Published on May 16th, 2006 | by The Beige Baron


Drag Interview

— By Danny Z

For a band that’s played barely a handful of gigs over the last five years, releasing only one EP in that period, it should, in theory, be strange that the interview is at the opulent Hotel Como.


As I park my arse in on the couch, I acknowledge the grinning guy, immersed in cryptic newspaper puzzles, who’s sitting opposite me. I ask where he’s from, he says Brisbane. Oh, you’re Matt Murphy from Drag. He nods, the grin not leaving his face. Soon after, Darren Middleton ambles into the foyer, guitar in hand, and the blonde lady at the desk tracks him as he walks. I know that guy, she’s thinking.

You released the self-titled EP a few years ago, looking back were you happy with it musically, and the way it was received?

It was just something that we kind of did at the time. In the past, it’s always been small blocks of time for me, obviously I’m pretty busy with Powderfinger. This time round is the first chance we’ve had to do something where we can give it a bit of focus and a bit love.

How have you developed the sound since then? I take it you haven’t really had the opportunity to refine the sound in a performance setting, is it primarily a studio project?

It kind of is, the songs themselves took shape over quite a long time. I come from a live performance background, so I can always do that. The songs will always be able to be performed in that sense. But they were cultivated a lot in the studio. The studio’s a great place to go nuts and explore whatever areas you want to explore.

Are you coming from a different space, a more personal space, when writing for Drag than with Powderfinger? Where are you drawing from with these songs?

They’re definitely more personal, because I guess the responsibility is mine. Instead of taking an idea to the ‘fingers where it gets filtered and dispersed, I kind of get to follow things through here. The inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere basically, places and people rub off on you. It’s simply a matter of being aware that they do. Particularly if you’re a songwriter, you can take note of how a city leaves a mark on you.

Obviously many people are going to refer to Drag as a side project, which unfairly gives it a sense of novelty. How important is this as an outlet for yourself, as a musician, as an artist?

It’s pretty important, the idea of it being a side project has come up and I pretty much straight away say that that’s not how I see it, or would want it to be received, because “side project” for me means throwaway. It is something that I feel pretty passionate about, and I feel energised about the fact that I’ve got to do it. I want to give it the kind of focus that I would give anything else.

There’s a track on the album which I could certainly relate to, The Frustrated Writer . That kind of cacophony of horns I think is a beautiful aural translation of that headspace. Is that autobiographical?

It was a bit of a scene I created, because originally I wanted it to be an album of short films. So The Frustrated Writer was going to be a guy at a typewriter, basically telling the story of a short film. The music was just meant to emulate that, I think in the song he’s lost a bit of himself, so he’s a bit confused and that’s the way I would describe it. The guy that put the horns together said he wanted to make it confusing, not sure…

You Will Save Me , that track stood out for me as well, there’s a real sense of honesty on display there, and I think that’s something we got a glimpse of with Over My Head , from Internationalist. Is this important to you, is it cathartic, this heart on the sleeve approach to songwriting?

I think it’s really important, because people get a sense of that. Particularly on that song that you picked up on, it was very honest, very personal, just about being confused in a relationship and hoping that that person will give you the answers you’re looking for, but it’s often not the way. I think it’s just important to be honest, it’s important to have fun and create images and ideas as well, but sometimes you have to put a little bit of yourself out there, because that’s what people will connect with.

The hidden track, in particular, is rather funereal, and it’s also probably the most beautiful moment on the disc. I get the sense that it’s the most tangible insight into the personal, internalised philosophy of Darren…

That’s a very open-hearted song, it was written for my daughter. It does literally contain a simple message of, if I don’t tell you, just remember that I loved every moment that we had together, life moves on, everything’s always changing, you’ve got to let go sometimes. I guess that is my philosophy, in that song. It’s a message that you would perhaps leave to someone, that life is changing. A couple of people really like it, and I wasn’t sure if I should put it on there, so we chucked it on as a hidden thing that people would discover.

I’m gonna throw this one out there, and feel free to tell me to get fucked, but I think The Way Out is a far better disc than Vulture Street . Do you think Powderfinger has run its race, is it time to move on with Drag, something fresh and exciting?

That kind of remains to be seen. We have made a commitment as a band, out of loyalty to our friendship over the last fifteen years, that this year I would do this, and Bern’s doing something this year as well. Then we’ll get back together early next year, and try to write and record an album. We’re not gonna do anything that we don’t think is good, but we’re gonna put ourselves into it and see what we can come up with.

Any chance of an avant garde concept album, then?

Ha! Well it’s gotta be different. With this thing that I’ve done, and whatever Bern’s doing, I think we’ll be able to bring a broader palette to the table. But who knows.

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Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

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