Michael Murphy lives and breathes music.
“I listen to too much music, long story short,” said Murphy, a Lawrence University senior from nearby Neenah.
To give back to the Lawrence and Appleton communities, Murphy is planning a special senior recital—a live performance of his debut solo album, Indigo Jones, set for Gibson Music Hall in downtown Appleton at 7 p.m. May 15
“I’m using ‘recital’ with the biggest quotations,” he said. “I want this to be as much a rock concert as anything.”
Murphy’s main instrument is guitar, but he also plays bass and double bass and has studied jazz piano, composition, and voice. At Lawrence, he made audio engineering his focus and self-designed a major centered on business and music production. He’s among the first wave of Lawrence Conservatory students to pursue the Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree, first introduced in 2019. Built with a jazz and contemporary improvisation track, it widened the path for students coming into the Conservatory, joining the Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees.
Michael Murphy on launching Michael Murphy Music LLC as a student.
Murphy also is a big proponent of Lawrence’s new business and entrepreneurship major, launching in the 2023-24 academic year. It’ll open new doors for students both in and out of the Conservatory who want to study business within a liberal arts curriculum.
It all fits the bill for Murphy, who has launched Michael Murphy Music LLC.
“The musician nowadays has to be an entrepreneur,” Murphy said. “Making a successful band nowadays, in my opinion, is no different than making a successful business.”
With the help of Conservatory faculty and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, Murphy is ready to use Indigo Jones as a steppingstone into the music business. His work on the album began while studying abroad at Lawrence’s London Centre in Fall 2022. The name Indigo Jones is a play on Inigo Jones, a seventeenth-century English architect. Murphy said the music was especially influenced by Elton John’s roots rock album, Tumbleweed Connection, recorded in England in 1970.
“I didn’t do as much music writing there, but I did a lot of freehand creative poetry to get my brain thinking,” he said of his London experience.
It’s been a busy stretch since returning to Appleton for his final two terms—touring with STEEM, a popular Fox Valley cover band, continuing classes in advance of Commencement on June 11, and writing and recording the album’s 14 tracks.
“I was able to bounce a lot of ideas off people and run with my own thing,” Murphy said of the album. “I didn’t have any creative limitations. … I hope I can keep it that way.”
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In addition to STEEM, Murphy has a band with his brothers called Murphy’s Law. He frequently collaborates with older brother and Lawrence alum Jack Murphy ‘21, who lives in Manhattan.
“We write very well together,” Murphy said. “We’ve got that special brother bond where we can think each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences.”
Indigo Jones features contributions from bassist and Lawrence alum Ryan Erdmann ‘22 and drummer Wayne Salzmann II. Salzmann took lessons from Lawrence Professor of Music Dane Richeson and has played with Eric Johnson, one of Murphy’s guitar idols. Jack Murphy, Erdmann, and Salzmann will all be playing at the Gibson Music Hall concert.
While Murphy handled the album’s recording process himself, he credits Brent Hauer, Lawrence’s director of recording and technology and lecturer in recording arts, with providing a big assist.
“It was a fun process and a learning experience for me,” Murphy said. “Brent basically gave me free rein and the key to the mic locker.”
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Murphy also credits Gary Vaughan, a lecturer in innovation and entrepreneurship and coordinator of Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, with advising the financial and business aspects of the project.
“He was my big overseer for making sure this wasn’t just a one-off project,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he found a welcoming supporter in Dave Willems, owner of Gibson Music Hall and director of Mile of Music.
“Dave was unbelievably generous in letting me use the Gibson space, and he had the idea to make it a Lawrence thing,” Murphy said. “He was like, ‘Hey, would you be interested in having someone open for you?’ and I was like, ‘You’d better believe it.’”
Opening for Murphy will be Lawrence senior Holly Beemer.
“I’ve done a lot of projects with other bands and groups, but this is the first big solo project that I’ve done, so that’s been really exciting,” Murphy said.
Popping the bubble
Murphy was taking beginner-level movement music classes at the Lawrence Community Music School (then known as the Lawrence Academy of Music) before he was even a year old. With a father who is a hobbyist musician and a mother who is classically trained, Murphy said he and his siblings grew up surrounded by all types of music.
“When I was growing up, it was Veggietales on the TV, and then all of a sudden, my dad would take out the VHS and put in Stop Making Sense by the Talking Heads.”
Murphy said as much as he loves recording and production, he’s just as passionate about visuals and live performances. A friend owns The Wild Goose Exchange thrift store and is helping create outfits for the May 15 concert. Murphy’s keeping the details a surprise, though.
“It’s gonna be a little warm, but it’s a really cool outfit,” he said.
Beemer will open the show at 7 p.m., followed by Murphy at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free; concertgoers will be able to leave tips.
Murphy said the biggest hope for this project is to provide a fun opportunity for Lawrence students to venture off campus and hear a rock concert.
“Since I’m a townie—I grew up in this beautiful place—I would love to see more connections between Lawrence and the community,” Murphy said. “We’ve got this bubble and I’m trying to be the one little needle that keeps popping it. That’s my goal: Pop the bubble, get people out.”