When thinking of some of the biggest songs that have come out of an Australian act, there’s no way Pete Murray won’t spring to mind. Growing up in Australia when his career began to take off, his songs were being played so much that the lyrics are so deeply ingrained in my mind. Hearing Better Days on the radio on my way to school, going to any shopping centre only to hear So Beautiful over their speaker system, going to the local café or restaurant and hearing Free or Opportunity– his music is such an integral part the Australian music landscape. Which is why I was pinching myself all morning knowing the mastermind behind all these hits was about to be sitting across from me at my table at a quiet café in central Broadbeach.
Pete’s career hasn’t really slowed down since he first released ‘Feeler’ in 2003, with a whopping 7 albums under his belt, all with varying degrees of commercial success. Last Friday he released his new EP ‘The Night’; a collection of 6 tracks demonstrating the best of what this artist has to offer. The production hasn’t lost any of its warmth, yet retains a certain polished sound making it able to sneak its way into the commercial pop landscape without losing any of the folk/rock sound his music is best known for. Although his voice has matured, his classic brassy, warm tones still shine through over the sophisticated production. From the hopeful tones of opening tracks Found My Place to the incredible percussive arrangement of If We Never Dance Again, the EP has something on it for everybody to tap in to and enjoy.
Pete found some time during his busy schedule of press tours to sit down with me and take me through what went into making the EP, what he’s learnt maintaining a successful career for almost 2 decades and what goes in to being Pete Murray.
You’ve just released your new ‘The Night’ EP. It’s been a few years since you last released, so how does it feel to have this out in the world?
“It’s always nice to have new music out. I think for me, being a musician, it’s always nice to play something new live. So, when you’ve got new music out you know you’re going to be playing something different, not the same old songs all the time. You still play them because, a lot of those songs are kind of classic songs and the fans want to hear them so I can’t not play them, but its definitely exciting having new stuff out!”
What are some of the main inspirations for the songs and any notable stories behind the tracks?
“I’ve always written my own songs and, this time around, I went on a trip to LA and Nashville and London to do some co-writing, so it was a really different experience for me to get together… and see what would come out of it. If I get a [writers] block and nothing comes out of it, I can just go for a quick surf or a swim, have a break and come back to it later. But when you’re in those sessions you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to get it done so there’s the pressure there. But I found it’s super positive and I was really happy with all the songs that were written. I focused a lot on the lyrical content. I’m kind of mostly well known for my lyrics anyway though, so that was important to me, but I think some people are making some similarities between the ‘Feeler’ album and this EP in the way that the songs are with sentiment, power and mood.”
I also really loved the video for If We Never Dance Again, and I heard the couple in the film clip also got married between shooting! What’s the story behind that?
“They did, yeah! They were a couple going in to it in the first place, the didn’t meet there and then get married, it would have been a quick turnaround and they would have been married around 2 weeks later! When I spoke to Moz and Co, he’s the guy who filmed that, I said “this is what I want. I want to to be really beautiful and cinematic footage so that people are just taken away by the footage and the couple.” It’s about a couple. So nothing that’s too literal. He said he had the couple and they were going to be married soon so there would be chemistry. I said “Great! Let’s do it!”. Mel (the woman in the video) had done some modelling before but her partner had never done anything before. But he was great! He just looked fantastic and looked really moody and came out really well on screen!
I was the driver of the car and we thought to get a little shot of Moz sitting in the back filming in the rear view mirror and getting half of my face until I said “no, it doesn’t work.”. The film clip was really about the couple and one shot of me was going to be a little bit weird so we took it out.
The first day we shot there we didn’t get the sunset we needed with the silhouette shots and the sun flares and they’re the really beautiful shots but we didn’t get them. So, we had to come back and do it again but we had to wait for the guys to get married! And wait for good weather. So, when we came back and shot those scenes, they were married! Which was nice, I think it really works well with the song!”
Where abouts was this shot? Because the landscapes were so beautiful!
“It was shot around Brunswick Heads.”
One of my favourite things about how you write is how you combine your folky and rock roots with more traditional pop. What are the main inspirations between how you created your own kind of sound?
“I like really warm, rich tones. Some of the pop stuff is very bright and just way too poppy and too thin whereas I love warmth, so that’s probably something you’d hear throughout my music – the richness and the warmth of the tones and the sounds that links it all together. And my voice too is something that really sort of keeps it all together too! I’m influenced by lots of music now! When I started I was influenced by a lot of older stuff like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and The Doors – I loved it! More recently I’ve started to listening to more, like Frank Ocean and more electronica stuff that I’ve started listening to a little bit more. Of course, I’m not going to go down that path and, of course, keep things more acoustic, but maybe bring more sounds into it to keep it a little bit more modern without taking it down that path.”
I can definitely hear from your first album to this one how your production has really evolved with the times.
“It definitely has yeah! The early days it was mostly just the band in the room just recording together but now it’s produced more in a way that we start with the drums or the beats and the produce over it ourselves or bring other acts in but a lot of the time most of the work is just done in the studio.”
Back to your cowriting and travels and how it’s something you hadn’t really done before. Was there any songwriting tricks you learnt from that, anything someone else did that you might try for yourself?
“Yeah! Everyone does things a little bit differently, don’t they? So there’s definitely lots of different ways! I usually tend to write with music and melody first and then lyrics, and I find a lot of guys do that, but there’s different techniques and I think it’s about just getting out of the habit of just thinking the old school way with your band and doing everything together, even that’s changed for me, where you come in and you can put some beats down and do an acoustic guide vocal together and build the arrangements around that. So, definitely things change! Put a beat down, put a bassline down first and then just write off that! So you’re really writing something a bit different.”
Based on your production and how you do that, going from where you started in the early 2000’s to now and the ease of access like home recording etc.
“It’s changed so much! Back in the day, normally to get a good drum sound, you would need to have a good room. I’m lucky I have a studio that has a good room for drums so I can get a nice live drum kit but a lot of the times you’ll get a real life drum kit and you’ll put samples on the snare and the kick anyway. You can make a whole album from your bedroom on your laptop – the sounds are so amazing on Logic, Pro Tools, Ableton, you’ve got everything you need. Everything’s been recorded so many times, I saw something the other day with, you know Questlove? And his band The Roots? He was saying there are so many modern day songs where you’ll love the beats and then find out it’s not their beats but then realise it was something Alicia Keys used and then realise it wasn’t hers but originally something from, say Motown beats. So there’s lots of samples taken and put on to something else that it just keeps growing and growing and growing but originally it’s come back from the ‘60s and ‘70s where a lot of this Motown sounds came from.”
Do you find you do more at home in terms of recording than you may have used to?
“I want to do more of that but I still like just writing on acoustic guitar and then taking it back in to the studio. But I would like to get in there and do a lot more of that style of production where you just take little samples and write on top of those. Writing with other people is something I want to get in to as well!”
That would be really cool! Flowing on from that, but as being a long-term working musician and obviously with the recent health crisis and the ways the music industry has been affected, how have you been impacted personally, particularly releasing your EP right now? Do you feel there’s been some positives ie more time to focus on recording and writing?
“Look, it was definitely a hard time. I think every musician missed playing live. But, the positives in that is it gave us more time to spend with our families and I found it gave me more time to do the film clips and the artwork and things like that, that I find time consuming. So, to look at the positives that was a great thing because it gave a bit of extra time! And the negatives, of course, financially, there was no money coming in, except for JobKeeper which kept people going but, you know, some of the musos like session musos, crew, venues, Jobkeeper wasn’t enough for them. It’s difficult and it’s been a hard 12 months for sure but it seems like it’s opening up a little bit now which will be nice! There’s been conversations with the Government at the moment to see if musos can get an essential workers pass to cross the borders, even if the borders get shut. That’s what we’re trying to look at, because music takes like 6 months to promote shows. The Government can’t say “hey come back next week! You can start work again then!” and we can’t just do that, we have 6 months to promote shows, it takes a long time! Then if we close the borders again it’s another 6 months and the more they keep closing the more that’s changing and it’s not fair. We need to get that to change.”
Yeah, definitely! On that topic, I see you have a lot of festivals coming up such as Bluesfest with a LOT of huge names on there! How does it feel to get back into live performances. Any one you’r eparticularly excited about? Anyone you’re excited to see the most?
“I think all the acts at Blues on Broadbeach are fantastic! I haven’t seen The Teskey Brothers live so I’m looking forward to seeing them. Ocean Alley I’ve seen live and I think they’re great! They’re Byron guys too so I know those guys! Tash Sultana is just a freak of nature! She’s just a really talented girl with a great voice, she plays like 12 instruments so I’ll go and check her out again. I haven’t met her so I’d really like to meet her and see how she ticks. I think she’s really amazing. We have the John Butler’s, he’s a mate of mine and I think he’s fantastic. I don’t know, you can go to any stage and see any band there and it’s gonna be great! I’m a big supporter of Aussie music and I think there’s so much talent there and I think it’s great what Peter Noble’s done (Bluesfest Director) to keep this going and to do this. It’s really unique although there was a festival called Homebake which had all Aussie music so I guess they were the first guys that did it but I guess what Pete’s doing is great for Aussie music! I haven’t played there since 2006. I was on the bill for 2011 and my album got delayed coming out and I wanted to play some new music so I asked to get off it which Peter was fine with! So, 2006 was a long time ago so I’m really excited about it! It’s one of my favourite festivals to go to, great people that go there, great bands, it’s a really amazing festival!”
Along those lines with festivals and such a long career, are there any career highlights that stand out?
“Many, many things! But I keep going back to one show when things all started and I think, the first time that you actually hear people sing your lyrics back to you, you’ll never experience it again. And I played a show in Broadway, it was a 400 capacity room and I remember being in soundcheck then going back to my hotel to get changed and whenI went back there was a lineup of people like around the corner, like down the road. There was thousands of people. And I thought “oh no, someone else is playing a gig and everyone’s lined up for them and no one’s gonna come and see my show” and, you know, then there weren’t that many people coming. Turns out, everyone was there for my show! Feeler had just been released and I wasn’t aware of how successful it was at that early stage, so many people had gotten their hands on it! So I got to the venue and myself and the band were really stunned because we sold that place out like 400 people, that’s huge! So, I said to the band that I was going to do a solo song first and did the last song off the album which is a song called Ten Ft Tall and thought no one would know that song and it would warm the crowd up and then I’d bring the band out. So I came out and sang this song and everyone sang it back word for word. And this wasn’t a single, this was the last song off the album! And that weren’t on for the rest of the concert, just word for word sang aback at me! It was unbelievable. And it’s an experience you just never forget. There’s been lots of other things but that moment has stood out to me for a very long time.”
How does it feel, particularly those earlier songs, how does it feel to have them played everywhere like you hear it on the radio, you hear it in Coles or go to a pub and someone’s covering it. Does that every get less shocking for you? Or have you just adapted?
“Oh yeah, I’m fine with it! I think, in the early days when you’d walk into a shop and they’d be playing your song you’d think everyone would be looking at you straight away but no one kind of knew me back then! Even know I can kind of get away with it, and you just get used to it. And you know, in Woolies and Coles, you’ve made the big time when you start getting played in those types of places!”
Along with getting accustomed to that, the landscape of how artists advertise and present themselves has really changed. I really like the way you promote yourself on your Instagram, I love all of your dog photos! Obviously the way that you do it comes off very personable and like an ‘average bloke’ and then it will go back in to something big you’re doing music. How do you feel like you’ve changed in the way you present publicly and how much ‘closer’ people feel with artists and their music?
“Firstly, I don’t like socials for me. Mostly just because I am a very private person so I don’t like being all “look at me! Look at me! I’m doing this!”, but it’s a good way to let your fans know what you’re doing. So, I understand it’s important but you also have to do it every night to get into the algorithm and it’s kind of annoying. I don’t put up photos of my family, I keep that really private. I get stuck for a few ideas sometimes, and I’m always very last minute with it as it’s always the last thing on my agenda. I understand what it’s about and how it can really work for you if you can build that up, but it’s frustrating because it takes forever to build a following. I started really late with it, and I probably should have started earlier and I took about 6 years off so by the time I got back into it a lot of my peers who were around at that time playing music, all of these people have a big following now and I kind of started really late. So I find it really tedious. So it just kind of slowly creeps up with another hundred people, it’s like “My GOD is this ever going to really take off?” so it’s frustrating but, I don’t know, some people love getting in front of the camera and talking about themselves and I don’t. It’s not my thing.”
Do you feel that now you can’t just focus on promoting your songs and do you find it strange that you’ve got to also promote yourself?
“Yeah, people don’t really want that. People want to see shit, you know? People want to see you do stupid shit because that’s the stuff that gets you lots of hits. And you think “what is this about?” but that’s what they want instead of everyday life things. Sometimes I’ll put something up because I’ve got nothing else and it’s a bit silly and the reaction you get is like “what?” and I think that’s just how it seems to work.
I sound like I’m definitely from that generation that doesn’t really like it much. The younger generation love it they do that stuff all the time, it’s very normal and, for my age group I guess it’s not normal. Some people do it and they love it, and it just depends on who you are. I’m private. And I like that.”
That’s a good answer! Thanks for sharing! With such a large back catalogue as well, when you perform live, are there any songs that you really really love, whether it’s a new one or an old one or anything!
“I think they change all the time. There was a time when I loved playing the song Feeler. Feeler’s got a great groove and towards the end it gets a bit epic with a big rocky outro and it’s huge chorus. That was good but you go through different stages! Like, you go through stages where you get sick of playing some songs too. With So Beautiful it’s funny. I’ll always tell the guys that I’m no tplaying it tonight and then people want to hear it so I’ll play it. But even with those songs you’ll go through stages where you really enjoy playing it and when you’re sick of it. So I think with playing a lot of shows, that’s gonna happen. Probably, with the new EP, I really love all the tracks off of it so I’m really excited to play all of the tracks live. Sometimes when you put a new album out, there’s some tracks that don’t work as well live or I don’t like them as much and don’t play them as often or at all.”
How do you find as someone that’s been doing this for so long and with all the industry changes, do you prefer performing live or in a studio environment.
“You know live, when you’ve got a great crowd and it’s really pumping, there’s no better feeling than having people singing along, I don’t think you can beat that. The studio stuff’s different and it’s nice to do that, but it’s not the same buzz. It’s two different worlds. I like them both. One’s a real buzz and one more so gives you the satisfaction of what you’ve done, what you’ve achieved, what you’ve finally recorded and relief!”
Are there any particular standout albums over your career that you cite have sharpened your interest in doing music?
“Well, obviously ‘Feeler’. That really set me up. It has a really unique sound and I think the main thing I’ve tried to focus on is keeping a really unique sound and not sounding like anyone else. I think when a big band comes out, particularly big pop artists, there’s usually a few others that come out sounding very similar. I’ve struggled particularly with a lot of female pop artists and a few that have very similar vocals so I always try to have something that doesn’t sound like everyone else. So I’d say ‘Feeler’ is one and definitely my 2017 album ‘Cumacho’ was a step away from anything I’d done before. That got the best feedback from fans since ‘Feeler’ and a lot of people were telling me they never thought they’d like an album of mine as much as ‘Feeler’!. So I think this time around people have been saying this is probably some of the best stuff I’ve ever done. My mum says that! I have heard a few people say that. But everyone’s different you know? And I think, as an artist, you feel like you’re moving forward when someone tells you they like your new stuff better than something else.”
What does 2021 look like you? Obviously with the album promotion and Bluesfest. Any more projects or videos coming out?
“Well there’s EP 1 and EP 2. Did I say that before?”
No but I know now!
“Well! The first one’s done and that’s called ‘The Night’ and, when I recorded this there’s a body of work there that’s an album’s worth of music. But, the album’s kind of old school now and it doesn’t really work with a lot of streaming sites. You’ll get maybe 3 singles and then, when the album’s up, the rest of the maybe 7 or 8 tracks that are on there are considered ‘old songs’ straight away, so they don’t really get pushed on to many playlists. So there’s just a whole new way of doing music now and what you release. So, I’ve decided to do two EP’s and the titles will line up and they will become an album eventually. Maybe I’ll put in a few extra songs on there to make it an album! That’s the plan. Let’s hope it works!”
And as someone who sounds very across adapting with the changes in the industry, what advice to you have for someone that might want to start their music career?
“The biggest thing that I keep saying when I get asked questions like this is that there’s 3 things that you need to be successful in music and that is:
That’s the first thing. Because you’ll get a lot of “no’s” and you’ll get a lot of brick walls and people telling you you’re not good enough or you’re too old, you know, whatever they’ll say. So you have to believe in yourself. You have to trust your gut and instinct and just to keep going forward. Don’t give up so easy. It’s not an easy road, so, be prepared to take a lot of no’s but be confident in what you’ve got,
But, the other thing I say is to have a plan B that you’ve got and to just know when there’s an end point and you might have to just do something else. There’s a lot of people that I know that are still trying and it gets too late and then they get kind of stuck in what they’re doing and they get very lost and they get very down about it so I think having a plan B is a very important thing too! And I got to the point where, with music, I had an independent album that was really struggling and I was doing natural medicine, so I was getting ready to enroll back and start studying again and then that year things turned around. I didn’t give up completely, bUT I was starting to get plan B in to play so if things didn’t really work then I could fall back into that. So that’s an important thing.”
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Thanks to On The Map PR