"We’re definitely not standing still on stage with our hair over our faces": Steve Murphy of Kings Destroy interviewed

"We recorded almost completely live."

Straight off the mean streets of the Bronx, Kings Destroy is very much a band of the Big Apple and they want you to know it. They mix a super heavy doom/stoner metal sound with the raw, aggressive hardcore vibe that coloured each of the band members’ lives growing up in New York City. Vocalist Steve Murphy gets on the horn to MaF to discuss how he and his band have dealt with the gentrification of one of the world’s most iconic cities, oh, and their brand new album too.

It’s first thing in the morning over in the US, so Steve dutifully goes about answering my questions as I first ask him what the name Kings Destroy was inspired by. “Three of us actually met in the Bronx when we were going to school. At that time, Kings Destroy was one of the bigger graffiti crews in the Bronx, led by this guy called Cope, and Cope is one of the more famous graffiti artists of that era from New York. For us, it was kind of a natural name because we saw that graffiti all the time when we were living in the Bronx and we decided to go with it. So even though the name sounds super metal, it has a completely different meaning to us.”

Well, given your name and the backstory behind it, would you say that Kings Destroy is influenced by the cultural and musical history of New York? “Yeah definitely, that’s really what this album is about. We’ve tried to bring all of those influences out in this album. It’s what the artwork’s about and it’s what a lot of the lyrics are about. Basically, we just sat down, talked about it, and realised that for better or for worse, this city has had a massive influence on our music. We had never really told that story; we had just sort of made music without realising how the city had shaped us. So we brought it all together for this album.”

I’m always fascinated by how certain cities can come to represent certain sounds. When you say New York, you automatically think of the punk and hip-hop movements that came out of the city. How do you see yourselves fitting into the New York musical scene? “Well, we all got our start way back when. First, there was the punk scene, the CBGB scene of the 70’s, which included Talking Heads, The Ramones and all that stuff. Then there was the hardcore scene of the 80’s and that’s where we all actually came from originally. We were playing CBGB’s all the time, that music had a huge impact on us. In fact, two of our hardcore bands are still active now; Killing Time and Breakdown, and basically that whole era shaped us. Back in those days, you would get graffiti artists and hardcore kids and hip-hop people and they would all merge together, it was one big underground. There were big graffiti artists at CBGB’s seeing hardcore bands playing, or hardcore kids would go to hip-hop shows. So, we all really came from that New York underground mentality of the 80’s, that’s how we grew up. Things are a lot more different now; it’s become much more splintered. Even within hardcore and metal there are so many sub-genres, it really wasn’t like that back in the day, this is all kind of new.”

You and a few of the other band members have come from a hardcore background, how did you get involved with making doom metal? “We basically got our hardcore bands back together in about 2006 and they had been dormant for quite some time, but there was a lot of demand for it. Now, if you see what’s going on in the hardcore scene with these bands reuniting now, it’s like Judge and just this past weekend Burn, as well as The Crumbsuckers. We were kind of in the first wave of that and after we toured Europe, the US and Asia with our hardcore projects we didn’t really feel like starting another one. So, everyone was listening to slower, heavier music at the time, and we had always been fans of the Melvins and stuff like that, so it was just natural for us to start a slower, really heavy band and that’s the genesis of it.”

How would you say your background in those other styles of music impacts the way you write for Kings Destroy? “I guess the easiest way to answer that is to say that a lot of the themes and the lyrics are much more based in the punk or hardcore world than in the metal world. We’re not writing about occultism or witches or anything like that, our lyrics still retain a social bent to them. We play a lot of doom shows with other bands of the genre, and I think our live show is somewhat unique because we’re very physically active on stage and with the audience. There’s definitely a challenging element to how we discourse with the crowd, we’re definitely not standing still on stage with our hair over our faces.”

Kings Destroy also has a new self-titled album out recently. Can you tell us a bit about how that came together? “This is actually our third album in 4 years, we’ve been writing quite a bit over that time. After the last two albums, we made a conscious decision to really record in a live fashion, so we could deliver an album that was a closer representation to our live show in terms of the energy. Whereas the first album was more of a learning experience for us, we were definitely finding our way in terms of playing slow, for the second album we really wanted to put something really polished out, which we did. But for this album, it’s all about getting back to our live show. We recorded almost completely live and the end result for us is a pretty good representation of how we sound.”

So this raw element you guys have to your sound, do you think that’s a sticking point to who Kings Destroy are? “Yeah, I think there’s an element of aggression in the band that is maybe not present in many bands from the doom scene. I mean, alright there’s obviously aggression in all metal and in the doom scene, it’s super heavy music, it’s deep in the underground, nobody’s getting famous, nobody’s getting rich. But our aggression comes out in a different way and I think it has a lot to do with us growing up in New York city and having to deal with the city on a 24/7 basis. So for us to channel that type of aggression into the type of music we play, that’s what this album is really about.”

Now, I’ve read that this whole album is supposed to be your interpretation of New York City, could you elaborate on that? “When we first started living in the city, it was about as unpleasant a place as you could be. It was dangerous, it was dirty, it smelled. The housing situation was disgusting. We all lived in apartments with rats and giant water bugs and tonnes of cockroaches. It wasn’t the shiny city that gets depicted now, it’s all changed. Also it was just an unfriendly place, you didn’t speak to anybody, you didn’t make eye contact, when you rode the subway it was 125 degrees and people were fighting all the time. It was just a nasty place. It was nasty for a long time, right up until the mid-90’s, even the late-90’s. Then it started to change, a lot of people said it changed for the better, I’m not really sure about that. Now it’s this glossy touristy place, all of the cool spots have closed down because we need to put a Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts on every corner. So that whole change from past to present really has affected us and we’re still living here and dealing with it. It’s got its pain, even if it’s a much prettier city. For us, it’s all about what a nasty place it was and what it has become.”

So, now that the album’s finally out, how has it been received? “This album has been our most widely received out of the three by a long margin. For the most part, people have really gotten what we’re trying to do. We’re charting in the college music charts in the US, which is strange to say the least but kinda cool. Interestingly, we’ve had more fantastic reviews than ever, but we’ve also had more vicious, negative reviews; which we kind of view as a good thing, because people are reacting to it, which is all you can ask for right?”

It certainly is Steve, thanks for the talk.