A little while back, Alexi Murdoch (one of Rolling Stone’s top 10 musicians to watch) played the Empty Bottle in Chicago. At that show, I saw something extremely rare in live music. As soon as the first chord was struck, the room snapped into utter silence.
That’s because Murdoch is one of those musicians who pulls you into his music, coaxing you to explore your own thoughts and deepest feelings. But it’s not a dark place. It’s comforting. Murdoch’s message is powerful, but his voice and his music can be transcending.
The show was eye-opening. We had some great footage – unfortunately our equipment didn’t cooperate. However, Murdoch was gracious enough to sit down with us afterward, and share a few thoughts on Chicago, his music, his influences (or lack thereof) and more. Below the interview is some video from a previous show.
SC: Great show, Alexi, everyone really dug it.
Murdoch: That’s really cool. I know that the tour hasn’t been heavily promoted, so the fact that people were out was just a really pleasant surprise.
SC: Are you familiar with Chicago?
Murdoch: Not really. I’ve played here maybe three times. I bought an amazing drum today, at a great drum shop. I’ve got to give a shout out – Steve Maxwell, man. That guy has got the most amazing drums. And there’s an amazing guitar shop, Chicago Music Exchange, it’s always a thrill.
I don’t know that much else about Chicago, I’ve walked around, I like the city a lot. It hasn’t got that uppity feel. It seems the people are just into it, you know?
SC: The first time I heard you was a few years ago. And the first thing I heard was Nick Drake. Have you heard that before? Is that’s something you feel good about or are you trying to differentiate yourself in any way?
Murdoch: I don’t think I really need to. I think comparisons abound, you know, it’s sort of inevitable especially in this current marketplace where everything needs to be compared to something else, unfortunately. So, I understand it. Certainly, there are a lot worse people to be compared to. He was definitely a very talented man.
SC: Was he an influence of yours?
Murdoch: Not really, actually. Oddly enough I discovered the British folk movement late, only a few years ago. I was kind of embarrassed because somebody came to a gig and said, “You must be a huge John Martin and Nick Drake fan,” and I didn’t have any clue who they were.
Since then I’ve discovered all of that lot, and Richard Thompson. I had the honor and privilege to play with him one time. It’s kind of weird. I found them sort of by accident, and it was kind of uncanny to realize I was part of a tradition without knowing that tradition even existed. Which I guess speaks volumes about being shaped by your environment. I grew up in Scotland, and I guess maybe something about that landscape creates that sound. I’m sure that somewhere those people had the same influences musically as me. But I don’t know, I’m actually pretty ignorant when it comes to music history.
SC: Where do you draw from? You have some really passionate music that speaks to a lot of people.
Murdoch: I don’t know, man. That’s sort of a hard question. It’s so hard to answer that question without sounding like an ass – “Well, you know, I really sit down and strip away all my ego, and really try to get at the truth…” But I guess, that’s really what I try to do.
SC: I’ll narrow it down a little bit. When you’re writing your songs and thinking about your music, do you feel like you’re trying to tell people something about yourself, or are you trying to get people to explore themselves?
Murdoch: Yeah man, I think that’s a very astute observation. Hopefully, if I’m doing it right, it’s both. But you’re absolutely right. I’m glad you said it and I didn’t. Because I would have sounded like a guy sitting on a very high horse.
SC: What are your plans going forward?
I’m excited about a lot of new music. I’m touring with this new band. They get better every night, I think we’ve played nine gigs together now. I’m hoping to cultivate that conversation with them musically. And maybe before the end of the year sometime or early next year, get in and make a new record. Also I’ve done some stuff for a film that’s coming out in a couple of months.
SC: What film is that?
Murdoch: It’s a small, kind of independent film directed by Sam Mendes. It’s a really sweet film, so I’m happy to be a part of that.*
SC: You definitely have a style – for lack of a better term, it’s mellow. Do you feel that limits you in any way, as far as getting to a broader audience?
Murdoch: I think that any limitations that may exist – maybe I’m a little too confident in the music – but I feel like the limitations wouldn’t be on the part of the music, but on the part of the audience; it’s not really the audience, actually, that’s short on attention – I think it’s just that the environment we’re in right now has been so saturated with a sort of commercial product that its kind of tuned people’s ears different. So no, I don’t think the music is limiting at all.
For me, I play the kind of music I like. I’m always surprised by how many seem to connect to it. I got an e-mail from a guy telling me, “I’ve only ever liked hard rock, but I heard your show and now I’m super into it!” So it seems that if you can reach people who normally wouldn’t like this kind of music – I guess maybe I have a crazy kind of faith in that.
SC: Thanks, I appreciate it.
Murdoch: Thanks man, no worries. Thanks for coming by.
*The film turned out to be the smash indie hit, Away We Go. Murdoch is featured throughout the Away We Go soundtrack