FINISHING HIS DEGREE RECENTLY, ILLY CAN NOW SOLELY FOCUS ON THE MUSIC. EVEN WITH HIS SUCCESS, HE TELLS RIP NICHOLSON THAT HE WOULD STILL ALWAYS DO IT FOR THE LOVE, GETS SATISFACTION FROM BOTH RECORDING AND PERFORMING LIVE, AND DOESN’T HAVE TO GO TOO FAR TO FIND AWESOME BEATS.
ILLY interviewed @ 13.00 AEST – Tuesday 6th September, 2011
For Street Press Australia
Words by RIP NICHOLSON
Images courtesy of Kanye Lens.
Burn City’s illest MC seems to always be caught in the chase. His first was Long Story Short,his second was a law degree and then The Chase, released last October. Since then, the rapper has been touring so many festival circuits and trying to fit in study that after graduation in June, only now can Al ‘Illy’ Murray focus all of his attention and talents on his next album. “I dunno if i can call it The Chase Two, but the next one is always going to push me to the ends more, man. I’ve only just started to be able to sit down and write with no distractions. I was definitely going through a lot. The album came out and i was studying to finish my degree by June. Then I went on holiday for a bit to celebrate, so I’ve been away up until a few weeks ago. I’ve only just started working on new stuff now, without that weight of university to deal with. And now it’s kinda like the calm before another storm, but I’m off to a good start. I think it’s going to be a really good summer and I’m fucking stoked to be honest.”
With an alternate career held firmly in place, Murray is completely honed in to making his third album his best work. “Dude, it’s definitely one that I’ve got tucked up under my sleeve now. I feel like I’ve earned the right to give my music a crack and just solely focus on it for a while man. I couldn’t be happier that I’m in a position to do that.”
Murray opened his recording career as a member of Crooked Eye alongside songbird Daniel Merriweather and MC Big Phrase and producers M-Phazes and J-Skub out of Melbourne and released a slew of mixtape joints to heat up anticipation for his first release coming in 2009,Long Story Short, after signing with Obese Records. He feels more confident about follow-up late last year, The Chase, despite mixed reviews from those who compared the albums.
“In my opinion it’s a much better album in every way than Long Story Short, because I had the experience of making the first album and I think it’s better production, better songs and even the post production stuff we’ve used has improved and I was able to do what I need to do more. But I know that some people viewed it as a step backwards or a step towards the mainstream when it was just, never a conscious thing.” He further admits, “If i could have made Long Story Short more like The Chase I would have, I just wasn’t able to. I didn’t have the knowledge.”
“Dude, it’s definitely one that I’ve got tucked up under my sleeve now. I feel like I’ve earned the right to give my music a crack and just solely focus on it for a while man. I couldn’t be happier that I’m in a position to do that.”
Murray kept it in the family, retaining the highly-acclaimed production team of M-Phazes, J-Squared and J Skub who painted his first LP in beautiful strokes. But, in distinguishing the second from the first, he tightened the reins on strings that pulled the album together and made sure he got what he wanted from each record.
“I’m comfortable with all those dudes and I’ve worked with them for years so I didn’t really need to branch out away from them. I’ve got Styalz Fuego on one track, other than that dude, I’m lucky that I work with the producers I do. I don’t really need to go too far to find awesome beats,” he boasts, as we discuss further the album’s lacking any guest verses from those MCs within his inner rap cypher who frequented Long Story Short. No Spit Syndicate, Phrase, Pegz – all Illy, in an effort he made, to test his limitations as a recording artist.
“I just wanted to see if i could do this and i thought i could, so yeah there’s definitely an element of that to it. So now I’m like on any new work i do i definitely intend on getting some friends on board so at the time i figured i didn’t know if I’d ever be in a position where I’d make another album with just solely me. So i kinda dug that idea and i felt like i was able to hold down the album myself so we did it and I’m stoked about it.”
Tackling an entire album yourself makes for endless hours of sleepless nights trying to get that one rhyme that will make the cut and without having other artists to bounce off, these nights come often. On newly released single, ‘Cigarettes’, Murray addresses the mental anguish of blanking as a rhyme-writer and admits he is no stranger to this, but stresses that it is something to persevere through, no matter what.
“It’s something that every single creative person can relate to – that late night mental block. I’ve done this shit, for over half my life, i do it for the love. Just to be able to play for the bigger crowds and if i never had the breaks i would still be that dude, and I’d still be loving it because I’ve put my life into this. So without question man, i would still be that dude.”
While he mastered the mental side and the recording of the LP, thoughts of being the performer and presenting his new music live is always present and comes strongly into play whilst building each track, but insists no matter if he feels that it will work live or not it doesn’t stop him from making the tracks.
“You’ve always got in your head whether it’s gonna work live or not, but it’s never something that would stop me from doing a track. There’s a couple on The Chase that weren’t really live songs but I’ve felt strongly about and we managed to incorporate them into the set quite well. So it is definitely there but it’s never something that’s enough to deter from making a track. If you feel strongly about the track that’s why you’re in music for, it’s made to express ourselves,” Murray insists showing mew music off live for that response is the other half to the rewards of being one of Australia’s most adulated MCs. “I get satisfaction from both sides. When you’re in the studio and you’re working on something and it’s falling into place in front of you, you know that you’re onto something that’s good. That’s amazing and when playing that same track months down the track to a crowd of thousands that’s mental too. It can get to be a grind too, like when you’re in the studio and it’s not working for you it’s a pain in the arse and purely be, like, soul destroying. And when you’re touring and you’ve had no sleep or an hour’s sleep, you’ve got the hangover from hell, you go to the airport and your flight’s delayed. That can be hell as well. But at the same time it’s all in perspective and to be able to record music and tour is a privilege. So i love both. Both aspects are huge in my life.”
“I’ve done this shit, for over half my life, i do it for the love. Just to be able to play for the bigger crowds and if i never had the breaks i would still be that dude, and I’d still be loving it because I’ve put my life into this.”
During his festival circuit last year, on Groovin’ In The Moo the beat for ‘Cigarettes’ was developed and later produced by M-Phazes into the LP’s second single, which finds Illy rapping bars with such flow it has become the album’s stand out joint.
“On the last show of Groovin’ In The Moo last year, Cam, my drummer, had something to show me. And he showed me the first version of that beat and it sounds a bit different to the one that ended up on the album, but from the moment we heard it, it has exactly the same drums. Man, when those drums drop to the guitar i was like, ‘fuck that is insane, that one is mine.’ So literally from the last time i heard that beat i knew whether it was going to be a great song and i felt like i did it justice and I’m very happy that i was able to do that, because it deserved to have a really powerful song behind it.”
So with his next round of tours marked on the calendar, Murray finds himself riding a single lane with one chase left, to further his hip hop career and allow his next album to push him to new boundaries and have it ready for release this time next year.
“I’m so happy to be able to say that the only thing i need to worry about in the next short term is this music, man, so that’s gonna be my chase, still. So,” Murray declares – “being that it’s my birthday today, i just turned 26, there will be a new album out before I’m 27.”
WATCH THE CROOKED EYE
The Crooked Eye Fam is a handful of triers done good on their callings into music. A family of Melbourne-bred artists starting with rapper, Big Phrase, R&B artist Daniel Merriweather and producer J-Skub, who cut their paths from the Melbourne circuit before they picked up MC Illy and producers M-Phazes and Unknown along the way and steered their careers out from the shade and into the fast lane of Australian hip hop and markets abroad.
Harley Webster (Phrase) came together with Merriweather and Jan (J-Skub) Skubiszewski at the Reach Youth foundation for 2005’s Talk With Force LP, which was picked up by Universal Music Australia. Their DJ and promoter Flago (Flagrant) managed their moves and the newly created Crooked Eye Fam first rostered Al Murray (Illy) and opened in 2007 with MC Illy’s first mixtape which featured Phrase. Within two years both he and Phrase dropped their first studio albums, Long Story Short and Clockwork respectively, a pair of commanding hip hop albums of 2009 in the ARIA Urban albums chart. And they’ve done it again in 2011 with The Chaseand Babylon set to follow up from the success of their debut releases, with The Chase hot to receive a Independent Music Award this year.
M-Phazes, a producer of mammoth regard in the Australian industry, has laid tracks for most of his esteemed alumni including Bliss N Eso, Drapht, Muph & Plutonic, Spit Syndicate and Urthboy and in the same breath US artists Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli and Slaughterhouse. The Gen Y MC has always had Phazes and J-Skub by his side for both LPs. They are inseparable and Illy feels blessed not to have to search too far for beats. Why go elsewhere when the Crooked Eye can straighten it out themselves?
Despite the collaborative hits, they’re more of a management roster than a recording crew and while Illy is booked to take up October with dates across the east coast alongside M-Phazes, he is still tight knit with the mentors and friends he grew up with. Both he and Big Phrase have secured stability in their music and careers by keeping the inner circle close. If this were sports, both MCs would hold the home field advantage for every game. The crew have come up and grown into their respective solo careers together and these talents have really only just begun to etch their Burn City movement internationally. And the way it’s looking, they’re climbing to great heights for a promising view ahead for the Crooked Eye.