An Intimate Conversation With FUR Frontman Will Murray

An Intimate Conversation With FUR Frontman Will Murray

William Murray — or “Murray” — is the lead singer of an English rock band. It’s a role born out of his father’s music collection and one he plays with great pride. For a young Murray, The Kinks became a window into the 1960s, a decade that both fascinated and inspired him to put his own stamp on the musical realm and pursue music as a career.

Hailing from Brighton, England, Murray and his band FUR have risen quickly on the London music scene, headlining shows at the Scala and selling out clubs and other venues throughout the city. Their swift ascension has even led to sold-out shows throughout Asia, with fans clamoring for more of the U.K. quartet that is reminiscent of The Velvet Underground, among other influences.

When we connect by phone, Murray is lamenting the dire England weather, which, at that time, was far removed from its typical week-long summer and was plunging into the cool late autumn. Despite feeling short-changed by the summer months, he is excited to discuss FUR’s debut record — When You Walk Away — and to divulge more about the recording process and the roads that led there.

The News Station: What first exposed you to music and how did you start along that path?

Will Murray: I was born into a musical family. My dad is an excellent pianist and is one of those people who lends his hand to multiple instruments. My mom was a singer and both of my older sisters play musical instruments, so I started getting into music by being around it and by being around instruments at a really young age.

When I was at primary school, I learned the tenor horn and was in orchestras and stuff, and then around 10 or 11, I picked up guitar and was like, “This is the best instrument. This is the one for me.” I’d spend all of my time learning songs. My dad introduced me to The Kinks and I remember staying in my room listening to their albums over and over again. At that point, I didn’t have a grasp on what the ’60s were in terms of cultural impact or defining time, so I just liked the songs for what they were and thought they looked cool on the cover.

Mid to late teens, I got more into U.K. indie and bands like The Strokes, which kind of spurred me into writing my own music. That’s where FUR was born — the crossover of my early influences that I wasn’t super-conscious of them being influences until I started writing music.

I moved to Brighton to study songwriting and had already written some songs to get the band up and running, and then met the other bandmates through chance encounters. Tav [bassist William Tavner] saw a Facebook ad that we had a space available in our house, and I told him he could have it if he played bass or drums [in our band]. 

TNS: Sort of like a “play your way” instead of “pay your way.” 

Will Murray: He said he played a bit of both, which was a lie because he didn’t play drums, but he needed the house so I’m glad we settled on bass. That spurred us to try and find more members, which is when we found Flynn [Whelan, drummer], who we met at a bar.

I was asked to go up to him and ask him if he played drums and was like, “There’s no way I’m walking up to a stranger and asking him if he wants to be in my band.” One of us eventually asked him, and Flynn was like, “Yeah, I do play drums. How did you know?” So we asked him then and there if he’d join the band and he was drunk enough to say yes. When he woke up in the morning with a text — “Hey, man. You still up for joining FUR?” — he was like, “What have I joined?”

From there, we built up our set, did the Brighton circuit for a few years — loads of small pubs and clubs — so you always feel like even if you’ve got a lot of shows, you’ve got different places to be. Then Josh Buchanan joined on keyboards so we could add another dimension to our live shows and then he moved on to guitar. Around that time, he was writing songs that I wanted to write, and started writing more songs for FUR. The rest is history. He’s a great songwriter and we work really well together.

Photo courtesy of Julia Nala

TNS: It sounds like a combination of knowing your needs, seeking out those needs and then a little bit of serendipity.

Will Murray: An important thing with us is we’re all friends and that core friendship is such a valued thing in our band. It really helped build something special, especially with the album and being apart [because of] lockdown. The album is a reflective sort of mood about the coming-of-age time that you go through at the beginning of uni.

TNS: How did your collective friendship impact what creatively went into When You Walk Away?

Will Murray: The friendship thing played a huge part. All of us, being at the age we were — 18 and 19 when we all met — you feel so adult and that this is your time and that all of the friends you’re making seem like friends for life. Maybe you’ve moved away from friends from school and your home friends from town, who, when you were 15 and 16 you thought would be friends for life.

You support your friends through breakups and through changes when you’re going into your 20s. Being in a band and touring and spending all of your time together, you become really close and very aware of all of those things happening in each other’s lives. Especially with lockdown, everyone did a bit of soul-searching and we released the Facing Home Mixtape, which was quite an important step toward When You Walk Away for us.

As the people in the band, you always have a different view on what FUR is. For us, the new songs that you hear are not “new” to us, but they’re new to your audience. The audience only knows you at the time of what you’ve released, and obviously with lockdown we were unable to tour and release like most artists. We really felt we’d progressed in our songwriting and in the lyrical themes and stuff and we wanted to put something out. We thought since we were in lockdown, people weren’t really going to mind; they just wanted content. So we figured we’d just record the songs we were proud of in our living room and put out a home-recorded thing.

At any other point, if it wasn’t lockdown, I wouldn’t feel that comfortable releasing something that was knocked up in my living room on minimal equipment. We don’t have a huge amount of production knowledge or whatever, but lockdown gave us the push we needed to feel OK about releasing something that maybe isn’t to a standard that everyone would expect. The songs are still our songs. It’s still us doing it. And I think it let on to people that we were capable of making more mature sounds than maybe we had before.

The lockdown, introspective lyrics pushed me and Josh towards working on stuff that represented our feelings coming out of this post coming-of-age time. Having not seen each other in months and then getting into the studio together and suddenly all of this creative energy is bombarding you — it was such a great feeling and helped us to create something really special.

TNS: Did the first post-lockdown recording session together feel different?

Will Murray: I think there’s quite a few contributing factors and some of them weren’t things you would intend to do or plan. We hadn’t been able to rehearse the album all together because of closures of practice rooms during lockdown, so me and Josh would get our demos up, solo the parts, and be like, “Flynn, here are the drums for the whole album and, Tav, here is the bass for the whole album. Learn your bits.” So that was the first challenge — everyone knowing their parts — and we took quite an unorthodox approach to rehearsing an album and I wouldn’t recommend it. It gave us a bit of unnecessary stress, but obviously that was the situation we were in.

When we started recording, the songs just felt a lot better. Obviously that was an important thing because when you’re going through with your debut album, you want all of the songs to be really inspiring to you and exciting to you. It was the strongest we’d sounded, so that was really good. 

One day we hear this dude shredding in the studio next to us on the organ and gathered outside like, “This dude’s insane.” He came out and came into our studio and listened to a bit of what we were doing and was really impressed by it and liked it, so we asked him if he wanted to play piano on the album. The guy was Mikey Rowe, who’s played for Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow and was the keyboardist in Oasis for four or five years. He came in for one day without hearing any of the songs and recorded nine tracks on the fly. It was unreal. He added this whole other element to the album that our sound had never [had]. It was one of those moments where he’s playing his part and you feel he’s putting a bit of his X factor into it. That chance encounter was a turning point for us because we were listening back and realized we had a whole new layer to our songs and it felt like our music was taking on something a bit more. The rest of the recording process was the most fun we’d ever had.

TNS: You’re saying Mikey Rowe improvised piano on all nine tracks?

Will Murray: When we were planning for him to come in I emailed him like, “Do you want me to send you the songs? Do you want to hear the chords?” And he was like, “Nah, nah, nah. I’ll just wing it.” So he just came in and we played him a track a few times, and within a few listens at the piano he had all of these parts planned out in his head that we would never have thought of and really brought something special to the record. We’re eternally grateful for the chance encounter.

TNS: It seems like chance encounters not only populate the formation of the FUR timeline, but the music itself.

Will Murray: It was like we harnessed those things and they helped shape us to be where we are now.

TNS: Was it something of a spiritual tip where you were like, “Hey, we need this,” and the universe presented it?

Will Murray: Me and Flynn have discussions where it always feels like there’s something looking out for us. It’s always felt like that, whether it’s a decision of what song we should release and then having to rush and decide, “No, we’re not releasing that,” and then a year later we’re all like, “Thank God we did not release that.”

South by Southwest a couple years ago was the first time that we’d gotten the offer, but decided against it because financially it would have been quite hard for us to get over there, and then that was the one that got cancelled because of Covid. Some of our friends in other bands lost a bunch of money for this and that, and we didn’t have that issue. Things like that happen to us all the time, so maybe there is something looking over us.

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