The Murlocs' frontman, Ambrose Kenny-Smith, was a bit of a wild child growing up in southern Australia, skateboarding and roaming the streets with his pals. His story unfolds like a coming-of-age novel in the band’s sixth full-length, Rapscallion.
“I had a big liking toward adventure,” he says. “I grew up obsessed with The Goonies and Stand by Me and all that sort of stuff. I started to realize I wanted to write an album that was reflective of my childhood and amplify some of those experiences.”
Kenny-Smith grew up in and around Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, and in the more rural setting of Castlemaine, Victoria, for a couple of years while his parents tried to rekindle their relationship. It didn’t work out, and he soon found himself moving again with his mother and sister, this time to the small town of Ocean Grove.
He took up skateboarding around that time, and his advanced skills led to his having older friends, with him being the “young squirt” in the group. His buddies taught him how to sneak onto trains and hide between the seats to dodge the ticket inspectors on the prowl for freeloaders. He found the skateboarding community to be fairly welcoming — an asset for a kid who had to move homes a few times and start over at new schools. Friends were always just a trip down to the local skate park.
““They sort of showed me the way, and also corrupted me — but in the best way possible,” he says. “Skateboarding was good for me, but it made me grow up pretty quick. I think I experienced a lot of things before I was eighteen that maybe I shouldn’t have.”
He took in those experiences as he penned the tracks for Rapscallion, a story told around a character who shares his name with the title. When writing the lyrics, Kenny-Smith adds that he also took inspiration from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, a Western novel that follows a fictional teenager referred to only as “the kid.”
“The whole storyline [of Rapscallion] is about him trying to get to the city to try and experience a whole different world,” Kenny-Smith says. “He feels like he’s missing out. That’s what my childhood was like. Any chance I got, I was out the door at the bus stop, getting on a bus, hitchhiking, whatever — asking for rides to get out of that small town.”
Kenny-Smith still skates on occasion, but his professional music career — he also plays in the wildly popular King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — means having to take care of his arms and hands. A fall wouldn’t be the best thing for a touring musician.
“The older I get, the taller I get, the fatter I get — makes falling over a lot scarier,” he says. “When I was younger I’d just be throwing myself off second floors and stairs and break bones and all that stuff. It was just part of it. Now that I’m older, I pretty much stick to skating bands and ledges and things I can’t hurt myself on too much.”
Although the Murlocs, which will play a sold-out show at the Bluebird Theater on Friday, November 18, started off playing rock music that was heavily influenced by psychedelic and garage rock of the 1960s, its last few records have seen the band leaning into a more experimental sound. As a result, Rapscallion has the energy and experimental spirit of a 1980s post-punk record. It marks an even further sonic departure from the band’s 2021 offering, Bittersweet Demons, which Kenny-Smith considers almost a soft-rock record in comparison.
“I was listening to heaps of Plastic Ono Band and Elton John and Emitt Rhodes and shit like that,” he says. “I wanted to make a more soft record, but playing it live, in hindsight, was boring.”
The band wrote and recorded the album in the isolation of the COVID pandemic, and bandmember Cal Shortal handled the bulk of the record’s composition, sending demos to each member to build off of. Kenny-Smith says he liked working this way, as he spends a great deal of time with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and has never been able to dedicate the effort to the Murlocs that he feels the band deserves. With everything closed down, he and his bandmates took their time and the end result is, Kenny-Smith says, their best work yet.
“We went back to our roots,” he says. “That’s how we started doing stuff. It’s been nice to see Cal really shine and come through with a solid, seamless record.”
The Murlocs, Friday, November 18, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, Tickets are $18. The show is sold out.