Nick Murphy had to get into his own space. Locked inside a small studio room, the Melbourne-born artist found headspace, and musical sphere, one he hadn’t revisited since his 2014 debut Built on Glass. Insulated from the outside world in January 2020, Murphy went to work in his small New York studio, at some points writing three songs per day, and returned back to his familiar musical “foe,” Chet Faker—the artist’s homage to the jazz great Chet Baker and a moniker he dropped in 2016—and opened the doors to Hotel Surrender, his second full-length release.
For Murphy, the past seven years led him to this point, a return to a simpler framework and the continued exploration of his music.
“It was kind of a power to me,” says Murphy. “This feels like Chet Faker. It sounds like Chet Baker. I’m making it the same way, thinking of textures of Built on Glass, which is just me vibing in a little room.”
Part of Murphy’s evolution started with the release of his improvised instrumental album Music of Silence in 2020. “That was really a revolution for me to express in a really abstract way and not think about structure, or any of the stuff that comes with the Chet Baker project,” shares Murphy. “It’s what I’ve been doing since Built on Glass, just exploring the crevices of my musicality, and just getting to know myself, musically and personally, outside of the success of Chet Faker.”
Working in quarantined isolation once the pandemic hit was a blessing in disguise, allowing Murphy to focus more deeply on the music. Writing 90 percent of Hotel Surrender throughout 2020 also helped Murphy cope with different facets of his life, including the death of his father, and what was going on in the outside world.
“Through that process, I found a lot of happiness and a lot of freedom from the darkness of a lot of what’s going on in the world,” shares Murphy. “I found this newfound joy in the moment in front of me, and that was kind of where this, this concept of Hotel Surrender came from, this idea of checking your reality, and the moment. I found through these songs that I was chasing my current reality.”
Dubbing it Hotel Surrender also gave the music a sense of place in Murphy’s mind, following the idea of “checking in” to reality. “The mantra of this record, or my North Star is the way I was writing,” says Murphy. “That was really the essence of the songs, and the lesson of the record in the songs for me was just this immediacy of music, and that I was able to surrender to just making music and how simple it was, and how much joy I could find in that.” He adds, “It felt good to play and to write, and I wasn’t trying to achieve some lofty, abstraction. I wasn’t trying to be an artist or anything. I just found solace in the music itself and the musicality of the process.”
All the songs were stepping stones in the journey, and getting to that place, says Murphy. “It’s about being here, right now,” he adds. “Quit worrying about stuff, which is easier said than done, but I’ve found through music, that it was possible.”
Calling it one of the most fluid albums he’s ever produced, Hotel Surrender reflects a calmed stream of consciousness. For Murphy, Built on Glass was like climbing Mount Everest and Run Fast, Sleep Naked (2019) felt like an exorcism, while Music for Silence was like “a deep, sad sleep or swimming in the dark.”
“At no point did it feel like work,” says Murphy. “At no point was I even trying to make an album.”
Hotel Surrender reflects the reality in which Murphy was planted, the mixed emotions of lo-fi “Low” and soulful bass-heady “Feel Good,” every song was new with the exception of “Peace of Mind,” an older track stored from the Built on Glass era. “It felt nice to give that a home and be like ‘get out of here. Leave the nest. You’ve been here too long,’” jokes Murphy, who also threw in a cover of Soulwax’s “Whatever Tomorrow.”
Murphy is not in any rush to leave his musical nest. “I hope I can direct the process and continue making music in this way,” he says. “I’m sure it won’t always be that easy, but I really felt like I rediscovered music for myself and just this deep gratitude for how great music really is and how lucky I am to even be able to play a single note and feel something you know. What a crazy gift we’ve all been given, just to hear something that can help us feel a way we’d like to feel.”
Finishing most of the album by mid-2020, Murphy says so many of the songs already foretold the unexpected year ahead.
“I’ve always experienced that music can often have a way of almost sensing what’s coming before it comes,” says Murphy. “It wasn’t lost on me that I’d essentially written a record in self-isolation, and joy through surrendering. Even Hotel Surrender literally sounds like being stuck inside, before it had happened.”
A self-proclaimed introvert, the removal of outside distractions was a welcome shift for Murphy, a kind of purity, he says. “I think there’s a new gratitude,” says Murphy. “I’m grateful for music. It sounds absurd considering what I do, but you can get lost in it all. Music is fantastic. It’s the closest thing we’ve got to God. It just talks to all of us.”
It also leads to reflection and the passing of time. In music, Murphy has found himself, his place. “As I get older and grow more, I have respect for people who have been themselves, even if themselves is weird or sometimes challenging,” says Faker.
“The hardest part about being younger is saying yes to everything, even though you know your heart of hearts,” he adds. “It’s really getting to know your heart because no one ever really understands you. Only you will understand you and that so that’s your job is to be true to yourself.”