Several years ago, chart-topping Australian singer-songwriter Pete Murray was searching for a name for a bar and café he was opening with friends in his adopted home of Byron Bay.
The musician born in Chinchilla in the Darling Downs region of Queensland was flicking through some 70s Spanish magazines for inspiration when he spotted a photo of a joint called Café Camacho. “I thought ‘What a cool name. Camacho? What does that mean?” Luckily one of the many backpackers in Byron Bay spoke Spanish and explained that it roughly means cool, or to have a cool attitude.
While Murray loved the name, the café ended up being called Frankie Brown after his beloved kelpie. But he now had a working title for his next album. Camacho arrives on June 2, some six years after his fifth album (and fourth consecutive ARIA Top 10), Blue Sky Blue.
“My whole vibe for this album was cool,” Murray says. “I didn’t want it to be commercial. I didn’t want it to be too alternative. It just had to be cool.” And that doesn’t mean Camacho would be a slave to current trends, rather Murray’s long-awaited sixth long-player would be laid-back, assured and cohesive – as epitomised by the title track, which blends vintage keys, a bluesy groove and understated vocals. “I wanted this stuff to have the same flavour,” he says. “Regardless what you think of me, the music should be really … Camacho.”
Murray made the decision early on to get cracking on the new songs in his Byron Bay studio without a producer, working at his own pace and recruit production or musical maestros when he needed them. As for the flavour, he recalled that during the Blue Sky Blue sessions, American producer Tom Rothrock – famed for his work on Beck’s classic Odelay, as well as albums for Elliott Smith and James Blunt – had suggested a more groove-driven feel utilising programmed beats.
While Murray rejected the idea for the stripped back approach six years ago, this time he decided to embrace a sound built around beats and loops. “What I wanted was a real tough sound on the drums,” he explains. “I didn’t want real drums.”
Murray is the first to admit that he’s no expert on hip-hop, so he approached a mate from the Hilltop Hoods management, who advised working with “beat king” Trials. Trials is Daniel Rankine, long-time MC and producer of Adelaide’s Funkoars and one-half of Australian Music Prize-winning hip-hop duo A.B. Original.
Murray and Trials collaborated on a few tracks in the South Australian studio of the Hoods’ DJ Debris. “He’s such a great dude,” Murray says. “I had probably the most exciting time I’ve ever had working with anyone, just what he was bringing to the project – his excitement and enthusiasm. He is the beat king.” The South Australian hip-hoppers beefed up percussion recorded in Murray’s Byron Bay studio on album opener Only One, the hook-laden Sold and the title track, which features tasty vintage keys from former band mate turned in-demand producer Benjamin “Macca” McCarthy.
Camacho was recorded in one take several years ago, and didn’t change much beyond the beats being polished. The same goes for Sold, Long Ride and Only One. “I did try different versions, but went back to the original recording,” Murray says.
First single Take Me Down was recorded with acclaimed producer Tony Buchen and completed with Melbourne electronic artist Andrew Burford, aka One Above – again, the classic laid-back Murray sound was given a final tweak by someone from the hip-hop or dance realm.
“Those sounds were exactly what I was looking for.”
Other “helpers” on Camacho include former Evermore lead singer Jon Hume – who co-wrote and/or produced the loved-up trio of Heartbeats, Connected and Home – and Grammy Award-winning mixer Eric J. Dubowsky. Murray wanted Dubowsky to mix his album so badly that he waited almost 12 months for the Flume and Chet Faker collaborator to be available. “Well worth it, I think.”
That partly explains the long gestation of Camacho, an album that started in Murray’s own studio before being polished in facilities around the country. “With this one, the last thing I wanted to do was jump in the studio and record this in four to six weeks,” he says. “I didn’t want to use anyone from overseas to do it. I wanted to record it myself, but find other guys who could help me achieve what I wanted to achieve. “There’s enough talent in this country that I knew I could do that.”
Fifteen years on from his independently released debut The Game, which led to a recording contact with Sony BMG and cemented his decision to leave rugby behind for music, Murray feels revitalised and refreshed.
He says Camacho has many similarities to his 2003 breakthrough Feeler, which featured hit single So Beautiful, topped the Aussie charts and went on to more than six-times platinum sales. Those connections range from Murray buying the drum kit that was used on his second album (and is used on two tracks here, Long Ride and Thought I Was) to the long gestation of the songs.
And he reckons the songs on the new album are as good as those on Feeler. “There’s nothing on it that I don’t like, I’d be happy to play them all live,” says Murray, whose national tour kicks off in Lismore on July 12.
“When you look at the nature of it and how long it’s taken me to put together, it feels like a debut album. I put everything into it.”
Camacho is released on June 2.