All music is a product of geography. Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, the physical places a musician lives, writes, and records always seeps into the creative process. For Grand Rapids, Michigan's Major Murphy, a house southeast of downtown on Lafayette Street was the springboard for the indie rock trio to become one of the Midwest’s most promising acts. In smaller cities where there’s no clearly-defined musical lineage and newer acts are too often off the radar from any national buzz, establishing a community is hard work done at the ground level. Their latest, the Lafayette EP, which compiles the band's earliest recordings, proves they're up to the task.
In 2018, Major Murphy released what’s perhaps the city’s best debuts ever in their excellent No. 1, which combined buoyant McCartney-inspired pop with scrappy jangle. I grew up in Grand Rapids and no band has reminded me more of of my hometown than them. Even though I moved to Chicago years before the band even formed, their songs now feel inseparable from my memories of living there. Tracks like the harmony-laden “Mary” and the breezy “Step Out” take me back to going to shows at the DIY-space the DAAC or buying records at Vertigo Music. It doesn’t help that when I first saw the band’s press photo, I instantly recognized that each band member used to work at a coffee shop I frequent on visits home.
The six-song Lafayette EP has everything that makes the band so inviting. Using material from when they were all roommates living on Lafayette street, these nascent jam sessions thrillingly showcases group of friends becoming a band finding their voice. Some songs that would make No. 1 are featured in demo form, like an early version of “One Day” that highlights the undeniable harmonic chemistry between frontman Jacob Bullard and bassist Jacki Warren. Bullard’s singing on the spacy “When I Go Out (demo)” has the same arresting intimacy as Arthur Russell whereas “No. 1 (demo)” is the raucous first document of the band’s recorded output.
The most resonant parts of the EP come from the offerings that didn’t eventually end up on No. 1. “Coming Around” is jaunty power-pop that’s anchored by drummer Bud Voortman and Bullard’s peppy delivery. Supremely cozy opener “Come By Sunday” sums up the band’s charming ethos better than the rest as Bullard coos, “What's the hurry when you find out just how far we have come? / And we've only just begun / I think that we could go a whole long way, together.” Grand Rapids may not be the best place to start a band compared to Chicago or Detroit, but for Major Murphy, home is all they need to find a cohesive identity. Stream the Lafayette EP below and buy it here.
Josh Terry is a writer in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.