Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pete Murray on Life, Music, and Making Sacrifices

It’s been fifteen years since his first album, Feeler, debuted and became the marker by which Murray admits he’s been measured against ever since. The album, which is perhaps always going to be the first thing people think of when they hear the name Pete Murray, climbed a slow, 42-week burn to number one. The 2003 release (re-released in 2013) has stood the test of time and it’s what he’s been trying to top ever since. “We probably suffered a bit, Feeler was so just so big, and everywhere. The songs got smashed on radio, and then when the next album came out it got the same thing, so we probably suffered a bit just from overexposure,” Murray says. “It just got flogged to death. By the time the third album came out I think people were just a bit over it.” 

“No one was really saying anything, lyrics or content or anything like that. It was more just ‘oh well, this will be successful. He writes mid-tempo songs and this will just be successful.” By the time Summer at Eureka was released in 2008 (his third studio album) Murray felt like he was stalling. 

 But this new album, Camacho, which was released in 2017, is finally changing people’s opinions. (The follow-up, a remixed version of single Heartbeats is not doing any harm, either.) 

When Murray started work on the album, however, he wasn’t playing for anyone. “I just didn’t give the record label a choice, I didn’t tell them. I was recording the album by myself and probably 60, maybe 70 percent of the album was already done by the time I played it to them.” 

With a six-year gap since the release of his last album, Murray was nervous. After all, not many can take such a long hiatus, come back with a rebranded style of music and expect to stick the landing. “Music’s changed so much, the industry had changed so much. The whole streaming thing had become way bigger. Everything’s so different.” Except that’s exactly what he’s managed to do. Murray has ended the album with both feet planted firmly on the ground. 

“It’s a bit different, but it still has my flavour to it,” he says. “If you turn it up, the album actually has a fair bit of punch to it.” The critics agree, with a majority of positive reviews and recommendations Murray is confident he picked the right direction to take his music in. “It’s actually the same comments I was getting about Feeler,” proving if nothing else, Murray has successfully come full circle. 

Fame in the Australian music industry is a special kind of beast. Its isolation means to have any kind of longevity a move across oceans is warranted more often than not. (Gone are the days of good Aussie rock, with the rise of pop music, the world has shrunk to include the United States and occasionally England.) And that, often without exception, to break into the US market you have be in the country. (At the very least, the right hemisphere.) “You know, I would’ve loved to have moved overseas,” Murray says, with the voice of someone who understands this. “At least if only for a little while.” But life happened, as not even recording artists can avoid, and the complexity of children meant a long-term move became a whole lot harder to fathom. 

Two children from a previous marriage, boys, fourteen and eleven, whom Murray talks affectionately about, are a tie to Australia that he just can’t shake. The difference between Murray and those who make the move overseas is simple: he’s a family man, and music isn’t enough to risk that. His children are settled in their Byron Bay life and shared custody means uprooting them isn’t an option, even if Murray had the heart to do it. “It’s a bit hard,” he says. “I can’t just go and leave them.” 

“My perfect day is probably just getting up, going for a surf and hanging out with my family,” Murray says. “At a quiet a beach, with not many surfers, maybe just [my] mates. And then maybe having a jam at night. It’s all just about family, surfing, and music.” 

Instead, he compromises. There’s potential plans to spend a few months abroad in 2019. (“Here and there,” he says, further emphasising his committed role as father.) Murray doesn’t hide the excitement that working internationally brings, but his family in Australia, and his responsibility to them, never seems to be far from his mind. If he had to list the most important things in his life, it’s obvious that his boys, not his music, would take the top spot. 

 He concedes, too, that a life in Byron is not a hard pill to swallow. As far as consolation prizes go, Murray has done pretty well. 

And of the impacts of his life on his kids: “I think they figured it out pretty early on,” he says, referring to his two sons. “They had to, with kids at school asking them ‘is your dad Pete Murray?’” And their answer? “Yeah. So?” Which is exactly how Murray likes it; to Charlie and Pedro, he’s just dad. 

“It was great actually, a couple of years ago I was playing some shows with Rob Thomas from a band called Matchbox Twenty and I had a guitar change. My guitar techs gave it to my youngest son, Pedro, who would’ve been eight or nine at the time,” Murray says, recounting a previous show his sons had tagged along to. “Next thing I know the crowd starts cheering and I’m like, ‘what’s going on here?’ And there’s Pedro, bringing out my guitar for me. [The guitar] was almost as big as him.” 

Now they’re older, they understand the crowds. But when they were younger they just knew other people said, “Pete Murray” and it meant something to a lot of people. “Now they’re older, they can see the crowds and kind of appreciate what it means.” Charlie and Pedro might be the apple of the apple of their dad’s eye, but they’re catching on that Australia feels the same about Pete Murray. 

Murray got his start in music somewhat by accident. After a series of serious rugby-induced knee injures sidelined his dream of a rugby union career, he was left without any real idea of what he wanted. He did, however, know what he didn’t want: “a normal job.” So, despite studying sports medicine (his more “serious” career option) he started learning guitar. 

The year was 1993. 

Murray has always had a competitive streak (he didn’t get selected on the Queensland Sevens side without a desire to win) and it was this that really drove his music. He was going to be good. 

 Despite having no real desire to be a rock star, he had clear talent from the start. And people noticed. By the time he’d hit 27, he was playing and singing and had started dabbling in song writing. (His ex-wife is alleged to have locked him in a bathroom until he finished writing a song.) “It all started off as being a bit of fun.” 

Then, in the first half of the noughties, Feeler was released. 

Its success shocked a lot of people, and Murray wouldn’t listen to it in its entirety again until eight years later. “I got a text from Darren Middleton (Powderfinger’s lead guitarist and songwriter) saying, ‘I’ve just been listening to Feeler, what a great album’. After I got that text I thought I better give it another go.” 

Murray may not have had a desire to be a rock star, nor to even listen to his own album, but he was heading the right direction. Even after spending fifteen years in the spotlight, his career shows no signs of letting up. As always, he speaks of it with the humility that seems only to be found in the Australian industry. 

“I’ve always been a big fan of albums,” he says, explaining away any speculation he wants to be known for releasing singles. Sure, they get the radio play but music lovers, real music lovers, are in it for the body. And that’s where Murray sees himself: putting out bodies of work that people want to play over and over. Producing the music that he’d listen to, that he’d share with his wife and kids, is more important than Jane Doe hearing it five times on her drive to work. “Probably the hit singles aren’t your favourite songs,” he explains. “It’s just not, it’s the album tracks that are the best songs.”

Above everything, Murray is looking to build a connection that goes beyond the limited lifespan of radio play or streams. “That’s what you really want, something that, for whatever reason, people connect to. They’re the ones that will keep going back to the album.” 

Most special though to the doting dad is teaching his eldest, Charlie, to play the guitar with his own tracks as the backdrop. “They kind of have to listen to my music, thankfully they always have liked it,” he says. “Now I’ve started to teach Charlie some of my songs. He’s starting to get the feel for it.” Whatever Murray is doing, it always seems to come back to love he has for his sons. 

His advice to them is to try as many things as possible in life. “You’ve got to try and do things while you’re young. You just need to do things that make you happy,” he says. “I think the main thing though, is to have a bit of a backup plan.” After the end of his rugby career and realising he didn’t want to work in a medical clinic (“I didn’t want to be in that environment solving people’s problems.”), he went overseas to decide his next move. Murray was ready to give up on music, it just hadn’t been working out. “I didn’t think my music was going to go anywhere, so I was in the process of ringing up school and re-enrolling to finish studying,” he explains. “And then music worked.”

Tour tickets available here