When a multi-platinum selling artist, a famed producer, and a rock legend endorse a band, there are only three things you can do: stop what you’re doing, look them up, and listen to their music. But, success is more than just a game of who you know; it’s 90 percent perspiration, and Murder FM is determined to make the rock scene sweat. Fusing their hard rock influences with industrialized melodies, this four-man band hit the ground running when they burst onto the Dallas scene in 2009. After a mere six weeks together, they were opening for The Used and then touring with KORN. Over the next six years, the band would go on to perform with Rob Zombie, The Pretty Reckless, and Black Veil Brides, host a sold out UK tour, and make history as the first US band to perform at TrashFest in Helsinki, Finland.
Their achievements go far beyond the stage lights, accomplishing more in a few years than most bands do in a career. They’ve worked with multi-platinum selling artist, Will Hunt (Evanescence); famed producer, Beau Hill (Alice Cooper, Europe); and rock legend, Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe), however, Murder FM insists success is a marathon rather than a sprint. “I really wanted the band to grow into its own skin,” says founder and Murder FM front man, Norman “The Gnar” Matthew. “And I knew it was going to take a couple of years to be the band that I wanted us to be.”
On August 7, 2015, the band will release their highly anticipated LP, Happily Never After – their first release in two years. Despite his busy schedule, Norman sat down with Music Existence and gave us the inside scoop on everything Murder FM, what makes Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe so damn awesome, the American and European music scene, giving back through The Sound Foundation, Happily Never After, and what it was like working with Tommy Lee.
ME: A band’s name says a lot about who they are; what’s the story behind the name MURDER FM, and what does it say about the band as a whole?
NORMAN: The name our bass player originally came up with was actually “Murder Fucking Music,” but in all our business acumen, we realized that wasn’t going to get us much promotion, so we had to backpedal and just abbreviate it. I thought it would be great because I grew up on arena stuff, and I thought that’s something you can chant at a show: “M.F.M! M.F.M!” These new band names are just retarded sometimes. No offense to anybody in particular, but I think some people take themselves too seriously. We care, and we care about our music, but there’re some things we don’t give a shit about because we openly enjoy being a band and playing killer fucking music. Anyone who has seen our live shows can really attest to that.
ME: That’s what rock is all about.
NORMAN: It is, and again I’m not saying anything about any bands, but I feel like that element is missing today with a lot of new bands. For whatever reason, they’re just trying to please the scene, or a certain demographic, or be a certain kind of band. When did it become uncool or passé to be like, “You know what? We’re in a rock band, and we fucking love it. We want to do well, we want to have loads of fans, and we want to play huge freaking shows.” At least we’re being honest about who we are and what we want to be as a band. I wanted our band to be an escape within reality because you can’t escape your reality, but you can enjoy the one you’re in. When I write songs, I try to turn it into something listeners can interpret for themselves and make their own; I take the “I” element out and make it more about the “we.” I miss that in music. Everything is so, “I’m so mad, I’m so sad, I’m so angry,” and I’m like, yanno, I don’t really give a shit what you feel like, dude. Give me something to hang on to that makes me feel like I can escape in this reality. That’s what the band encapsulates for the most part.
ME: Murder FM draws influences from artists like like Nine Inch Nails and Motley Crüe. What is it about them that resonate with you?
NORMAN: Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, and KISS were the biggest ones for me. KISS had the over the top, bombastic, fun element that always stuck with me. Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe were the dark side of the ‘80s Glam Movement. I once remember telling my mom, “Mom, I want to be in a band, but I don’t look good in yellow spandex” (laughs). So, when I saw Guns N’ Roses with their duct tape boots and Mötley Crüe in all black and tatted, I was like, “Whoooooa!” For a seven-year-old kid, that was awesome. It was so much more my speed.
Lyrically, The Cure and Depeche Mode are my influences. They were the first bands were I was like, “What? You can actually write songs that aren’t just about partying and having a good time?” It was difficult to write songs like that at 10 years old because what the hell does a 10 year old know about partying? With them, there were more stories and pictures being painted through the lyrics, and I really connected with that.
Nine Inch Nails influenced the industrial and production side of our music. My band members would leave their equipment in my basement, and I learned how to play them and would record each instrument on my Tascam 4-track. That’s why Trent Reznor really appealed to me too. Once I found out that he recorded everything himself, I was like, “You mean you don’t have to be a band to do this?!” So when I got into production, I realized that what I heard wasn’t always what was being played by the people that I had read on the album cover; it’s a lot of production tricks and smoke and mirrors. I learned that it’s about the big picture, the vision, what you give to the audience. It’s like how you know that the stunt guy in a movie isn’t the real actor, but you like to suspend disbelief for a second and believe that it is because it’s that much cooler. I mean, who wants to dissect it? We all want a little bit of mystery, so that’s why all those bands were really important to me growing up.
ME: You were in a band before Murder FM. How did you and the other members meet, and how did Murder FM go from being an idea to a reality?
NORMAN: I was in a band called Never Enough. We had a record on Koch Entertainment, but we kind of got lost in the shuffle. Keith and Trevor had been touring so long with their bands, Throw Down and Eighteen Vision, and they wanted a break. At that time, I was really starting to pick up speed. I had written a whole collection of songs and I clicked with Beau Hill, the producer who was mixing our record. He’s sold over 50 million records, and he was a fan my songs. He liked that I brought edge to his work. He hired me to do some work and write songs for some bands he was producing, and in that process, he became my production mentor and friend. When it came time for Never Enough to make a decision about our future, Beau really pushed me to release some of the songs that I had already recorded; they eventually became Murder FM’s first record, Anthems for the Used. From there, we just kind of put the band together.
I’ve known J6, our bass player, since I was 16 years old. He lived in San Antonio, and I lived in El Paso, and we did Texas tours where we would play shows. It was kind of hard because being 500 miles apart, it’s kind of difficult jamming with your buddy. So while we were in parallel band, we got together. Then I stole a guitar player from his band that I was producing at the time, (laughs) and the original drummer we wanted is now our current drummer, Jason “Shakes” West.” He was on tour with Sebastian Bach when Murder FM was starting, so I thought we probably weren’t going to get him (laughs). A couple of years went by and the opportunity presented itself in 2013 when we were going to be opening for Rob Zombie, Deftones, The Pretty Reckless, Five Finger Death Punch, and some other really high profile shows. He happened to be off the Sebastian Bach tour and we snagged him and clicked as friends.
When we kicked off in 2009, I knew it was going to be a marathon and not a sprint. I really wanted the band to grow into its own skin, and I knew it was going to take a couple of years to be the band that I wanted us to be. To me, Murder FM really came together in 2013. We had already built the foundation of the band, so when Shakes popped in, that’s when Murder FM really became Murder FM.
ME: What was your first performance as a band like?
NORMAN: It was awesome. We were opening for The Used. It was a magical moment because it was a huge show, and it was the first time we played together live. I remember just being captivated by the band, and the audience could really feel that we really enjoyed being on stage with one another. We went from opening for The Used, to Dope, to KORN all in a matter of six weeks. We were really lucky because on the way up, I had built a solid network of people in the industry that had always wanted to see Never Enough take off, and Murder FM was their chance to help me make that happen. Not only was it nerve wrecking, but we had to be undeniable, and I was willing to turn down opportunities if I didn’t think the band was where it needed to be at that point in time. There had to be something there because I didn’t want to burn up, lose opportunities, and do something prematurely just for the sake of doing it. I’ve been in bands long enough, so I know how it feels to be in a band. Now I wanted to know what it’s like to be in a band that was really off the hook.
ME: Just like you said, people saw that there was something to this band because in 2013, Murder FM became the very first US band to perform at the TrashFest in Helsinki, Finland. For those who don’t know, what exactly is the TrashFest?
NORMAN: TrashFest has been around for about seven years, and it’s a pretty big festival in Finland with some premier goth-rock, industrial rock, and up-and-coming underground bands. Lord or the Lost, a huge German band, headlined the year we played it. We were the first US band invited over simply for the noise that we were making over there. We’re forever thankful for that opportunity because we made some great friends and livelong supporters. For me, it was really cool because one of my favorite bands, HIM, is from Helsinki, so it was cool to land there and be like, “Whooooa this place is real!” (Laughs)
Internationally, we have some really awesome fans. We scored two top-ten videos in Europe before we even made a splash here domestically. Our first UK tour with The Defiled was sold out. I remember the day of our first show, everything that could go wrong went wrong, but it was all erased when we walked out on stage and people knew who we were. The scene there is really different. There’s a real, pure love for music aside from the marketing machine. Not to say that the USA isn’t cool, because we totally are and we have some rad fans, it’s just you get caught up in the machine sometimes.
ME: A few other musicians have told me that about the European scene too.
NORMAN: It’s just a different vibe, man. The first thing that clues you off to it is that there are still records stores there. People still want the physical product; there’s a prideful feeling of having a tangible product that I think a lot of us miss here. The US is all about digital, and download, and MP3s, and Apple Music, and all those things are great because it brings your music to more people, but I miss holding on to something. I miss opening something. That’s why I’m so excited that Happily Never After is being released on CD, and out on CD and we might even move on to a vinyl version at some point as well.
ME: Murder FM is a very visual band and that imagery translates to your videos: “Twisted Love Story” was inspired by Dexter; “We the Evil” was inspired by American Horror Story. What is the creative process like from conception to final cut with these videos?
NORMAN: We’ve been lucky to work with two directors, Michael Carter and Benny Ontiveros, who were able to hone in on what the band should and could do visually. I’m the guy that hates pictures and videos; I’ll never understand how I’m a singer because the less of me on camera, the better (laughs). I like to leave it up to others because I like the outside perspective. It’s really important to me that an outside perspective brings the story together because they’re interpreting the song in their own way and see it completely different then I do since I wrote it. We don’t have the budget for big, over the top videos, but the directors that we worked with have great ideas, so we use whatever amenities we have to make it happen. We got lucky along the way in that regard.
ME: Rumor has it that “We The Evil” was filmed in an abandoned meth lab?
NORMAN: Yeah, after we were done shooting he told us, “Thank you very much, I’m glad you guys could make it through. By the way, did you know this was an old abandoned meth lab?” and we were like, “What?” We touched so many things in the process, so we were like, “Aaaaaah!”
ME: Your artistry is very rock ‘n’ roll, but there’s also a softer side to you. Since being a part of Murder FM, you’ve experienced fatherhood. How has that shaped how you look at things as an artist?
NORMAN: It has turned all my senses on ten. When my little boy was born, it felt like there was an instant shift in my life. The second I laid eyes on him, I fell in love and nothing else seemed to matter. But actually, there are parts of the rock and roll life style we don’t like. You know how there’s sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll? I’m more sleep, sleep, and then rock ‘n’ roll (laughs). That’s something that sets us apart because we never really had a straightedge lifestyle; we just never got into the party scene. We were able to connect with people on a different level in that regard. We didn’t realize we were giving a message, but along the way, I realized how cool this was to a lot of people to know you don’t have to live retarded to be part of a band. I can live clean without forcing it down everyone’s throats, and I can live clean and be truly successful. I’ve heard all the cop-outs like, “Well, that’s what people do when they go out. That’s how people do business.” I’ve been in a lot of business meetings where I’m drinking water, and the ones that got screwed along the way were usually the ones that were screwed up in the meetings. We never really subscribed to that lifestyle; it’s all about the music. Everyone’s got their priorities in check. We’re extremely focused as a band and we know exactly where we want to go and how we’re going to get there.
ME: That’s a pretty positive message, and it’s something you’ve turned into a side career with your “School of Rock” organization. Tell us a little about that and how you balance your life as a musician verses how you balance your life as a teacher and mentor.
NORMAN: I have a studio and an artist development school called The Sound Foundation in Deep Ellum, which is in the heart of the Dallas entertainment district. These kids are growing up down the street from the club scene, which is great. I feel sometimes you can’t shelter them from things; you just got to put them in it so they know how to deal with it when they’re in it. There’s this saying that goes, “those that can’t do, teach.” Well, I’m doing it, and I’m teaching it, and they’re learning about it in real time. I’m working with a lot of new, young bands – The Nameless, The Project, the Looking Glass – that are really going to make a big impression, and I’ve tried to help propel their musical careers as best as I can. Growing up, I wish I had had somebody showing me the way and telling me what was cool and what wasn’t and how to do it. I wish I had had someone to show me professional etiquettes, how to run a stage, how to run a show, how to promote, all those handy tips that would have been great on the way up. I had to learn all of that on my own, which is cool because I was reading, I was leaning, I was paying attention, but sometimes it’s nice to have someone around who has done it to bounce ideas around whether creatively or business-wise.
I started The Sound Foundation because people say there isn’t a way to be successful in music and there is. I just think it’s not until later on that they figure out that there are options in the industry, but by that point it’s too late. At four-years old kid could want to be a baseball player, and they have 14 years to excel at it. A musician is already cut off at the head because schools are taking music programs away so they can’t play, or the only music they can play is band or orchestra, which is cool, but it’s already putting a limitation on them. I wanted to open up this generation’s eye to production, writing, being an engineer, being a promoter, being a booking agent, being a guitar tech, running a stage, booking tours. There are so many options in the industry; people just don’t realize what’s out there.
ME: Sounds like The Sound Foundation could potentially become a thriving PR firm or record label in the future.
NORMAN: I’m treating it that way and definitely working towards that because these bands are good. They’re going to be pretty monstrous, and I would love to be behind them all the way.
ME: From everything you’ve been through, how have your experiences help you grow as a musician and as a band?
NORMAN: I never thought I was the best or the greatest at anything I was doing. I have never felt like I was above learning from things or evolving and changing. I think that has really helped me to survive. I tell anybody that’s new to this that the first thing they should do is educate themselves because an educated musician is the one that’s going to survive this day and age. Some of them look puzzled because music and education? That’s why they got into music so they didn’t have to educate themselves, but you’ve got to learn the business, you’ve got to learn its core, you’ve got to learn how to maneuver within it. I realized this when I got burned that I had to figure things out myself in order to survive. It’s helped to shape me into the businessman, producer, and mentor that I am today.
ME: On August 7th, the band will be releasing their LP, Happily Never After. Music Existence gave the LP a 9 out of 10 and described the album as a must for all metal fans. Creatively, how did this album go from being an idea to a finished product?
NORMAN: This record was written and recorded before we had a record deal, so we were writing and recording the songs for the simple fact that I love my band and I love playing music. We didn’t have a time line for this record, and it all came together when we chose the collection of songs that were going to be on the record. There were about 25 songs, enough for two records, but we picked the songs that best reflected the story at that point in time. It was kind of like a time causal of the band’s career because each of those songs were filled with so much passion because there was no business agenda, no time line, no reason to do it other than to do it. I think that really comes across when you listen to the record because it’s not contrived. It was real when it came out.
ME: What’s the story behind the title Happily Never After?
NORMAN: I was thinking about stories and books I had read, and it just kind of rolled off my tongue. I was trying to think of a cool concept for the record and thought that “happily never after” is how I feel sometimes. I’m a happy person, but there is a dark side as well, and those two terms fit well together because things are not always great, but here I am trying to be positive. It’s kind of my inner-emotional storm, if you will.
ME: One of the LP’s highlights seems to be the “We The Evil” remix by Tommy Lee. How did that collaboration happen and how was it to working with someone you greatly admired?
NORMAN: First of all, it was huge that Tommy Lee wanted to work with us. The A&R guy at our record label is friends with him, and he thought Tommy would dig some of our stuff. I was like, “Yeah yeah, whatever, dude, that sounds cool.” I didn’t think it was possible. Next thing I knew, Tommy Lee was emailing me and my inbox says, “You have a new message from Tommy Lee,” and I’m staring at it like, “Whaaaaaat!?” And there we were trading tracks and in the studio together, and the remix came out, and we became friends along the way. In fact, I just spoke with him last night, and it’s kind of crazy how you grow up idolizing this guy, and now he’s your buddy. He’s a super, awesome guy. I mean, for who he is and what he’s done, what you would expect from him being Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe is completely opposite. He’s super sweet, and super supportive, and all about the band. He’s probably one of our biggest supports at the moment, and it’s really cool because he’s Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe. He doesn’t have to help us out but he is. It really came about in a very organic and real way, and the connection was real, the support is real, and he got what we were doing. It still trips me out to this day when I see his name pop up on my phone.
ME: Since this is Murder FM’s first release in nearly two years, what are you most excited for your fans to experience?
NORMAN: The new tracks and the growth of the band. The people that supported our earlier releases have waited a long time for us to release something. I felt we had to give them something that they deserved, it had to tell the story, it had to captivate the listeners, and it had to take them somewhere that would make them glad it took forever for these songs to come out. We decided to take some times to be honest and real and that’s what this record became. We have some really cool stuff on this record: the Tommy Lee remix; there’s a cover of “Burn” by The Cure that we’re super proud of; we’ve got Will Hunt from Evanescence playing drums on the title track; we’ve got legendary producer, Beau Hill, putting his shine on the whole album so it all comes together. The kid in me is geeking out thinking about all the cool things that happened on this record. As an artist, we had to come out with something that would make an impact, and I didn’t want to do anything less than that.
ME: Now that the band has signed to Famous Records Global, what’s next for the band?
NORMAN: We’re going to be rich! (Laughs) I’m just kidding. Lots of touring, but nothing annoying where we’re going to the same cities over and over again just to cash-grab. We’re going to go back to the places where we’re welcome and where we want to go back. Our tour kicks off August 8th at the Dirtfest in Michigan. We’re super excited to see out names high on the bill because we’re on the main stage. It’s freak out time for us, and not only are we super excited to play, we’re excited at the growth of the band. We’re excited for our fans because everything that’s happening to us right now is all because of them. Not trying to sound clichéd, but every time we win, they win because they were the ones putting us on the map from the get go when we had zero marketing dollars, when we had no label support, no booking agency support, no publicity support. They were the ones who put us here, so they should be the ones celebrating, and this record is the trophy.
Grab your copy of Happily Never After here:
Check out Murder FM on tour
- August 8 – Birch Run, MI @ Birch Run Expo Center
- August 9 – Cherry Valley, IL @ Take 20
- August 12 – Danville, IL @ Vintage Villians
- August 13 – Joplin, MO @ Venue 3405
- August 15 – Dallas, TX @ Curtain Club
- August 16 – San Antonio, TX @ Fitzgerald’s
Follow Murder FM for the latest updates on tour dates, new releases, and more: