REFRESHING TAKE ON AN OVERLY DEFINED WORLD
Story by Kate Davies
It is an undeniable fact that the world is getting smaller every day. Through the Internet, a rise in the use of social media outlets, expanding immigration, and general globalization, our planet is quickly becoming one large community. However, as the world gets “physically” smaller, our emotional knowledge and understanding of other people and their cultures simultaneously expands to infinite capacities. Through the increase in social interaction between people from all parts of the world, new doors have opened which allow us to comprehend all human beings within a shared appreciation. As the saying goes, “the more we learn, the less we realise we know”.
Born in London, raised in Greece, France, and Scotland, and sometimes-dweller of Los Angeles, Alexi Murdoch knows exactly what it means to feel part of a global village and how it has the ability to break down barriers between cultures. This very idea seems to permeate through him: from his skeptical view of record labels to his independently-released music and down to the very philosophy which encompasses his personal beliefs. Looking at his musical history, Murdoch is artistically composed of all of those key facets which would appear to define him as a “commercial success”. His 2006 album Time Without Consequence was one of the most-licensed records of the decade, having been featured in such shows as The O.C., House, Prison Break, Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, One Tree Hill, Dawson’s Creek, and Chuck. He has had many offers from various major record labels over the years and both of his full-length albums (Time Without Consequence, 2006 and Towards the Sun, 2011) have consistently received the highest praise from some of the largest media outlets on the planet. Despite the pressure of the outside world, Murdoch remains true to his artistic vision and independence by asserting himself as free from any specific cultural ties. Perhaps it is his itinerant upbringing, his highly philosophical attitude, or some combination of the two, but Murdoch finds much of his creative expansiveness comes from his cultural and contractual freedom.
Although currently “between albums”, I spoke with Murdoch on the phone from his residence in Scotland, catching up with him in regards to his plans for the future.
You were just in Montreal for this year’s Jazz Festival. How was that?
It was great. It was my first time in Montreal and I was there for less than 24 hours. The crew were such great people and they went all out. They had so many people on stage- it was unreal. It was a lot of fun.
Do you have any particular cities you love to play in?
That wouldn’t be fair (laughs). No, I’m kidding. Not really to be honest. I mean, I guess I feel like when I’m playing I’m just sort of in a different head space. There are certainly cities I’ve been to where I’ve disliked playing, but that’s a whole different story (laughs).
So where are you recording from these days? Are you in Scotland most of the time?
No, just a lot of moving around. I was just doing some recording in Iceland and I think I may be going back there to do some more over the fall. Actually there’s been talk about maybe going to Montreal for a little while to do some work with a couple of folks I met up there. I record the same way I write really – it all feels a bit fragmented but it all sort of eventually comes together and hopefully makes for a more spontaneous album.
Well, it might give it a sense of a “real” feeling, right?
Yeah, at least for me I think – and I’m sure for a lot of people – dislike the idea of going into a studio and being on the clock and feeling like you’re having to produce something that’s going to be a cohesive piece at the end of a specific period of time. And you’re kind of just paid a bucket of money for it. It’s not the most creative, friendly approach I can think of for making a record. I’ve just found that a record doesn’t necessarily suffer from being done in a more fragmented way. You know, as long as you’re focused, you can kind of carry that wherever you go really.
With your last album (Towards the Sun, 2011) I know you wrote it over a period of time but you recorded it all, most of it, in one night, right?
Yeah, funnily enough in Vancouver! That was an accident actually and in a way that’s what’s given me this new perspective on not being too pressured about the idea that you have to be in one place and lock it out. Because it was more of an accident, it was just literally I had a day off in Vancouver and I was recommended this studio. I went in and just hit it off with the engineer and I wanted to document the songs more than anything. I wanted to make a record of the songs as they were sort of feeling new to me. And it wasn’t until like 6 months later when I listened back to this thing that we’d done in 6 hours that I realised that there was something just kind of rough but quite straight forward with no frills about it which I really liked.
So you’re obviously not a big fan of the whole commercial, promotional thing. I remember you had a lot of offers when you went to LA to sign with a recording contract. But I know you weren’t either the biggest fan of signing something or you just wanted to release independently. So is that the same sort of thought process? Do you want your own freedom from it all?
Yeah, I guess. I mean life is too short to be messing around with stuff that’s just kind of going to slow you down and create headaches. I mean, if the objective is to try to get to the heart of the matter as well as you can – if that’s what you feel your job as an artist is, to just try to clarify things for yourself and to try to find a voice to express yourself in the most direct way. Nothing against those people, but you’re always going to be at odds with somebody whose objective is financial. So it just didn’t seem like those people were operating in the same kind of universe.
And you’re a bit of a nomad yourself, right? You grew up in Greece, France, and Scotland and obviously you’ve travelled a lot being a musician. So, do you find that that upbringing really speaks to your writing a lot?
I wouldn’t know how to pinpoint the influences exactly but I would assume that everything has had a big effect on me. I’d say probably more influential is just the lack of feeling rooted to one specific place more than maybe specific geographical or cultural locations that have contributed to a palette of sound. It gives me a sense of freedom from feeling like I need to actually sound like anything specific. I guess I don’t really feel tied to any particular tradition. So yeah, it has had an effect actually.
I think that would speak to a lot of people too because the world is becoming such a multicultural place, that’s it becoming more and more difficult to actually tie yourself down to a specific culture. I feel like that would speak to them as well through that mentality.
That’s interesting. I mean, I guess that question can be answered as we change culturally, certainly in the part of the world that we live and move in. Obviously it’s problematic that we lose a sense of place in some ways but then obviously it’s potentially liberating. I guess it just depends on what’s going to win out at the end of the day, whether or not we’ll have the capacity to form a larger link with each other on a more holistic level or whether it just isolates us and makes us perfect little consumers at the end of electronic terminals (laughs).
When you’re writing, do you find that the melody or the lyrics come easier to you? What’s your usual process, or does it differ depending on each song?
I’d say it’s more like finding little fragments that you have to patiently hold on to while waiting for the other fragments to eventually come together. I don’t sit down in a traditional sense and try to hammer it out or structure or form songs. It would feel somehow like I was interfering too much with the process. I know that sounds weird. So it can be pretty excruciating at times actually. You feel like you want to jump in and try and help the process along but it always feels contrived when you do.
It sounds like you’ve been writing a little bit for your next release. Do you know when that will be coming out?
I mean, the thing with being independent and not being on a schedule is that some people say “oh you take a long time between recordings”. Some of that is just logistical, you know, figuring how and where to record – that can be tricky because I feel like I can’t just go and book a studio in New York or LA and go in and hire people. It just would feel so commercial, so [the recording process] can take a bit longer. But also I just feel like we’re not in shortage of another record out there, so if I’m going to make another record it should be because I feel like I’ve come to a place where I feel like I have another record to make that I think is actually a worthwhile, small contribution to the sea at large.
Well, that’s a nice way to look at it.
Well, we should all kind of look at it like that – there would be far less chatter out there if we all maybe held our tongues just a little bit until we had something worthwhile to say. Sort of thinking like what we put on our eggs for breakfast is of interest to the entire planet (laughs), you know?
The twitter universe…
I understand that it’s a form in which everyone tries to make contact and everyone reaches out to mitigate this crushing sense of sameness and mediocrity that is sort of imposed on us by this consumer culture. Not to get too heavy or anything (laughs). But at the same time I think we could all use just a little more silence. I guess that doesn’t really answer your question but the answer is I’m in the process of figuring out and trying out a couple of different places to see where the majority of this record is going to be made and I’m hoping it’s basically going to happen over this winter at some point.
I found your second album Towards the Sun was a lot more experimental than Time Without Consequence. I really liked your latest record because of the fact that it wasn’t guided under a strict formula at all. The songs just seemed to float along.
I appreciate that, that’s cool. Yeah, I still stand by the first record but I totally agree. I mean I would hate to think that I’m not evolving as I’m making records so naturally I always want to feel like when I look back at the piece of work that I did before I want to feel like I’ve kind of outgrown it. Even if I still hold it dear to me. We should always be pushing forward, at least that’s kind of the way I see it.
That’s one of the first things I noticed when listening to both of them against each other. That growth was very evident. So I guess I just wanted a couple of hints on what direction your music might be going in the future?
(laughs) I was going to make a joke and talk about Tibetan Bells or something.
Or heavy metal? Are you going to release a Metallica covers album?
(laughs) Yeah…or flute music. Yeah I’ve had a lot of new ideas. Certainly I’m playing more instruments. But I think at the heart of things I’m not really a conceptual artist. Like, innovating for the sake of innovating. I think that can be interesting, I certainly can appreciate that kind of music, but it’s not really what I feel like my job is. I feel like I need to connect with something at a lower frequency. So at the heart of things I suppose it will always be the songs. I mean, that’s where things change in terms of how lyrical content is delivered, in terms of structure or lack of structure. Or in terms of musical arrangement. And that’s what I’m interested in exploring with some various talented and crazy people that I’ve met recently.
Crazy’s always good.
Crazy’s the best! (laughs)
You can listen to Alexi Murdoch’s title track “Towards the Sun” from his 2011 album HERE