Photo: Willy Lukatis
Nick Murphy Talks New Album, Touring Again & Taking Rick Rubin's Advice
He put out his first EP, Thinking In Textures, in 2012 as Chet Faker, followed by a collab EP with fellow Aussie (and GRAMMY winning electronic artist) Flume in 2013. In 2014 he released his debut studio album, Built On Glass, fully introducing the world to his smooth vocals and equally luscious beats. While it may have been five years since his last LP, he did release a handful of tracks sporadically since then, including "Fear Less" in 2016, the first one released as Murphy.
Often times, an artist's winding journey gets boiled down to a simple sentence or equation even, with the time between albums or tours effectively erased in the social conscious. But every song has a story behind it, an experience that drew out those emotions. We sat down with Murphy last week, ahead of his sophomore album drop and upcoming world tour, to hear the story behind the tracks, and in the spaces between.
So Run Fast Sleep Naked, your five-years-later sophomore album drops soon. How are you feeling about sharing it with the world? Did you feel different pressure with this release?
I'm feeling good about it, I guess. I'm partly nervous about starting touring again because I only have one memory of doing this before and it was pretty intense. So I'm worried of it getting away from me again.
But I feel really good about the record. I wasn't nervous about it. Honestly, the Missing Link EP that I put out [in 2017], purged any nervousness out. It was almost deliberately challenging for everyone, so I could remove any sense of having to fulfill expectations for other people. I think that's what that whole earlier period was about. So it paved this blank canvas for this record, for me to just come in and not think about it, to just do what I want to do. I'm excited, actually. I'm really looking forward to it being out.
Yeah, it's not like you disappeared for five years…
No, I decompressed it. It's like there was a whole lot of tension built up. I got really big really fast and it was kind of just letting some air out of the tires, you know? And then I definitely after that did sort of go quiet for a while, but I felt like that was necessary. You can get sick of yourself, let alone the fans get like, "Oh, okay," you know? So, I took a year off of social media and just chilled out and finished the record.
But, this record has a deeper meaning to me than some of the other stuff I've put out. It's somewhat spiritual and it has some mantras and answers that I was looking for, so it's something that I feel like is worth sharing. It's not just like, "Oh, this is cool," there's a message here.
With this album you were traveling the world with a microphone, right?
Kind of, yeah.
Did you go out being like, "I need to do things differently to make this record," or was it more, "I need to get away and maybe I'll bring a mic just in case"?
It wasn't separate, those two. Honestly, as I've gotten older and done this more it's like the same, it's like neither living nor making the art comes first, they're the same thing
I didn't go and do stuff to finish the record, you know what I mean? I just knew I had to travel because I realized that if I stayed still for too long in a place I would sink into this slump, and I didn't know how to get out of that slump. And every time I've traveled I've noticed I got out and I was moving. I just didn't want to fall back into that slump, so I just kept moving. And the more I did that the more I noticed that it also had a creative echo. So I would move and then songs would fall out.
I would kind of write stories in my head, mini stories, and then I would go and live that story. So I went to Morocco, into the northern Sahara, nine hours out of Marrakesh for three nights and stayed in the desert and that's where I shot the record cover. So I just had that idea and then I'd go and do it and live it, and I just made sure I always had stuff to document what was going on.
So did you always have a notebook and a mic?
Yeah, always. That's what my bag is, just filled with sh*t. A friend of mine once told me that art is just documenting a life worth living and that stuck with me. Like you don't try and make art, you just have to live properly and honestly, and then just make sure you're paying attention and then documenting. Because when you're having a good time it's really easy to be like, "Ah, f*** it."
That's the really hard part about being an artist. You have to be diligent, but you also have to kind of be a child at the same time. You have to feel joy and enjoy things and truthfully connect, but then be an adult and be diligent about capturing and documenting it.
Do you want to tell one or two of the back stories for specific songs on the album? What about the lead single, "Sanity?"
"Sanity." That one was interesting. That's the oldest song on the record. That one I had written for years as a voice memo. About three years ago, maybe, two and a half years.
I was in Japan, in Koyasan, which is a mountain village four hours on a bullet train out of Tokyo. It is where Buddhism was started in Japan; obviously, it came from China, but that's where they started it. I went there a couple years ago and turned the internet off my phone for a week. I'd take walks around the forest, mountains, and that song just popped into my head. One of the fully formed ones. So, that was that one, but that's not actually part of the year where I was traveling. I also did one in my grandma's living room while she was away at like 1:00 a.m. in Melbourne. That was pretty funny.
How did you tie all the stories and songs together cohesively as an album?
I mean that's the hard work. That took a long time. I worked with Dave Harrington from Darkside, he co-produced this record. And Phil Weinrobe, who was an engineer, but also kind of like a third producer. Basically, the three of us formed this trio where, I don't know, it was crazy. It was the most rewarding creative work I've ever done with other people, just trying to piece this sh*t together. It was like a massive jigsaw puzzle and it started to show itself.
Actually, all the songs were finished and there were two songs that got cut at the end, so there's two other finished tracks. Well, I cut them, they didn't want to cut them. It took me six months to come up a track list, then I just left it and sat with it for six months and then came back and was like, "What should be first?" I'm not sure how to tell you how I did it, we just did it. [laughs.]
I think, when we actually finished it, for three weeks straight, I didn't leave the studio building and just slept on the couch and worked there. I went a little crazy.
Did you feel like you just couldn't really rest until it was done?
Yeah, just like going in a cave and I'm not coming out until this is done.
That's such a juxtaposition of emotions from when you were traveling.
Well, that's the writing, and then there's the end. So, yeah, sometimes a part is also knowing when to pressure cook yourself and when to let go, compressions and decompressions. I honestly think that's the hardest part about being a creative, is just knowing when, "Okay, this is too much" or "This isn't enough." I think there are a lot of people who try to pressure cook everything and there are a lot of people who try to do the opposite and they won't even touch an instrument unless they're feeling it. There's a balance.
What are you looking most forward to with this tour? And what are you most nervous about being back on the road again?
I'm looking forward to playing new music, the whole new album, because I've always just added EPs and stuff along the way. People don't pay as much attention to an EP. You know, a lot of the time it's been festivals so it's like an hour set, so it was really kind of the same thing. So I'm pretty psyched to play new music.
I'm also both nervous and excited to try and shape touring into something, because I have this life goal to make touring fun and enjoyable, like it should be.
Everyone has this idea that it's fun. But what they don't understand is it's kind of a form of sleep-deprived torture. It's this weird thing where it's like, "Hey, do you want to do the most amazing thing in front of thousands of people at the most amazing place?" But you'll be on two hours sleep. Like five days in a row."
Adrenaline is all you got going. Adrenaline and caffeine.
Yeah, seriously. My body's been trained now for adrenaline after like six years of it. Sometimes at 8:00 p.m. on a regular night I just have to go to the gym. But yeah, I'm looking forward to it. There's a lot of noise that comes with it all. I'm probably more of an introvert than an extrovert. So, that's always a thing. I want to do this for a job and I really like sharing music, but I don't always get a lot of energy off all the noise and the attention.
Putting music out is always a bit weird because when you put music out, you enter the collective consciousness and you kind of step up in people's heads, even friends. Four months ago I'd wake up with no texts, maybe one text. But now I've got literally, like 29 right now, just from friends. Like "Hey, what's up? We miss you." And I'm like, I'm kind of really busy right now. It's nice that you want to catch up but this, now is not the time. The irony is that you don't have time because you're doing this thing. It's a whole thing. But it's nice. It comes from a place of love.
You stopped using the pseudonym Chet Faker in 2016. Where did that decision come from and is there a significance for you releasing this album under your own name?
Yeah, absolutely. I can't easily explain the decision and that's actually why I had to do it. Because if I could explain the problem then I wouldn't have to change the name. It was kind of a psychological hiccup or something. The only thing I would say to a lot of people when they're like, "What's the big deal? Why did you do it?" I would encourage them to try introducing themselves as a different name and see how long they last before they start to realize that it does affect you in a lot of ways. I never thought that it would go for so long. I had the idea probably since I started because Chet Faker was just a thing.
There was another Nick Murphy. I was 22 and he had like three albums out. I didn't know anything about music. A few people came to my shows thinking they were going to his shows. Like tiny, they weren't even shows. Like a gig or whatever.
Hey, you were playing music and people showed up.
Yeah, exactly. Like "that's kind of good but that's not the guy." Now I don't think I have to worry about that. You know, Rick Rubin asked me if I'd ever consider putting music out under my name. When someone like Rick says that I'm like, huh. It gave me a bit more confidence because I had wanted to do it. It's kind of crazy, like setting the house on fire that you bought with all your winnings.
But it was really freeing. It was a good way for me to prove to myself because when you get a lot of success, but you say you don't do it for success but you have all the winnings so you start to question yourself. I think that was kind of the thing for me. I need to set this on fire a little bit and step back just so I know. I did it and I was like, "cool, now I know, I'm in control and this is about the art."
I still really love the Flume collab EP that you guys put out in 2013. Do you think you would ever work with him again, or are there any artists that you would love to collab with that you haven't worked with?
Good question. With Flume, when we first worked together, everything was kind of new. That electronic stuff that I was doing, as well as he was, no one was doing it.
I'm more into jazz. I listen to Pauline Oliveros and free jazz and [John] Coltrane. That's why I worked with Dave Harrington on this record because he's part of the New York forward psych weird jazz scene. I'd love to work with Rick again in the future because we kind of worked for a little bit on this record but we didn't fully get together. And I've been kind of like loosely flirting, or whatever you want to call it, with Nigel Godrich about working with him. He's done Radiohead and Atoms For Peace and stuff. That's on my bucket list as well.
So I think it's more traditional producers than electronic producers. It's kind of fun. For me, creatively, the whole point of doing music is always doing new things. So for me doing collabs, it would have to be the right time and make sense. If it's just to do the thing again, that's not the point.
What music have you been jamming out to lately?
I've been on a weird disco tip actually, which is cool. Like old school disco jams. A little bit of Bee Gees and The Emotions. This morning I listened to Earth, Wind & Fire, which is fun for me. I've been through a phase like this once before. Usually I'm like, oh, disco is kind of cheesy. But when it's right, it's right. Probably because it's spring.
And then I've been listening to a lot of Pauline Oliveros who's like, my queen. She's a pioneering, experimental artist; Avant-garde. I keep listening to these female artists that I didn't even know they were female artists, like Pauline Oliveros and Laurie Spiegel. I seem to have subconsciously tapped into these amazing female experimental, electronic artists. Laurie Spiegel is one I've been listening to a lot recently too.