Music for the background.


Photography by Cochi Esse


Word of mouth has long held precedence over how we find out about new music, but the power of the blogosphere must never be underestimated. Postings and re-postings of videos is what brings unlikely candidates, such as 13-year-old Rebecca Black with her unbearably auto tuned song ‘Friday’ and teeny-bop sensation Justin Bieber, to the fore. So powerful are the blogs now, they can pluck a complete nobody like Chet Faker, aka Melbourne-based Nicholas Murphy, and catapult him to international success.

In Murphy’s case, it was Aussie blog Who the Hell? that picked up his delicate, ambient-house cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ and got the ball rolling. That was February 2011 and the first track Murphy had ever put online. One year later and he’s signed to London’s indie label Chess Club, as well as Downtown Records in the US, he released his debut EP ‘Thinking in Textures’ on March 26th and even scored an invite to this year’s South By South West, which was the first festival he had ever played at. Not bad for a 24-year-old former bookshop assistant – something that Murphy worked as for five years while studying audio engineering at university before his music went viral. “I think there’s still a job for me if I wanna go back,” he jokes.

With his full, wiry ginger beard and woolly hat, it’s not difficult to spot Murphy on the street in central London waiting for a taxi. His Wurlitzer has broken in transit, so I join him in his search for a Fender Rhodes to replace it or he won’t be able to play his debut London gig later at The Social. “It’s my favourite instrument,” he informs me about the Wurlitzer. “It’s a 1968 electric piano that I’ve had for two years now. It was maybe why I started doing this music – it was a missing element with its warm, lush key sound. But I use that and a Fender Rhodes keyboard as well. I try not to buy too many new things because adding a whole new instrument can really change the sound and I’m still working out what I’m doing, I’m still progressing. It’s not a finished, polished product.”

Murphy may only have been Chet Faker for a year, but he’s been writing and performing music for eight – either electronic instrumental stuff or acoustic singer-songwriter fare. “I don’t know why it took me so long to combine the two,” he admits. “I never took it seriously enough. I think I was too afraid to take it seriously. This was the first time I knuckled down, and there were times when it was no fun but I would do it anyway. It was a maturity thing, a work ethic. If you want to be good at anything, you do that. Music has always been an outlet for me, but it took me a while to develop a work ethic and want to make it the best thing that I could make.”

Now that he has settled in a certain direction, Murphy’s music is taking on a very soulful vibe with a bluesy rasp. It’s almost tranquil. “I love anything low-tempo with sleepy tones,” he confesses. “Anything you can put on and read a book to that doesn’t distract you. That’s something I wanted to do. I wanted to make something that someone could put on and then go and write an essay to.” So, background music? “Exactly. I wanted to write good background music. There’s something really nice and understated about background music.”

Although calming, Murphy’s sound is also rich in textures. You can hear layers of harmonies, samples, minimal beats, various bleeps and whirring keys. Even the empty pauses seem deliberate and long thought over. Mainly, Murphy reveals, because he takes his time. “When I’m writing, it’s manic and I’ll do heaps and heaps, but I’ll come back to it time and time again. A song can be finished but it’s not finished for me. I’m really aware that my name is being put on it, so I don’t want to look back and think, ‘Oh I should have changed that or fixed that’. Time is the answer.

“Plus, I usually write twice as much as I’m going to release. So the EP was seven tracks, but I probably wrote around 14 songs, because I can’t always write something good, so I’ll just write as much as I can and pick the ones that I’m happy with. I use the mad scientist approach but then edit it. It’s like that saying: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’.”

By early next year, Murphy is set to have his debut LP completed, but he’s already got 16 tracks for it, of which he tells us he won’t choose from just yet, he’ll just keep going because he’s not working with anybody else on the record, so he only has himself to answer to.

“Like I was saying before, I’m still working out what I’m doing and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I still feel like I can experiment a lot and bringing someone new in can really change your sound. I’m still trying to hone my sound, I don’t want to dramatically change it.” He’s not kidding when he says he doesn’t want to mess with the order of things, because despite label backing Murphy is still planning to record the LP on his own in his garage at home. But in terms of the road that’ll lead him down, he can’t be sure yet. “I have an idea of what I want it to be like, but I can’t really direct music where I want it to go. It’ll probably end up sounding quite different to what I want it to sound like, but so far it’s darker with more electronic sounds than the EP. It’s not a huge jump, but I’ve been playing around with production techniques.”

Chet Faker, as a project, is still very much in its infancy and it looks to be going in a very exciting direction, but if everything does crumble just as quickly as it started, Nicholas Murphy always has the bookshop to lean on.

By DK Goldstein

Originally published in issue 38 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2012

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