Adrift In America

The rootless feel of Los Angeles was an inspiration for Alexi Murdoch

February 08, 2007|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

As singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch finished his debut album, he hit a wall.

It had taken him two years to complete the CD -- which he calls the hardest thing he's ever done -- and he couldn't imagine ever coming up with another song again. The feeling frightened him.

"I thought I was done," Murdoch said. "I thought I would never write another word. I was in quite a state for a while, thinking that I'd cut the thread or burned something out."

But as soon as the album, Time Without Consequence, came out in June last year, inspiration struck again.

"It was really interesting, because the moment I signed off on the record, that was it," he said. "All kinds of stuff came flying at me. I've been really excited and writing all kinds of new stuff." Some of the new songs will be on the set list when Murdoch plays the 8x10 on Monday. He wrote most of the fresh material after recently moving back to his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland.

The tracks on the mostly acoustic Time Without Consequence were written during the roughly five years he spent living in Los Angeles. In both places, a sense of detachment helped drive his songwriting.

Though Murdoch has a history in Scotland, it's hard for him to reconnect because he's been away so long, he said.

"It's almost like there's a lot that's familiar to me, but again it's weird because I feel more connected to something that isn't really there anymore," Murdoch said.

Murdoch originally moved to the U.S. to study philosophy at Duke University in the early '90s. Then, he moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend. After the two broke up, he turned to music.

Los Angeles proved the perfect inspiration for Murdoch. The city's transient feel and its distance from Scotland made it almost impossible for Murdoch to put down real roots, he said. He felt there was nothing to hold onto and channeled that feeling into his music.

Los Angeles "isolates you in a very real way -- in the sense that you can't fall back on traditions or reach back into the history and feel connected in any sort of way," Murdoch said. "It makes you really confront the present and, ultimately, the future."

Nic Harcourt, the host of Santa Monica, Calif., radio station KCRW's show Morning Becomes Eclectic, heard Murdoch early on and championed the musician. Harcourt's enthusiasm helped push Murdoch to record and release a four-song EP called Four Songs.

Murdoch's low, breathy voice and acoustic guitar picking began to attract attention around the country. The track "Orange Sky" was featured on TV shows including The O.C., Prison Break and House, and the movies Ladder 49 and Garden State.

Then, Murdoch began working on Time Without Consequence. He and a handful of accomplished studio musicians recorded the album songs on two-inch analog tape.

At first, Murdoch thought recording, mixing, arranging and overdubbing would be a short, easy affair.

"I undertook it thinking naively that I would just round up a group of guys and we'd go in," he said. "I figured we'd just lay the songs down in a couple weeks, then I'd do a couple of overdubs and mix it up and I'd be done inside a couple of months. Of course, I was in for a big surprise."

Though the process was stressful, the resulting album manages to sound fresh, vintage and forward-looking at the same time. It drew praise from critics and helped Murdoch become more studio savvy. But he has no plans to record the new music any time soon, he said.

Instead, Murdoch is focusing on playing live. Late last month, he kicked off his first national tour at the Sundance Film Festival. His album has sold about 40,000 copies, and his gig at the Mercury Lounge in New York City sold out in advance. It's impressive for an independent artist.

"Somehow this music is just making its own way into the world, without being pushed or forced," Murdoch said. "It's a beautiful thing."

Alexi Murdoch plays the 8x10, 8-10 E. Cross St., on Monday. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $14-$17. Call 410-625-2000 or go to the8x10.com. To hear clips from Murdoch's CD, go to baltimoresun.com/listeningpost.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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