinist L. Shankar, Tony ‘Thunder’ Smith and percussionist Mino Cinelu. I have jammed with musicians off the record but proud of the musical encounters: Peter Bardens of Camel, Steve Marriott of Humble Pie, TM Stevens, Taff Freeman on Nektar.

"Someone described the recording as ‘Symphonic Prog’ which is new territory for me, as most of what I had done in the past leaned more to jazz-rock with suggestions of Prog as in my previous works on Cymbalic Encounters featuring Brand X. On TPHR there are lyrics in some of the songs that refer to Greek Mythology, as the Phoenix symbol implies. I attempted to write a concept album in the beginning but the music invoked a variety of thoughts." (Photo: Mark Murdock)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Pay artists what they deserve. In the case of ‘The Phoenix Has Risen’ it took one year to compose, write lyrics, record my parts, collect others tracks, do all the production elements, mix and master, collect the artwork, negotiate a release with distribution, press the physical CDs, launch digitally and promote. So, you can get an idea of how much effort is involved. I’m not putting a price tag on anything I do, but if only listeners knew what’s involved. Apart from that with regard to live music which is greatly missed. I was scheduled to play the Cruise To The Edge Spring Cruise with The Fernando Perdomo Band, but like everything else the pandemic cancelled it. I hope to have another chance in 2022.

What touched (emotionally) you from Tokyo music scene? What are the difference US & Japan music scene?

There are a number of incredible Japanese players like keyboardist, Hiroyuki Namba, who is called the ‘Kieth Emerson of Japan’ who played on my Cymbalic Encounters release ‘Exploration of the Southern Constellation.’ Someone once told me that Japanese players are technically precise, but lacked soul and emotion in their playing. That perspective changed overnight once I joined the local Tokyo Prog band ‘Masheen Messiah’ who were highly creative and proficient musicians. I used a few Tokyo musicians on my past CDs as well. Katsumi Yoneda of the band French TV has an incredible melodic sense.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I’m still in the learning stage. Every musical endeavor has its own unique challenges. Some have collapsed and some have risen. Regardless, I’m always grateful to have crossed musical paths with many great encounters. I am still discovering new artists who to my surprise have shown interest in my music and are willing to contribute tracks on my 2021 projects.

"Being a 70’s drummer, I have witnessed before me the 60’s hippie/flower power movement. Music inspired, and still does, in its listeners to voice their emotions against the landscape of various world issues; war and other inequalities. It was in this setting that Prog music emerged. I was inspired by many of those early on Prog bands like; YES, Genesis, Nektar, Camel and a long list of others." (Mark Murdock / Photo by Emili Muraki)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people? 

The artist conveys the times in which we live onto canvas, or in musical composition. You would think there would be a lot of dark colors painted onto the canvas or diminished chords nowadays. Still, I follow my instincts when writing, per bar or measure,  each note leads to a new opening which is what the world is currently doing, waiting for the cure or the next news. How do we get out this darkness?

I hope my music can capture the times as well as inspire a will to live and overcome the tragedy in which we live. Music is light!

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