Australian singer-songwriter Pete Murray was born on 14 October 1969 in Miles, Queensland, and grew up in Chinchilla, about three hours northwest of Queensland capital Brisbane. He attended high school at Nudgee College in Brisbane as a boarder, where he excelled in sport, especially swimming, running and rugby union. His father died when Pete was 18, while Pete was competing in the athletics nationals.
Pete looked set for a rugby union career, being picked for the Queensland Sevens side in 1993. However, a series of serious knee injuries ended this dream. At the age of 23, while recovering from an injury, Pete started learning the guitar – but he was also studying sports medicine, and took that more seriously as a career option. He has since said, ‘I knew I didn’t want a normal job.’
Once Pete had started playing music, however, his natural sporting competitiveness drove him to improve, and his friends were encouraging. But most importantly, perhaps, Pete said, ‘I loved it.’ By the age of 27, he wasn’t only playing and singing but also writing songs. His girlfriend Amanda Coutts was particularly supportive, apparently locking him in the bathroom and not letting him out until he’d written something. Pete has said that he’d ‘never had any desire to be a rock star’, and it all ‘started off as being a bit of fun’. Obviously music soon enough became a serious endeavour!
In April 2002, at the age of 32, Pete released his first album, titled The Game. This was an independent recording that he financed himself. It sold out of its initial pressing of 1000 copies, and sparked the interest of major recording label Sony. Even after he’d signed with Sony and recorded an album with them, Pete had more copies of The Game pressed due to a high demand from his fans; he sold them at shows.
Pete also released an EP and a single: D Day; and Lines.
The Game CD is now a rare collectors’ item. Every now and then a copy becomes available on eBay, and is always sold for exorbitant amounts.
After releasing The Game, Pete moved from Brisbane to Melbourne in order to better pursue his music career.
Pete has said he was proud that he released The Game independently, thereby demonstrating that he could make it on his own, as he felt this gave him more credibility as a hardworking musician, and earned him more respect. However, the independent efforts at promotion were ‘bloody hard’; ‘it takes it out of you’. Sony’s offer of a contract must have been very welcome.
Pete’s first album for Sony/BMG, titled Feeler, was released on 21 July 2003. Pete was deliberately aiming to make an album that would stand the test of time. He said, ‘The records I love by people like Nick Drake, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, they are built to last. I wanted this to be an album like that, something you can pull out in 30 years and still hear the feeling in it, rather than something that’s dated by the musical fashions of the day.’ He spoke elsewhere of organising the songs with the same sort of flow found on the classic vinyl albums, where the journey from one song to the next was partly influenced by there being two sides to the disc.
Producer Phil McKercher said, ‘The thing about Pete is his heart is connected directly to his gob. He’s a genuinely sensitive guy with plenty of life experience. I think there’s a lot of honesty and humility in his songs and people connect with that.’ He later added, ‘It was one of the most enjoyable sessions I’ve ever done.’
The critics were positive. A review in The Australian newspaper said, ‘Murray is a rare beast, capable of writing warm, gutsy songs that twist mainstream perceptions. Part of his charm is that he is without pretension – this is music with heart.’
The album had an immediate impact in Australia. The relatively small venues they’d booked for gigs sold out, and some were turning hundreds of people away; many of the larger venues booked in early 2004 sold out within hours. It seemed that Sydney especially took Pete to their hearts. But there was also frustration from many of Pete’s underage fans that many of the venues could only admit those over 18.
Singles from the album were: the title track Feeler; Lines; the perennial favourite So Beautiful; Bail Me Out; and Please. Promotional, one-track CDs of the singles are occasionally available via eBay. The latter three songs were released as commercial singles, with So Beautiful and Please being remixed by Michael Brauer.
Pete said about So Beautiful, ‘That’s one of the early songs I wrote and it’s one that connects with people. I got an email from someone saying, “How do you know so much about relationships?” I don’t know more than anyone else but it’s one of those songs that rings true with people.’
There was a deliberate decision made to release the first two singles on radio only. Pete said, ‘We gave Sony a list of songs [to release as singles, and] their first reaction was, “It isn’t a case of us not liking it, but we’re not sure if we can hear any potential singles.” So I thought about that, and then said, “Well, that’s probably because I don’t write them.”‘ This seems a bit odd in hindsight, as the eventual success of the singles in terms of sales and airplay defies Sony’s opinion and Pete’s conclusion.
Pete received two nominations at the 17th Annual ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) Awards in 2003: one for Pete as Best New Artist; and one for Feeler as Best Blues and Roots Album. Producer Phil McKercher was also nominated for two ARIA Artisan Awards: Best Engineer; and Best Producer.
The album Feeler went gold in October 2003.
Pete started playing festivals, such as Sydney’s Homebake and the Melbourne International Music and Blues Festival, and he also started appearing on shows such as Channel V’s The Gig and Rove Live. Internationally-loved Australian soap Neighbours began featuring his music.
This successful year was capped by the happiest event of all: Pete and Amanda welcomed their first son Charlie, born on New Year’s Eve, 2003.
From Strength to Strength
The Age newspaper announced the return of ‘the sensitive singer-songwriter’, citing Pete and Australian Idol runner-up Shannon Noll as examples: ‘the rootsy artist is an antidote to a ’90s market saturated with over-produced manufactured boy and girl pop groups’. Instead, here were a couple of earnest, ‘rugged, older, sensitive, everyday-looking blokes’. (Many of us would argue with ‘everyday-looking’, but it is certainly true that Pete doesn’t go for the overly groomed look!) Pete was quoted as saying that when it came to marketing him, Sony ‘really listened to where I was going’, which included the strong advice not to ‘try and make me a pop act’. Triple J radio program director Richard Kingsmill agreed that, ‘Pete is of a time and place now, and people connect with artists who are real. People want something they can believe in, something that’s there, and something that isn’t dressed up too much.’
Pete appeared on the NRL (National Rugby League) Footy Show on 11 March 2004, introduced by legendary player Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns. Pete played So Beautiful and Fall Your Way, and was guest judge in the show’s regular segment No Talent Time.
On 27 March 2004, ‘in an Australian online music first’, Sony and BigPond Music combined to digitally record Pete’s live show at the Metro in Sydney. Within 36 hours of the performance, this was made available to buy as a download. The show was also filmed, to become footage on the DVD titled Passing Time (released in June).
Feeler had been slowly but steadily climbing the Australian charts since its release in July 2003, and finally made #1 on 29 March 2004.
Among other rewards, Pete’s success meant that he and Amanda could buy a property near Byron Bay on the New South Wales north coast – an area considered by many Australians to be a bit of heaven on earth.
After a successful Australian tour, Pete headed for Europe, starting with a London gig on 27 April 2004 at the ‘infamous’ Borderline Club, and then heading to Berlin for a gig on 12 May. Further dates were added, and Pete remained overseas for two and a half months. He returned to Australia and more touring, this time in support of the Bail Me Out single released in June 2004.
By May 2004, Feeler had gone triple platinum in Australia. By July, the album had spent 52 weeks in the charts, including 27 weeks in the Top 10 and 21 weeks in the Top 5. It had been the #1 album in Australia for four weeks, and at the time was #3.
Pete continued touring to build on his growing success, heading back to the UK and Ireland in September 2004.
He earned the second highest number of nominations in the 2004 ARIA Awards, with a total of five: Pete for Best Male Artist; So Beautiful for Single of the Year; So Beautiful for Best Pop Release; Passing Time for Best Music DVD; and Feeler for Highest Selling Album. Feeler was now five-times platinum.
In November, Sony reassured fans that, ‘In between their hectic touring schedule, Pete and band have been busy writing new tracks and laying down ideas for the follow-up to Feeler.’ Pete headed to New Zealand in December for one gig and a number of promotional appearances. In recognition of his success, Pete was the headline act for the seven A Day on the Green shows, held at wineries throughout Australia from 22 January 2005. He also featured in a terrific line-up of Aussie talent for WaveAid at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 29 January, thereby helping to raise $2million for charity for those affected by the Boxing Day tsunami. Pete then took a well-earned break from touring.
By February 2005, Feeler was six-times platinum. Pete won the APRA (Australasian Performing Rights Association) Award for Most Performed Australian Work for the single So Beautiful.
In February, Pete announced his new management team: Stu McCullough of Amplifire Music Company, along with John Watson Management. Sony noted that, ‘Stu McCullough was Pete Murray’s A+R Manager, having brought Pete to the attention of Sony BMG Chairman and CEO Denis Handlin in August 2002.’ (Cheers, Stu!)
See the Sun
Pete began recording his follow-up album See the Sun on 11 April 2005. It was recorded in Melbourne, with Pete and Eric Sarafin producing, then mixed and mastered in Los Angeles. Pete’s official website featured an online diary throughout the recording, with a regularly-updated band blog, video footage, audio clips, photos, and so on.
The touring band had now gelled into The Stonemasons, who recorded See the Sun with Pete. The Stonemasons are: Ben McCarthy on keyboards; Andy Sylvio on drums; Pete Williamson on guitar; and Jonathon Zion on bass.
Pete said the songs for this album featured ‘a bit more light in there and less heavy shade’. Elsewhere he said, ‘I wanted this album to have more contrast, for the rock stuff to capture the groove that’s our signature on stage, for the lyrics not to be as dark, the tone to be more up. I’m really proud of what we’ve done with See the Sun. It’s been made with the right people, who love the kind of sounds that I do, who love my music and understand it. We can’t wait to take the wraps off these songs and get out to play them.’
The album was released on 23 September 2005, and promoted by, among other things, the chance to win a Quicksilver See the Sun surfboard – which certainly emphasised the ‘sun, surf, sand, summer’ feel of the album.
The singles were: Better Days; Class A (radio release only); Opportunity (EP); and George’s Helper (radio release only). Better Days was initially released online on 4 August, and then on the radio the following day. George’s Helper featured the well-respected horn section from the Aussie band Hunters and Collectors.
Again, the critics were positive. Rolling Stone said, ‘Murray interacts so seamlessly with his band that at times this feels like a wonderful private recording among friends. And Murray’s voice has never sounded better; smoky, smooth and always soulful. Feeler‘s success gave Murray the chance to show everyone what he’s capable of, and he delivers in spades.’
Pete started touring Australia and New Zealand, with his first show in Brisbane on 24 September 2005. Further dates kept him on the road until the end of the year. He featured in the usual festivals, and then headlined the new annual Feelgood Festival, held in Sydney’s Luna Park on New Year’s Day, 2006.
Unlike the slow build of Feeler, See the Sun went straight to #1 on the charts, and went platinum in October; it went double platinum within six weeks of release, and triple platinum by February 2006. Each of the singles in turn become the ‘#1 most-added song on Australian radio’.
The Opportunity EP was released on 11 March 2006, with 50 cents from every copy sold being donated to the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal. Pete volunteered to perform the song at Red Shield Appeal launches, donated use of the song as backing music for a Salvos promotional film, and welcomed Appeal collectors at all concerts on the forthcoming Opportunity Tour. Major Neil Dickson, Territorial Appeals Director of the Salvation Army, said, ‘The life affirming sentiment of Opportunity sits perfectly with the message we want to give people, which is one of hope.’ Pete added, ‘The help the Salvation Army provides to those less fortunate in our community is extremely important. I was involved in youth work before I became a musician, so I know from personal experience the huge difference that organisations such as the Salvos can make to street kids, the homeless and the disadvantaged. They really can help people to turn their lives around. It therefore just seemed perfect to associate Opportunity – a song about making positive choices in your life – with an organisation such as the Salvos.’
The Opportunity Tour began on 7 April 2006 in Adelaide, with various Australian and New Zealand dates running through to 2 May. Pete and the Stonemasons took a full horn section with them on the tour for the first time. The Sydney dates, as usual, sold out, with new shows added.
Tour dates followed in June for London, Manchester, Amsterdam (Pink Pop Festival), Moscow (Maximum Radio Festival), Dublin, and New York (Mercury Lounge). Moscow was a bit of a surprise, but apparently the single Better Days had done well there. The Russians included flame throwers as special effects in Pete’s set, when possibly the last thing you’d expect at at Pete Murray gig is pyrotechnics!
Pete headed back to the southern hemisphere for a tour of New Zealand in August.
On 19 August 2006, a double-CD version of See the Sun was released, with the second disc featuring six live tracks; Pete’s first official live release.
Pete received two nominations in the 2006 ARIA Awards: Pete for Best Male Artist; and See the Sun for Highest Selling Album.
At the ARIA nominations event in September, Pete was asked by journalists if he’d perform for the Australian soldiers currently serving in Iraq, in the official concert being organised for Christmas. Pete responded that he supported the soldiers but not the war, and that he would not accept an invitation to perform in Iraq if one was forthcoming. Tim Freedman of The Whitlams and Glenn Richards of Augie March responded similarly. This caused some controversy, and heated discussion of the various issues involved – but in the end I feel that such a decision can only be Pete’s to make.
A new DVD titled A Year in the Sun was released on 23 September 2006, on the anniversary of the original See the Sun release. It includes live footage, a video tour diary, a mini documentary on the making of See the Sun, and behind-the-scenes videos from the making of the Better Days, Class A, Opportunity, and George’s Helper clips. It also features the very moving short film based on Pete’s song Ten Ft Tall, from the Feeler album. Pete also tells the sad story that inspired that song; a story that was then adapted for the film.
The short film, titled 10 Feet Tall, was written and produced by Anthony Woodcock, directed by Aaron Wilson, and starred Samuel Johnson and Michael Veitch. It was featured in the 2006 St Kilda Film Festival. Pete described the film as ‘a really moving piece, shot by Yen Ooi (who has done all of my videos) and written by Anthony Woodcock, who I met after one of my shows in London two years ago. I really enjoyed writing the score for the movie – it’s totally different from what I’ve written before and really seems to fit the mood of the film perfectly. And if you don’t cry at the end of this movie, then you’re too tough for me!’
Pete and his long-time love Amanda were married on 7 October 2006 in a village called Eureka, near Byron Bay, leaving the church together in Pete’s beloved old Kombi van.
Pete headed for the northern hemisphere again during November and December, playing solo gigs in the Netherlands, London and Dublin. He also featured as support act for Richard Ashcroft’s gigs in Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and London.
The year’s success was confirmed by the fact that Opportunity was the most played song on Australian radio in 2006. The other three singles from the See the Sun album were all in the Top 100: Better Days at 19; Class A at 70; and George’s Helper at 90. See the Sun is now close to five-times platinum.
Pete recorded a cover of the song Forever Now by Aussie band Cold Chisel as part of the tribute album titled Standing on the Outside (released 31 March 2007). The song was recorded with Ben McCarthy and Dave Sanders, and produced by Pete. In my view, Pete’s smoky take on this song gets right to the heart of it in ways that the original recording didn’t.
Promotional work (showcases rather than gigs) took Pete to Japan and Los Angeles in April and May, then on to the Netherlands.
An ‘International Version’ of the Feeler album was released on 16 June 2007. The album was completely re-mastered, and featured a new mix of the song Feeler (Michael Brauer), and the single mix of Please.
Pete and Amanda were delighted to welcome their second son Pedro, born in July 2007.
Pete, Jonathon and Andy formed a three-piece band for the See the Sun Tour of Europe, with dates in the Netherlands, Dublin and London in October. Pete also performed three solo shows in France, in September and October. It was no coincidence that the Australian rugby union team were also in France at that time for the Rugby World Cup! (But I suppose the less said about that result, the better…)
According to the Sunshine Coast Daily in September, Pete came eighth in ‘Music’s 10 hottest guys’. Obviously I think he should have headlined at #1, but I cannot quibble with their description of him: ‘Pete Murray: The perfect crossover for the lady torn between her preferences for a sports jock and a new-age sensitive acoustic-guitar playing guy.’ Perfect, indeed.