Murphy answers your questions in this classic archive feature
Darren Nesbeth, by email
I comfort myself with the fact that I would have been the worst, most insufferable dick on earth had I got that job! I would have succeeded, aged 22, without graduating, earning about $50,000 a year, which would have been a fortune to me in 1992. I’d have been an asshole. Basically, a friend of mine, Paul, moved to LA and asked me to hang out with him a few weeks before he married. He’d been a child actor, and he was always very encouraging about my writing. And while he was there, he was having meetings with some agent who was working on a sitcom. I thought it was the Garry Shandling show. His agent said that producer and the star were New Yorkers who had moved to LA to do the show, and they were really stressed out because there were no New Yorkers on the writing team. So Paul recommended me. I wrote some scripts, they liked them, and wrote back asking me to write some sample episodes. Of course, as a 22-year-old idiot, I went back to New York and smoked dope and forgot about it. I figured that It’s Garry Shandling’s Show had been cancelled, so who cares? It was only in 2001, when my parents died and I went to their house to clear out some stuff, that I found the letter they sent me. It contained a whole bunch of sample Seinfeld scripts. So what I dismissed as a dead-end opportunity was actually a serious approach to be a staff writer for the most successful show on TV! To make it better, when I found that out I’d been homeless for two and a half years. I was living on an inflatable mattress in a recording studio!
What do you look for in a great pop lyric?
Hayden Thorpe, Wild Beasts
I like clever lyrics, funny lyrics, dumb lyrics. I can never put my finger on what I like about them. I love most Fall lyrics. The lyrics in “My Sex” by Ultravox. The lyrics on “Futuristic Dragon” or “Cosmic Dancer” by T.Rex – hilarious, awesome. A lot of Bowie lyrics, especially on Ziggy Stardust, like “Five Years”. Stooges lyrics are so dumb and so good, Suicide lyrics are so specific and weird. “Pop Tones” by PiL, just that little specific thing, “Drive to the forest in a Japanese car/The smell of rubber on country tar”. There’s a lot of lyrics I like, but I don’t know what makes them good.
Tell us something about Steve Albini that would surprise us…
Phil Newman, by email
I’ve not hung out with him for a while, but he was always super generous and helpful to me. I was a huge fan of Big Black, who always had this terrifying edge. So I found it hilarious when I discovered he wore a calculator watch that he used to calculate his fees on. Which I thought was very nerdy and unintimidating, having been afraid of him my whole life. Shellac are a much more friendly concept. You’d expect them to wear calculator watches.
If your studio was burning down, which is the one piece of equipment you would run in to rescue?
James Lavelle, UNKLE
Probably my drum set. It’s a ’57 Gretsch, I’ve had it since I was in a band called Speedking in the 1990s. It’s got a good sound. Am I any good on the drums? Not very. I’m not bad on percussion, I can do interesting stuff on timbales and stuff. But I like the way that I play, so I don’t need to be that good. I don’t do any pyrotechnics, I’m not a John Bonham, much as I would like to be. If I had to be in a band as a drummer again, I could probably be back to shape in three or four months.