Earlier this week Australian hip-popper, Chet Faker (real name Nick Murphy), returned to the UK for a national tour in support of his just-released debut album, Built On Glass. There’s a lot to take in with this album, as Murphy visits some of his great musical loves and reforms the influence with his deep soulful voice, electronic wizardry and — often — killer beats.
The Chet Faker tour stops off in London with a show at Koko next week so we thought, hey — what a great opportunity to get the man himself on the blower to tell us about the record, working with Say Lou Lou and his beard upkeep routine.
G’day Nick. You did your first show of the UK tour in Glasgow last night — how did it go?
Good, thanks! I’ve played in the UK before.
Where was your first ever show here?
It was at the Social in London.
Let’s talk about the new album. How long was it in the making?
Hmmm. As soon as I finished my EP [2012’s Thinking In Textures] I pretty much started writing again. I think the oldest song on the record is either Talk Is Cheap or Gold. Actually, definitely Gold. It’s way older than Talk Is Cheap. As far as I’m concerned it’s been about two years.
Was the process itself fairly straight-forward for you? Did you feel like you knew what you were doing?
[laughs] No, not at all. I didn’t know what I was doing. I have never written an album before so I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it was like writing an EP but it isn’t, it’s a totally different experience, it’s much bigger. My music always reflects things that are happening in my personal life and, obviously, over the past two years there’s been a lot of stuff happening both personally and in terms of the external world so there was a lot of stuff to cover. But I’m a firm believer that with any process the only times you know what you’re doing is at the start and the finish – if you know what you’re doing halfway through then you’re not challenging yourself enough. I didn’t sign with any label until I actually finished the album. There was no chance in hell I was going to let anyone send me to the mastering studio unless I was sure it was finished.
Who was the first person you played the finished product to?
The full thing? I think it was probably my then-housemate. Or one of my friends. I’m not sure. There were so many times that I thought it was finished and I played it to people and then I’d change it the next week. So I can never remember who got to listen to the product that didn’t get changed [laughs].
You chose Talk Is Cheap as the first taster from the record. Why this particular song?
The reason that was the first single is that, to me, I kind of thought that this album covered a lot of ground that some people wouldn’t necessarily be expecting and so I wanted the first single, at least, to show a progression from the EP to the album. Talk Is Cheap, for me, embodies that whole stepping stone from the EP onwards, you know – that easy going tempo, the slow and moody feel. It just seemed like the natural progression, I don’t necessarily think it’s the best song from the album but I think it was a good first single. You have to bring people along with you, you can’t just jump ahead and try to make a sound that is totally different from what your audience is used to. And at the same time you also have to show a progression.
And the new single is 1998 which, to us, is the catchiest song on the album. Is 1998, for you, the ‘big single’?
No, actually. Not really. I wouldn’t call it catchy. It has a drop, which is, like – in this day and age, you have to be an idiot to miss it. I guess when the bass comes in it’s like a four-on-the-floor kick drum, like boom-boom. It doesn’t require too much from the listener, you just kind of go with it. I have always felt that the songs that I think are the best – nobody really likes those.
So which song is your favourite, then?
I really like Cigarettes & Loneliness, personally. But that’s 8 minutes long, it doesn’t have any drums or bass in the chorus and it has a one-minute intro before the vocals come in so try getting a label to put that out as a single!
Where did the title Built On Glass come from?
The main metaphor is glass which ties in with fragility and honesty. The nature of producing a personal record requires you to be volatile and to be open which is, in turn, considered fragile. But it also requires a lot of confidence and strength to do that. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a weird play between being volatile and fragile but also being confident. It works on different levels. There was this idea of it being a product and – similar to how when you go to a gallery there are picture frames framing objects and stuff that might be considered personal or irrelevant to everyone else’s life is suddenly – by virtue of being framed – perceived differently. Built On Glass was this idea that I was building something on this genuine, authentic, fragile part of myself but, by doing something with it, it becomes something else.
The artwork for the album cover is very striking. How did you come up with the concept for it?
The designers were tin&ed who are Melbourne-based designers and it was a collaborative thing but I am a massive believer in people doing their own creative thing. So I sent them a brief and explained to them both over the phone and on email what the album was about and all the themes and references. I was completely open so that they fully understood what concepts I was trying to capture and what the important parts to me were. They then did their thing and came back with a bunch of different options and that was the one that stood out the most. It’s easy to comprehend but there’s still a lot to it, if you dig deeper, which is what I try to do with my music. It’s important to me that my music is accessible but at the same time you want depth to your message. The hand essentially signifies the human involvement, that is basically me. The material is the nature of the product – the concrete links to what I was saying before about glass, it can be very strong but also very fragile.
With the video for 1998, there’s a nod to Keith Haring and his animated sensibilities. What was your involvement in the concept for that?
1998 is essentially a fun song, a carefree song. It was a short brief but mostly stylistic. I didn’t go on too much about what the song was about, actually. But it is about moving on with a friendship. I’m singing about the fact that I used to be friends with this person who screwed me over and then at the same time the message is – I don’t really care because life goes on so it’s cool. With the clip, it was like – I’m not gonna go on about the point of the song, let’s just do something interesting, instead. I wanted the Keith Haring vibe and for it to be animated. Grace Lee and the rest of the team pretty much had free rein with it and I was really happy with it.
They managed to depict you fairly well in the video –
Yeah, I don’t walk like that, though [laughs].
They got the beard right.
I think they did pretty well, yeah. They certainly weren’t being beardist.
You’ll have a lot of beard competition when you get to London –
I think you’ll find that’s the case everywhere in the world right now. In Australia they’re everywhere!
Can you share your beard grooming routine with Londonist?
There’s not much of a routine, to be honest. I mean, at the risk of ruining the image that some people have of me, I don’t really see it so much as an accessory as some people like to construe a beard. It just grows. I chop it, like about once a month, to keep it tame but that’s really pretty much it. I certainly don’t groom it or anything, it just grows straight on its own.
Last year you contributed vocals to Say Lou Lou’s track, Fool Of Me. How did you come to work with them?
I was in New York and someone played me one of their first songs and told me they were looking for a male vocalist. They sent me the track and it was all pretty easy and straight-forward. I just recorded it in my studio and sent it back. I then got to hang out with them in Sweden last year, we played at a festival together. They are beautiful women, they’re amazing. And they have so much energy, man! It’s exhausting [laughs].
Are you likely to get any time to hang out in London when you’re here next week?
Probably not. I’ve never really had much time off when touring. Sounds really boring, doesn’t it! I think the next day after the gig I have to go to France. I’m touring non-stop for, like, the next three months. But I have a few friends in London and usually I like to catch up with people. Actually, last time I was in London I went to this place called The Box in Soho, it’s like a modern day Moulin Rouge. It was amazing. Ah, man – it was crazy, I loved it. It was next level!