Mur returns to The Kessler, supporting Foundation 45
We sat down with Max Hartman of Mur to discuss his upcoming show at The Kessler Theater and what led him to this point. With such a rich history and emotional past, the lead vocalist of Mur opened up about the band’s history and hiatus, his personal past, and Foundation 45, the focus of his show on September 10th. His compelling story, talent, and connection with the city of Dallas elicits both excitement for the growth of the music scene and respect for the passionate musicians that laid the groundwork.
Your debut album came out in 2002, what initially brought the band together?
I had been in a band called Head West and another called Too Much TV. In about 2000 a drummer friend of mine came over to play around with some new songs I was working on and we kind of, by accident started a band. Then I ran into a former bandmate turned producer Jeff Halbert and he suggested we go make a record. It took off pretty quick for us back then, got some good reviews, played shows at Club Dada and Trees. In 2003 we were nominated Best New Band by the Dallas Observer, and then in 2004 the idea was floated to move to Los Angeles. That was around when Deep Ellum took a nosedive and all these places closed, like Trees and Dada. It seemed as good of a time as any. We played around L.A. for a year and a half until we all started going in different directions.
What caused the band's hiatus?
Musically, I think Jonathan (our lead guitarist) was interested in exploring some other styles—I could tell he was far more excited about his own stuff. We were basically the backing band on his record; I played the drums and (Mur’s bass player) Chad played bass. Then he put a band together called I Make This Sound, and his band and Mur played a show together. So I was back there watching him, and it was like if you agree to watch your wife or girlfriend with someone else—and then when it’s happening you’re like nooo, terrible! So I said, you know, why don’t you go do your thing, let’s just call off Mur for a minute.
So I moved to a new place, bought myself a keyboard and tried teaching myself to play and write well enough on it. And, that’s what started me on this direction.
What finally brought the band back together 14 years later?
I was battling trying to make it in L.A., trying to make it as an actor and musician, and it just felt very hollow. It so happens that Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas called me up saying they were doing a production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and asked if I wanted to come back to do it. So I came back in town and during that stretch, my Grandma passed away and a month to the day my Father passed. So I stuck around to be with my Mom.
While back in Dallas I reunited with Chad to play a show and the soundman that night was an old friend, Tom Bridwell from Last Beat Studios, where we’d recorded our debut. After hearing some of the new tunes I’d been working on he suggested we go into his studio and see what we could pull together. So, Tom, Chad and I started fooling around with the songs and we eventually asked Paul Williams to play guitar, who was already helping me finish my EP. At that point we were like, “Let’s just get to work on a record.”
At this point it’s 2013 when we started putting it together. And because of my struggles with perfectionism or writer’s block — I love it, I hate it, I think this going somewhere, I listen to it the next day and think it’s a piece of crap — the days of going into a cabin for two weeks and recording an album were gone — it was the opposite. It was the, let’s fix this guitar, let’s record the piano part on a better piano…so it took forever but frankly it was nice being at a relaxed pace. We thought let’s do it right, we’re not rushed.
Proceeds from the new album Fire Escapes will benefit Foundation 45, talk about why you chose this charity and what it means to you?
I lost my two best friends in my early twenties. Both died at their own hands, one by accident, and the other by suicide. Both of them struggled with substance abuse and depression, something we had in common. So my two best friends were gone and they were my biggest cheerleaders outside of my family. That hit hard and over years I would see several other friends hospitalized due to struggles with Bi Polar disorder and drugs and I just kept going to funerals, I started thinking am I just Mr. Death?
When I first came back to Dallas to work on the play, I ran into Deep Ellum fixture Frankie Campagna, son of Ellum Muralist and Kettle Art Gallery owner Frank Campagna. I had met Frankie in the 90’s when he was just a kid. Now he’s this grown up punk rocker in band called Spector 45. He was trying so hard to be tough, and he probably was but to me he was just this sweet kid. Always with a smile on his face and full of energy. Then that next New Year's Eve, distraught over a relationship and struggling with depression Frankie killed himself. Then unbelievably a few months later his bandmate Adam took his life as well. So the Deep Ellum community was just devastated. Eventually a remaining bandmate and some others started Foundation 45 — a support group for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, mental illness, and addiction. They do weekly open meetings and they’re trying to increase their budget to offer free counseling and a suicide crisis hotline. I just felt that I had seen too many people fall over the edge, I had been on that edge myself, and I knew what it was like. As privileged or as great as your life may look from the outside, you can still feel like you’d be better off dead or just want to stop the pain.
So while we were finishing up the record, I read a story about Foundation 45 and thought I’ve got to try and help these guys somehow. It’s hard to talk about this stuff, it’s stigmatized and if feels that the American way is to be tough, happy, and successful. You don’t usually see people when they’re in misery, so there’s this illusion that everyone is always doing good except for me, what’s wrong with me? So I wrote these songs for anyone who could relate to that feeling to say that there is a way through. If you’re going through hell then keep going, because it’s the only way through. But if you don’t have anywhere to turn and you’re some tough punk-rocker in Deep Ellum having anxiety attacks, you’ll literally think you’re going crazy. I’m just thrilled the guys at Foundation 45 are actually trying to do something.
You have experienced the Dallas music scene at its peak, so how has it changed from when you first started musically to now?
When we moved to LA in ‘04 venues were closing to where Deep Ellum became a ghost town of boarded up windows. It was so surreal to come visit and see it like that. Gradually it’s built back up to where it’s just now feeling like it used to—there’s traffic, it’s hard to find parking, there’s people everywhere, there’s shows every night. And there are a ton of great local bands doing their thing. That’s what it was like in it’s heyday in the mid 90’s, and it was just bonkers. All these bands were signed to record deals, like Tablet, The Toadies, Reverend Horton Heat, Old 97’s, and Tripping Daisy who would morph into Polyphonic Spree. All those bands took off right around then. And it was so palpable, like holy shit. All these bands would tour around the country and would say you have no idea how good we have it, all the venues with lights and sound—Dallas really had a gluttony of venues and opportunity.
I feel like in general, the advent of the internet, DVRs, and smartphones—everyone now just programs their own lives; it’s less communal. It’s less, what’s going on this weekend, everybody? When I was down here in the late 90s up to 2002, all the musicians in town would go to Trees no matter who was playing. And everybody would just hang out in that back little bar area. It was as if every person you’d ever heard of in music, if they weren’t playing that night, were just hanging out. I’m noticing it’s starting to get back to that. The sense of community in the local scene is strong. But there’s a lot more touring shows. Before, the weekend calendar would be local show, local show, local show. And it was packed.
For more words of wisdom, make sure to catch Mur after their 14-year hiatus at The Kessler on September 10, and support the inspiring group making a difference in Deep Ellum: Foundation 45. Tickets available Here.