INTERVIEW: Alexi Murdoch

Following on from his live review, Tommy Monroe speaks to Alexi Murdoch...

Alexi Murdoch Before interview, Alexi had these words: “I hope my PR company prepared you for the fact that I'm not the most comfortable with even the very concept of interviewing, so please don't be offended if I don't want to go in a certain direction, it's nothing personal. Everything's so compartmentalised in this overtly-commercial marketplace that influences, geography and biography is used as a quick and easy tool to judge an artist without giving their music the time of day – I'm sure that's not your style though!”

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I certainly hoped not too! Alexi is the first artist I have met who expresses genuine concern over the often stale, generic nature of interviewing, which he quite rightly identifies as the primary source of public interest or disinterest based on flimsy musical comparisons and irrelevant biographical history. I can't pretend that some of my questions don't adhere to this formulaic approach, but I hope to do him justice all the same – Alexi is simply brilliant and, as the separate Bearded live review indicates, very much an artist worth exploring in his own right.

Bearded: Could you explain for those unfamiliar who are you, what you do and why you do it?

Alexi: Well, my name's Alexi, I play music and I write songs and.. In fact, I probably write songs and play music actually, to put it in order. I kinda fell into music, it wasn't a planned venture – I love writing, I knew that I'd have something to do with the written word, and music was always a part of my life, but the two didn't come together until fairly recently, back in 2003.
I was living out in Los Angeles – that was a long and tedious story that involved a girl and.. um.. tears [laughs].

B: [laughs] like every good story!

A: Yeah exactly! So I wound up in this town that was just really odd to me, that I'd never really have gone to otherwise. Somehow here, I found a way to connect music and writing, really more for me as a way of coping with my time there, and a friend of mine heard me singing and said, “man, I think you should be getting out and playing these songs”, which I did, and it all took off really quickly from there. This radio DJ heard me and asked for some recorded music. I went into a studio that weekend, the songs I recorded got onto the radio and things kinda took off in the States in a weird, organic way. The whole thing really took me by surprise. My first full-length record nearly did me in – it took me two years, I did it all myself, and spent every penny I had on it, and it seems to have done really well! The music has never been promoted or marketed, it's never been part of the music industry so to speak, but it's had this life elsewhere in film and television..
B: It hasn't been marketed you say? What an achievement then that you're sold out tonight! How do you usually feel before you go on stage, and does it feel different tonight to know the extent of the demand for you?

A: It's always a strange moment when you get up on stage because in a way that's really the fulfilment of what you do, but at the same time when you write from a place that's very personal and quite isolated, at least for me, there's something that almost doesn't feel natural about it. I don't feel that it's performance, I'm not really in this as an entertainer, so there's always this bizarre feeling when I consider what kind of relationship I have with these people I don't know. At the same time, it's always pretty amazing. This is the first time I've played in London, so I don't know who these people are going to be – for all I know they could be like a horde of barbarians! [laughs]

B: [laughs] I'm sure they won't disappoint! Who or what are your musical and non-musical influences?

A: That's always really difficult because we're always thinking about what it is that shapes our consciousness and the way we look at the world. I think probably my influences are more non-musical than musical – when I lived in Los Angeles I always felt pretty transient; I've always yearned for the quiet spaces on the planet, and I think this craving for peacefulness and solidarity has something to do with the way that I write, though I can't say for sure.
B: Your new EP “Towards The Sun” seems to us a more lyrical and melancholic affair in comparison to your previous work. What inspired the creation of the EP, and what themes and messages do you hope to convey with it?

A: I think you're right in that it's a lot more direct, and I feel it's much more representative of the way I am today. I wouldn't know how to describe it exactly in terms of where it came from, it was written quite quickly as a collection of songs over a three-month winter that I spent on my own in Scotland. I think it was the product of many things that had been percolating for a while; I left LA and moved to Scotland and it was as if there were all these things that were waiting to be discovered when I had a quiet moment in a quiet place. It's difficult to talk about the songs because they're mysterious to me as well.

B: I read that you've turned down numerous major label record deals in favour of self-releasing, and still you seem effortlessly to attract fans and sell records in their thousands. How have you managed so aptly without major label backing, and do you think the huge extra in self-releasing is worth its while?

A: Yeah.. I suppose I could answer this question better if there was a huge effort undertaken when I self-released my records [laughter] – it always just feels like some sort of shambolic car crash every time! It obviously takes a little bit longer and that can be difficult, for example this record was ready at the end of 2009 and it's taken this long to figure out how to release it. Here in Europe it's actually coming out on this amazing little German label called City Slang, the first time I've ever worked with a label but something that definitely seemed like the right thing to do.

In the States, every cliché you've heard about the music industry is true, and more. I think the worst part of it though is that it really demoralises artists; there's this insidious 'divide and conquer' mentality where artists are encouraged to be suspicious of each other, paranoid and competitive, and it's just a really odd environment to throw yourself into. At times I wish I was part of a musical community, and I get the idea that if I was, I might get along a little better, but to be honest with you it's probably not true and I probably just romanticise it sometimes as an outsider.

I don't know much about the music industry, I just know that it seems to have a negative effect on the process of working – whatever the hassle, it's worth staying away from all that nonsense.

B: Quite right. Your songs are licensed more than many other artists, appearing quite frequently in film and TV. When you write your tracks, do you occasionally write them specifically to accompany visuals, or is this attention to the atmospheric quality of your music purely coincidental?

A: Yeah, I think it's coincidence. The idea of writing music to accompany a diegetic process like that seems so alien to me, I can't imagine how you do it. People do it very successfully and very well, but it comes from a completely different place and I just don't write that way. I don't know why the music gets licensed so much, perhaps I write visually for myself?

B: Interesting.. Now, to change subject completely, I read that you went on tour with Alanis Morissette, which seemed a very interesting pairing indeed! Did you feel that you complimented each other musically, and what was she like to tour with?!

A: Alanis was actually a mate, it wasn't a career or an artistic decision. She came to a show when I was in LA a few years before and we met there. I got an email when I was holiday from her asking if I wanted to open for her on this tour that she was doing. At the time I didn't have a manager or anything, but I just said yes immediately - it seemed like a fun thing to do. I don't know that our audiences are similar at all, but I got to see parts of America that I probably would never have otherwise, and it was definitely interesting to get up on my own and play in front of five thousand people each night who were not expecting some mopey dude and his guitar [laughter]. I think it went pretty well, nobody threw anything at me so.. [laughter].

B: Glad to hear it! In terms of this tour, you're playing The Lexington in London on April 22nd, do you have any festival appearances lined up this summer that we can catch you at?

A: I know there's talk of a few, but it's all coming pretty late in the day so I'm not sure.. This is the first time that we're having to think about Europe as well as the States, because this is really the first time that I've toured anywhere other than the US. I've been in talks about a couple of late festival appearances, maybe towards September, so we'll see. Hopefully, I'll do more gigging before the end of the year either way, which might include more UK shows towards the end of the year.

B: Finally, your songs frequently reference roads and the concept of movement and onward journeys. Where do you feel you are, at present, on your musical journey?

A: That's a fucking difficult question! To be honest, I have been thinking about this – when you're out playing a lot, you get tired and start to wonder what affect and what impact your work is having. I definitely feel like there's some kind of purpose to what I do, I'm not always sure what it is, but sometimes when you realise how much effort you put into your work and into going out and delivering it, you begin to wonder if you're just a small drop in this huge ocean of noise. In my more desperate moments I feel that way, but on the whole I actually feel really excited about what's coming through the wires, creatively speaking – I feel that there's something big coming at me and I'm keen to get into some quiet place, maybe this winter, and figure out what that is.

B: Thankyou Alexi, that was brilliant
A: Thankyou Bearded for taking an interest!

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Alexi's new EP Towards The Sun is available now on iTunes, Amazon and