Mighty Murray rises again

By Sarah Lang

Aussie singer-songwriter Pete Murray hasn't always been a musclebound hunk with a legion of fans and a lap-of-luxury lifestyle. Okay, he's had the distracting pecs and bottomless blue eyes for a while, but the path to the top has been anything but smooth.

At 18, Murray was competing in the national athletics championships when his father died of a heart attack: devastated, Murray pulled out. At 19, the champion rugby player and swimmer injured his knee, which wiped out dreams of a sports career. A decade later (following travel, sports-science study and a smattering of small gigs with his band The Stonemasons) he moved from Brisbane to Melbourne to try to make it in the music world. "It was hell. I oculdn't afford to buy lunch and I was getting anxiety attacks; I'd hate going to sleep because I knew I'd wake up at 3am sweating and thinking 'I'm 32 and where's my life going?'"

Now 38 and one of Australia's best-selling singers, Murray - who dropped into New Zealand last week for the release of fourth album Summer at Eureka - looks back on that time in Melbourne as though he can't quite believe everything's worked out.

Just as he was about to call it quits with music and return to Brisbane and the sports-science study he'd pressed pause on, Murray got an inkling things were "picking up". He turned up to a larger-than-normal-capacity gig to see a crowd spilling down the street. "I remember thinking 'What else is on here tonight?'.

Thousands of people couldn't get in and for the first time I heard the crowd sing all the lyrics from start to end. It blew me away." As it did when Sony BMG called - and shortly afterwards signed him.

Since then, Murray and his folk/rock/pop sound have had a meteoric rise. His two albums Feeler (2003) and See the Sun (2005) both reached number one on the Australian charts, Feeler sales reached platinum six times, and Murray's already been nominated nine times for the Arias (Australian Record Industry Association Awards).

And it's not just Australia that's got Murray mania: in fact, for the past two years he's been so busy touring offshore, most recently across Europe, that he has rarely played back home.

That recent lack of local exposure, and a newly shaggy mane, meant Murray was finding it easier to walk the streets unnoticed. Well, sort of.

"A lot of people come up and say 'You're a dead ringer for that singer Pete Murray', and I say 'Yeah, I get that all the time'." But now he's promoting and touring again in Australia, he can no longer feign being his own doppelganger.

He admits yes, a few female fans have batted their eyelashes at him. "It's fine," he smiles. "My wife Amanda finds it a bit hard." Understandable, given her husband was voted among the world's 25 most beautiful people in Who Weekly in 2004.

A break from touring over summer was a welcome chance to chill out with Amanda (a sandal-and-accessories designer), sons Charlie, (4) and Pedro (1), five goats, three chooks, four pythons and a dog at their 2ha property in tiny northern New South Wales village Eureka. Between dad duties, Murray recorded Summer at Eureka in his new home studio. Dubbed his best work yet, the album's steeped in honey-smooth vocals, raw emotion, thoughtful lyrics and summery-but-not-cheesy optimism. "I've never been so excited about an album," he says.

While previous albums were subject to time and budget restrictions, this time Murray worked at his own pace and in a relaxed environment, and was also the sole producer. "That meant I had to go with my gut, and I reckon every time you don't, you regret it." About two thirds of the tracks are spur-of-the-moment demos "which really capture the moment".

Like his heroes Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Murray's determined not to buy into music trends. "I want to make records which people dust off in 40 years' time, and which don't date. You don't want people to say 'oh that's from the 90s'."

But right now, Murray's very happy with where he's at. "I feel very lucky. Partly because only a very small percentage of Australian musicians earn a living from music, and also because I've found a job that challenges me and lets me travel the world.

That makes all the hard times I've gone through to get where I am today worth it." Summer at Eureka is in stores now.

- Herald on Sunday

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