Conor Murphy is one of the most revered figures of the "emo revival", having helped create two of its greatest albums The Albatross and Dealer as part of his band Foxing. Both records epitomise the thematic maturity and songwriting sophistication that's come to characterise the movement; but, as Conor explains in this interview, working really hard through intense issues can be fucking exhausting.

A few months ago he released his first solo album, self-titled under his chosen moniker Smidley, almost as a form of relief or therapy. Tonally and musically buoyant, it's a departure from Foxing's thorny solemnity, but an astute marker of Murphy's natural talent for big hooks and fun ideas.

Now he's finished touring the album, I called Conor to discuss Twitter's cutest punk dogs, the difficulty in balancing Big issues with fun relief, and what stake he puts in the whole emo revival thing.

Congrats on the success of your debut album, but more importantly congrats on Milk, now my favourite punk rock puppy.

Oh Milk! Thanks so much, he's learning tricks as we speak right now with my girlfriend.

Oh really what's he learning?

So far he knows "come", and "sit", and "lay down", and now he is learning "stay" and "leave it". He's good at "stay", less good at "leave it". He's a really good boy though.

Have you ever seen the Twitter account 'Punk Rock Milo'?

Oh yeah I know Punk Rock Milo very well.

Oh really! Have you met him in person?

Loads of times, his mother is one of my best friends in the world, she's a really talented photographer.

It's one of the best accounts on Twitter, so I'm quite jealous. It'd be like fan fiction getting these two punk dogs together.

Oh yeah we've got to get them together.

Starting off with a very basic question, but why Smidley, why the solo project?

Well with Foxing - I don't want to say it's a serious band because we're not serious people - but the music we write we take very seriously and it's our entire life, and sometimes we forget why we started doing it in the first place. It's really hard. For six years now we've been on the road almost non-stop, and we haven't been home for more than two months in at least two years, so we get all up in our own heads about it, and you kind of forget why you do it in the first place, why you make music. There are a few reminders along the way, like the great people you meet and you have a good time, but there's also so much pressure. So with this, it was kind of taking a shot at doing something solely for fun. I learned on the first tour we did recently [as Smidley] with Tigers Jaw, that there's no such thing as making a band that's completely carefree; there will always be stress on the tour. The nature of being a touring band is being successful in all these different places which is tiring, yet the point of doing the thing in the first place was to be carefree. Ultimately though, it's more about humour and satire than it is about saying something that means something. I could do what I wanted, with no pressure.

It must be therapeutic.


Speaking about the different sounds of the album, I heard a lot of '90s indie rock in there like Superchunk and Pavement, but also more modern scrappy rock like Hop Along, what sort of sound were you going for? Were you trying to emulate a distinct aesthetic or just doing what came to you?

I think it was a little bit of both, I've been told I sound like Pavement a lot, but I don't think I've ever listened to a full album of theirs. I do love that type of music, like Dinosaur Jr. I think more of it [the sound] is because I l grew up listening to what my brother and sister listened to, and my brother is ten years older than me and my sister is five years older than me, so a lot of my formative music are albums I remember listening to with my sister in the car. I tried to make an album that they would like. A lot of Modest Mouse, Weezer, early Belle & Sebastian records; that's the stuff I was consciously tied to. But then, there are so many bands that I love that come through it more unconsciously. Like you said Hop Along; Joe [Reinhart] from Hop Along produced my record, I love that band so much. With more modern bands it's kind of hard not to be influenced by them when you're listening to your friends' music all the time.

You mentioned the production credits; I really enjoy you featuring Cam Boucher [Sorority Noise] and Ben Walsh [Tigers Jaw], it's kind of a punk dream team. What sort of experience was it like working with those guys?

With those guys there was no cold call, they're just artists I know personally and enjoy their music. Okay, there was one person I had never met that I contacted to be on the record, and that was Mitski. She's so busy; she's so good that she doesn't have any time to be doing anything. And I don't know if she would have even wanted to, but she was the only person I even considered wanting to do a duet with. I hope I can some day, she's probably my favourite current artist. And that's another influence, definitely, Mitski. Other than her, every other person on the record are just my favourite people that I've met on tour. Cam, Ben, Eric Slick from Lithuania and Dr. Dog, Dominic [Angelella] from Lithuania, Joe and Tyler [Long] from Hop Along; all these people are just great friends that I contacted while I was producing the album in Philly, and these guys live in Philly anyway. It wasn't really like, "hey studio musicians, come in and let's pick your brains for a while", it was more "come in, drink some beers, smoke some weed, try out some stuff." It was awesome.

Any of the guys come up with some of the best hooks on the record?

Ben Walsh wrote such a good solo on 'Dead Retrievers', that's one of my favourite parts of the record, and then Dominic wrote the craziest stuff for 'Fuck This'. All I said was "Dinosaur Jr", and he went crazy, putting so much feedback into everything. Cam did saxophone on that song too. He got really high and played sax randomly for a while, and then we stumbled across something; what he played sounded like the sax during the verse of 'Soul Man', and he took that arpeggio thing and made it his own. I think it's okay to lift parts directly from other songs, as long as those songs are classics. It's really weird to lift a guitar part or something from a band that's currently playing, but when you just take the saxophone part of 'Soul Man', it's more homage than stealing. Or maybe it's just stealing, I dunno.

Well you haven't been sued yet.

Yeh that's true. I think it's important to be always trying new things. When we [Foxing] do something that's just guitar, bass and drums, we're like "this is fucking stupid". We're not innovating if we're just doing the same thing. So we definitely try to incorporate the wrong instruments, trying to use weird sounds into parts where they shouldn't be. It's a conscious thing to push the boundaries. With Smidley though, it's more like "YEAH; let's remake indie rock songs, and make them funny".

Well it's worked! Interesting you mention the seriousness divide with this and Foxing. There is that bubbliness to this record, but you still deal with some tough issues. 'Milkshake' is such a moving song for me; especially that line "I love every moment that I'm fucked up," it really hits home. You're having a lot of fun on the album, but is there a song in retrospect that you're particularly proud of?

I think that song 'Milkshake'; when I made its demo I would listen to it constantly, which goes against what I normally do in writing. Normally once I've finished writing I stay away from them. That song I kept listening to because it's so straightforward, and I'm not embarrassed by any of the lyrics. Sometimes when I write lyrics there's a lot of deep imagery behind it, and in my head I think "I've tried too hard here", but with 'Milkshake' I was just "this is just straightforward, exactly what I was thinking at the time, the conversation I have in my own heart while I'm sitting in my car". Because of that, it calms me down when I listen to it. That's probably the song I'm most proud of. That, or 'It Doesn't Tear Me Up'. The thought behind that one was of a break-up song, but a happy break-up song. Like "hey, we're both okay, it's not the end of the world, we'll be fine," and I'd never written a breakup song that was like that. I was normally doing "we're broken and I'm so fucking sad", this is like "this is really good for both of us."

A response to 'Rory' [from Foxing's The Albatross, 2013] in its own way?

Yeh totally, it's the polar opposite of that. That one and 'Milkshake' are the more emotionally involved songs, and really I'm fond of those as situational songs that really help me out. And I hope they do something for other people too.

Just a slight digression, a few months ago Spin released their list of the 30 best emo revival albums, with both Foxing albums represented. Do you have any thoughts on the list?

The one ranking the emo albums from the last ten years?

Yeah, with The Hotelier's Home, Like Noplace Is There at number one.

I agree with that by the way, I completely agree, I think they should be number one. You know it's an honour to be on that list, it's so cool. But what's way cooler was seeing our friends on that list. Seeing Sorority Noise, The Hotelier, Into It Over It, it was so exciting. It's like, we knew all these bands when they were playing basements with us and nobody cared about us. And then as big a publication as Spin recognises them as putting out the best emo records of the last however many years! It felt really good. We all gushed about it when we saw it, but we were a lot more excited for the other guys than ourselves.

You mentioned how much you enjoyed doing the Smidley stuff; do you think you'll be doing more solo stuff in the future, or go back to Foxing, or something different altogether?

The idea with Smidley was originally to do a one-and-done thing. But it was such good fun, I'm keen to do at least one more record. I like to think I'll keep making them because they're so fun and easy to do, but my thoughts generally are that Foxing will come first. We're working on the new Foxing album right now, and we're really getting close to being done with it. Once everything is finished and we're just waiting on it, then I'll start writing the next Smidley record and touring it. The thought behind the Smidley/Foxing back and forth is to always be occupied with something. We don't make any actual money off of it. The only way to pay for rent and bills and my new puppy is to be constantly working, which is both a cool thing and a shitty thing. It's cool because we're doing what we love, shitty because I'm almost always gone, and I miss home a lot. But it's an honour to be able to do this. This is our dream to be in a band that lives off of making music. It's great, and we hope it gets better and easier as we get on, but where we are now is awesome.

Smidley's self-titled album is out now via Triple Crown Records, and available on all streaming platforms. Follow @TokeEverlasting and @punkrockmilo on Twitter for all your cute punk dog needs.