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Who is Fazerdaze? A year with NZ’s next indie darling

The international music community is beginning to take notice of Amelia Murray, who has been releasing music as Fazerdaze since 2014. After seeing her play in April last year, David Farrier followed Amelia Murray over the following year as she completed her album, Morningside, and prepared her band to take on the world.

“Who is Fazerdaze?” was the only question banging around in my head as I left an incredible show at Auckland’s Crystal Palace in April last year. The last time I’d visited the venue was for a midnight screening of The Room, a film championed for being absolutely terrible. Tonight I’d experienced the opposite – Liam Finn, Connan Mockasin and Lawrence Arabia all hitting the same stage, joined by other wonderful musicians like Kirin J Callinan, Neil Finn and Bic Runga. At one point the lumbering but graceful frame of Mick Fleetwood wandered onto the stage to play the drums.

But through all this I was still in awe of the opening act, Fazerdaze. She was just so effortless, leading her band through the most incredibly dreamy setlist I’d experienced in years. “WHO IS THIS???!!!” I messaged my friend who was backstage, exchanging a flurry of texts to get to the bottom of this mystery. I was told to come to The Edinburgh Castle after the gig to say hello.

The Edinburgh Castle is probably Auckland’s worst bar. Nestled in Eden Terrace, the upstairs rooms are constantly looking for terrible tenants to replace the last terrible tenants. Tonight, a demented Crazy Frog toy leers down from one of the rooms above. Connan and Kirin are wandering around all smiles and beers. Neil Finn is also grinning, knowing it’s been a special night. And then buried in the corner with a small group of friends is Fazerdaze. I go and say “Hello”, and I suppose that was my first step to answering ‘Who is Fazerdaze?’, because she told me her name was Amelia and she thanked me for coming to the show, almost like she was surprised anyone went.

(PHOTO: MARK PERKINS)

A few weeks ago I ask the 24-year-old about that night almost a year ago. “I was pretty nervous,” she says. “It was our first show back in a long time. I was feeling really lost at that stage. I remember feeling lost prior to that, like, ‘What am I doing?’”

If there’s one takeaway from Morningside it’s that perhaps Amelia is a little less lost. “It felt like from that point onwards everything was great,” she says of the show. And things have been pretty great. In amongst playing shows around Australia, the UK and the US – and opening for the likes of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Explosions in the Sky and Frankie Cosmos – she was selected to attend the Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal, she played the mainstage at Auckland’s Laneway festival and she finished Morningside, in, well, Morningside.

The suburb is Amelia’s home, a part of Auckland doted on by the Naked Samoans’ bro’ Town, which charmed New Zealand TV watchers from 2004-2009: “A town where the children of the world can frolic freely together, because no matter what ethnic group you’re from, young people are the same all over the world!” the show proclaimed.

She lives in Morningside with her boyfriend Gareth Thomas, the man responsible for some of Goodshirt’s best songs, ‘Sophie’, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Buck It Up’. When I visit, I flick through some CDs on the shelf. Amelia has been on a Gorillaz binge recently, marvelling at Damon Albarn’s eclecticism. She’s also been listening Mica Levi’s score for Under The Skin.

While she was finishing Morningside in the house, Gareth was completing his own solo record in another room. Amelia makes a sprite-like animated appearance in his latest video. The two work on their music separately, but are always there to help. “It’s great,” Gareth tells me. “Amelia and I can work away in two different rooms. Each of us can be the other’s fresh eyes and ears, on call from across the hall. Things move a lot more quickly like this.” To me, their house seems incredibly productive. Neat and tidy; a music studio for two. There’s a photo of a capybara on the fridge. Occasionally the neighbor’s sleepy-looking cat pops by for a scratch.

AMELIA AND GARETH THOMAS (PHOTO: MARK PERKINS)

Amelia was born and raised in Wellington, attending Onslow College. Her mother is Indonesian, her father European. “My dad had a Christian upbringing but is nothing now. My mum is Muslim, but she’s not really practising it.” Amelia calls herself an agnostic. She doesn’t like ruling things out.

Her first introduction to music, piano lessons, didn’t go well. She quit when she was nine and told her parents she’d never play music again. Then she discovered the guitar. “I was watching TV and then I saw out of the corner of my eye this electric guitar that my dad had bought for my brother,” she says. “ I remember the moment so vividly, and I just picked it up and thought, ‘I have to learn this’. And I was just strumming away and it felt really good and really natural. I got my dad to teach me some chords and I couldn’t put it down.”

Because her family didn’t listen to music in the house (the exception was her brother who gave her a Smashing Pumpkins greatest hits album) her early influences came from friends at Onslow. “The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin – super ‘guitar music’. Everyone at high school wore band t-shirts, so I’d always be like, ‘I’m going to listen to that band, and [I’d] go to the library and get some Led Zeppelin albums and Beatles albums and Bob Dylan albums”. Her friends would take music classes as an escape and an excuse to hang out. Amelia did too, but she also focussed on learning. “I remember learning Dave Dobbyn and loving the chord progression. I was really obsessed with learning songs.”

Then, when she was 14, her parents split up. I suggest that with their different religious backgrounds, maybe they parted ways over God. “That wasn’t the problem,” she says. “They just have different personalities.”

“I was like the perfect student until then. I gave up on school, and just did music. I had no structure in my life anymore. And music was just such a… welcoming scene.”

(PHOTO: MARK PERKINS)

Because she was two train rides from school, if she missed her connection she’d train into the city instead of Johnsonville, discman in hand. Her day would be spent listening to CDs. Sometimes she’d just go and read at the bookshop. Her home life was “chaotic”. Amelia’s sister had moved overseas, and her brother had moved out. “So I was just the last child left to figure it out by myself,” she says. And in a way, she still is. Her older sister, 29, is now living in Finland. Her brother, 26, is in Berlin. “I am the only one that talks to everyone in my family. Like my brother and my dad don’t talk, and my mum and my dad don’t talk, and my sister doesn’t like my brother. Oh my God,” she says, laughing. “But I’m best mates with everyone. My family is really messed up. I do feel like music has been this way for me to deal with how messed up my family is.”

When she was 14, she channeled it into writing. At the time her tennis coach (Note: Amelia is really good at tennis, annihilating me when we played: “I did Nationals, but only because Wellington wasn’t good at tennis so someone like me could get up to the top…” she told me later) gave her The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. “That coach was really cool, he could tell I was so much more into music than I was into sport.

“I was learning some really simple songs chord-wise, and then realising, ‘I know these chords, I can write my own stuff. And so I started writing songs … and they were terrible.” She says they were typical angsty teenage fare. “And I was really struggling to find friends at high school and I fell into a group that weren’t very nice to me. But then when I started playing music and guitar, I started finding my people”.

Those people let to an all-girl band called The Tangle. They took their music – 60s pop, heavily influenced The Beatles – to the Smokefree Rockquest. They didn’t place anywhere, but she started to figure out what it was like to be on stage. But, when high-school ended, so did The Tangle. “I was devastated. Like, ‘How can you not want to do this forever!’ I couldn’t understand it. Looking back, I loved it so much more everyone else. I was so serious and dedicated to it. It was all I thought about.”

While her friends went and did things like starting BAs at Victoria, Amelia took a year off to get her bearings, eventually deciding to leave the safe confines of Wellington to study music at the University of Auckland. She worked a variety of jobs while studying towards a Bachelor of Music, including a stint as assistant editor at NZ Musician magazine. All the while she was a bit miserable, living in various dank, dark flats while attempting to find another band. Another home. But every time something came together, it would fall apart. “I got really sick of that. I really wanted stability. And that is when I went, ‘I am going to go solo, I am going to do this by myself’.

“I didn’t feel right about being ‘Amelia Murray’,” she says. “I didn’t feel inspired by that. It felt really singer-songwritery. There is nothing wrong with that, but I feel like so many other people do that way better than I could, like the Ed Sheeran’s out there! But I knew there was more to it… more colour to it. So then I came up with the name ‘Fazerdaze’, and I told my flatmate, and she was like, ‘That’s cool!’ and that was it.” She was 20 and in her second year of university. By the following year, Fazerdaze had released her debut EP and was beginning to play live shows.

“She sent me an email with the link of the song [‘Reel’] saying how much of a fan she was of my bFM show, and now my KiwiFM show, and thought I might like the song,” says Charlotte Ryan, the DJ who gave Fazerdaze her first break in April of 2014. “And I did. I loved it in fact. I remember becoming addicted to it, listening three or four times a day for a couple of weeks, and playing it on my radio show every day.” ‘Reel’ was followed by ‘Jennifer’ which landed on bFMs top 10 – as has every song she’s released since. By October, she released the Fazerdaze EP, each CD burnt at home, the sleeve sewn together so every unit was totally unique. “We had a production line at the flat,” Amelia laughs. “It took so long”. But all the hard-work paid off, and she sold every one she made. “I don’t a have a copy myself. I was surprised at how many people bought them. People took to them because they were homemade. There were errors in it.”

Fazerdaze played their first show the same year. By ‘their’ I mean ‘her’, because at that point Fazerdaze was just Amelia. Rodney Fisher, the former Goodshirt frontman, booked her to play The Portland Public House as part of the Kingsland Folk Club. It was a simple affair. “I had some like drum tracks that I had programmed, and I would just play them out of my phone!” she laughs. “So it started really small like that – playing at pretty much an open mic.” From there, Gareth introduced her to his friend Andrea who played drums, and a band was formed with Amelia on guitar and Gareth on bass. The three-piece work well, but didn’t last long thanks to Gareth’s full-time design job.

FIRST SHOW, 13 MARCH 2014 (PHOTO: PROVIDED)

It was followed by a new lineup born out of Amelia’s friendship with Mark Perkins, who took on guitar and synth duties. Elliot Francis and Benjamin Locke soon joined on drums and bass respectively, and the four of them have been the live version of Fazerdaze ever since.

“I am not a naturally skilled and gifted musician. I have to practice a lot. The band are very patient with me,” says Amelia. Bandmate Mark sees it differently: “I would say everything she does is full of care! When arranging things in band practice she takes lots of time of carefully placing every individual element. The result means that every note and little detail sent out to the audience is thought about and full of love. Like happy children off to school with full tummies.”

AMELIA AND MARK PERKINS (PHOTO: MARK PERKINS)

Every time I’ve caught up with Amelia over the last year, so much seems to have happened since the last time we met. At one point we went out to Piha, where she stopped to record the sound of the crashing waves. She was off to the Redbull Music Academy and had been told to “bring some sounds from home”. On the drive out, she told me she was agonising over choosing a manager. Until then, Amelia had largely driven every aspect of Fazerdaze – from the creation of the music, to booking flights and vans and accommodation for shows. But with Morningside approaching, 2017 was going to be a year of tours and organisation. She knew she needed someone to look after the non-music side: the bookings, the shows, the introductions. When I saw her on the other side of Montreal – where she’d casually hung out with Bjork – she’d found that manager in Ashley Sambrooks.

“Amelia is a big thinker and takes her time when making decisions,” the enthusiastic Australian tells me. After exchanging emails online for some time, Amelia and Ashley met up at Brisbane’s Bigsound festival last year. That ended up being an important showcase for Amelia. Programmers from Spotify caught her set and immediately added ‘Jennifer’ to their Indie Mixtape, making her the cover image for the playlist. As for Ashley, he says he was definitely on trial the whole time. “I remember the band doing an all-in hand grab, a ‘remember to have fun up there!’ kind of thing. When the hands went down, I stood back – but Amelia asked me to join in.” I ask him what he sees in Fazerdaze. “Amelia’s a genuine artist and what I call a lifer. Someone who will always make music no matter what. [Her] music and live show are already incredible, but she’s only just getting started.”

I ask Amelia what she’s most happy about when she looks at this record she’s created. After all, she is about 95% of the music. It’s practically all her, writing, singing, playing every instrument and programming every synth and drum beat (her old drummer Andrea Holmes played drums on two tracks). Her Spotify plays sit at around a million. There’s a lot to be happy about.

“I think it might have been the album artwork. Because nothing felt real until I could hold the vinyl cover, and be like ‘This is a real thing I made’.” That might sound like a simple statement, but I know how much she agonised over that cover. It started organically enough, meeting a girl in the Flying Out music store and hitting it off. Amelia loved her photos, and asked if she could use one for the Morningside cover. From there, she experimented with treating the photo digitally and working out the text layout. “I didn’t know if it was going to work! I tried this digital thing, and then when I opened the packaging and it worked and looked good I cried, because I was so relieved and happy.”

MORNINGSIDE COVER BY AMELIA BASED ON A PHOTOGRAPH BY APRIL BRIMER

If it’s one thing that has impressed me over the last twelve months about Amelia, it’s the level of creative control and vision she has for her project. “She has a very definite vision of what she wants to achieve,” says Gareth. “Because she is quiet, gentle and modest you may wrongly assume she needs guidance, but despite all her self-deprecation and doubts she knows exactly what she wants.”

This is perhaps illustrated in the video for ‘Lucky Girl’ (YouTube user comment: “I predict a rise in Dr. Martens sales”) where Amelia took on editing duties to get the result she wanted. “I have this really strong vision. But I also have this awful thing where I can’t quite see it till I’m making it and doing it. So if anyone else tries to do it, I can’t even communicate what I really want,” she says. “I am just so hands-on with stuff. The vision is still forming while I am making it. I am still not good at working with other people because that vision is always there. I can feel it – but it is still forming.”

The last time I saw Amelia play was opening for Frankie Cosmos at Auckland’s REC last month. The room was packed and, with the air conditioning broken, it was sweaty disgusting cave. Regardless, it was a great night – largely due to opening bands The Beths and Fazerdaze. Audience member Michael Neale’s sentiments sum it up nicely.

I felt happy. I also felt old. The crowd was incredibly young – something I pointed out to fellow music fan John Campbell, who was right up the front the entire night. Whenever I caught his face, he was grinning.

Afterwards I texted Amelia telling her how great it was. In classic Amelia fashion she apologised for the excessive heat. All her fault, of course. Despite having exactly zero to do with her success, I felt proud seeing seeing her up there with her talented band. She has worked so hard at this, and it’s all paying off. One day she’s interning at Flying Nun, the next she’s being signed by Flying Nun. She’s working the gate at Laneway, then she’s performing on the main stage. She’s a fan of Frankie, then she’s opening for her. How wonderful.

I ask what her family makes of all this. “Mum is a bit like, ‘Okay, that was nice. Now here is an accounting course’. But it comes out of love, because she’s like, ‘I really want you to be able to buy a nice home one day!’ But dad is happy no matter what. Also, he’s stoked because he taught me those first chords on guitar and he’s seen me fly with it. They both come to my shows.” I ask her where they stand in the venue. “Separately.”

Morningside comes out on LP and cassette in New Zealand on 22 April, Record Store Day. It’s ‘proper’ release – online and everywhere else – isn’t until 5 May. She says the record was her trying to create a safe space for herself as she moved around a variety of Auckland flats and worked a variety of jobs, all while trying to discover a sense of ‘home’. “Because I felt the world was really scary and I was really struggling, and so the album was a place of comfort. And I just wanted to remind myself that everything was ultimately okay.”

The music she’s made is often described with words like “dreamy” and “swooning”. I ask her if she gets sick of her music being described in such certain, defined terms. She laughs. “People say, ‘Oh, it sounds like nineties music and its dreamy shoegaze’ and I am like, “Really!?’ But I like that, because it means I can dismantle that one day. I like that it’s so specific.

“I don’t see it as something forever.”

Throughout April and May, Amelia will be touring around the UK and Europe with her band. But already she has eyes set on home. That safe space. “I shouldn’t even say this: I can’t wait to go home and make the next thing. Because I think that is where my heart really lies… just being in a quiet space making music. I love the live shows, and getting out, but it’s what I love the most is making stuff. By myself.”

(PHOTO: MARK PERKINS)


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