KNOXVILLE — Cole Murphy has an agenda.
"I like bugs. I like sex. I like magic. I'm trying to make insects sexy for various reasons."
His act is called Fine Peduncle, which is itself a reference to a part of an insect's antennae or various stem-like connections. His music is a combination of glitchy electronic beats, soulful vocals and sometimes danceable grooves, and it's been gathering a fan base around the country — especially after Murphy performed at Bonnaroo 2011.
Over lunch on the balcony of Harry's on Gay Street, Murphy says he's always had a fascination with insects.
"I was kind of a bizarre child and that's what I'd do to entertain myself. I'd go outside and lift up rocks and catch bugs and study them. I think it's a weird escapism. It's like another little universe. I got a away from it for a while. Girls don't like it if you like bugs. It wasn't socially productive after a certain age."
While studying art at the University of Tennessee, though, he recognized images in his visual art reminded him of bugs. Then he just let his art go where it naturally seemed to want to go.
"Maybe it was a return to my child self and trying to figure certain things out."
In early 2010, Murphy was playing bass and singing in a rock band called Dinosaur Insect Manta Ray, but then decided he wanted something with a little more R&B and more insects. The new music started with a loop station — a device he'd been using since he was in middle school.
"It's hard for me to write a song just starting on guitar. I kind of have to bounce ideas around from instrument to instrument. I'll loop a drum beat. I'll throw a bass line over it. I'll put harmonies over it. Then I'll kind of hear what I want to do vocally over it. Then it morphs into a performance."
He began sampling '90s pop songs, including Mariah Carey and Will Smith's "Get Jiggy With It" — songs that might not still be favorites, but took him back to being a kid. He'd add in his own original samples and blend in live vocals and other elements.
He released the EP "GLEN" in the fall of 2010. Most of the references in that release were to musical "guilty pleasures," but things began to get buggier after that.
In 2011, he released "Obtect Pupa."
"An obtect pupa is a pupa that can't use its limbs. It's kind of vulnerable. It's just sort of hanging there stationary and it's transforming."
His next projects will address what happens when the pupa molts and transforms.
"It's kind of a really cryptic narrative, but more and more the insects come into it."
There's also a lot of sexual references in music and performance — something that has not always gone over well with his family.
Murphy grew up in Scott County in a very conservative Southern Baptist home.
"I didn't tell them about it at all," says Murphy. "I'd try to be evasive when we'd talk about it. Then my mom discovered my Facebook page. It caused quite a lot of family arguments."
Murphy had, in fact, never even been to a music festival when he performed at Bonnaroo. He had made an attempt to go while he was still in high school, but was busted by his mom before he left the house.
Still, he says his upbringing continues to influence his work.
"That's probably where my musical roots are and there is a gospel and spiritual aspect to my art because of that," says Murphy.
Part of his goal is to change open minds.
"Sex is taboo, but it's also pleasurable, but we could benefit from learning more about it instead of treating it as a scary thing. Maybe there would be more self-control in it if we didn't make it a taboo. The same thing with drugs. There's definitely uses for some psychotropic substances that we're maybe overlooking or going to war against. Hopefully, the insects can stand in for some things. We're taught that these creatures are repulsive. Squish 'em. Kill 'em. But if you look at it, they're very efficient creatures. They're very, very, very important to the world, but a lot of people are frightened of them ... I want to change people's perspectives and help people evolve."
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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