A Fine Peduncle show is many things: A venture into experimental music, loop pedals and some especially impressive falsetto; a science lesson on insect anatomy; a trust exercise in which the unschooled audience gets close to the stage while the performer sheds his inhibitions — and much of his clothing.
The songs alone grab at the ears with a throb of insistent beats and soulful melodies. Moogfest alumni Fine Peduncle (aka Knoxville-based musician Cole Murphy) builds tracks from his own recordings (he plays bass, guitar, keyboards, banjo and violin) and then layers vocals in a style that reminds both of Beck and Prince. You know, if Beck and Prince sang about bugs and sex.
But then there's the show. Murphy struts, howls and writhes on the floor. He takes indecent liberties with the speaker cabinet, plays his touch pad with his foot, pours a beer over his torso and tears off his shirt.
"The things that I do, like the stripping, are a metaphor for what's happening in the EPs," says Murphy. His three recordings, each with an entomological name, include Object Pupa (which he describes as the state when the insect can't move around and is vulnerable), Ecdysis (the moulting process) and, just released in November, Aedeagus (an insect phallus). (The stage moniker “peduncle” refers to a supportive stem found in plants, invertebrate animals and in the human brain.)
Murphy says that sometimes when he begins to undress during a show, "people think it's kind of funny." But he's found that as he improves as a performer and his audiences grow more comfortable with him as an artist, they begin to reciprocate.
It started as a fluke: Murphy took his shirt off during a show because he was overheated. " I saw the effect immediately," says. "People are standing 10 or 15 feet away and you do that and people come up to you."
Murphy adds, "It's become almost a ritual — I do these rituals and lead people in these rituals. As a result, these walls that we put up and the inhibitions on the room — I'm cutting through that tension with these maneuvers." Which means for his Asheville show this week, opening for Future Islands, those who wish to disrobe may do so.
Still, Murphy is a reluctant showman. He grew up in a church-going household and struggles in his relationship to his family, who find Murphy's art at odds with their religious values. Murphy does credit gospel music and a sense of spirituality (he has created his own, in which insects serve as deities) as major influences in his creative process. He's also (perhaps surprisingly) a shy person and says that stepping into the Fine Peduncle persona has changed him a great deal in the past year. "To do that performance is a very psychological thing for me," says Murphy. "I see Fine Peduncle as circled in protection by the stage." When he leaves the stage he says he "steps back down into humility.
"If I played that character throughout the day, I'd quickly get into trouble," says Murphy.
But he does plan to keep plumbing Fine Peduncle for insights (into his personal evolution and artistic process as much as anything). There's a next album in the works, one that is likely to take Murphy out of his bedroom recording studio and involve a producer to "get the odds and ends all together." He describes it as "a Grimoire of insect and sexual magic."
Murphy does point out that "when you define something, you're placing limits on it." As for the idea of making "sexually natured music dealing with the topic of insects," he wonders if he's boxing himself in.
But, he says, as long as he continues down his current path of transformation and evolution, there’s no real ceiling. "Most of it is about this spiritual structure. It's limitless because there's a constant reservoir to write from," he explains. "No one would say that no more gospel music can be made because it's all about God."
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Fine Peduncle, opening for Future Islands and Ed Schrader's Music Beat
when: Wednesday, Feb. 1 (10 p.m., $10 advance tickets at Harvest Records. http://avl.mx/9f