The music of Viagra Boys, a fusion of freeform and linear modernity, hangs atop the beatnik impressions of singer and lyricist Sebastian Murphy. Both are counterpoint, allowing for distinction and intoxication. The fusion sounds like something you’d make if you felt free as hell, where consequences were void, and life filled your lungs with purpose. The charm is the vitriol, and the open dialogue.

“I kind of write it, and then I realize maybe two weeks later, oh fuck, this is too personal, and then I regret it,” Murphy laughs. “But done is done. I think it’s therapeutic in a way too, you just have to get over it. And now, like, the fact I did it over a year ago, I don’t give a shit at all. I’m in a completely different place now, so I’m totally fine with that.”

Welfare Jazz, the band’s newest record (out January 8 via Year0001), is a patchwork of liberal styling, with ends of free jazz smoke, and starts of barroom mania. A contemporary beat holds the thing together, where Murphy croons through force and restraint. Maybe it’s something like a Jim Morrison punk ghola backed by a meaner Lounge Lizards. The point is, it’s straight up but also abstract, continually forging a new direction. We live in an age of simulation, and the record’s brutal honesty is refreshing. Viagra Boys are about as close to original as anything you’re going to get these days. And you can feel that while listening to their songs.

Take “I Feel Alive,” an existential dose of reality-based struggle, tangling between two worlds, two possible futures.

“It’s not the way, it is what it is,” Murphy says about the use of substances. “I definitely have a serious approach to drugs and alcohol, and I’m definitely trying to delete it from my life, slowly but surely. I recently turned 30 and started feeling like I had to get my shit together. These days I don’t romanticize it much.”

Listen to “To The Country,” where Murphy dreams of the simple life, filled with health and vigor, and then over there is that song’s germination, “Creatures,” a futuristic haze whose beauty in mode shades its utter emptiness.

“That song’s about being a speed freak,” Murphy explains. “And yeah, I don’t know. Stealing bikes and shit, stealing bikes and messing around with electronics. I was in a long-term relationship with a really nice girl, but I spent most of my time in the kitchen, like soldering and taking apart computers and shit like that, instead of caring about her. And I think that’s what the song is about.”

Each song on Welfare Jazz encompasses a bubbly entrance that is warmed by Murphy’s loose approach. The music is serious and not serious. It dangles on that horizon where one can partake in it without feeling the necessity for critical analysis. And that is actually the place where serious music lies. Humor is paramount, because humor is necessary for vitality, in art and in life. Viagra Boys pull off the tricky balance of being part of life, not imitating it. 

“You need humor,” Murphy relays. “You can’t go around and take everything you’ve done completely seriously. And, I don’t know, I’m not really a serious person either but I don’t know, I definitely think humor and satire is really important to stay positive, and in your outlook in life, and also to stay positive in your own self image and not to be too hard on yourself and stuff like that. Just realize, you know, life sucks, so you know, make the best of it. ”

Murphy’s lyrics, while direct, are posed in a Socratic manner, as a passing notion. Never specific or autocratic, they are conversation. More naturalistic and honest, and often blunt. Murphy moves quickly and writes with his heart on his sleeve. His songs are not permanent, in the truest sense.

“I don’t dwell on them,” he laughs. “Unless, well… I don’t think about what the subject matter is about till maybe, like some journalist makes some sort of correlation, and then I start thinking about it, and I get it, and I get insecure about it, and then I forget about it.”

Viagra Boys are based in Sweden, where Murphy moved to from the United States when he was seventeen, and Welfare Jazz feels like a record born from two cultures. It is breezy and desert-born (see the country-fused “In Spite Of Ourselves” and the neo-psychedelic “Into The Sun”), old-Western hero aged (“Toad”), with Euro-club vibes (“Ain’t Nice”) and Berlin-house jaunts (“Secret Canine Agent”). It is introspective of attitudes without ever drawing any particular line.

The recent United States election was something Europeans and Americans both closely monitored. Murphy’s take is particular, given his experience. He knows the life of the working and lower classes from both angles. He knows the bullshit that America feeds its citizens.

“I’ve definitely been following the election,” he says, “But it kind of got to the point, at least in the past few months, where it was way too depressing to follow, so I just felt like whatever happens, happens. I’m really glad it ended up the way it did. But I’m not politically active in any way, just because it makes me so fucking depressed. Sweden has a much better quality of life. That’s why I’m still here. And that’s why I haven’t moved back to America, because I don’t want to have three jobs just to pay for my fucking apartment. And you know, like fuck the American dream. It’s just such a weird outlook on life over there in my opinion, especially on work. And yeah, I can’t imagine having to pay a medical bill in America. I can’t imagine having that Orange Fucker as my president, you know, it’s just crazy. It’s a crazy country. But my parents still live there. I love California, it’s a nice place, but I’m never going to live there.”

Welfare Jazz was recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and in Sweden, Murphy and his fellow band mates have been thus far able to mostly proceed like normal, in relation to practicing and writing new songs. Everything else though, is certainly not normal.

“We recorded it a year ago,” Murphy says. “We were going to release it in the beginning of the summer I think, and then the pandemic broke out, and shit has just been postponed and what not, but we’ve been thriving. In Sweden, life has been normal pretty, unless you’re somebody in the risk group I guess, but yeah, pretty normal. We’ve been able to practice and record and all kinds of shit, so yeah, it’s been good.”

The methodology of Welfare Jazz was tweaked a bit, mostly due to the band forging as a more cohesive and trusting unit. You can hear that in the songs. There is trust abound, in the style and the substance. The record took some time to build, as all strong works of art tend to do.

“For this album it was a bit like, I don’t know, we did certain parts here, certain parts there, it was sort of a long, weird process,” Murphy admits. “And I think that’s changed since the beginning. Like these days, we just usually write everything together. If somebody comes up with a riff at home then they just bring it to the group and then we all do it as a band, and that usually turns out well.”

Welfare Jazz feels like a record that cannot be made by American punk bands anymore. The chances it takes, the directionless movements, the honesty and willingness to be itself at all times. There is no superfluous genre hobnobbing here, it’s a street record, where punk is formless and heart is center point. It’s about a real feeling, a real connection to individuals living in social environments. Welfare Jazz is pretty much the truth.

“It’s just kind of a name,” Murphy laughs. “And a lot of the guys in the band play in jazz bands and stuff like that. And in way, you can’t really do jazz without living on welfare, nobody pays for jazz gigs. So, something like that. And it’s kind of a reference to the Swedish music scene and stuff like that too. Yeah, it’s a hard living playing weird music.”

Pick up a copy here.

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