Ryan Murphy was tubing a river in Laos with a group of friends in 2012 with no idea how the day’s events would change his life. 

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Ryan Murphy was tubing a river in Laos with a group of friends in 2012 with no idea how the day’s events would change his life. One of those friends, Lee, would die in a Laotian hospital later that day, a victim of drowning in the river. The loss caused Murphy, an Australia native, to reconsider his life.

Murphy eventually made a list of things he would do if he were living his last year on Earth, and then he blogged about those events. The blog, Last Year on Earth, generated a faithful following, and a variation on that name later became the name of Murphy’s new band.

First Year on Earth will perform at The Deli, 309 White St., in Norman in support of the release of its first self-titled EP, which features four new tracks that Murphy said will eventually be part of a full-length project. This will be the Austin-based band’s first show in Oklahoma, and it will be the first non-Texas show in support of the new project.

One of the items on Murphy’s list was to record an album, and another was to live in New York City. It didn’t take long in New York for Murphy, a self-described small-town boy, to decide it was not for him.

“I grew up in a country town in Australia, so the intense personalities I had to deal with on a daily basis in New York were just too much,” Murphy said. “Once I got to Texas, I realized immediately how much nicer the people are.”

In Austin, Murphy met Kris Afflerbaugh (stand-up bass), Jordan Birchill (guitar) and Jimmy Milner (drums). Murphy, who also plays guitar, is the only member of the band who did not pursue instrumental performance in college. His major was music production, and those skills came in handy when putting together the EP.

“I recorded most of it in my home,” Murphy said. “I converted a closet into a vocal booth and modified other areas to make it a studio. We recorded drums and bass in a real studio.”

The EP showcases the instrumental and songwriting skills of the band. Variously classified as roots, indie and pop, First Year on Earth moves between genres, and Murphy laughed when talking about classifying his music.

“Yeah, roots/pop will work,” he said. “But we better throw indie in there, too. Categorizing is such a strange, hard thing to do.”

Murphy handles the majority of the songwriting, but he does bring the songs to the whole band for help.

Philosophically, Murphy writes from a place of emotion and experience — he wants the song, when performed, to evoke the emotion or situation that inspired it in the first place. He said it has been his greatest challenge.

“With the blog, I could ramble on for four or five pages, but you can’t do that with a song,” he said. “You have to say it quickly, and that has been difficult.”

This leg of the tour will feature Murphy and Afflerbaugh as a duo, so Murhpy is calling it an acoustic tour of sorts. The band will play as far north as Michigan and then make its way back south, including a gig at Nashville’s famous Bluebird Cafe. After that, Murphy hopes to get back in the studio and complete the album or work on another EP.

Print headline: Live ?rst, Turning tragedy into triumph, an Australian-born musician makes his way to The Deli.

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Greg Horton

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