Stories From Snake Hill is the latest release from a true New Jersey troubadour, David Murphy. The lead-off track, “Chesapeake,” has already been awarded first place in the Great American Song Contest (acoustic/folk category), and David was a finalist in the Mountain Stage New Song Contest (Northeast region). The album follows two previous CDs that garnered similar critical acclaim and made him an underground favorite in the Triple-A radio and touring circuit.
Snake Hill is an actual place not far from where David lives. “Snake Hill is in Secaucus, NJ,” he explains. “You can see it from the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s right off of exit 15X on the eastern spur. It sits on the former grounds of a large and very notorious mental asylum. It’s really quite a story. They actually buried thousands of people there in unmarked graves. Just recently they dug up several hundred bodies and re-interned them at a cemetery in Hackensack. There’s been a lot of controversy associated with Snake Hill and more than one recent documentary film has been made. Also, as it turns out, my father’s father was actually institutionalized there for a while for alcoholism. I’d say a pretty appropriate CD title. “
The album was completed with the help of such stellar musicians as co-producer/guitarist Marc Muller (Steve Forbert, Shania Twain), the world class rhythm section of Shawn Pelton (Sheryl Crow, Michelle Branch, Saturday Night Live) on drums and Zev Katz (Roseanne Cash, Suzanne Vega) on bass, Rob Clores (Black Crowes) on keyboards and David Henry (Guster) on cello. Musically, David paints a landscape draped in singer/songwriter Americana sounds. “I leave it to the listeners and the critics to categorize my music,” David says. “When I get in the studio I need to figure out how to best support the song in terms of instrumentation and arrangements. I’ve done this with the help of my co-producers. My overall philosophy is simpler is better and less is more in terms of production. For me it’s never about the big solo, it’s about the song, honesty and authenticity.”
That honesty comes out in David’s songs, some of which are personal, and many of which tell stories. “I write songs when they come to me and I have to be open to them,” he relates. “To me it’s kind of a real magical and spiritual process. Songs usually come to me when I’m experiencing a strong emotion, struggle or conflict, or when I’m feeling very peaceful. A personal loss, anger and frustration about what’s happening in our world, or things that I notice, that I need to speak out about will often inspire me. A lot of my songs, especially the old stuff, is incredibly raw and introspective. I also like to tell stories in my songs, observations from afar. Now, I often write songs from a different perspective and through a different lens. For example, in ‘My Friend Paul’ from Stories From Snake Hill, the narrator of the song is actually dead. I believe I’m doing my best work right now and to the best of my ability I always come from a place of honesty and integrity. I try to leave the bullshit out of it.”
David has had some success, as far as making it in onto the Americana charts. “John Platt of WFUV in New York really has been a big supporter and has played my stuff quite a bit,” he says. “There are some random stations all over the country that have really embraced both records. Some in tiny markets and some in reasonably large markets.” He also tours quite a bit, and has become a staple in many of the festivals catering to Americana music, as well as in the local area. He performs mostly acoustic, but there are occasional forays into the electric world. “I’m always playing my acoustic, but I plug in,” he laughs. “I often play as a duo either with Marc Muller or Scott Moore. Usually they will be playing electric guitar and other things. Lately it’s been rare, but I do the full band thing now and again. It’s a blast but it can get pretty expensive. For a couple of years starting in 2000 I had a full-on rock band. We called ourselves Dave Murphy And The Hamilton Electric. We played in places like Maxwell’s and the Court Tavern. But it got to be a pain in the ass lugging amps and cases around at 2 a.m. I needed to get it out of my system.”
While the accolades and increased exposure continue to build for David, he’s just happy to have the opportunity to keep performing and recording. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be a household name,” he confesses. “I just want to keep writing good material, improving and hopefully always play to a growing audience. A Triple-A radio hit or a song placement in a hit movie wouldn’t hurt either. I just want to keep playing and making music.”