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FAKER NO MORE; NICK MURPHY CHUCKS CHET FOR HOME TRUTHS


It was just a name.

It wasn't even his own name, but an amalgam of a play on a tragic jazz figure whose singing style he admired and a young man's joke about authenticity, that holy grail of "serious" music.

So, Chet Faker he became. It sounded cooler than Nick Murphy, the birth name he shared with a long-standing Melbourne musician anyway. But that was as far as Murphy thought.

There was no plan, no thought of "Chet Faker" being used in six months, let alone six years. It was just a name.

But then it worked. Thinking In Textures, the 23-year-old's first EP of slow electronic soul songs such as Love And Feeling and I'm Into You, sung in a tender voice freed of machismo, was released in 2012 and made the mainstream top 40.

A single with another pseudonymous young musician, Flume, made the top 20 and then, the debut Faker album, Built On Glass, in early 2014 went to number one in Australia, and charted in Europe and the USA.

Chet Faker was the name on invitations to festivals and shows, remixes and television appearances. It had stuck, and it meant something now.

Along with Flume (whose real name is Harley Streten), Murphy was pioneering a new face of Australian music: studio-savvy but emotional; international in sound; transportable, translatable.

This was when things went both unalterably right and inevitably wrong, sowing the seeds for the demise two years later of the artist Chet Faker.

Yes, he doesn't exist anymore; there is only Nick Murphy. Twenty eight years old, damaged, recovering, renewed.

"2014 was without question the worst year of my life," says Murphy, referring to a year when his habitual self-doubt and self-questioning undermined whatever positives there were to be had from success.

"If you look at that year on paper, that doesn't make sense. People would say what are you talking about, you travelled the world, you got all this stuff, played all these big TV shows. But it was processing: I was trying to make sense of all that shit, but it doesn't make sense. I went nuts: completely isolated and I kinda lost it."

Searching for sense, or escaping from its opposite – "I moved from this anonymous lifestyle, recording in a little space in North Melbourne and working in a book store, to all of a sudden being recognisable and people have got a million different opinions on how I should be living my life" - he moved to New York.

Things had to change. Or he had to. He was by his own account unpleasant to be around, pushing himself physically but now finding that his usual practice of retreating emotionally wasn’t working.

Adding to this, he was starting to earn a reputation for surliness and difficulty.

The things that once only family or friends encountered during these lows were manifesting very publicly on stage or interviews or just those encounters that become unavoidable when your face becomes familiar.

“Before then when I got low or I got anxious, I would just tap out for a week. I wouldn’t go and see anyone, I wouldn’t reply to anyone’s messages, I would just disappear,” Murphy says.

“And I managed to make that work for me, up until that point, and then I didn’t have that choice anymore because I was in Spain today and tomorrow was going to be rural Germany and I would have to talk to people and play a show and present these emotions on stage when I just wanted to curl up in a ball.”

People move to New York for many reasons and sometimes the move itself is just a manifestation of something bigger happening within.

It's not necessarily New York that changes you; it's New York that gives you a platform or that space or that distance, to make the change.

In the same way, changing your name doesn't necessarily materially change anything about who you are or how you work. It is merely a symbol.

But symbolism matters as Murphy, who grew up in Bendigo and Melbourne, understands.

"It does tie into the whole, bigger shift. First and foremost, all of these changes that we're talking about were all born of an internal shift: something that I personally developed or let go of, or evolved beyond," says Murphy from his small New York apartment/work space.

"A lot of people are asking me why did you change your name? And is it different now? And I don't think that once the name has changed that things are different. The name was almost the last piece, at least for me personally, that had to shift."

The oldest of two boys, from a marriage which split when he was 11 as his father, a heavy drinker, moved out, Murphy had been both a sporting champion at his private school, a kind of natural leader, and a music fan prone to excess off the field.

Drugs were common, frequent and hardly hidden and wasting his talents looked likely as the dope smoking, drinking, and more, took centre stage: he dropped out of his arts degree repeatedly; he’d take money from his younger brother’s account to spend himself.

His brother, Oscar, today a clinical neuropsychology student, berated him for his partying, writing a letter to the uni-dropout Nick saying "you were good at everything, you need to stick to something".

Music seemed the answer, especially as the rewards for playing more than 100 Chet Faker shows a year for several years starting flowing through.

However, as someone who “used a lot of negativity, a lot of negative energy, to drive music”, he realised music was only masking something harder.

The truth was he was living with "so much trash that was in my mind, that was crowding my experience" and it was doing him in.

"When I first moved here I was at a point where throughout my life I had developed certain tools for dealing with life and the intense feelings and moods that would come over me. I didn't feel that they were useful tools; it was sort of like hiding," Murphy says.

"There was an appeal in the city [of New York] for me because I felt like if I move here, the city is going to pull me out of myself and I'm gonna have to learn how I fit into this world with all its different types of people."

Rather than sitting and waiting for this change to happen he took control and actively set the direction he wanted to take – be positive, be forgiving, be open - much as he does in the studio where he works alone.

And he started taking in the city, walking, soaking it , and walking through the city at night, soaking it in.

"And it's totally where the sentiment of [the first single from his first album as Nick Murphy] Fear Less comes from: I was trying to let go of trains of thought that were making me smaller," Murphy says.

"Rather than shying away from these things, looking them in the face and letting them do what they are going to do and realising you're not going to die if you do."

If 2014 was the worst year he'd experienced while having what was meant to be the best time, then 2016, a tumultuous, often ugly year in the world, was "one of the worst years I've seen but one of the best years I've had: the first year I glimpsed peace".

It began by deciding to stop thinking and rethinking every decision he made, to not allow "the conscious mind, the ego, to claim the right to the work that the subconscious did".

And it ended with the name change, when it was as if acceptance freed something up.

"I started to think about releasing music under my birth name and even when I just start to consider that all of a sudden, all this music came rushing out of nowhere from behind walls that I didn't even realise had been put up at some subconscious level," says Murphy.

"I built some sort of framework of perception of the kind of music I make as Chet Faker [and] once I even just asked the question, or let go of the question really, 'what do I like?', the music just shifted."

The new material may work in similar musical territory, Murphy once again playing pretty much everything and producing it, though there's a lightness in the two new songs heard so far which balances the more dense sound.

But lyrically Murphy banned self-deprecating lyrics and self-lacerating themes and decided to "see what it's going to sound like if I try and actually work with some positive energy" when writing.

"It's funny because I think the music actually sounds darker than the negative stuff, which I didn't expect. But I think it makes sense because if you think about it, it's harder to [consistently think well of] yourself then it is to be negative," he says.

"That noise didn't come from the negativity, it came from the friction with the natural world around me: how hard it can be to stay positive when the universe is throwing these fucking curveballs at you. I think all these cracks and distortion, all this stuff appears around the sentiment."

Not that any of this came easily: he didn't just suddenly turn into someone who felt good about himself, nor did he want to, hating the notion that as always it seemed to be "about me me me".

"For someone who already thought about things too much, all of a sudden my job became me and I was thinking way too much. It's unhealthy to have that much sense of self."

When he tired of boosting himself – "you can't always just tell yourself that you're invincible and unstoppable because the brain starts to distort" – he would get in touch with friends or his mother, seeking to put some positivity their way. He’d ring to offer support, or listen to their concerns- nothing fancy, just “being there” for someone else instead of feeding the ego.

It seemed to work, he says with some wonder. Still, the name has changed, the album is done, the tour is about to happen, but it's only a start Murphy points out.

"Sometimes it's just about setting up yourself to learn or move in the right direction," he says. "'You've changed your name, what's that about?'

"I don't know yet but I do not at that point in time, doing that has allowed me to move in the right direction, not the wrong direction. The specifics will come with time."

A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

You can live there but can you ever call New York home?

"New York is essentially everything x 10. Every day in this city you get a whole week or a whole month of experience crammed in there," says Nick Murphy.

"You get so caught up in the pace of this city but it's very fast paced so anything that happens is always short lived. It's a super magnified but it's short.

"So, if something is going wrong, it feels like the worst thing that's ever happened; but before you know it something else comes along. It's a lot like a drug: it's so intense, as soon as you leave it you want to come back for more. It's like life on steroids."

He is still stewing over an unpleasant experience for one of his friends who was turned back at the airport due to some minor visa infraction a few years ago. It does serve as a reminder though of the reality that the USA is still a place he visits, not a place he has roots.

"New York is not forgiving at all. Home is always a place where you can feel at home always, where you belong, and I think there's something about New York that never let you feel you're relaxed. It forces you to constantly hustle and grind," he says.

"Which is why so many people have to get out and take breaks from the city; there is no safe place. [But] it's definitely the place where I need to be right now: I'm in my 20s and it's a melting pot of inspirations.

"I don't know if it's forever: I think I probably feel too much to live in a city like this. I'd go a bit nuts."


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