Though it sounds like a word used to describe a creepy older relative you don't want your kids around, "peduncle" is actually an anatomical term referring to various types of connective stalks found in plants, fish, insects, arachnids, and human brains. For Cole Murphy, the term's multiple uses and its relation to both insects and humans make it the perfect choice for his musical project, a one-man electro-soul R&B show he calls Fine Peduncle.
"Since I was a kid I've had an interest in insects, and I keep a lot of arachnids now," he says. "I relate them to the more mysterious aspects of my sexuality and spirituality, and from that I've developed my own spiritual system that's reflected in my music and art."
Murphy makes the kind of bedroom pop only possible in an era of advanced home-computer recording software. Building tracks based on beats and loops that he's fashioned from recordings of himself playing bass, guitar, keyboard, and even some banjo and violin, he then harmonizes with himself to create a surreal vocal persona with a one-track mind. Fine Peduncle's music often recalls the blue-eyed funk of Midnite Vultures-era Beck and the freaky sexploits of R. Kelly and Prince, with playfully suggestive raps worked in. The stacking of Murphy's multi-pitched vocals, which makes frequent use of his arresting falsetto, especially brings the Purple One to mind, though Murphy says he never listened to Prince much until someone made the comparison after one of his shows. In fact, despite the prurient content, he claims the main influence on his singing is the music from which all R&B originates—gospel.
"Gospel is at the root of what I do," Murphy says. "I get a lot of the vocal ideas from studying music at the Southern Baptist church I went to growing up, where I sang in the choir occasionally."
Having recently graduated with a degree in printmaking from the University of Tennessee, Murphy is now concentrating on music as much as visual art and says he sees the two as intricately linked. He released the Glen EP last October (available for download via SoundCloud), and he will have a new six-track EP available at his March 4 Pilot Light show. But live shows are where the Fine Peduncle concept really takes off. Murphy's performance is a hyperactive affair; he sings and talks to the crowd as he dances, usually shirtless, all while trying to keep his vocals and loops lined up.
"I guess some of the actual music is kind of simple, but it's not easy to perform live," he says. "There's a lot of headwork involved. I have to always be thinking about jumping to this numbered channel in this many measures. And I always want to keep it danceable."
Lyrically, Fine Peduncle's songs are crowded with references to Michael Bolton, Usher, Friends, and Reading Rainbow. "I Carey a Ludacris Fantasy" melds Ludacris' "What's Your Fantasy" with Mariah Carey's "Fantasy," while "Won't You Be My Neighbor" turns the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood theme song into an NC-17 sex fantasy as imagined by someone who watches a lot of Cinemax. It might seem like a crazysexydorky conceptual project, but Murphy's impressive vocal prowess convinces you it's not meant to be an ironic take on R&B, and he insists there's more going on than appears at first glance.
"I like the idea of having something easily accessible on the surface—like the sexual imagery in R&B—having another, underlying meaning," says Murphy.
As an example, he compares the act of taking his shirt off during performances to the molting of a tarantula, adding another context to the conventional R&B seduction boast he sings while disrobing: "Gonna undo all my buttons/Take off all my clothes/Show you something you ain't never seen before." And watching Murphy, with his rather diminutive frame, belt out goofy, risqué lyrics can seem like an attempted subversion of the exaggerated masculine pose found in much hip-hop and R&B.
Murphy also considers Fine Peduncle a way to explore and explicate his spirituality, a customized system drawing from Chakra, Jewish mysticism, and entomology that may be made a bit clearer when Fine Peduncle enters its next phase.
"I've already got the next CD planned out," Murphy says. "It's called The Entonomicon, and the songs will be based around the 10 spirit guardians associated with energy systems in my body. I think a lot of the ideas will also be made more obvious when I incorporate the new type of performance I want to do. I want to make a far more powerful, theatrical show that has a performance-art aspect to it. I'm making some videos right now using stop-motion techniques that I'll probably end up projecting. Sexy live dancers are a possibility and strange, grotesque sexual things kind of like GWAR do might be played up in the future. Whatever I can do to pump up the live shows."