It was happenstance, and a latent passion for Chet Baker’s twisted, tortured and emotive brand of jazz that led Melbourne musician Nick Murphy to adopt the name Chet Faker as the nom de plume for his electronic-beat-pop outfit. While Murphy is adamant that Chet Faker is largely Nick Murphy under a convenient pseudonym, he does concede that it’s reasonable to assume Chet Faker is an alternative identity. “It’s just me, really,” Murphy says. “But I agree it makes perfect sense to assume that it’s a separate personality. I knew there was another musician in Melbourne by the name of Nick Murphy, so I knew I had to pick another name. I’m a big fan of Chet Baker, and also his vocal style, and I really wanted to imitate that approach, so that’s the name I chose."
Murphy’s musical education had begun via his parents’ divergent music tastes. “My parents are divorced, so I grew up with two different musical households,” Murphy says. “My mother listened to a lot of Motown, and my dad listened to chilled out Ibiza, Ministry of Sound. So I think my music is between those two types of music. And I was also really interested in folk music, like Bob Dylan when I was growing up.”
Murphy began making his own music in his garage when he was 15, taking the best part of eight years before he was happy with the final product. That product, reflected in the debut Chet Faker EP Thinking In Textures, was never intended to jump out and grab the listener by the proverbial throat.
“When I started writing I was really interested in the idea of background music,” Murphy says. “I was really interested in music that would complement the thinking process of someone listening to it, rather than dominate it.” Murphy used his truncated experience as an audio engineering student to bring his musical vision to life. “I didn’t finish my audio engineering course at RMIT, but even doing it was a massive change in realising what I could do,” Murphy says. “Just realising that you can create your own sound, rather than relying on someone else.”
The Chet Faker project came of age when Murphy – a confessed perfectionist (“and sometimes a control freak, but I’m working on that,” he laughs) – was finally happy with the music he’d created. “I’ve always been a massive believer in spending time on creating the music, rather than convincing labels and that sort of thing,” Murphy says. “This project really started when I decided to sit down and start writing the music that I wanted to make. I suppose that I’m lucky in some ways that people are liking it, but I’ve also put a shitload of effort into this music.”
The decision to record and publish under a pseudonym – and Murphy’s scant biographical detail –infers that Murphy has, maybe subliminally, created Chet Faker as a musical identity distinct from the ‘real’ Nick Murphy. “I don’t think that’s the case immediately,” Murphy replies. “But maybe it is down the track because of what I choose to put out. Because I get to choose which songs I release as Chet Faker, this second character does tend to come out, including through media content. I suppose even what I’m doing now in this interview does tend to shape an alternate character.” In a post-modern world, public identity is constructed through a variety of public discourses and dominant media and political institutions. For Murphy, that provides him with the scope to create and refine the public persona of Chet Faker. “I’m aware that the public persona of an artist is a very big thing,” Murphy says. “Sometimes music can be much more about the persona that you portray than the music that you make. A lot of my songs are about situations that I’ve been in, and emotions that I’ve experienced, so I can always edit parts of me out of the public eye.”
Murphy recently took his craft to the United States, playing seven shows over a 10 day period. The reaction was positive, both from audiences and the industry-types who took him to lunch. “I had a lot of good lunches on the house,” Murphy laughs. “Those sorts of things can be good, but they can also be painful. There were some when I was drenched in compliments, and there was no mention of business at all. I think these days artists have to be a lot more business savvy, because you can lose a lot if you sign the wrong contract. I don’t think I have to sign my life away for 15 years, just on the basis of a free lunch!”
BY PATRICK EMERY
CHET FAKER launches Thinking In Textures at The Toff In Town on Saturday April 21 (soldout) and Sunday April 22. The EP is out now via Opulent/Remote Control.