Photo: Cassandra Hannagan/WireImage.com
Chet Faker On 'Built On Glass' & His Breakthrough Year
After releasing his highly acclaimed debut Built On Glass in 2014, Australia’s Chet Faker is hitting the ground running in 2015 with several high-profile appearances, including Coachella, Lollapalooza, and three sold-out nights at New York’s Terminal 5.
Faker’s breakthrough year culminated at his native land’s ARIA Awards, where he won five out of nine categories he was nominated for, including Best Male Artist and Producer of the Year. To go from an unknown artist, just “some dude from Melbourne,” as he puts it, to an international emerging artist playing festivals and sold-out shows has been a big transition.
GRAMMY.com sat down with Nicholas James Murphy, better known to music fans as Chet Faker, to talk about transitioning from the studio to live performances, how his writing style has changed, and what’s on deck for his next record.
At an event like the ARIA Awards, what is it like to be around so many creative people?
A lot of people on the outside might think it’s cool, all this BS glamour kind of stuff. I think the best part is meeting peers who you respect and having to meet people and actually change your perception from someone you would consider maybe an idol to a friend and texting him. I think that’s one of the best parts of the whole job.
Are there artists you look to or have gotten advice from on how to make the transition from studio act to live show?
One of the first tours where I supported someone I really respected was Simon Green, aka Bonobo, who’s an amazing producer who’s been doing stuff since before I even knew what music was. Bonobo is a perfect example because his music is production based and he somehow brings strings and brass on stage. But it was kind of hard because by the time I met Simon, I’d kind of figured it out anyway. Not all of it, but I’d done the hard work. When I first started out I had no one to talk to because unlike say, Portishead – they had international demand, I just had a little bit of local buzz and I had to work out how to turn these computer recordings into a live show. So I borrowed my friend’s basement and locked ourselves in there for like six hours a day. But I wish I’d known someone to look to. That’s why Portishead is so great; they’re one of the few bands that have actually done that. There aren’t a lot of bands that can take that exact sound that’s so highly produced and do it live and still have a good live show.
Is there one piece of advice you’ve gotten thus far that stands out?
The best piece of advice I got at the very beginning is from my brother, who said, “All you have to do is make sure you keep making music.” And it’s actually that simple. It doesn’t matter, I could be the worst at everything else, but as long as I keep making music at the end of the day that’s what I do.
Going back to Portishead they became this great raw live band, very visceral. How did your sound change going from the studio to the stage?
Initially I thought of it as being exactly like the record and then once I actually worked at it I realized it had to change because it’s contextual. That album is designed to be listened to, not experienced live. So I had to take aspects of that and then bring out aspects to the forefront, which lucky enough works. But now it’s gotten to the point where my live show is changing every month or second month. If I can get bored then a crowd will definitely get bored. So I’ve been changing it heaps, sometimes I play solo, sometimes it’s with a band, sometimes the set list will be all pure acoustic, sometimes jazzy influence, sometimes it will be a big festival kind of vibe.
Talk about the process of writing and recording Built On Glass.
I sometimes think that the songwriting is not the be-all-end-all, the production is just as important, they need to live coherently. So the way I worked is I had my own studio space so I could be there all the time without being charged too much money. And that means whenever I got in the zone or that magic came I could use it for both the production and the songwriting at once cause sometimes you can write a beautiful song and then the magic is missing when you produce it. And you’re like, “Man, that was such a good song, why doesn’t it work in the recording?” So it’s like I was trying to do both at once, maximize the potential of that moment.
Have you been surprised by the response?
I was 24 when I started writing this, 26 now, just some dude from Melbourne, it’s not even the capital of Australia. Now I’m playing some arenas in Turkey and completely random stuff. It’s crazy stuff, man.
After playing 120 shows this year you obviously learn so much. Talk about the sonic and lyrical changes you’re looking to apply in the future.
My entire approach to songwriting has drastically changed. I don’t like working in studios that aren’t mine, I like my own space to record. So that means I have a lyric book and I’m writing song structures in my head. And obviously human performance is becoming a huge aspect of that because it’s like almost all I do. So yeah there are songs from the album that sound way better live with live drums rather than computer-generated drums. And some of them sound much worse, it depends. For a few months afterwards I was like, “Let’s tour.” And now I want to write the next album, I’ve been itching to record.
How will your next record differ from your debut?
I’d never written an album before and that first album I dug so deep, you just give it almost everything and it’s maybe not an enjoyable process because you’re trying to put so much into it that you just zap yourself. I’m looking forward to this next record, switching the thinker off a little bit more and letting my soul do the music. But I think a huge aspect moving forward for me is human performance and human flaws, just letting the computer do less and less.