You could be forgiven for labelling Pete Murray a traditionalist. The Byron Bay-based songwriter released his first record, Feeler, in 2003. It was a set of roots-rockers and acoustic ballads that didn’t exactly chime with the saturated distortion of nu-metal or the affected cool of the indie rock revival.
But Feeler was nevertheless a hit, going sextuple platinum in Australia and spending two and a half years in the ARIA Top 100. In the years since, Murray has essentially stayed the course by continuing to foreground approachable lyricism and uncomplicated melodic patterns in his songwriting.
But despite Murray’s commitment to non-zeitgeisty songcraft, he’s never been in denial about the realities of the present day. It’d be implausible for any Australian musician to expect to shift more than 400k physical copies of a new record in 2021 – including those, like Murray, who have five consecutive ARIA top tens in their back catalogue.
This explains the release strategy for Murray’s latest project. His new EP, The Night, came out on March 5. It’s his first substantial release since his fifth album, Camacho, which came out in mid-2017. The Night is the first of two standalone EPs slated for release in 2021, which Murray says will also work together as one body of work.
The motives behind this novel spin on the album rollout? “Things have changed a lot,” says Murray. “People’s attention span for one, I think, on the streaming platforms changes a lot.”
The creation process was different this time around, too. The majority of songs on The Night stemmed from co-writing sessions Murray conducted in Los Angeles in 2019. Writers and performers such as Morgan Dorr, Austin Jenckes, Gavin Slate, Colin Munroe, Edd Holloway and Lalo Guzman all receive co-writing credits, while production was handled by fellow Byron local, Garett Kato.
Murray described Camacho as an attempt to deviate from the music he’d released up until that point. The results were sparklier and more pop-oriented but by no means unrecognisable as the work of Pete Murray. This continues on The Night – Murray’s focus remains on solid songcraft and emotionally wrought lyricism, but there’s a contemporary gleam to many of the tracks, even while he resists overcomplication.
Music Feeds spoke to Murray about releasing music in the streaming age, the things he values as a songwriter and working with various co-writers on The Night.
Music Feeds: The Night is the first of two EPs you’ll be releasing this year. Why have you decided to put out two EPs rather than another album?
Pete Murray: We kind of thought, things have changed a lot. When you’re putting out an album, having someone try and listen to it start to finish, my fans will but other people may not. So it’s almost like we’re just drip-feeding this – we’re putting out three singles and then we’ll put out an EP and then we’ll probably do the same on the next one.
MF: You’ve been releasing music for 20 years. How willing are you to adapt to these kinds of changes in the industry?
PM: You’ve definitely got to change to a certain degree. Musically, I’m still keeping my integrity for what I do without changing so that people would go, “Well what the hell’s the guy doing?” But I think there’s modern sounds that you can use these days that can change that. My form of songwriting is really about lyrics, music and melody. That’s the thing that I really focus on; lyrics especially – I think my fanbase get a lot out of the lyrics and connect to the song.
With the industry, it’s changed a lot. Feeler, the first album, came out back in 2003. It was very different back in those days. You had two or three singles, you’d be going around talking to radio and media and that’s how you got around. Streaming, since that’s kicked in over the last few years, it’s just changed everything so quickly.
MF: How do you feel about the centrality and power of the streaming services?
PM: It’s a weird thing to get used to because it’s almost like these days you don’t need to have an amazing song to get a lot of spins. It’s more that if you’ve got a chilled song, you can get on the chill playlist and if you’re on a big playlist, then you get more hits. But it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be playing to bigger crowds.
I was having a chat to Kyle Lionhart the other day, a good friend of mine in Byron. He said his most popular song by far isn’t the one that is the biggest live. So that’s something to get used to, especially if you’ve come from the old days where you’d write to try and have a song that people would really remember. And I still do – I want people to remember the songs. I want it to be word of mouth rather than getting onto a playlist and not really getting noticed, but getting lots of spins.
MF: You’ve done well on streaming services. Songs you released many years before the advent of streaming, such as ‘So Beautiful’ and ‘Better Days’, have had several million plays across multiple platforms.
PM: Well, remember too that a lot of my fanbase have already bought that music, so they don’t need to stream it. There’s a lot of bands that have been around for a little while and their streaming’s nowhere near the level of a new artist with a younger demographic.
My son is totally into [streaming] – that’s where he’s getting all the new stuff. I’m the same. I’m probably starting to listen to some old stuff a bit more now on Spotify, but I still have CDs and some vinyl that you’ll listen to.
MF: The Night is available on CD and limited edition signed vinyl. Is it still important for you to provide the tactile experience?
PM: I love artwork, I think it’s great, and information on the album – who played what, where you recorded it, who mixed it, who mastered it. So I’m a nut for all the detail of that stuff and it’s kind of hard to get the exact information. On Spotify, if you check out who was the producer, it just puts names of producers, but were those full producers? Did they just do a little bit of production? It’s not really clear. Drake might have eight producers on a song. So who’s done what? It’s not clear.
That’s what I miss, checking and going, “who played bass on that? It’s a great bassline.” And you get more information from the artwork. I used to sit there and go through and read everything from start to finish while playing the album. And that’s gone these days.
MF: The third single from The Night, ‘If We Never Dance Again’, was co-written with Morgan Dorr. Mario Fanizzi also gets a co-writing credit and Garrett Kato is credited as co-producer. Can you tell me about the different roles everyone played?
PM: I wrote with Morgan. I went over [to Los Angeles] and we wrote together. I’ve never met Mario. When I sat down with Morgan, he had three chords and the first line of the song, “If you never see my face again.” And I was like, “that’s great,” and so we wrote the song. But then apparently later once the song was all finished, he played it to Mario and Mario must’ve gone, “Hey, do you remember I wrote some of this with you?”
Morgan and I wrote it and then it was a bit of back and forth with us doing production. Garrett is a great mate of mine from the Byron Bay area. He’s a great producer so I got him on board to help me produce this body of work.
MF: You worked with co-writers on five of The Night’s six tracks. The decision to go and work with songwriters in LA, what motivated you to do that?
PM: I wanted to get overseas. I’d never done it before and I think that there’s a great opportunity to write over there with some other great writers. I actually wanted to write for other people. I was happy to do some pop stuff for other people, for a younger artist or whoever I could get. But that never came about – whoever that got put with me, researched me and then they went, “Oh, love your work. Let’s try and do something for you.”
I was really looking to do something for other people, but I ended up using all the tracks that were written over there.
‘The Night’ is out now. Listen here. Pete Murray will be playing the new tracks, plus crowd favourites at the upcoming By The C Festival in St Kilda and this Easter at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest. For more dates and
details on live shows, head here.