Jaz Murphy: Twentieth Anniversary

 Jason (Jaz) Murphy, live @ Powerstation, Auckland, 19 November 2016.  Photo: Ivan Karczewski at Kioui Pix / The 13th Floor.

Jason (Jaz) Murphy, live @ Powerstation, Auckland, 19 November 2016.  Photo: Ivan Karczewski at Kioui Pix / The 13th Floor.

For those privileged to have played alongside him since the 1990s, Jason (Jaz) Murphy became renowned in Wellington’s independent music community as one of the best bassists around – many have argued, the best.  As much as it has its origins in mere shorthand for Jason, his nickname Jaz or “Jazz” Murphy has become equally synonymous with that virtuoso reputation. 

These last few days of July 2018 mark not one but several notable anniversaries over the course of Jaz’s long-standing association with Disjecta Membra.  These include the Twentieth Anniversary of his first live appearance with the group, on 25 July 1998; the release of the ‘Death by Discothèque (remixes)’ EP on 27 July 2015; and his long-awaited “official” reappearance as a fulltime member of the band on 30 July 2016.

To commemorate that twenty-year relationship, your rambling narrator (Michel) took the last few days of July off work, to cobble together this potted history of Jaz Murphy.  As two enthusiastic archivists by trade, each with rapidly diminishing powers of recollection, he and I both apologise for what is undoubtedly a convoluted series of chronological inconsistencies hereunder.  However, to the very best of our combined abilities…

Jason Simon Murphy was born on 15 October 1973, in Christchurch, New Zealand; the only child of Stephen Murphy and Elizabeth (Betty) Murphy, nee Mills.  When Jason was about three years old, the family moved to the Kāpiti Coast district, north of Wellington; initially to Paekakariki where his grandparents lived, before settling more permanently in nearby Paraparaumu about a year later.

His father was a librarian, and Jaz grew up “in a time where it was common to have your mother stay at home and look after you for at least the first five years of your life.  She was involved with the local Playcentre, so even when I was going to preschool, it wasn't a matter of being dropped off and left to your own devices…  She had a wicked sense of humour and was a real practical joker.  Despite my occasional shenanigans as a kid – throwing eggs at cars, wrapping up dog turds in decorative paper for unsuspecting passers-by to inspect – she always had my back and had some appreciation for the dubious humour of it all.” 

Stephen and Betty both came from Catholic family backgrounds, with Stephen having gone as far as the first year of Seminary.  Over the course of the sixties and seventies, however, the couple had ultimately rejected their religious upbringings, albeit without becoming “hard atheists”.  By the time Jason was born, he describes “the spiritual backdrop growing up” as “more kind of new-age-y eclectic, really.  My parents had fairly incolate sort of beliefs.”  He remembers being introduced to transcendental meditation at the age of seven, and cites his father’s interest in spirituality in general as having opened the door to a broad range of possibilities.

During the mid-late seventies, Jaz’s awakening interest in music was being nurtured by an AM radio, a record collection containing his father’s classical guitar LPs (e.g. Julian Bream, Andrés Segovia) and “quite a few Moog records”, and the family’s mail-order subscription to the World Record Club – a regular series of cassette tapes showcasing the latest pop and disco hits.  His father had an old acoustic guitar “kicking around home”, and while Jaz can’t distinctly recall anyone having played it, the presence and impression of classical guitar would become “weighted in consciousness that these things existed to be played”.  Other formative impressions of music to receive passing namechecks from this period include Abba, Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, and ‘Walking on the Moon’ by The Police, which was then being deployed as the test-pattern soundtrack whenever Television New Zealand service broke down.

The first record he remembers owning for himself was KISS, ‘Unmasked’ (1980), a gift for his seventh birthday, which he enjoyed as much for the single ‘I Was Made for Loving You’ as for “the fact that they were superheroes that played music”.  Coming of age in small-town New Zealand over the course of the 1980s, Jaz’s late childhood and early teen years were dominated by pop of the day.  He cites his collection of cassette albums from Madonna, A-ha and Pseudo Echo as “early evidence of my impeccable musical taste”, and by the ages of 10-12, he was “whipping out the lino and baggy pants and attempting to breakdance to Street Music Vol I, II and the rest”.  Along with breakdancing, in 1984, “no doubt like thousands of other kids”, Jaz and a friend took up Kempo karate after seeing ‘The Karate Kid’.  Although they both eventually lost interest (“not enough painting the fence to keep us engaged”), Jaz would return to martial arts later in life.

Around the same time (mid ‘80s), his music interests began shifting from “pop” towards “rock”.  A late introduction to Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ album, courtesy of a friend’s older foster brother, left an overwhelming impression of “heavy” sounding music (“I guess anything sounds heavy after Madonna…”), eventually leading on to Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet’, “the gateway drug to cock rock”, and “a series of dubious musical choices… not limited to Poison, Def Leppard, Whitesnake et al”.  Almost apologetically, he confesses that the nearest he got to the darker aesthetic of goth or post-punk during the ‘80s was The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy in highschool.

Jaz attended Paraparaumu College from 1987.  He had by then developed an interest in shred guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai et al, inspired in no small way by the movie ‘Crossroads’, which drew upon the mythology surrounding the legendary bluesman, Robert Johnson, and starred the original Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio, duelling it out with the Devil’s guitar player (Steve Vai).  Jaz also considers a seminal moment to have occurred when he was about 15 (1988-89), and he went to a youth drop-in centre.  

“It was somewhere in Plimmerton/Mana [i.e. just south of the Kāpiti Coast district], run by well-meaning Christians where underage kids played pool (me) and sculled straight spirits outside (not quite yet).  Someone put some heavy shit on the stereo, which happened to be ‘Led Zeppelin II’.  After listening to so much tinny ‘80s production values, it sounded gargantuan.  I think this was where I really started to realise the impact that bass, at least as a frequency if not a musical instrument, could have.”

It was also in or around 1989 that Jason started taking classical guitar lessons, principally inspired by the neoclassical playing of Malmsteen et al, offset by his background awareness of classical guitar via his father Stephen’s record collection.  He started out with extracurricular lessons during lunchtimes, but it was an entirely unrelated class the following year that ultimately led him to take up music on a more fulltime basis.

“Inauspiciously enough, my drive to music was that I took an Economics class, and the teacher came in guns blazing in the first class, just trying to lay down the law and say how he was going to run a really tight ship and so on, so it was like, ‘Oh, well fuck this, I’ve gotta get out of here…’  And some friends of mine were doing Performance Music at the time, and so I just asked how good on an instrument do you have to actually be… and I just switched to music basically to escape Economics.”

At that time, Performance Music was new to the Paraparaumu College curriculum and considered somewhat of a radical break from the established, formal and often “stuffy” curriculum of Music Theory.  Students joined groups and underwent regular performance assessments, along with being encouraged to play at school assemblies, which constituted Jaz’s first experiences of both playing in band settings, and of doing so to an audience.

His first gig outside of school was playing in the Wellington regional heat of the 1990 Smokefree Rockquest – a high profile nationwide highschool ‘Battle of the Bands’ type event.  A guitar player for the Paraparaumu College band had fallen ill, with Jaz being roped in at the last minute, hastily learning a Rolling Stones cover and bluffing his way through the band’s one original song. 

“I didn’t have time to learn anything, they just needed a body onstage…  Because I didn’t actually know the song I just had to turn down the amp and just mime it, and the engineer was furiously twiddling nobs and trying to bring up the levels…”

Also representing Paraparaumu College in the solo performance category that night was a young Jordan Reyne, a friend of Jaz’s since Third Form (Year 9).  At fifteen, Reyne was by then already an accomplished performer, and her friendship with Jaz would play a defining role in his own musical path over the years to follow.

Nearing the end of highschool, Jaz started transitioning to bass.  There was a bass guitar in class, but nobody to play it, and while Jaz was interested in the instrument, he wasn’t even entirely sure what it sounded like or what its role was.  But a friend in class called Dale, who played guitar, was a fan of Metallica and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Jaz notes that after listening to the latter, “it becomes obvious what bass is”, as opposed to Metallica, where the bass often just shadowed the guitar riffs. 

“Long story short, we needed somebody to play bass to do music performance, because it sounded a bit tinny with just the guitars, so I started mucking around, got a tab book for ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, started learning some basslines, and eventually started enjoying that more [than guitar].  And I kinda picked up bass quicker than guitar, really…  I think something that made it easier was that I’d started off with classical guitar, so I already had that kind of finger-picking style that made it quite natural to go over to bass.”

Meanwhile, now listening to music as a musician, Jaz’s influences during the early ‘90s began veering towards ‘alternative rock’ of the time, most notably Jane’s Addiction, the Pixies, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Faith No More.  Another formative influence during Sixth and Seventh Form was a tight group of friends, one of whom, Matt, would host weekly drinking sessions in his mum’s garage, “where apart from drinking cheap horrible beer and/or cask wine, the focus was on listening to music.”  Most of the aforesaid bands were on high rotation, alongside Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Tool, and RHCP.

“Eric Avery of Jane’s Addiction was a big influence – relatively simple, melodic lines, with a real hypnotic quality... Flea from RHCP was another major influence – another melodic player, but also peculiar at the time for mixing up funk and rock.  I’ve absorbed plenty of other influences since then, and you won’t catch me slapping a bass anymore, but I was ripping off Eric Avery and Flea for some time in my formative years.”

As highschool drew to a close, Jaz indicates that he was eager to get out of Paraparaumu at the earliest opportunity.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after leaving school, but knew that he enjoyed playing music, so investigated opportunities to take his studies further.  The Wellington Conservatorium of Music, part of what was then Wellington Polytechnic (and now Massey University) offered two streams of music study – Classical and Jazz.

“In terms of options for studying and playing bass, you couldn’t go off and play classical bass, so really the options at the time, at least that I was aware of, was going to Jazz School.  I knew I probably wasn’t good enough to get into the full course – I mean, I hadn’t played jazz in my life, and wasn’t particularly interested in jazz – but I just thought, well if that’s the only game in town for learning music, I’ll go and do it.  But they had a foundation course, which wasn’t a full year course, and the threshold for getting into that was a little bit lower...  So, I auditioned for that, and it was pretty embarrassing in retrospect; you had to come in and play a jazz tune and I think my understanding of what jazz actually was, was pretty… vague!  But somebody else ahead of me dropped out I think, so that’s… yeah.”

Jaz completed the foundation course in 1992 and moved in from Paraparaumu to Wellington the following year, still aged nineteen, to study jazz bass fulltime at the Conservatorium. 

“It was an interesting place, because it was not physically connected to the Wellington Polytechnic, it was in the old Heart and Lung Unit in Mt. Victoria, behind the hospital, and it’s now the SPCA, I believe.  But it was an old brick building – freezing – no insulation.”

Jordan Reyne, meanwhile, had also moved into Wellington to study at Victoria University, and in or around 1993 answered an advertisement to become the vocalist for a band called Mind Orgy.   Mind Orgy was the brainspawn of one Peter Rowberry, something of a renowned local musical eccentric, or “bit of a character”.  Alongside Peter Jamieson, Rowberry was co-founder of the Original Music Workshop; a studio, rehearsal space and collective music hub in Newtown, Wellington.  In need of a bassist, Jaz was invited to join the group.  Being primarily driven by Rowberry, Jaz says the project was an on again/off again affair, with a revolving cast of players who were typically engaged with other bands of their own, and that he and Jordan’s involvement in Mind Orgy ultimately segued into their next band together.

Still coterminous with Mind Orgy, c. 1994, Jordan had shifted over from Victoria University to study rock and commercial music fulltime for the Bachelor of Applied Arts in Music offered at Whitireia Community Polytechnic.  While at Whitireia, Jordan began putting together a new band with fellow students, guitarist Barnaby ‘Barnowl’ Dromgool, and drummer George Westrup.  Jordan again called on Jaz to complete the line-up of what would eventually become Bloodflower, and later, Dr Kevorkian. 

Jaz suggests that the impetus behind the band at the time was Jordan and Barney’s shared enthusiasm for Nirvana, whereas for Jaz, his interests in the grunge wave of bands lay primarily with the darker, “bit more Sabbath-y” sound of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and the inherently sludgy, bass-heavy influence of seventies rock.  A devastating personal blow for Jaz, however, meant that the band wouldn’t get up and running in earnest until the following year.

Jason’s mother Betty committed suicide in 1994.  Jaz, of course, was grief-stricken, and the resultant depression led to his taking time off from music school.  Of his mother’s own battle to overcome depression and anxiety, he writes:

“She had a rough childhood, vindictive mother (who in turn was a victim of her own torrid upbringing), father was a heavy drinker, died in his 50s…  An ongoing struggle for her was having confidence in her own self-worth, and she perpetually struggled with anxiety and depression.  That standard therapeutic option back then, at least in Paraparaumu, was to throw some heavy, addictive prescription drugs at the problem and wish you the best of luck.  In short, by the time she managed to get her shit together and get off the drugs, she just didn't have the resilience to face her life as it was.”

“For better or worse”, he says, Betty’s experiences with mental health services and heavy medication “probably had some influence on my reluctance to take the psychiatric route myself…  Not to malign anyone of course that finds that path useful, and this is well before SSRIs and the like.”  He was equally reluctant to seek counselling: “I didn’t like the idea of going to a psychologist… I was pretty introverted, so I didn’t like the idea of pouring out my feelings to some stranger, and the self-help route was more attractive.” 

Over the next couple of years, Jaz found that it was more helpful (to him) that his parents had brought him up with an awareness of meditation as a tool to alleviate pain and distress.  This route became instrumental to countering the lethargy and numbness of depression, and ultimately enabled him to “bring myself back to my senses”. 

Meditation and frequent visits to the library in turn led to his exploration of Buddhism and other ‘eastern philosophies’, which he maintained to some degree or another throughout much of his adult life.  He points out, however, that he doesn’t find it “helpful” to identify himself as “Buddhist”.  He became involved with a range of sitting groups in Wellington at different times, “dabbling” as he describes it, but notes that while he found the practice useful, there was never any one particular “flavour” of philosophy that he was able to “swallow hook, line and sinker”.  It was also between 1994 and 1995 that he took up martial arts again, this time in the form of an Australian-grown style of karate called Zen Do Kai.  Jaz says it “promised to effectively be an amalgam of everything that works, which in practice was roughly a bit of Muay Thai, traditional karate and a tiny bit of jiujitsu thrown in.”  

In 1995, Jaz switched from jazz school to join his Bloodflower bandmates at Whitireia.  The band’s activities began to pick up, regularly gigging around Wellington venues including Bodega, Antipodes (later Blue Note) and Cuba Cuba (later Black Cat Café), releasing their self-titled demo tape (recorded at the Original Music Worksop), and opening for White Zombie on the latter’s New Zealand tour in October of that year.

 Bloodflower self-titled demo tape cover, 1995.

Bloodflower self-titled demo tape cover, 1995.

It was during this period that Jaz also began to develop an interest in the post-punk and proto-goth generation of bands, drawn both to their darker aesthetics and the strength of their basslines.  In particular, he gravitated towards the distinctive, crisp and memorable bass playing of Joy Division, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party.  This music was “definitely quite influential for Bloodflower at a certain point”, and later, his contributions to both Dr Kevorkian and Disjecta Membra.

As a solo artist, Jordan Reyne’s own career was also beginning to take off, quickly surpassing that of Bloodflower in terms of commercial and critical recognition.  Her debut ‘double’ single, ‘Long Way to Climb’/‘Wilt’ was released on the Deepgrooves Entertainment record label in 1995, distributed by Festival Records (NZ) Ltd.  Recorded at The Lab in Auckland, the CD single featured Jaz as bassist, along with most of the guitars on ‘Wilt’ (albeit miscredited in the liner notes as ‘James Murphy’).  To Jordan’s further annoyance at the machinations of the commercial industry, a subsequent promo video for ‘Wilt’ featured a backing band composed of “evil twins from a past everyone denies… imitating the instrumentalists that played” on her record.

Meanwhile in 1995, Jaz and Jordan were married, against the backdrop of widely criticised amendments to Student Allowance Regulations, which meant that New Zealand tertiary students whose parents earned above a certain threshold could not lawfully receive a student allowance unless they were married.  Marrying solely for student allowances, on the other hand, was perfectly legal.  Although Jaz and Jordan were in a relationship at the time, he stresses that their marriage was one of convenience, as Jordan’s father was unwilling to support her chosen career path in music.  She was about to become widely acclaimed in terms like “One of this country’s most gifted, probing and intelligent writers” (Elsewhere); “One of the most interesting and experimental artists our country has to offer” (Chaff); “One of the finest experimental musicians and most critically minded artists to emerge from New Zealand in the last two decades” (AudioCulture), and so on.

The following year, Jaz returned to jazz school at the Wellington Conservatorium.  Bloodflower continued into early 1996, one notable show in January being the Mountain Rock Festival, headlined by Joe Satriani, The Stranglers and The Cruel Sea.  Not long afterwards, however, drummer George Westrup was sacked over “musical differences” (unwisely, Jaz reflects) and the band ultimately fizzled out in lieu of a replacement, while Jordan began focusing more on her own solo work. 

Jaz’s next regular gig from 1996-98 was in a band called Tetsuo, best summarised as “nineties funk metal”.  He laughingly describes the situation as “similar to Disjecta Membra, in that I was filling in [at the request of] a friend, and then the friend leaves the band, and I stay in the band.”  The friend in question was one Nick Pratt, who Jaz knew from highschool, and who was initially doubling as Tetsuo’s vocalist and bassist.

“He was always the slight oddball at highschool… always wore the non-regulation shoes, and when everyone else was a metalhead, he was clicking onto Pixies and the Jesus and Mary Chain… The Cure as well.  So, he was in my group of friends, and sort of illuminated the monochrome of metal with more interesting music.”

The other members of Tetsuo were Brent Strathdee (guitar), Tobin Edge (guitar) and Chris Aitken (drums), while Jaz was invited to take over on bass, enabling Nick to concentrate on vocals.  Jaz describes Brent Strathdee as “probably the driving force in the band”; he was writing a lot of Tetsuo’s songs, intended for rapped vocals (ala RATM), which really wasn’t Nick’s style.  Although they played a number of early gigs with Nick fronting the band, eventually Strathdee succeeded in orchestrating a coup to eject Nick and take control of the mic.  Jaz remains “a little bit hazy on the negotiations”. 

This incarnation of the group cut some studio demos with producer Mike Gibson at Inca Studios in early ’98, although no official releases resulted.  Some of their most notable shows included a stint on the O-Week (Orientation) circuit, on bills with Shihad et al.  As DJ Definite, Brent Strathdee-Pehi later achieved some notoriety in New Zealand as a hip-hop artist, producer and DJ, and is now a music teacher.  The former bandmates all remain friends, and drummer Chris Aitken is still a regular at most gigs Jaz plays in Wellington.

While still playing in Tetsuo, Jason had dropped out of jazz school during his third year in 1997. 

“More and more, I guess the level of technicality and musicianship that you need to achieve, and the time you have to put in to be a good jazz musician is sort of all consuming, and I didn’t really have the heart for it.  It was always purely instrumental for me, y’know, just a chance to continue learning and growing as a musician, rather than become a ‘jazz musician’, as such.  But as long as I had the energy and time to sustain other musical styles, then it was just a way to keep practicing and playing new styles.  And the kicking up the arse was useful, but I didn’t really want to make it my entire thing...  And because I was practicing so much material I wasn’t interested in, I ended up getting just a little aversion to playing the bass, because I’d associate it with homework.  So, at that point, it’s just kinda, y’know, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta get out of this, otherwise I’m never gonna pick up a bass again’.”

Also concurrent with Tetsuo, Jaz played bass on Jordan’s first full-length album, ‘Birds of Prey’, again released on Deepgrooves/Festival in 1997, for which he also received a credit as one of the album’s co-producers.  Among others, back-up players on the album included drummer Luke Casey, formerly of Albino Slug (S.P.U.D.), Bygone Era, Second Child and Eye TV.  The song ‘Millstones’ from the album, was loosely based around Jaz’s mum Betty and her experiences.

Critical response to ‘Birds of Prey’, included comments like:

"I'd be loath to categorize music this original. PJ Harvey springs to mind, but the style is 100% Jordans. Her vocals are astounding" - The Mix (UK)

"Where others sit and strum, Reyne uses the entire studio to build sombre yet evocative sound pictures... She suceeds in turning her bleakest visions into something musically seductive" - The Listener (NZ)

"This album will tear you apart - and it may be the best thing you buy all year" - Rip It Up (NZ)

"a rich deep and powerful voice that carves its way through a thick mix of industrial noises, acoustic strummings and crunchy guitars. Akin to a three way road smash between folk music, Pink Floyd's tour bus, and Tool's entourage". - The Evening Standard (NZ)

The former members of Bloodflower – Jordan, Jaz and Barnaby – next resumed playing together under the name of Dr Kevorkian, with new drummer Rikki Gooch.  Between 1997 and ’98, the band were typically billed as “Jordan Reyne & Dr Kevorkian”, which meant that Jordan would open with a solo acoustic set, followed by a second set with Dr Kevorkian as a full band.

The members of Dr Kevorkian and Disjecta Membra and our respective circles had also begun crossing paths over the course of ‘97.  For New Year’s Eve 1996/97, for instance, both Jaz and Barney were in attendance at ‘Shadow of the Night’, a goth shindig at Antipodes organised by local promoter/DJ Dayv Death, and headlined by Disjecta Membra.  Both Rosebud Garland (Dreams are Like Water) and long-time Disjecta Membra collaborator Russell Dench also remembered Jaz from when Bloodflower were regulars at Cuba Cuba.

 Jaz at Shadow of the Night (feat. Disjecta Membra and Reserved for Emily), Antipodes, Wellington, 31 December 1996.  Photo: Rosebud Garland.

Jaz at Shadow of the Night (feat. Disjecta Membra and Reserved for Emily), Antipodes, Wellington, 31 December 1996.  Photo: Rosebud Garland.

We didn’t meet, however, until late December of 1997, when I first stumbled into Bodega one night and found myself at a Dr Kevorkian gig; a sonic experience only enhanced by the whirling, lurid tilt of the room that night.  I was initially enamoured of the long-haired gothic-looking guitarist, Barnaby, whom I cornered shortly after he got off stage, and invited him to join Disjecta Membra.  I had a long-standing habit, of an evening (as it were), of inviting people to join the band because of how they looked.  But on this occasion, I accidentally wound up with the most technically proficient group of musicians ever to play under the Disjecta Membra moniker.

At that time, we were expanding Disjecta Membra from what had typically been a 2 or 3-piece live unit since late 1993, and which by late ‘97 revolved around myself (vocals, guitars), Jacob Sullivan (bass) and a drum-machine.  At the completion of a short New Zealand tour to promote the ‘Achromaticia’ album (July-August 1997), our regular sound engineer, Mark ‘Hideebeast’ Hamill (Head Like A Hole, Demoniac) joined the band on drums, followed by Barnaby on guitar on the approach to 1998.  This four-piece made its first and only live appearance at another Dayv Death-promoted event on 7 February 1998, at Bar Bodega, Wellington, on a bill with Burnt Weeping Eyes, Flinch, Fear v Loathinc and Jacob’s other band, Reserved for Emily.  Jacob left Disjecta Membra soon afterwards, followed by Reserved for Emily later in ‘98, to pursue a career in dance. 

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find a replacement, Barnaby eventually suggested that we might rope in Jaz from Dr Kev.  Barney and I were by this time flatting together, and the date of April 1998 sticks in my head, for some reason.  When Jaz first came aboard it was under the premise that he would just be standing in for a solitary gig – a planned tribute to my late friend and former flatmate, Dean Nash, who had died of an accidental overdose in September of 1997.  We were rehearsing a long set of covers of some of Dean’s favourite music, which included Lou Reed/Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Joy Division, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey and The Cure, and a handful of eighties pop hits (Visage, Soft Cell, Nik Kershaw and A-ha).  But the gig never actually happened.  From what Jaz and I can recall, we think it all fell over due to the overly ambitious number of songs being incorporated, and the relatively tight timeframe available.  Nevertheless, the rehearsals sparked the genesis of that particular incarnation of the group, and became a fun and useful way for everyone to get comfortable and familiar with playing together.

Next to join the ranks in or around mid ‘98 was Croatian-born classical pianist Petra ‘Pee’ Škorić, whom Barney and I had become friendly with via an mIRC chatroom.  Both Jaz and Petra made their first live appearance with Disjecta Membra on Saturday, 25 July 1998, on the second night of “Pothic Gunk”; a weekend-long event featuring a mix of goth, punk, metal, noise and industrial bands, also run by Dayv Death, and hosted at Valve (formerly Hole in the Wall, and now known as Valhalla).  Tensions between the band and promoter were such, however, that Mark Hamill refused to play, so we borrowed a drum-machine from Creassault and played as a four-piece.

One of the more notable aspects of our part in the event was that we played two sets; one being a relatively straightforward Disjecta Membra live set, and the second being an extended improv-noise performance to accompany a piercing ritual-theatre piece by Nic Fletcher, from local body-piercing shop Flesh Wound.  Jaz describes it as “Quite the introduction” to the group, while one fanzine reviewer wrote:

“You could tell it was going to be interesting when they put down the large splatter sheet. Disjecta Membra provided some rather good and very unsettling background music while Nick [sic] pierced his forearms in a variety of ways before proceeding to the finale of his act – drawing some blood and then drinking it down. The combination of my cold, the heat, the music and piercing led to me feeling quite faint and I had to go and sit down for a little while to recover!”

– Thomas Beagle, Deadlines fanzine

The only notable live show from the full five-piece was opening for Death In June, on 12 September 1998, Indigo, Wellington.  We had meanwhile started recording what was intended to be our second album, ‘Sibylline Leaves’, at Mark’s home studio New Centurion Sound (masters from a previous attempt at the album had already been erased when the owner of the facilities left town in late ’97).

deathinjune.jpg

Dr Kevorkian eventually dissolved as a live band over the course of 1998, although both Jaz and Barnaby remained involved with Jordan’s studio work.  But drummer Rikki Gooch was frequently in demand elsewhere, most notably as one third of the newly formed TrinityRoots. 

“Rikki’s always been one of these guys that’s so talented, and so eclectic in his tastes, that he’s always got his fingers in a few pies.  I don’t think he ever intimated that [Dr Kevorkian] was his only band or principal focus… He’s the sort of guy that didn’t need to practice the songs very much but could just fit in and play it perfectly and do exactly what was needed.  But once he’d done that – learnt all the songs and played a few gigs – then eventually he was moving onto something else.” 

Following Dr Kev’s demise, Barnaby next quit Disjecta Membra in early December, and about a fortnight later, on 19 December, we played with Jordan at Bodega as a four-piece (Michel, Jaz, Mark and Petra), essentially filling the breach for Dr Kevorkian as the full live band to follow Jordan’s solo set.  This line-up saw out the next twelve months and the majority of the ‘Sibylline Leaves’ sessions.  The only recording from these sessions to officially surface, however, was the song ‘Halah-Rain’ on a local goth compilation in 1999, which I’d unwisely submitted in haste, leaving the band unhappy with the rough, unfinished result.  A handful of my own early demos (1996-97), and the band’s studio outtakes and rough mixes (1998-99) were briefly made available online as the ‘Sibylline Sessions’ some years later. 

In 1999, Jaz commenced the first year of a degree in Religious Studies and History by correspondence via Massey University, and spent the greater part of the year in Coromandel, feeling “a bit stale on Wellington” at the time and in need of a change of scenery.  His father and step-mother were working as caretakers/site managers at Mana Retreat Centre in Manaia, Coromandel, so Jaz went up to get involved with WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms); a volunteer exchange involving a network of sustainable farms and retreat centres around New Zealand.  He took a cello and an acoustic guitar with him, utilising the opportunity to reignite his interest in playing music without having to pick up a bass, and participated in several meditative retreats, ranging from 7 to 10 days in length.  While on one 10-day retreat in Kaukapakapa, north of Auckland:

“I caught this horrific flu that was going around at the time that’d come from Australia, and I didn’t realise I had it until about two days in.  I didn’t drive, so I couldn’t actually get out of there, and I was just sort of delirious for most of those ten days; writhing around and speaking in tongues in my sleep.  But it was a silent retreat, so nobody could say anything about it…  (I was) coughing up blood at one point…  I actually felt amazing after it, but then I think if I’d been tortured for ten days and then released, I probably would’ve felt amazing as well…  But yeah, I didn’t really enjoy that one.”

He briefly returned to the fold in Wellington near the end of the year, where Mark Hamill’s flatmate, Alex Mein Smith (formerly of Christchurch punks The Bains and an early member of Wellington dub/reggae outfit The Black Seeds) had filled the second-guitarist spot in Disjecta Membra.  This latest iteration of the five-piece appeared live for the first time on 4 December 1999 (one year to the day since Barney’s departure), on yet another double-bill with Jordan Reyne at Bodega.  There was always something a wee bit auspicious about these Jordan Reyne gigs, at Bodega, in December.

 Disjecta Membra: Jaz Murphy (bass), Alex Mein Smith (guitar), Mark Hamill (drums), Bar Bodega, 4 December 1999.

Disjecta Membra: Jaz Murphy (bass), Alex Mein Smith (guitar), Mark Hamill (drums), Bar Bodega, 4 December 1999.

But Jaz’s last live show with this version of the group was just a fortnight later, on 18 December 1999, as part of ‘Let It Be the End, Believers’; a sort of pre-millennial tension blowout party that I’d put on with Auckland blackmetallers Coven, Tauranga dark alt-rock group The Altar, and local noise-industrial duo Creassault.  In true apocalyptic spirit, it was also to be Coven’s final show, as their van crashed on the way home to Auckland, destroying most of their gear and effectively putting the band out of action.

Perhaps also around late ‘99/early 2000-ish, Jaz played a handful of shows with a late line-up of Wellington band Psyke.  Psyke was in turn an outgrowth of Plastik Candy, who had played with Bloodflower on several double-bills at Cuba Cuba around ’95-’96.  When guitarist Anthony Hall began fronting the group, perhaps around ’97, the musical direction shifted towards a Smashing Pumpkins-meets-Swervedriver mix of psychedelia, shoegaze and epic alt-rock, and the name changed to Psyke.  Other Psyke personnel included Alan Benton (guitar, keys), Blair Malcolmson (guitar), Ash Dearmer (drums) and, prior to Jaz’s involvement, a bassist named Nicole.  Having not served in the band concurrently, Jaz has since forgotten Nicole’s surname, but she too was an alumnus of Paraparaumu College.   One of Psyke’s higher profile shows (prior to Jaz’s involvement) was playing support to Faith No More in 1997.  I caught them once or twice at Valve/Hole in the Wall in Wellington after Jaz had joined, and they were very good.  Antony Hall and drummer Ash Dearmer later moved to the UK in 2001, where Hall and a friend co-founded a new group called Astrolab, which later morphed into Zillionaire.

Jaz hadn’t so much officially “left” Disjecta Membra at this time as just become increasingly unavailable.  Rather than looking for a replacement or a stand-in, we just ended up doing a couple of shows between 1999 and 2000 with pre-recorded backing tapes of bass synched to a click-track in Mark’s headphones.  In this configuration, Mark, Petra, Alex and I played our last show together at ‘The Passover’, an Easter-weekend event some friends and I put on for восстание and The Drawing Room, both visiting from Christchurch, at Indigo on 22 April 2000.  As it happens, DJ Trypt (Jaz’s old school friend and Tetsuo bandmate, Nick Pratt) was also on the bill that night.  But with Disjecta Membra by now seeming to have a different line-up for almost every gig, coupled with various frustrated attempts to complete the ‘Sibylline Leaves’ album, it was soon after this that I shelved the band for a while.  I left Wellington to play guitar in Auckland band Winterland and be closer to the person I was going out with at the time. 

Jordan Reyne had by now adopted the moniker of Dr Kevorkian & The Suicide Machine for all of her live and recorded output, both solo and with bandmates and collaborators.  Her increasing exploration of post-industrial, dark ambient and gothic folk influences was at odds with popular perceptions of the “female singer/songwriter” as a specific subgenre of ‘adult contemporary’ folk-pop of the time, and the rebranding effectively enabled her to circumvent that misconception. 

As Dr Kevorkian & The Suicide Machine, Jordan’s next album ‘The Ironman’ was released in 2000 on her own imprint, DDV Laboratories, licensed and distributed by Universal.  Jaz again appeared as ‘The Ironman’s bassist and co-producer, while the album also included songs from Dr Kevorkian (the band), ‘Measurement’ and ‘The Cure’, performed by Jordan, Jaz and Barney, with ‘Birds of Prey’ studio drummer Luke Casey sitting in for Rikki Gooch. 

Asked about the dark, hypnotic groove to his bass on the single, ‘Gotham City’, Jaz says, “at the time I was inspired by dark dub lines e.g. Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, but played by a white guy from Paraparaumu”.

The album received rave reviews in New Zealand and the UK.  

"A groundbreaking album...  Probably the most eerily beautiful and disturbing album you will hear from a New Zealand artist this year" - New Zealand Musician

"Dr Kevorkian and The Suicide Machine may just be making the most important sound of 2002.  An enchanting patchwork of ethereal harmony, unabashed gothic melody, and a cerebral songwriting swagger, 'The Ironman' is simply stunning.  A thoroughly unique work of art from start to finish..." - Channel 4 (UK)

"..the most innovative, emotive and experimental music ever to come out of New Zealand" - Salient (NZ) 

Husky and thoughtful female vocals ride over a wide-ranging alternative spectrum of sound, from rock and acoustic guitars, to mellow and haunting synths. That said, this sound is distinct, with Jordan’s vocals being able to reach any scale, no matter what the music around her may be doing, making for a varied listening experience...” - Hard Wired (UK) 

"The Ironman is a concept album, a study in science, technology and humanity. Stunning poetry... evocative and moving..." - Real Groove (NZ)

Jaz had by now enrolled at Victoria University in 2000 for the second year of his degree, ditched History papers in favour of Philosophy, and the following year he completed his BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies.  To make ends meet, he took a shelving job at the University’s library, later moving to their Audio-Visual suite, and nearing the end of his degree in late 2001, transferred from Victoria to a job at Wellington City Public Library.  His time away from Wellington had also taken him away from Zen Do Kai, and on settling back in the capital again, between 2000 and 2001 he took up Muay Thai at Victoria.  The main attraction to Muay Thai at this point was wanting to get fit, but as the by-product of doing something he enjoyed, rather than “mindlessly running, lifting weights, etc”. 

Up in Auckland, when I eventually resumed (very sporadic) work on my own music as Disjecta Membra, it was in collaboration with classical pianist and electronic musician Russell Dench, then of The Harlequin Cube, and previously Creassault.  From 2001-03 this nucleus also involved contributions from Louise (Lou) Juventin (bass, vocals, guitar), Robyn Sutherland (bass), Anna Roxburgh (vocals, guitar) and Matthew Scott (guitar).  Jaz also made a stand-in live appearance for one Disjecta Membra gig in August 2001, but at that time we were still living in different cities, and Jaz was still effectively on extended leave from playing in bands.

Not directly involving Jaz, but relevant to various parties’ interconnected journeys, Jordan Reyne’s next two albums were ‘The Loneliest of Creatures’ (as Dr Kevorkian & The Suicide Machine) in 2002, via Mediatrix Publishing; and ‘The Passenger’ (as Jordan Reyne) in 2004, jointly released through Mediatrix and Jayrem Records.  The Mediatrix imprint was a little DIY label and distro that I co-founded and operated with Jason Just (Distorture, Shemsu Hor, Lightslastfading and Burnt Weeping Eyes) from 1999-2004.  Jordan moved to Germany in between the latter two album releases (where Jaz later visited her in about 2009), before she relocated to the UK in 2011.  She has since performed and recorded as part of UK ethereal/goth ensemble The Eden House, whose members Stephen Carey and Simon Rippin in turn contributed to her solo releases 2013-14.  As a solo artist she’s released another three studio albums (seven in total), a series of EPs, and a ‘Best Of’ compilation; contributed soundtrack music to major films and video games; toured extensively around Europe and the UK; played festivals including Glastonbury, Whitby Goth Weekend and Wave Gotik Treffen; and opened for Fields of the Nephilim, New Model Army, Laibach, and Karl Bartos (Kraftwerk). 

After a couple of years off, in or near 2003, Jaz eventually joined Wellington band Bleakhouse.  The band had been playing together since 1999 with another bassist, Michael Mawson, releasing an EP and an album between 2000 and 2001.  Other members included Robin Hinkley (vocals, acoustic guitar), Jamie Standen (guitar, backing vocals) and Jared Watson (drums).  With earlier output being described as comparatively moody “sulk-rock”, Jaz came aboard for their reputedly livelier third CD release, the 7-song ‘Self-Help Cassette’ (2004), which he describes as both “art pop-ish” and “cynical arch-pop”.  I’d characterise the couple of songs I’ve heard as somewhere between early Radiohead, Blur and The Smiths, interspersed with eclectic jazz-folk elements, and a New Zealand Student Radio accent.

About 2004, “at a rough guess”, Jaz noticed than an old Zen Do Kai teacher “and all around good human being”, Geoff Grant, had started up a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club.   

“What appealed about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was that it involved real-life feedback – you actually applied the techniques against a resisting opponent, getting a sense of their relative efficacy (or not); many of the basic techniques are very effective, yet don't require years to be able to apply; the depth and variation of technique, allowing each learner to develop a style and approach that suits them.  Beyond those stylistic features, the club is a great social leveller and community.  On any given night you be rolling (jiu-jitsu slang for sparring) with an ex-All Black, a set designer, a yoga instructor, a musician, a police officer, ex-gang member or heaven forbid a librarian to name a few.  Another thing I appreciate about it is the ability or challenge to cultivate an ethic of continuous improvement and to weather the ups and downs of the ego as you ride high one moment with everything coming together, only to have your arse handed to you in the following five minutes.”

In 2005, Jaz went from having held various part-time positions at the Wellington Library as a “side gig” to his various other pursuits, to becoming the fulltime Music Specialist and Collections Manager of the library’s (awesome) Music department. 

“I hadn’t really considered being a librarian, partially because my dad was a librarian when I was growing up.  Not that I didn’t like what he was doing, but there’s just a sense that you want to carve your own path, so I’d never thought about it.  So there you go – just as I thought I was out, they sucked me back in.”

Through a friend and fellow librarian, Mathew Powell, the next band Jaz was invited to join was Ammp, a highly polished and commercially focused pop-rock outfit, often likened vocally and melodically to early eighties U2, albeit with very slick contemporary production values.  Headed by the songwriting partnership of Andrew Masseurs (vocals, keys) and Mathew Powell (guitar), both Jaz and drummer Andrew Richardson were enlisted ahead of their debut single and video, ‘All I Wanted’ (2005).  Over the next few years the band would produce a steady string of singles and promo clips, several of which made the national Top 40, receiving strong commercial industry support and airplay through NZ On Air, Kiwi Hit Disc, C4, Juice TV, The Rock, Classic Hits and ZM FM. 

Jaz’s next appearance with Disjecta Membra was as part of a revolving cast of up to ten live members, on 23 June 2007 at Subnine, Wellington, on a double-bill with Distorture (Jason Just and Kane Davey) for the release of the latter duo’s CD mini-album, ‘Revere’.  This was also notable as Kane Davey’s first live performance with Disjecta Membra, and thus the first time all three of us played as part of the same ensemble.

Studio output from Ammp continued, with the release of singles and promo videos for ‘Ironman’ (2007); ‘Go’ and ‘Always’ (2008); ‘Midnight in Newtown’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me Here’ (2009); ‘Let the Sunlight In’ (2010); and ‘Sgt Mayhem’ and ‘The Hunted’ (2011).  Although he’d played on the recordings, Jaz was travelling around South East Asia and later Europe between 2008 and 2009, so didn’t appear in some of the clips from that time.  Compiling all of the above and a few extra tracks, Ammp released their first full-length album ‘From the Back of the Sun’ in 2011.  The album had been recorded at various locations over the preceding six years, mixed and co-produced by Chris Van de Geer (Stellar*), and mastered by Simon Holloway, who had previously worked alongside Jordan and Jaz on ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘The Ironman’.  Soon afterwards, Ammp got straight back to work on their projected follow-up album, ‘This Chaotic Symphony’.

Disjecta Membra had been on another extended hiatus from 2009-2013, but Jaz and I reconnected when I moved back to Wellington to start a family; he and I had both just become dads in 2013.  Around the same time, Jaz transferred back from Wellington City Libraries to Victoria University Library, where he’s held various positions ever since.  He started recording with me for our next single, ‘Death by Discothèque’, and was soon afterwards invited to re-join on a more permanent basis when we started putting together a live group to play support for Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy’s New Zealand tourdates in December 2013.  A prior commitment, however, meant that Jaz was unable to do the shows, and Isobel (Izzy) Te Aho-White (our regular bassist from 2007-09) was asked to step in. 

With two part-time bassists now on standby, for the ‘Death by Discothèque’ single and its various remixes, some versions were released with Jaz on bass and some with Izzy.  The ‘single edit’ (with Izzy) went online as a free download shortly ahead of the Peter Murphy tourdates, while the first remix to feature Jaz appeared on the compilation CD, ‘This is Gothic Rock: Vol. I’ from Gothic Music Records (Finland) in mid-2014.  The ‘Death by Discothèque (Remixes)’ EP, featuring Jaz on bass and containing the definitive full-length version of the track appeared in July the following year.

Over the same period, the first new singles and accompanying promo videos from Ammp’s latest album sessions began to appear, including the electro/synth-tinged ‘Rabid Creature’ (2013), and ‘Glad to Be Alive’ (2014).  Tragic family circumstances for one of Ammp’s members, however, meant that the band’s album sessions were never to see completion. 

Ammp were almost the very antithesis of Disjecta Membra, Dr Kevorkian or Bloodflower.  Their commercially driven, carefully crafted melodic pop songs were frequently joyful, stadium-sized anthems for everyday kiwis, full of hooklines, hope and the promise of a bright future.  Although an EP-length download release of songs salvaged from ‘This Chaotic Symphony’ would later appear on Bandcamp in 2017, ‘Glad to Be Alive’ was to be the final official release from the band during their time together.   As their swansong, the tender, uplifting single, complete with its warm, sunny video of the band and their families celebrating the simple pleasures of day-to-day life together is heartbreakingly poignant and bittersweet. 

With Disjecta Membra, Izzy Te Aho-White continued as our regular bassist until November 2015, when both she and Matthew Tāmati Scott (guitars, keys) left the group.  Three days later, Jaz at last re-joined Kane Davey and I as a permanent fixture in the current line-up.  This version of Disjecta Membra resumed recording together in March, and played our first gig as a trio on 30 July 2016 at Valhalla with Dreams are Like Water, Hex, Tortures and AMY_cin, where we opened our set with the newly penned ‘Far from the Chant of a Murmuring Sun’. 

In November of 2016 ‘The Infancy Gospels’ EP was released (recorded with the previous line-up from mid-2015), and we joined The Mission for the New Zealand homestretch of their Thirtieth Anniversary World Tour. 

Three months later in February 2017, ‘The Infancy Gospels’ was followed by ‘Songs to Scattered Symbols’ – a split CD between Disjecta Membra and our friends IKON and Sounds Like Winter from Australia, coinciding with two triple-headline shows together for Waitangi Weekend in Auckland and Wellington. 

Disjecta Membra spent the remainder of 2017 developing new material drawn from the more acoustic-focused edges of our palette, with writing and recording sessions only occasionally interrupted by stripped down, low-key, semi-acoustic performances via live broadcasts and private functions.  Our activities over the course of 2018 to date have only grown more secretive.

At the time of writing, Jason’s father Stephen Murphy now lives on a retreat centre, where Jaz says he’s been getting into Sufism.  Jordan Reyne’s recent output includes the 2017 release of her ‘Best Of’ album (20 years since her debut, ‘Birds of Prey’), and an appearance in the ‘Resident Evil 7’ soundtrack. 

Jaz lives with his partner and their two children in Karori, Wellington, nearby to Kane and his family, so they’ve become quite good friends these last couple of years.  I’ve never been very good at getting close to people myself, but Kane and Jaz are two people that I feel immeasurably lucky to have known for such a long time.  The abiding presence of each of these two gentlemen has, for me, often been characterised by a pervasive sense of calm, stability, familiarity and easiness.  The sheer longevity of our association has undoubtedly brought us gradually closer, while writing about each of them has in turn been an instructive and rewarding way of getting to know my friends a little better.

 Michel, Jaz and Kane, Powerstation, Auckland, 19 November 2018.  Photo: Warren Jones.

Michel, Jaz and Kane, Powerstation, Auckland, 19 November 2018.  Photo: Warren Jones.

Jaz says that it’s certainly quite possible that some of the musical projects he’s been a party to might have escaped mention here – even some that are documented above, he had all-but-forgotten until he was asked about them.  Despite having played in such a diverse array of bands, doing so was often more about friendship than anything else, with the beneficial by-product of “playing out of type” presenting challenges and opportunities to advance as a musician.  Of all the groups he’s played with, he describes Bloodflower, Dr Kevorkian & The Suicide Machine and Disjecta Membra as “closest to my home base”.