Pete Murray (QLD) on performing in different locations, surfing, new music and more

Australian singer-songwriter, Pete Murray is about to hit the road, or hop a plane more specifically, for Surf Music in Paradise – a unique concert experience combining music, sun and surf in the beautiful Maldives. Currently hard at work on his fifth album; I spoke to Pete about exotic locations, surfing, new music and touring with Rob Thomas.

In June, you’re heading to the Maldives for Surf Music in Paradise. How did that gig come about?

The guys from The Perfect Wave contacted me after they saw a documentary I did with Mark Occhilupo, Mark Gasnier and Ash Grunwald. We did this trip to the Mentawai Islands and Foxtel recorded it, so that doco has been played all over Foxtel and so many people have seen it. It has such a good vibe, that they’ve asked me to come and be involved with the trip, which I’m really hanging out for. I’ve always wanted to go, so I’m really looking forward to it!

The documentary, Latitude Zero, was about surfing. What do you like about surfing?

The surf doesn’t have to be amazing for me if it’s a beautiful day. Just sitting out there, that’s just beautiful, like especially Byron Bay, where I live.  It’s a nice area, so many nice spots to go, the water’s beautiful, it’s clear on a day like that – it’s just great. Really, that’s all it is for me. If you’ve got any stress or any worries, you just go out there and it washes everything away.

So with surfing being such a therapeutic thing to help clear your head, I imagine that is a help when it comes to the process of being in the studio and songwriting?

Yeah, of course. I’ve just built my own studio, so I’m actually hopping into the studio tomorrow for the next five days. When you’re recording, it’s always a good thing because you’ve always got songs going around in your head and with different ideas that popping up, you just want to keep that process going.

When you’re surfing, it’s really great, because you’re thinking of the song and different ideas. When you pop back into the studio again you go, ‘I’ve got this idea!’, you can try it out. Also, when you’re in the studio for eight to ten hours sometimes, it’s really a good way to start the morning – get up and go for a surf, and get going.

Do your kids surf as well?

No, they’re not into that. I’ve been trying to get them into it. They’re into their soccer; they’re into their sport, they love that, but surfing, they’re not very taken taken to yet. I’m still very keen to get them out there, to obviously go surfing with them.

But, you know what it’s like when you’ve got your own kids – I’ve tried to give them some surf lessons before but, as any parent will tell you, it’s always quite impossible to teach your kids something. Kids don’t want to listen to their own parents. So I’m going to organise some surf lessons for them so they can go and jump in with someone else, who they’ll actually listen to, which will be good for them. I know they’ll love it once they catch their first wave. They’ll be going, ‘Yep, loving it’, so I’m kind of really waiting for that moment to happen, because it’s one of my goals to get them out surfing.

You started off playing rugby, and unfortunately injury stopped you from playing. Is it now one of those things you can look back on, and out over beautiful scenery, like that of the Maldives, and think, it was a blessing in disguise?

The knee injury, at the time when it happened, was a bit disappointing because I was in my early 20’s and just been picked for in a State 7’s team, and [was being looked at the] possibly of going into the Australian team for the Hong Kong Sevens. The Hong Kong Sevens is a great stepping stone to then go play state and then play for Australia. So when I injured my knee it shattered that dream, but now I look back at it and I go, ‘You know, it’s a blessing in disguise,’ because I wouldn’t change anything now. Music is great because it takes me around the world, I’ve met so many people from it, and I can still do it. Where, you know, football’s over, it has a time for you when you can’t play anymore. But music, it’s something I will be doing for the rest of my life.

You’ve played in some pretty unique locations before. I speak from personal experience having seen you gig at one of the Australian ski fields. Is that one of the great perks of being a musician?

Yeah, I’ve played in heaps of amazing locations around the world. On the ski fields, I’ve done Buller, Hotham and I’ve played at Thredbo. I’ve pretty much done everything.

Yes, Thredbo, that was the one I saw!

Thredbo – yeah, it was like a country music thing on a big stage? It was freezing cold. On that day, we’d met these guys who owned a restaurant right at the very top of the mountain, we went up and they shouted us drinks all afternoon. So we were pretty drunk by the time we actually got on stage because these guys were shouting us drinks and, because it was so cold, it affected us even more. It was so hard to play because your fingers are just freezing up!

I’ve never played in that temperature before. It was really weird thing. I don’t know what [the temperature] was, but it was ridiculously cold! It was a pretty good afternoon, I remember that. [Laughs] We did have to stop a few hours before, because it was like, ‘Whoa, we’re just going to get out of control if we keep going!’

I read an interview where you said that you want to put some of your old songs to rest – but with three 90 minute shows in the Maldives – is it one of those things where it’s like, ‘oh shit. I better have enough material to cover the sets’?

There’s so many albums now, there’s so many songs I can do over three sets, which will be totally easy for me to do. We’ll have different songs and a lot of people request songs. I always feel if someone wants to hear a song and they yell it out and I can hear them, I’m happy to play it. And [in] this environment, it’s going to be a pretty awesome environment. Just sitting around on the beach basically playing a set where they can pretty much request anything they want and I’ll be able to play it for them.

It’s kind of a pretty unique situation really; I guess a lot of people won’t ever get the opportunity to sit in such a small crowd to listen to one of your favourite artists play. It’s a great environment, so anyone sitting there who’s watching one of your favourite acts to request a song, it’ll be pretty unique. Not only is it a beautiful place to go, the Maldives is amazing. [There’s] great surfing, great snorkeling, even if you’re not a surfer, it’s probably a good place to learn, because I don’t think the waves are too heavy, so it’ll be really good fun.

So, let’s talk about the new album. What’s the new album going to be like?

I’ve kind of been focusing more on loops and beats for this, which kind of simplifies some of the songs. Bringing the beat in and out of the song, but still doing what I do. The style of writing that I do, I still do that, but I think having the beats there gives some of the songs a bit more of a bounce or a groove that maybe might not have been there before –  for me anyway. I’ve finished one song at this stage and I’m back in to record tomorrow for the next few days, so I’m looking forward to getting the new album out. Because the last one came out back in 2011, I’m definitely due.

As it’s still early days, does that mean you’re still not clear on the direction of the album? Are you still working on where the album is heading as a whole?

I’ve got a bit of an idea where I want to take it. But you know, what happens in the studio… you’ve still got to have that bit of direction where you want to take it, so I’ve got that. Just trying to see what happens, whatever new comes out of it will be the fun thing when you’re in the studio.

This year is really just to finish the album, make sure it’s great and it’s ready to come out. I’m not rushing it, just have to make sure that is 100% ready to go – so finish it, get it out this year, probably a single, got videos to make, then be touring at the end of the year. That stuff takes a fair bit of your time once you get into it.

It’s been 13 years since the release of your debut, Feeler. How do you think your music has evolved and yourself as an artist over the years?

I think I’ve never tried to do the same album twice. When Feeler came out, it was a massive album. Then See the Sun, the second album, I wanted to change things when I made that. It was a little beefier, a little more electric kind of feel. And then [with] Summer at Eureka, the third album, I kind of wanted a bit more of a folky kind of a flavour to it. So, once again, just trying to change it again. On that album, I definitely wasn’t looking for radio songs, I just wanted to do an album that I liked.

Some fans out there say that’s their favourite album, maybe because it doesn’t have those big smash hit singles. Then Blue Sky Blue, the last album, in 2011 was more of an electric album and more of a tougher sound than what I’d done before. Because I was quite well known for that acoustic, folky, rock kind of stuff, for me, every album I’ve tried to change. Now I’m trying to go for, as I say, more of a fatter beat, that is a bit different again.

You mentioned your last release, Blue Sky Blue, came out in 2011. What have you been doing the past five years?

I’ve just been working on this stuff. I’ve just been really slowly writing and demoing, and writing and demoing and it’s just been a real slow process trying to live with the songs for a while. I haven’t just been working with one producer on this –  there’s been different guys I’ve been working with, so waiting for their availability has been the biggest thing, too, that’s been slowing me down. I’m really keen to get this one out soon too, but I also don’t want to rush it. It’ll be ready to go when it’s ready.

You also opened for Rob Thomas during his recent Australian tour. What was it like touring with Rob?

Fantastic. He was such a nice, really good guy. The band I had playing with me [were] guys from different bands that I’ve had over the years – they were the biggest line up that I’ve had and just such a good band – so Rob’s band would actually come and watch my band every night. They just loved watching us play, because they’re such good players. That was pretty nice to have guys like Rob and his band on the side of the stage watching. The tour was just great, we all got along really well with each other and had a ball, so a really great fun couple of weeks!

Did you guys get to hang out at all?

Yeah, we did, not too often as it was pretty difficult, but we had a couple of nights out and had a drink. Caught up, great funny guy, great sense of humour – we got on like a house of fire! I would definitely love to meet him again, and hang out with him. [I] got to know him quite well now, so definitely it’ll be good fun to do that.

Is there any chance of collaborating with him on the new album?

I did mention that I was interested in doing a song together, co-writing, and he was really interested in the idea. It’s just a matter of trying to track him down, because he’s a busy man.

During the tour, did you learn anything from Rob, either personally or professionally?

Yeah, the way he writes songs, I think I picked up a lot from that. It’s interesting hearing some of the stories. You know that song “Smooth”, that one he did with Santana? – one of his greatest hits, really. I thought Santana wrote that song, but it was actually Rob. He just told his experience when he got to meet Santana, and Santana came and played on the track. It was quite interesting, his stories, because he’s also good friends with John Mayer, who I also know quite well, so [there is] definitely a lot of similarities between us.