Interview: Chet Faker
April 16th 2012
Chet Faker’s music has been called a lot of things. Post-dubstep, indie r’n’b, electro-soul… hyphenate two genres and they’ve probably been stuck to the Melbourne musician. Somewhat more accurately, Chet’s Soundcloud offers the genres ‘sex’, ‘soul’ and ‘sleep’: there is no doubt that this is music for the bedroom.
After free-falling into hype city last year with his cover of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’, Chet Faker has just put out his first physical release, Thinking In Textures. Behind the soulful beats, intoxicating vocals and exceptionally lush facial hair is a guy called Nick Murphy: a 23-year-old jazz enthusiast who grew up wedged between Ministry of Sound and Motown.
Having played only a handful of live shows, Chet Faker will finish up the Thinking In Textures tour at a sold-out Good God Small Club next Saturday. Nick was at home, chilling with his dog Bessie, when our music ed Beth was let loose to interview yet another unsuspecting bearded man…
BESSIE THE BEAGLE:
Beth: Does she like your music?
Nick: She actually – this is no shit – she howls at ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate’. It was weird, when I was getting the EP mastered, the guy mastering it for me (I hadn’t told him the story) was like, “Dogs are gonna love this song.” And I was like, what did you say? ‘Cause Bessie had howled at it, she usually does it every second time or something… There’s a massive frequency boost at like 22KHz, which is just above human hearing, but dogs can hear it.
There you go… you’ve created a new dog wavelength.
That’s it, you know! Dogs. I’m just writing stuff for dogs.
Maybe that can be your next album…
‘Songs For Dogs’. Yeah!
RELEASING HIS DEBUT EP:
It feels really good. My first release ever. I’m still waiting for the vinyl as well, which I’ll get really excited about…
Are you a fan of vinyl, and ‘tangible’ music?
Yes, very much so. I used to work at a bookstore, next to a record store – Alley Tunes in Melbourne – and so I got to know the guys who worked there well. They got me into buying vinyl and I never looked back. I had a friend who likened it to the difference between an open fire and a heater: they both keep you warm, but one of them, you get to witness the actual action, creating the heat. So it’s like the difference between iPod speakers and a record… the record’s actually spinning, you know? The instrument is actually playing.
BEING THE ‘INTERNET HYPE GUY’:
Um, I mean it’s cool, because I’ve had the opportunity to have the release, for example, and share my music with people. But I was always a firm believer in the idea that the faster you rise, the faster you fall. You know? I mean, for example, I played my tenth gig – ever – in Texas at SXSW. Which is, you know… that’s ridiculous! And it’s not that I don’t feel ready for it. But a big thing for me has been trying to legitimise the hype.
THE LIVE SHOW:
I play with a band. I’ve got a bass player, a drummer and a guitarist. It’s definitely got a different vibe, but one thing for me I wanted to keep was the beats, you know those sample-beat sounds, so I’ve managed to integrate that into the live drum kit with triggers. But I think it’s a bit more soulful, you know, with the more traditional instrumentation line-up.
It seems to be kind of universally accepted that your music has serious sex appeal. Do you deliberately create that kind of atmosphere?
Not really. I think for me it was… okay, this is going to be a massive generalisation, but I think when a lot of boys are growing up, sort of 18-19, it takes a while for them to work out where sexuality stands in their life and in their relationships. So I think [that] for the first time a couple of years ago, I sort of felt like I had a firm grasp (excuse the pun there) on where it stood… So, because I felt comfortable with knowing what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate… I felt like I could write about it. Because it was relevant to my life.
I think it’s just like, I’m a 23-year-old male. The idea of writing a song is that you’re supposed to sing about something that’s on your mind. And they say a man thinks about sex every 8 seconds, so…
You’d be writing a lot of songs!
Yeah. I mean, it’s not like all my songs are about sex!
There are other things going on in your 23-year-old head?
That’s right. There are other things going on in my life.
Well my parents were divorced, so I had different music in different households. My mum was a big fan of some of the oldschool stuff, a lot of Motown, a whole bunch of soul music, which I think is where I got my love for like… you know, you can’t beat a good vocal melody and a well-written song, and a groove as well. But then my dad would listen to chilled out Ministry of Sound CDs and stuff like that, which is that experimental sort of electric sound, and computerised stuff. So I suppose it [my music] kind of makes sense when you talk about those two areas!
COVERING ‘NO DIGGITY’:
It was a whim decision. I didn’t actually sit down and say, “I’m going to do a cover of ‘No Diggity’”. I’d been out all night, and I got home and I’d had way too many Red Bulls… so I literally sat down and just started from scratch, and finished it in 4 hours. I was a bit manic, but I did it. I usually do the whole beat first, the whole backing track, and then do the vocals last. So the whole time I was doing the beat, I didn’t know what it was gonna be, and then when I finished it, I started singing over the top of it and I was trying different vocal lines and different ideas. And ‘No Diggity’ was kind of stuck in my head. I actually didn’t know the song that well – I missed it when I was a kid! I don’t know how I missed that song. But it was in my head because I’d heard it earlier that night, and I just started singing over the top of it and was just like oh, this kinda works! So I recorded that and I was kinda happy with it, so I put it out, and yeah… things went wacko.
CHET BAKER, AND ALL THAT JAZZ:
Chet Faker: that’s obviously a Chet Baker reference. So did you/can you play any brass? Because he was mainly trumpet and sax, right?
No, I can’t play brass, but Chet Baker did sing later in his career… So the reference for me is his vocal style, which is just really fragile and really close to the mic and that sort of, ah, someone described it as bedroom vocals, which is something I really wanted to do with my music.
So if you were going to try and kickstart a jazz revival, or at least convert someone who knew no jazz, who would you recommend they start with?
Well, I started with this South African jazz artist, Abdullah Ibrahim, who used to play under the name Dollar Brand. It’s really sort of happy, feel-good, simple sort of jazz – it’s kinda afro-jazz – that stuff is awesome. But I think Miles Davis is usually people’s entry point for a lot of jazz beginners as well.
COLLABORATIONS: NO OWL EYES, BUT…
It was rumoured that you’ve been collaborating with Owl Eyes … have you been doing many collaborations with Melbourne artists?
That was actually a misconception: I wasn’t actually collaborating with Owl Eyes. We’d been hanging out a bit, and she’s working on her album and looking for some pointers with some songs and stuff… And I think that kind of got played out of line.
But, I have been working on a lot of collaborations… I’ve been working on a track with Flume from Sydney recently. He’s amazing, he’s going to be pretty big. And I also did a track with Ta-Ku recently, which was really fun. I’ve really been liking collaborations at the moment, it’s kind of nice to give up control… And you come up with such different stuff, you know? Some French artists have sent me some stuff, and I’m working with a lot of Melbourne techno/deep house producers, doing some vocal stuff, which is cool – I used to work in bars in Melbourne around that scene, so I’m a bit of a fan of techno.
If there was anyone you could collaborate with, dead or alive, who would it be?
Phwoaar… Flying Lotus? Or Michael Jackson! Actually… Luther Vandross. That’s too many, isn’t it?
AND FINALLY… THE BEARD:
I’ve had a lot of people calling it ‘hipster beard’. See, when I first grew it, I thought it was a good idea because no-one else had a beard, and I was aware that I could grow a nice hairy face. But now everyone’s got them! But I think the fact that it’s red certainly puts an individual take on it… you can imagine the surprise I had when I first grew it.
You didn’t know that you were going to have a ginger beard?
I did not know that I had ranga blood!
Somewhere deep inside…
WHO: Chet Faker, supported by Flume
WHAT: ‘Thinking In Textures’ tour
WHERE: Good God Small Club, 55 Liverpool St
WHEN: Saturday 28 April
TICKETS: Sold out 🙁