Australian-born musician Chet Faker gained overnight success in 2013 after his cover of Blackstreet’s No Diggity was featured in a Superbowl commercial, pushing the song to become viral almost overnight.
He released his debut studio album Built on Glass in 2014, with the album reaching number one in the Australian ARIA Charts. It is catchy electro-soul vibe meant that three tracks also secured a place in the 2014 Triple J Hottest 100, with single talk Is Cheap taking the number one spot.
2016 saw him publicly retire the Chet Faker project. He continued to release music under his birth name, Nick Murphy. Murphy’s studio album Run Fast/Sleep Naked offered a more personal perspective of the artist; pairing experimental sounds with exquisitely crafted lyrics that made the album appear effortless in demonstrating his diverse talent. This was shortly followed by Music For Silence, a hauntingly beautiful and cathartic experience of instrumental sound that was released via the Calm meditation app.
When the world needed a reason to dance more than ever, Murphy ended the four-year hiatus of Chet Faker and brought the project back. He returned in 2020 with Low, the first single from his new Chet Faker album, Hotel Surrender, which was released last month. A self-produced, self-written LP brimming with positivity and soul, Hotel Surrender offers an experience that leaves you excited about life. 1883 magazine joined Chet Faker in his studio via Zoom call to discuss roller skating disasters, safe spaces for creating music and his journey in surrendering to reality.
I have to begin by asking if your broken arm is on the mend from the Feel Good music video shoot incident?! Roller skating can be tricky!
It’s doing pretty good! Classic me, I haven’t been back for my follow-up appointment, but I can play instruments so I’m pretty happy. I did it on the first take of the music video – take one and the dress got caught in the rollerblades and pulled me to the ground, I folded my hand backwards and broke a bone in my wrist. I have a video of the whole thing in 4K! I might post it.
You should get that on Instagram! I wanted to ask you about the comparison between the Feel Good video and the Gold video. You’ve kept with the skating theme – was that intentional for the return of the Chet Faker project?
Oh absolutely, it was a total nod to Gold. I suppose because Feel Good felt like the Gold of Hotel Surrender if that makes sense. It just felt like that big, positive, happy single. I’d always had this image in my head of roller skating and wearing a big white dress. Roller skating or skateboarding was going to be one of those two. Originally the idea was I wanted heaps of people like in that desert scene in Forrest Gump! However, it was COVID so trying to get like 30 people was just gonna be insane. So we settled on doing it solo and playing with some animation. I decided I’d put on the dress and be the pretty one this time!
Speaking on the creative side – the title of the album, Hotel Surrender, suggests giving yourself over to an experience. On your instagram, you have been sharing some of your drawings that promote a similar message in allowing yourself to create almost subconsciously, rather than trying to force it. Do you think that the Chet Faker project allows you to express this side of yourself more freely?
You know it’s funny, everyone seems to think that Chet Faker is the truer self but it’s the other way around for me. To me, all the Nick Murphy releases are pure subconscious and unedited. It’s not that one is, and one isn’t, either. They’re really like shadow and light, the yin and yang versions of the process. The way I look at the difference between the projects is that the Chet Faker stuff is very aware of the listener. The music is deliberately packaged for someone to listen to; it doesn’t ask anything of the listener, it’s all giving. The other releases I do under Nick Murphy are me using music more for my purpose. I still like to share it, but I might need to go into a deeper space or a trance and that might mean that I need to do a four-minute intro which I know will put a lot of people off. People don’t have time for four-minute intros and I’m aware of that, but I also like music that does that. The original intention of releasing stuff under my birth name was to just not have to think about how stuff’s perceived and just do anything I wanted to do. The Chet stuff I felt has such a character to it, I wanted to deliver that every time. Now the Chet stuff has become the inner child for me. It’s this playful, positive, joyous place.
You’ve said in the past that your Chet Faker stage name is a homage to Chet Baker, a big influence on you growing up. Are there any other major influences on your newer stuff?
Yeah for sure! Sly Stone is my favourite dude in the world. I’ve been rinsing Sly and the Family Stone, I listened to There’s a Riot Going’ On and Fresh pretty much all of 2020. That was huge fodder for the recording. When I was working on Hotel Surrender I was listening to T Rex Electric Warrior as well, a lot. Both are super playful and childlike, which was what I was looking for, and still am. Looking for that lightness and brightness, I’m not really after too much density at the moment. I think there’s enough of it going on in the world.
For sure. I think the album focuses a lot on overcoming fears about the future and embracing the present, more importantly being present. What did you do to stay present whilst writing the album?
The album was more of a by-product of what I was doing, rather than me trying to bring a space to the record. My manager found this tiny room that I’m in right now at the start of 2020 and so I was coming in here every day. I think on one part there was a backlog of stuff that I hadn’t been doing because I didn’t have a safe space to come and experiment with it. I was engaging with this idea of acceptance, self-compassion and surrender to my reality of things. The idea that our reality or our present could set us free from the past and the future and elsewhere. I certainly had plenty of my problems going on, even before COVID came along. It had been so incessant for such time that I began to find it very interesting, these ways we cope.
At some point, the idea of surrender had reached me. I was playing with that where I would come here and check-in — which is where that hotel idea came from — I would check in with myself and ask myself how I am. A lot of people can check into their reality, but not everyone’s able to surrender to what it is. Often we’re present, but we have resistance against what it is. I started to view this as “Okay I’m angry. Let, let me just surrender to that.” Instead of trying to not be angry and force my way into some other state of being, what if I just welcome what this is, inspect it, let it be in this safe space. I found time and time again when I did that, that sooner rather than later begin to reach this other side. This space of being is not just fundamentally okay, but often joyful or great. That’s basically what Hotel Surrender is — it’s that space.
It’s a total contradiction in terms, but it’s there! If you accept what’s going on, then it’s allowed to pass through you. I coupled that with musical expression, and I would let whatever I was writing come out. In the past, sometimes I would resist doing something really soppy and super emotional, I’d think “Yo dude, this sucks. Let’s not do this”. Instead, it’s “No, this is what’s happening.” and I would let the music lead. So that’s basically where all the songs came out of. They’re all just kind of by-products of me coming in, and in a spiritual and meditative stance being like “How am I?”. Things got even worse with COVID, so this space became even more important to me, it was almost like a ritual. It was like going to church or a temple. I would come and search for this space every day, and all of these songs came out as a result.
You spoke on checking in during COVID and one thing that I found useful to watch during lockdown were your Life Cut videos on YouTube, as a way of feeling excited about the future again. Did you record any footage whilst you were in quarantine? Do you plan on filming more now things are beginning to open up?
I filmed so much in quarantine! I didn’t want to share any of it because everyone online was like “What are you doing!? You’re not wearing a mask!!” Everyone was just complaining about everything, because on a camera things look closer and more dangerous than they are, and six feet doesn’t look like six feet on screen. I just really couldn’t be bothered with people online during the lockdown. I filmed a lot and I need to make another one. It makes me feel good that you got something out of them. I feel almost that the world is still going through it a bit, and I don’t want to just be posting all this living-the-life stuff. It feels a bit tone-deaf or something. Maybe I’m due to make another one, I filmed a bunch, I just need to back into it. Another reason I haven’t made any is because I used to always make them when I was on planes flying around or just edit it in the airport and I haven’t been on a plane in forever.
Going back to the new album, my personal favourite is definitely Oh Me Oh My. I love the way it guides you into this sense of release. I was wondering if you had a favourite from the album?
Oh Me Oh My was my favourite for such a long time! I think I might have listened to it too many times maybe. So Long So Lonely is probably my favourite because it’s the most fun to play, and it was my favourite demo. I think something got a little lost in the mix, but it just is what it is and so it wasn’t worth trying to chase it, that just happens sometimes. I always loved that song; i’s got a [hums the beat] it’s kinda funky!
You’ve just released a North American tour. Do you have any plans of coming to the UK?
Planning tours with covid stuff is a total mess, nothing can get booked or venues and stuff and no one can commit to stuff. Then all the offers are super low which means I can’t pay my usual crew unless I’m like touring with an iPod and a microphone! It’s all a bit up in the air, which is the reason North America is the only one that’s been announced because America is essentially back open. There are heaps of plans – we’re trying, constantly looking and we have a call just about every week to make plans, so fingers crossed!
You have been sharing sound effect samples to your instagram recently. Are using samples in music a new thing for you? Can we expect to hear new music any time soon?
I couldn’t tell you what I was gonna do with new music, I’m just always experimenting and dropping things in. Whatever is on my computer at the time! I view everything as ‘recently added’ so if I wrote something great eight months ago, there’s no chance. It hasn’t been touched. I have a love for spatial music. Creating a space with music which is what I used to do with early Chet Faker stuff, so I suppose that’s why I’m back with the project. I love beats again and how you can create these scenarios where you listen and you like feel like you’ve gone somewhere.
Would you say Hotel Surrender can act as a form of escapism for people to get to that positive space?
Yeah! I try not to use the word escapism because that implies a rejection of reality but when it’s the acceptance of reality. I would see it more as a sort of antidote than escapism; we’re not escaping life; we’re escaping our misconception of life. The problems in our past, the made-up problems or stress of our future, and this narrative that we’ve picked up somewhere, that isn’t true, that somehow right now is meant to be different. All of them are just false ideas, none of them are real. The only thing that’s real is what’s in front of us right now, and we’re going to experience our entire life in that way. We’ll never experience the future as the future, it’ll feel just like now. Spending time like that you’re wasting it, then all of sudden you’re like “Damn, I’m like 70, I can die!” so right here, right now is sort of the action. And that’s what I’m trying to get to every day, that’s where the songs came out of. You can use music to get there, going there can also create music, it’s sort of all interrelated. That’s why I wanted to share this record, just in the hope that some people can connect to that. If not, have fun and have a dance!
Interview by Lucy Crook