Murkury in retrograde

Minneapolis electro-soul patrol Murkury debut at Icehouse on Saturday.

Murkury, a local Minneapolis experimental electro-soul band, poses for group shot at Jazz Central Studios on Monday evening.

Image by Christopher Wakefield

Murkury, a local Minneapolis experimental electro-soul band, poses for group shot at Jazz Central Studios on Monday evening.

by Grant Tillery

Taylor âÄúProper TâÄù Johnson lost his martini virginity beneath the eaves of the News Room in downtown Minneapolis. One of two pianists in the electro-soul outfit Murkury, Johnson ordered the martini âÄî complete with two blue-cheese stuffed olives âÄî on a whim. Though it took him a while to finish, he seemed to enjoy every sip. âÄúIâÄôm really tight right now,âÄù Johnson said in a laidback drawl. âÄúItâÄôs taking me to a good place.âÄù Murkury began as a pared-down version of local R&B group Sol Flower Collective. While Sol Flower followed the blueprint of traditional soul, Murkury allows a smaller crew to explore a more modern sound influenced by their roots in jazz and hip-hop. The evolution from Sol Flower Collective to Murkury happened when pianist Javier Santiago joined Johnson and drummer Miguel Hurtado after moving back to Minnesota. Santiago studied jazz at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City and made a name there for a couple years after graduation. The group grew from a passion project of the trio to something more primary âÄî despite the fact that their Icehouse show this Saturday is their first live set ever âÄî because of their chemistry. Santiago and Hurtado became friends growing up in south Minneapolis, and JohnsonâÄôs groove-oriented ear proved a perfect foil for SantiagoâÄôs jazz pianist chops. There arenâÄôt any ego clashes or dueling pianos here; Murkury writes all their songs together. This is a marked difference from Sol Flower Collective, where Johnson wrote all the original material. âÄúWhen we do a session, we just roll with it,âÄù Hurtado said. âÄúItâÄôs not weird like, âÄòHeâÄôs not doing what I want him to do.âÄô ItâÄôs a lot of trust and variation in chemistry.âÄù When the Murkury boys write music together, they bring ideas from other projects that sound better with neo-soul styling than with a hip-hop beat or a straight-ahead jazz pattern. âÄúI write a song, and IâÄôm like, âÄòWhat type of song is this going to be?âÄôâÄù Santiago said. âÄúAnd then it turns into some electro-soul thing, and IâÄôm like, âÄòOK, I originally thought it was going to be a swing [or] jazz song.âÄôâÄù Though the bandâÄôs spelling of Murkury differs from the planetâÄôs name, their music manifests the chaos of retrograde. MurkuryâÄôs music gets at the deeper metaphysical workings of the disruptions in planetary motions, and the meanings of the weird, wacky events and occurrences that happen during this backward rotation. âÄúWe were playing, we were rehearsing, and all of a sudden, I think somebody did mention Mercury [in] retrograde,âÄù Johnson said of the portmanteau of Mercury and murky that creates the bandâÄôs name. âÄúThings being murky means [theyâÄôre] very unclear and not direct.âÄù Some dismiss the concept of retrograde as bunk but not Murkury. âÄúItâÄôs real, dawg,âÄù Johnson said about the veracity of astrology. âÄúI wouldnâÄôt say retrograde; I would say, however, the stars are moving and however the tides [are shifting] totally will be the defining factor to if you snap on somebody or you donâÄôt.âÄù MurkuryâÄôs songs wax poetic on the complexities of interpersonal relationships caused by dissonance within the cosmic realm. Johnson recounted a misbegotten attempt at reconnecting with a former flame that he turned into a dance tune about what happens when the stars donâÄôt align. âÄúThereâÄôs a song [of ours] called âÄòAre You There?âÄôâÄù Johnson said. âÄúItâÄôs about missing somebody and taking it into your own hands to go and find them and say, âÄòWhatâÄôs up?âÄô [ItâÄôs like] IâÄôm going to knock on the door, and itâÄôs going to go perfectly. We havenâÄôt spoken in three years, but itâÄôs like, âÄòIâÄôm gonna look her up and knock on [her] door and see what happens.âÄôâÄù Vocalist Johnson also spent a stint working on Michelle ObamaâÄôs LetâÄôs Move! health campaign in Washington D.C. after finishing college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His political experience helped form his approach to writing songs, making greed a common theme in MurkuryâÄôs music. âÄúEvery place is corrupt; D.C. is just really quiet about it,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúI never really delved too deep into what was going on, but the experience âÄî I do write about it.âÄù Sound and thematic elements aside, the main difference between Murkury and its predecessor is the mature introspection the musicians channel when playing with each other. âÄúA lot of the songs [in Sol Flower] had this theme of heartbreak and rejection. It wasnâÄôt the most uplifting set,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúWeâÄôre taking a broader tone here. WeâÄôre not just talking about a situation; weâÄôre talking about broader life things.âÄù Murkury (with Kiana Marie) Where Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis When 10:30 p.m. Saturday Cost $7 Ages 21+