CultureMad Lifestyle Magazine – TASTE – Interview with Ken Murdoch

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Reformed ’70s rock legends TASTE have revealed their epic new single I Am God’, alongside an apocalyptic film clip by acclaimed Australian director Clayton Jacobson (KennyAnimal Kingdom).  The group has also announced that their highly anticipated new album Life On Earth’ will be released on May 27th 2016

Dramatic and well crafted – the best of 70s progressive rock readymade for a 2016 audience – ‘Life On Earth’ boasts intricate string arrangements, complex percussive sections, and the walls of harmony that rendered Taste a household name.

TASTE are Ken Murdoch (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Amenta (lead guitar, vocals), Damian Corniola (drums), Michael Tortoni (bass).

Mark Moray a Music Rock Photographer managed to catchup with Ken Murdoch for an interview to discuss the early years of TASTE and the release of their new album ‘Life On Earth’

Mark Moray – Let’s start with the early years, the Australian music scene in the 70’s had an eclectic sound, with such bands as Skyhooks, Hush, Daddy Cool, Lobby Loyde & the Coloured Balls, just to name a few, how would you best describe the sound of TASTE?

Ken Murdoch – It was very much a guitar band. We had a lot of harmonies and melodies, and we were often compared to Queen, but I thought we were a bit rougher than that. The fact that we had more melodies and harmonies made us a bit more different to everyone else.

MM – Some may have labeled TASTE as a Glam Rock band, and looking at some of your photos you seem to be dressed in that style. Did you ever identify as Glam Rock?

KM – Yeah, I think that the group was heading that way, and I think we took to it like a duck to water. It was excellent because you never had to buy clothes. All the girls and the fans would throw you their tops and we would go “yeah”, “yeah”, “yeah”, that fits, thank-you, but we did realise that in those years for the band to be wearing female clothes was not a very good look, so there won’t be any of that this time around. No make up, no bangles no satin, no stuff like that. 

I often think back and wonder what would have happened if we had taken a little bit rockier of an attitude towards our appearance. Would that have worked for us, because at that stage, everyone was in glam, so it might have been interesting to get into a black t-shirt and to see what might have happened, especially if you were that different, but we did glam it up with the best of them.

I remember meeting Freddie Mercury. Our manager looked after them (Queen) when they went to Sunbury, that is our connection with them, and he said that we are going backstage to meet them. I didn’t want to, I was really scared, and so we go backstage, and the first thing that Freddie Mercury said to me was ‘I’ve got no power for my hair dryer,’ and I thought ‘My god! We are nowhere near the level of this band’. He was really upset. 

MM – How difficult was it being a young band starting out in the 70’s?

KM – Michael (Tortoni) and I left school at 16 to go professional. We started backing for John Farnham or Johnny Farnham as he was known back then, and were doing six nights a week, so thinking back, it wasn’t all that hard. We just basically got in with Farnham, which got us management, and then we got signed to Warner Brothers. I think we were the youngest Australian band to ever be signed with them, and then we found Joey while we were still called Cloud Nine. Then the band changed its name to TASTE. We signed to the ‘Bootleg’ label and so it all came fairly easily. The week that Joey (Amenta) actually joined the band, he was 15. He left school on the Thursday, we played at one of the pubs in Melbourne on the Friday, and then on Saturday and Sunday we played Festival hall with Sweet.  On the Monday, we toured for six weeks around NSW, so it was pretty hectic, even back in those days! 

MM – How hard was it getting into the pubs with all the band members being under age?

KM – We didn’t broadcast it. The fact that we were on TV, the Pubs probably felt they never really had to question us. I never really had thought of that actually, but in those early days it wasn’t really as hard as everyone thought, it was more about touring together with bands like Skyhooks and Sherbet. In the regional areas we would play in Town halls, but in Melbourne it was the pubs. We never had anyone question us about our age. We would play at the Croxton Park in Melbourne and there would be a thousand people easy. We played on the banks of the Yarra with Skyhooks and there were thirteen thousand people. It was big crowds in those days. You were on TV every week and you were getting airplay, and it appeared that you would put a record out, turn on the radio and it was playing. It didn’t seem to me that we had struggled, and I don’t know what management did to get it through, but from our point of view it didn’t seem hard.

MM – It would have been exciting to turn on the radio and hear your own album or single being played. You must have felt it was a great sense of achievement?

KM – Yes it was. The other thing about radio in those days was the DJ’s really ruled to a certain extent. I can remember being at parties and ringing up the DJ at one o’clock in the morning, and saying, ‘Could you play the B side of ‘Tickle Your Fancy’, because I wanted to hear what it sounded like on the radio, and they would say “Yeah no worries”, and they would put the record on.

MM – Was there a particular venue that you played at that afterwards you thought that Taste has completed their apprenticeship?

KM – If you headlined at any of those pubs, you were punching with the big boys, but as far as deeming what our popularity was like, well it became pretty apparent when we played at a place called the Ringwood Icelands. It was an ice skating rink where they had live bands play, and I remember vividly when playing there for the first time that it wasn’t too bad. There were probably a couple of hundred people there. After we were on Countdown we went back to play at the Icelands and this time it became out of control. They hired security. There was actual netting between the band and the crowd because it was just so big. I’ve actually got some photos of the gig where the hands are poking through the net trying to get to us. That was the one time I remember thinking, ‘Ooh something’s happened, something changed,’ It had a lot to do with Countdown.

MM – Countdown was an institution that gave bands that sort of exposure.

KM – We were on the pilot. We were the first band on Countdown, but it would take up your whole day. You would get there 8-9 o’clock in the morning and you would leave at 6.00pm, no, you would leave at 7.00pm. At 6.00pm they would actually film the show for the hour, and if you made any mistakes on anything, they pretty much would leave it in, unless it was like you got caught off stage and the music was still playing. They would stop filming, and do that bit again. Apart from that, it was pretty much raw.

MM – After releasing the albums ‘Tickle Your Fancy’ 1976 & ‘Knights Of Love’ 1977, with four top 10 hits including ‘Boys will be boys’, where did you see the future of TASTE heading?

KM – I had a meeting with Seymour Stein of Sire Records from America, (the one who eventually went on to sign Madonna), in Melbourne together with my manager, and he said it is on, we are signing and going to America, it’s all going to happen, it is going to be huge, and then for other reasons, there was another manager who was brought into the equation against my wishes. I didn’t want to do this, but we changed management. Recording companies signed management just as much as they sign bands, so the American deal suddenly fell through. Well it didn’t really fall through, because when we broke up, they were still advertising TASTE in America in cashboxes and stuff like that, saying a new band is coming from Australia, and that they are the ones to watch. We were well and truly broken up, but it does go to prove that management is very important, and the fact that we were very young, it was the bands parents that influenced us more than anyone. They were the ones that actually got us to change management. They didn’t see any money coming in as we were on TV and playing to lots of people. They didn’t realise the point of it all, so they found a guy who had a lot of money and made us change. He didn’t know anything about music and we lost the deal in the end. It was through sheer neglect that we basically broke up. It’s an unfinished story, which is why we got back together and because we didn’t think we actually saw it through.

MM – So here we are forty years onwards, and ‘Life On Earth’ is the new TASTE album which is going to be released later this month, nine years after the release of the last studio album ‘Rock is Dead’ in 2007, what inspired you to get back into the studio together with the band to record after such a long absence?

KM – I’ve always said it has taken us nine years to forget what we went through last time (jokingly). I wrote a song called the ‘Doppleganger Effect’ which I based on a little short story and it sounded TASTEY, so I sent it to the guys and said that this sounded like a hit song what did they think? They liked it, and by the time we basically said, lets get together and just see what happens, I kind of had written another three songs. Suddenly, we were starting to think that maybe there is another album here, and so the songs came together very very quickly. We took a year to record the album because we didn’t want it to be rushed like the time before. We would spend three months on vocals, and if we didn’t like it, we would erase them and start again. It was a real labour of love, and we would make sure we got exactly what we wanted, and therefore it came out great.

MM – Now, you have a new drummer called Damian Corniola who is the newest member of the band. After hearing the song ‘I Am God’ from the new album, how did you manage to find someone who just seemed to be a perfect fit for the band?

KM – That is exactly right, he is a perfect fit and it feels very comfortable. We auditioned a lot of drummers when we decided to do the album. We got them to play “Rock is Dead” (2007) and some of them could play it, but they didn’t know why they were playing it. Rock is Dead is in 5/4 and there is a little bit which is in 13/8 which is really technically hard, and a lot of them could hear it and mimic it, but he (Damien) was the only one who actually knew about the time signatures, which really impressed us, and secondly, when I asked him at the audition as to why he wanted to join us, after all he is a 27 year old, and surely he would have different tastes in music, Damien said that he loved TASTE because he is a drummer who loved Virgil Donati (Taste’s original drummer). As Virgil Donati is such a legend, Damien knew all the songs, especially the back catalogue, which was fantastic, and like you said, he really fits in and he is great.

MM – ‘I Am God’ is one of the songs on the new album, and the lyrics together with the video, for me, seemed to be portraying a very powerful message, which I would find relevant in todays world. What was the inspiration behind writing such a powerful song?

KM – I do a lot of short story writing just for relaxation, and this particular story, I took the angle of what if God was not the benevolent person we all think he is, and what if he is playing us like a Sims game, and that was the theme of the short story. So every time there is a disaster and things happen, is it just God up there pushing the buttons and seeing what goes on, and so when the story actually ends, on the screen it would say that the game will format in 7days and 7nights. I thought that this wouldn’t make a bad song and it was pretty good lyrically, so that’s what it’s about. Everyone’s saying it’s God’s will, or there must be a reason for all this disaster, and my thought was what if the reason isn’t exactly what we are thinking, and maybe he isn’t the benevolent character we are thinking he is, and maybe he is actually having a bit of fun with us.

MM – The video clip for ‘I Am God’ was directed by Clayton Jacobson who also directed the very successful Australian film “Kenny”, so how did you find working with Clayton, and how much input did the band have in the way the video clip was portrayed?

KM – When we first met him (Clayton), he asked us who our favourite painters were, what were our favourite colours, what genre of films we liked, and then he kind of mish mashed it all up, and he had a pretty firm idea what he wanted, and obviously there was a lot of CGI, so when he asked me what sort of casting do we want, I said,’ Just the band, but I would like to have some robot spiders.’ It was just a throw away line, and then when I saw it (the video), I suggested to Clayton that we thought we needed more robot spiders (laughing). He did such a great job, I think he captured the feel of the lyrics, without being narrative, I think he really had nailed it.

MM – Will there be more video clips from the album ‘Life On Earth’ after its release?

KM – We have another one coming up with him (Clayton) for a song called ‘Is It Just a Dream’, which we used an orchestra and brass on. Although we didn’t use it on the clip it’s a really heavy ballad and again, it has that epic feel of ‘I Am God’, so I am really excited to see what he has done with that because that song is going to shock a lot of people. The whole album is a sound that either you haven’t heard or you haven’t heard it for a long time. It’s got room to breathe, it’s got air, it’s heavy, but it has great harmonies. I really believe that we have spent a lot of time getting every note right.

MM – Back in the 60’s there was The Rolling Stones and The Beatles that used strings and orchestras on their albums. Then there was Pete Townsend from The Who, who wrote ‘Tommy’ which could be described as a modern day opera, so as a kid growing up listening to British music, do you think that their sounds influenced you in the making of the new album?

KM – Lyrically ‘Quadraphenia’ by The Who or Pete Townsend changed my life, as it was the greatest lyrics that I had ever read. When we did TASTE, it made me think of not writing pop songs, but instead, to start writing more lyrically, and more autobiographically. There are a couple of songs on that very first album that I am very proud of, because it was really me crying out, and sometimes it was how I felt, and kids would come up to me and say, that is exactly how they were dealing with life at the moment. Pete Townsend, I can’t tell you how much he changed me, but The Beatles I just adore. Queen had that entire majestic feel which is what I really wanted on the album. I didn’t think you could put too much into it, but we just kept putting it on until it sounded big, and I think that kind of shines through. It’s not over played or over produced. Everything is necessary. 

MM – Speaking of Queen, they had a great interest in TASTE here in Australia; can you tell us about that journey?

KM – They listened to the album when they were here in Australia, and they took us out for dinner one night after their “A Night at the Opera” tour, and then the next day they asked us to come to their hotel and play them the new album. They really liked it and asked us if we wanted to tour America. We were young and didn’t have any money, and even if we wanted to, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. Then when Seymour Stein got involved, it was only then that we were hoping that the plan would come into effect. I remember that they (Queen) went to Perth and they were on the news, and when it showed the band getting off the plane they were wearing TASTE t-shirts, which was incredibly exciting for me. 

MM – Speaking of the TASTE name on the t-shirt, I think the logo represents the band really well.

KM – Yeah, Yeah, I don’t know how many bands think about those things now, but we had very good management to the point of even going down to a logo. At that stage, it was probably not what most bands did, but we just seemed to cotton on to that idea very quickly.  It is associated with us, and I keep trying to drop it, but everyone says no you can’t. Everyone remembers it. It stood the test of time that logo.

MM – Last year the band played a few shows after the release of the ‘Remasters – Best of TASTE album’, and now with only a few shows scheduled for July this year, following the release of the new album ‘Life On Earth’, what can the fans expect this time around that might be different from last year?

KM – Number one, we will be featuring a lot of songs off the ‘Life On Earth’ album of course, but what we found this time especially with Damien now in the band, is that there will be a lot more experimentation going on stage, so a song like ‘Sanctuary’ which is off the ‘Rock is Dead’ album goes roughly for five minutes, well on stage it goes for over ten minutes. That is because it just builds and builds and builds, and we involve the audience. Another song off the new album called ‘The Fatal Shore’ really comes along because vocally I get to feature on my own, and we use a big thing that again extends that epic feel of it all. A lot of it is really interesting, especially if you are a musician, because there is a lot of stuff going on. We use different tunings and samples, and we have a couple of old analogue keyboards up there where we get lovely old string sounds from, and it is really great. We are very pleased with it.

MM – Moving forward, is it going to be another nine years before we see the next ‘TASTE’ album?

KM – (Laughing) No I don’t think so, I think we better start on the new one tomorrow. (Laughing) I don’t think nine years is a very good idea because it takes me a long time to finish anything, so that would be ten years. We are writing at the moment. With the album “Life on Earth” when we actually finished it I wrote another two songs, and then when we started recording it we thought, this is too good not to put it on the album so we threw those songs on as well.

MM – Just before we finish, I would like to ask you this. In 1966 – 1970 there was a great Irish band called Taste that featured none other than the late blues legend, Rory Gallagher. Were you aware of the band back then?

KM – No, the reason why we were called Taste was when we recorded ‘Tickle Your Fancy’, Streets (ice cream company) approached us and said that they have an ice-cream called fancy, and that they would like us to change our name to fancy. I suggested that they call their Ice-cream fancy, and that we will call ourselves TASTE. As for the Irish band, I had no idea about the name, as I didn’t know who Rory Gallagher was, and during that whole period, hardly anyone had mentioned it, probably because he was very Bluesy, and I don’t think that was a big attraction here in those days of the 70’s. Now and then we get a few disgruntled old men coming up saying, “You know Rory Gallagher called himself that”? 

MM – Finally, during the month of July this year, TASTE will be touring Melbourne, Adelaide Sydney and Brisbane as a once off National tour, so will you be planning any more gigs in the future?

KM – They are all album launches, so the plan after that is that we are definitely looking at Europe and Japan, as there was a bit of interest from the ‘Rock is Dead’ album, but Germany in particular because they were kind of interested in that album. They didn’t go overboard but they certainly said keep in touch, and so we are going to concentrate on that market this time. I think it would be silly not too, because this is a very British, European type-sounding album I think, so hopefully it will go down well. They have a big resurgence of heavy bands at the moment and so I think we may have our timing right this time.

Tickets to the national ‘LIFE ON EARTH’ tour are available now
Remastered versions of the band’s classic 70s albums, ‘Tickle Your Fancy’ and ‘Knights of Love’ were released in late 2015

 Watch video: I AM GOD    Buy: LIFE ON EARTH    

If Queen and Metallica had a bastard baby it would be called TASTE  – BRIAN MANNIX
Their combination of seventies style lofty ambition with warts and all attitude is still effective –ROLLING STONE
Timeless rawk vibe that will never go out of style – THE MUSIC NETWORK