For Justin Andrew Murray, the art of songwriting is seeing where music has been and deciding where it’s going.
That’s the approach the Wichita native has taken for his latest project, a Kansas City-based three-piece band – featuring Murray on guitar and vocals, Joshua Blythe on drums and Kevin Perrette on bass – that assumes Murray’s name. The sound teeters more toward rock with a heavy blues influence, drawing from modern musicians such as John Mayer and older staples like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Albert Keane, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy.
“The artists that I enjoy listening to or gravitate to the most are generally people who are innovators, people who are constantly looking to better themselves as far as their skills,” Murray said. “Most guitar players are looking to be a better guitar player whereas someone like John Mayer, who is a phenomenal guitar player, has sounded different on every album.”
Murray will perform at a CD release party at Rock Island Live, 101 N. Rock Island, on Saturday. The show will feature the release of “The Other Side,” a four-song EP that features three originals and a cover of an old hymnal modernized and redone in the band’s style.
Over the course of an August weekend, the band recorded all the rhythm tracks live in a one-day session – barring the cover song, which was entirely live except for the vocals – then added guitar overdubs and vocals, including a few three-part harmonies, before calling it a night. The next day was one of listening back, retracking a few pieces and adding auxiliary percussion like tambourine before sending them to Kevin Chen in San Francisco for mastering; Chen dumped them onto analog tape and brought them back as digital tracks to produce a warmer sound.
The recording process – which Murray described as locking themselves in a studio and hoping for the best – is more meticulous and nerve-wracking and not quite the experience of live shows, which is where Murray almost always walks away feeling “very satisfied,” he said.
Expect funny faces and mannerisms at Saturday’s show, Murray said, who describes himself as an “intense guitar player.”
“If I was more aware of what I looked like or how I performed, I probably wouldn’t be as inclined to perform,” he joked. “When it comes time to get up and play, I usually turn my brain off and just let whatever happens happen.”
This does not mean Murray is a newcomer to the stage; the 25-year-old has been playing in Wichita bars – sometimes beside such cornerstones as Vinnie Mourning, Ed Macy Jr. and Shawn Kail – since he was 16, he said.
Likewise, he’s been playing guitar since he was a preteen, sitting in his room with his dad’s collection and figuring out tunes by ear.
“I can’t imagine life without my music or without my guitar,” Murray said. “There’s kind of ‘Justin before guitar’ and ‘Justin after guitar.’ This gave me an identity and a purpose, and it’s my passion. I know a lot of people will go through their life and a lot of times, they may never find that, or they find it but don’t ever get to passionately pursue it like they want. I’m very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to do both things.”
In the six months the group has been together, they’ve played between 70 and 75 shows throughout Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas, a figure that makes Murray “happy with how busy we’ve stayed and how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time,” he said.