INTERVIEW: Chet Faker
We probably don’t need to tell you about CHET FAKER who has enjoyed a well-deserved explosion into the spotlight. Hailing from the tight-knit Melbourne music scene; combining electronica with acoustic elements and soulful vocals.
Chet Faker has carved out a unique style that fuses personal stories of love and loss with eloquent musical melodies.
He came to everyone’s attention when his cover of Blackstreet’s classic ‘No Diggity’ hit #1 Hype Machine. Heading out to LA to do a few shows has seen him enjoy success beyond Oz. An all-round down to earth and humble dude, Chris Apeitos spoke to him about techno, the music industry and where he likes to go for a run.
Your sound has been described as a number of genres ranging from ‘adult contemporary’ to ‘beat-pop’, ‘deep disco’, ‘post-dubstep’ (the list goes on)… What’s the favourite way that you’ve heard your music described?
[laughs] I can tell you my least favourite, it was ‘Indie R&B’; it made me cringe.
Someone once described as ‘riding an elephant through the desert at sunset on a velvet saddle’… that was pretty full on, I like to just call it ‘soul’ but I mean; it’s not really.
Is there any music that you listen to that is a bit of a guilty pleasure? Or people wouldn’t expect you to be into?
I’d have to think about that one, if you base it around my music I’m a massive fan of Van Morrison and Jeff Buckley and stuff like that, but I love Techno! That’s probably a guilty pleasure.
Any particularly embarrassing techno tune like ‘Sandstorm’ or something?
Nah, more the kind of stuff coming out now, like Theo Parish type stuff.
You really are an example of music blogs’ power; transferring internet stardom into a viable music career, while you’ve also been approached by more traditional industry types offering you deals… Do you see blogs as taking over the industry or simply complimenting it with bigger labels and media still running the ship?
I wouldn’t say [blogs] are running the industry, but they are leading an alternative. In my case, I haven’t signed with any major labels; it’s not something I’m looking at doing at the moment because I think you lose a-lot of creative control. It seems ridiculous to call yourself a musician and then sign away creative control, you just become a puppet. Obviously there are variations on that, that’s just a generalisation, but I think the Internet gives the power back to the people, instead of just labels. In the past the label would just pick someone based on their own accord and feed it to the masses, whereas the case is now that if the masses decide (if there are enough of them) that this is good music, the labels have to take action. I think the Internet is the best damned thing that ever happened.
So it empowers the artists more than traditional ways?
Absolutely it empowers the artist, and it also in my opinion empowers a certain type of artist. I don’t think you can make it on blogs and stuff if you are just a front or a face. You have to do a-lot more, it allows artists to earn their own place, their own way. If an artist is making their own music and recording their own music and doing everything themselves, and producing something of a certain quality, it allows that artist to get some credit for that, and the blogs will push and recognise that y’know? Other artists who sit around waiting for a label to send them a million dollars so that they can get the best session players on their album probably wouldn’t last in the blogosphere because they can’t produce it without money behind them. In my opinion that’s not really a real musician.
So power should come from what you can do by your own means rather than studio magic?
Absolutely, I believe that recording technique and altering in the studio should complement a musician, not make a musician.
On that note are there any musicians that we should be keeping our eyes on?
Oh there’s a shitload. Thrupence! Jack Vanzet I think his name his, his stuff is really cool.
And the band Citizen Sex, a Melbourne band, they got some great stuff going on. They’ve independently put out their own record, in the traditional sense of the word, in that they got the records pressed themselves and distributed them themselves. Every vinyl has a unique hand-drawn face on the front of it, 300 different pictures.
Those are just two artists that I’m really digging at the moment.
Your cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” Is the first thing to really make you explode into the limelight, at the end of the track there’s a bit of background noise, a recording of a small child or something, can you shed any light on that?
Yeah, I’m a massive fan of found sound, usually when you are listening to a song it’s describing something that’s happened, and when something has happened it has a location, so putting in a location recording really helps someone picture where that’s set. That’s not to say ‘No Diggity’ had anything to do with kids, I just had all these field recordings, one of them was of a kindergarten and that was my first experiment with putting that kind of stuff in there, so it was the first time I’d done that. Now it’s usually a-lot more relevant to what’s going on in the song.
So it helps ground the song to a location? Brings you back to reality?
Absolutely yeah, or it can take you out of your reality and bring you into another one.
Translating that music into a live set, what’s the biggest challenge?
Probably keeping the electronic element from a recorded song into a live show.
So when the band plays with you are you triggering the samples?
Yep, I’m singing as well as pre-programmed and triggered samples. It’s a messy, messy setup. It works, but it’s a different approach for a-lot of different songs. Which is how I wrote the songs, I used different ideas for each song.
You also play guitar and keyboard, if you could master any other instrument what would it be?
Bass. It’s just so key to a song. And people never notice it’s the bass-line; if you got a groovy bass-line and have people moving around, they don’t notice its ‘cause of the bass.
Also melody is a huge thing for me; vocal melody is monophonic; it’s just one note. And bass is also monophonic a-lot of the time, so writing a good bass-line is just like writing a good vocal line. It’s the same area of the head I like to explore when I’m writing the vocals.
What do you like doing outside of music?
Running, I’m a bit addicted to running…
Yeah, I know right?
Running by-myself, it clears my head.
Whats your favourite running track?
There’s a good one along the Yarra River…
Haha, and music-track wise?
Oh, I don’t listen to music while I run… it ruins it for me, I don’t know… There’s enough sound going on around to listen to.
I also have a-lot of friends who are artists, so I’m kinda interested in that sort of scene, I dig a-lot of that stuff… conceptual art, jewellery; I suck at it, but it’s something I’m interested in.
You’ve already sold out three shows in Melbourne, has anyone recognised you out on the street?
Not while running, not that I know of [laughs]. But it was pretty funny, there was a drummer on Swanston Street the other night playing pots and pans; I gave him $20 and asked him if I could record some. He said sure, so I was just standing there in front of him kind of bobbing my head, recording on my phone. When I got home, someone had tweeted “I love Melbourne, amazing drummer playing pots and pans and a Chet Faker doppelgänger staring at him” [laughs] I wrote back and was like “Just for the record I gave him money and it was me!”
Many musical acts begin and then experiment with different sounds, yet you’ve started the Chet Faker project with what seems like fairly clear idea. Has this aided or hindered your creative process in any way?
I think that’s a reflection on my head and how I think about it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to music. I wanted to put something out like that; I had already done the experimenting in my garage at home. I’m working on a new album at the moment and I’m definitely still experimenting but the old school way of doing things is having consistent vibes throughout the whole record. That’s something that’s really important to me is making sure it’s all consistent. I don’t like the idea of an album just being a couple of singles and then fillers y’know? I just want something for someone to just be able to put on and listen to the whole thing and at no point think “Oh this one’s weird, skip this track”, that’s something I want to do for every release. At the end of the day when I’m an old codger and I’m looking back at my music, I don’t want to look back at a release and think “What was I doing there?” I want to think “That’s exactly what I wanted to do, and I’m proud of that release”.
In your opinion, what’s the most over-rated thing in music today?
The airport. Getting around. It’s fine for the first few times, and then you just feel sick in a small space with people’s spittle and the air-con on too high.
[As for other artists] I’ve got to meet a-lot more musos in the industry, and I think the perceived identity of someone as a musician is not usually accurate on what the person is actually like. A-lot of these artists are actually aware of the negative hype they have around them and they have no way of getting out of it. That’s not to say that I like all artists, there’s definitely stuff that I don’t dig but uhh…
Each to their own?
Exactly, if everyone was awesome, I wouldn’t be able to be doing music as a career [laughs] nobody would want to listen to my shit.
You’ve said you have drawn inspiration from older soul records that your Mum listened to as well as chill house music which was more of your Dad’s thing. Do you remember the first music you ever bought?
Yeah an album that was massive for me growing up was You’ve Come A Long Way Baby by Fatboy Slim, I know every song on that so well.
You’ve really taken the best of both worlds from your Mum and Dad’s music tastes with that record!
Yeah! It’s pretty funny; the music I’ve just released is like the child of my mother and father’s musical taste.
So if you could collaborate with anyone; both living and dead, who would it be?
Ah, what’s his name?
Absolutely not [laughs].
…He produced Beck’s album… Danger Mouse! That’d be pretty cool… him or Flying Lotus… That guy is amazing.
And as for dead, Michael Jackson- he’d eclipse the shit out of me but I would just want to meet him.
Your songs (for example Terms and Conditions) speak about relationships so fittingly you that you could swear they are real-life experiences, do you write from real life or tell a well-crafted story?
Oh definitely from real life; music is a bit of an outlet for me, and it often helps me get through things that are stuck in my head; putting it down into something I can listen to. Every song on the record bar ‘No Diggity’ is a reference to something in my life.
So ‘Terms and Conditions’ really happened?
Yeah pretty much- there are ambiguous lyrics, but there are specific things going on there.
Are you ever worried the person might find the record and know it’s about them?
Oh I’m pretty sure they know it’s about them already.
Did that change anything between the two of you?
It seems ultra-specific, but I find it hard to put emotion into a song unless it’s something that I’ve been involved in, I know I sound a bit narcissistic, but if I’m writing a song, I’m writing about something that means something to me, something I’ve experienced. I have a-lot of respect for the story-tellers but I just couldn’t do that.
So it all comes from the heart?
The head as-well, I liken it to medication. Sometimes my head is going like a million miles an hour, and I’m feeling really anxious… I’ll sit in the studio and manically churn this idea out, whether it’s good or not doesn’t matter, afterwards I feel so clear minded because I’ve got all this gunk out of my head and into a recording.
It’s interesting then that you’d make music so true to yourself, yet call yourself ‘Chet Faker’…
Yeah, the ‘Faker’ thing is more a tongue-and-cheek reference to the fact that it’s not my real name, because there is another Nick Murphy (which is my birth name) who is an Australian artist with like 2 albums out. It’s nice stuff, but last time I played under my birth name I had people rocking up thinking they were coming to see the other dude… They were a bit pissed off, so I thought I should probably save myself the drama and find something that means something to me.
You’re a big Chet Baker fan then?
Absolutely; particularly his vocal style. The main reason I wanted my name to be an ode to him was that he had this broken, fragile singing style. He was by no means a particularly good singer, but it still sounded good. He wasn’t technically amazing and I really like that idea that you can have flaws in your voice, yet it can still convey a message well… if not even better because it’s flawed and humans are flawed. I hate the sound of my own voice, I think everyone does; but I like that idea that I’m sure Chet Baker hated the sound of his own voice, although technically questionable he still did it and it still worked. It was a declaration to me that I was just going to accept the way my voice sounds and run with it, because that’s the way I sound and how I’ll always sound.
Chet Baker was a bit of a bad-ass…
Yeah he was a heroin addict…
Do you consider yourself a bad-ass?
Well I’m not a heroin addict [laughs]. Not really, I consider myself a pretty well-behaved boy [laughs].
So no riots at Chet Faker shows?
Not yet! [laughs]
I’m kind of trying to keep my personality out of the whole thing, I just want to write music and let my music do the talking. I’m aware that really doesn’t cut it these days, you have to kind of give people a bit of yourself….
Hence all the interviews you have to put up with!
Check out the video for CHET FAKER‘s ‘Terms & Conditions’ HERE
Words by Chris Apeitos