The year of Mike Murray
By ERIC WAIER
Special to This Week in the Flathead
This has been a breakout year for Mike Murray, who started 2015 by winning the first Northwest Artist Syndicate Singer-Songwriter Showdown, then went on to release a second EP with his side project The Left Ready, and capped it off by releasing his third full-length solo album, “Tumbleweed,” this summer. He managed to do all of this while playing gigs several times a week and fitting in a road trip to play at SXSW with The Left Ready.
I was recently joined in the Whitefish Community Radio studio by Murray and bassist Chris Krager, where we talked about recent success and the journey that came with it.
Murray grew up in Montana but left after graduating high school.
“I went overseas and I traveled and I saw the world,” Murray said. “I saw some incredible things and incredible places and in doing so realized how truly amazing Montana was.”
After traveling for eight years, Murray returned to Montana in 2010.
“I just wanted to get back so bad,” he said. “I did manage to pick up a wife along the way which was a good perk!”
However, the idea behind the return wasn’t to stay, but to set the framework to become a musician. Murray and his wife planned to eventually to move to Nashville, Los Angeles, or “somewhere that makes sense to start a music career.”
Montana, however, had other plans.
Murray explained that after being here for five years, “it probably took four and a half years to realize this is where I want to be and need to be. Not only just personally but for my music.”
This journey is well laid out in Murray’s latest album “Tumbleweed” which was released in June.
“My personal life and my musical career are inseparable in that journey,” Murray said.
The album’s center is a track called “Bury Me In Montana,” which Mike said is “the song that the whole album was built around.”
“Embracing being a Montana artist is an integral part of who I am as a person and an artist. I think that’s very much reflected in Tumbleweed.”
When I first listened to “Tumbleweed” I knew I was listening to something special that went beyond just another album on the shelf. When I initially reviewed the album in June, I noted how Murray embodied the “Montana sound” but struggled to define exactly what that means. After some time to think about it I believe part of that sound is a reflection of Murray’s journey to discover where his heart lived, which is laid out masterfully on the album.
The other part of that “Montana sound” is the immense talent featured on “Tumbleweed,” with nearly a dozen of the “who’s who” of local musicians, on a list too long to print, that added their own unique flairs to make “Tumbleweed” something special.
“‘Tumbleweed’ has just been such a sense of fulfillment,” Murray said. “This is embarrassing to say but I do enjoy listening to it.”
The momentum-shifting moment for Murray came in January with his first-place finish at the Northwest Artist Syndicate Singer-Songwriter Showdown, when a panel of judges voted him the winner out of 10 contestants.
“It was probably up to even that, that I questioned am I doing the right thing, am I ever going to be able to make this work?” he said. “For me that was a deeply re-assuring experience. It made me feel like it could work.”
Murray explained that before that getting gigs was tough.
“I sort of felt like I was pushing a boulder uphill for like three years. Places wouldn’t call me back. I never had enough bookings. I was struggling.”
Murray has taken full advantage of his surge in popularity and has had a full calendar of gigs since, sometimes playing six to seven shows per week over the summer. He explained his recent success locally showed him the importance of building an audience,
“The local foundation has been wonderful and I think has taught me economics of what it means to have an independent music career,” Murray said. “It’s simply about building a following and that’s it.”
Murray hopes to keep the momentum he has gained and said he has a “very strong ambition to tour again” after what he feels was learning his way.
Murray’s popularity is also reflected amongst his peers. A question I ask all the local artists who come into the WCR studio is who their favorite local artist is and Murray has gotten the vote nearly unanimously. As far as who Murray himself likes, he keeps it diplomatic by explaining how humbled he is by some of the local talent.
“When I see Kevin Van Dort play solo I’m in awe of the authenticity of his blues. First time I saw Jameson and the Sordid Seeds I was just like, OK I quit. Nick Spear has made me cry with his solo compositions, and then I go watch him with the [New Wave] Time Trippers, and I’m just like, good lord, that’s not even fair. And then there’s the ‘Dunnigan Factor’... The list could go on and on.”
Tonight Murray will be pulling out all the stops for a rare full-band performance at Casey’s at 7:30 p.m. as part of a screening for snowboarding film “Methods of Prediction,” presented by Snowboarding Magazine. Admission is $5 with proceeds benefitting A-Rob’s Plant A Seed Project.
A full schedule for Murray, plus music and more information, can be found at www.mikemurraytunes.com.
Eric Waier is the station manager at Whitefish Community Radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.