By Ken Micallef
When the leader of the lauded French post-punk trio Underground Railroad joined the rising neo-psych band Purson, he honed his drumming approach by leaning on indie-rock influences and investigating prog pioneers.
A veteran of the indie and punk scenes in France and the U.K., thirty-two-year-old Raphael Mura plays the psychedelic cosmology of the London rockers Purson like Ringo Starr channeling Black Flag’s Bill Stevenson. Mura’s nimble groove and resonant, rousing fills can also be heard in his band Underground Railroad, as well as with the London-based rhythm warriors Gum Takes Tooth and the duo John & Jehn (featuring Jehnny Beth of the English post-punk quartet Savages).
Purson’s Desire’s Magic Theatre is a truncheon-wielding journey, forged on one end by bandleader/vocalist/demonology devotee Rosalie “Rosie” Cunningham and on the other by the good-natured Mura. The band has won dozens of U.K. awards; the U.S. will soon heed its call and behold the crunching psychedelia that flows freely from Mura’s lashing rhythms.
MD: What is the essence of Purson’s sound?
Raphael: The band is very much influenced by the 1970s psychedelic and progressive rock scenes, like King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Caravan—very underground music from back in the day. I love bands like Can and Faust too.
MD: Were the drummers from the Canterbury scene an influence on your drumming?
Raphael: No, I’m very much into my own era. I contribute a lot to the band by having external influences. We all really enjoy that. When I was ten my brothers played me the records of the Cure, Nirvana, and punk rock. I love Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, and Black Flag’s Bill Stevenson. They were my main influences, and, of course, Mr. Dave Grohl. I would drum to Nirvana’s Nevermind constantly, blasting the records really loud. Playing fast and furiously was my thing, and I still have a lot of energy. Rosie and the guys got me into more progressive music like Caravan. Jazz drumming was interesting too.
MD: Your drumming with Purson is very Ringo Starr–like.
Raphael: Exactly. I am a bit like Ringo; my drumming has that swing. Rosie loves that. And we’re all Beatles fans. When they first started talking about the Beatles and Ringo, I was charmed. Ringo was great, and Keith Moon too. That’s the kind of style I seem to be able to naturally produce.
MD: Punk-rock drummers play ahead of the beat, but Ringo was often behind the beat, if only slightly.
Raphael: With Purson it’s very loose, and Rosie likes that. I’m playing behind the beat. There’s often no click with Purson. Rosie doesn’t want the band to sound modern in the recording studio. No processing. I was used to playing with the click track in my own projects and as a session drummer. But Rosie wants me to do my own thing, and it naturally happened that I always had this swing and groove in me. It opened an amazing door that’s been really magical. We play with a lot of feel. I hear the music and let myself go and don’t think about rhythms. There are some odd-metered bars in Purson’s music too.
MD: Did you record live takes on Desire’s Magic Theatre, or are the drums overdubbed and assembled in Pro Tools?
Raphael: They’re full live band takes recorded to tape. I’m playing a 1960s Premier set that was in the studio; I also endorse Premier. My cymbals are vintage 1960s Zyns. They were made by Premier back in the day.
MD: What did you practice as a student of drumming?
Raphael: I still play along with John Bonham, absolutely. I worked on his half-time shuffle from “Fool in the Rain” a lot. And Bernard Purdie; I follow his online videos where he teaches the Purdie shuffle. For me it’s about practicing what improves your technique and what makes you happy. I’ve also taught myself by playing in bands. [Playing along to Nirvana’s] Nevermind and In Utero really helped me a lot. I practiced to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Bill Ward is an amazing musician. Those were the most important records to me.
MD: Did you write for Underground Railroad?
Raphael: Yes, Underground Railroad was my band. We recorded three albums: Twisted Trees, Sticks and Stones, and White Night Stand. We were together for nearly ten years; we moved from Paris to London in 2005. We were very much a post-punk band influenced by the Velvet Underground, Television, and Suicide. I played drums and sang lead vocals. We created songs by jamming in the studio.
MD: How did you learn to sing and play drums simultaneously?
Raphael: It came very naturally to me. I had the melody and lyric in mind, so I just went for it. I sing harmonies in Purson as well.
MD: Purson is a great live band. Do you perform the album from start to finish, like a suite?
Raphael: Exactly. Rosie’s concept is to present the album like a performance. It takes you on a journey.
MD: What’s been key to your success?
Raphael: I believe in playing with as many bands as possible. Technique is not my main focus. It’s about being creative and playing for the songs. Feel comes naturally, and being in a great project will help you be more creative. I also have a side project writing and performing Krautrock-style music where I sing and play the drums.
MD: You have a great drum sound. You really let the drums breathe.
Raphael: I used to smash my drums, absolutely. But I got bored with that. I’m not twenty anymore, and I enjoy playing with more precision now. The energy is still there. But some songs need a bit more dynamics to help the band perform and to mix better on stage. I can play heavy—no problem. But it’s also important to be musical.
Tools of the Trade
Mura plays a Premier Elite Maple kit with a 5.5×14 snare, a 12×14 tom, 16×16 and 16×18 floor toms, and a 14×22 bass drum. His cymbals include an 18″ Sabian XS20 medium-thin crash, 14″ 1960s-era 5 Star Super Zyn hi-hats, and a 20″ ’60s-era 5 Star Super Zyn ride. He uses Promark Forward 5B .550″ hickory teardrop wood-tip sticks and Meinl MPM1 Big Felt Heads medium-hard mallets.