Many of you blog readers have cornered me near the shoe cubbies to ask when I’m going to interview Pete Murray. I did some cyber stalking and learned that he’s sorta famous. He has fans and his own entry on Wikipedia. Despite having been interviewed countless times all over the world (including for the New York Times,) Pete was very accommodating when I showed up at his house with my questions written on the back of a used envelope.
To get more background on Pete, you might want to listen to or read other interviews. He was the frontman for the industrial metal band Ultraspank. They were big enough to tour with Ozzfest. On a day that Ozzfest joined with the Warped Tour, Pete was singing in front of 38,000 people. Ultraspank was personally courted to sign with Epic Records by Epic’s president. But, as Pete explained in a previously published interview, “[The President of Epic] got fired shortly thereafter and they annihilated the whole hard rock radio department that broke Korn and Rage Against the Machine. Things fell out of alignment really fast.”
After some time off, Pete co-founded the hard rock band Lo-Pro. He continues to sing and co-write electro-melodic music under the band names Life on Planet 9 and White Noise Owl.
When I read some of your previous interviews, I was frustrated for you. You had really bad luck in the music business.
We constantly misjudged people. Everyone says, “There’s friends and then there’s business.” But if someone’s gonna be working for me all day, even at a record label, I want to get to know that person and consider them a friend. Same with a manager. If someone’s representing me, there has to be a friendship there. It can’t just be all business all the time. That was a huge mistake because that made me vulnerable. I’m not some cutthroat business guy who sees opportunities to crush people. We got schooled.
One of the most common questions I got was, “What advice can you give me?” I would say, do it for the love of music. Then nothing else should really matter. It won’t matter if music becomes a job or not. If you’re doing it to make money, my first advice would be: Don’t do it. But if you want to make money, emulate what’s already out there making money. If you want to be an artist, then the whole business part, you can’t worry about it. Especially now because people don’t buy music anymore. It’s such a different game now. It’s so hard.
I have friends who are still making money, but they had big hit songs. We never got to that point. We almost got there. We were maybe one tour away from being self-sufficient. We just never got there. For bands like that, Korn for example, they can fill a place and sell records without a record deal. But you can’t really point to that band and say, “If they can do it, I can do it.” If you’re trying to break in right now, you’re out of your mind. It’s just gnarly. It’s sad but that’s the way it is.
What topics do you like to write about in your lyrics?
Lately I’ve been trying to do not such an angry, aggressive thing. I usually just write about life experiences, either mine or people around me.
What is your favorite lyric that you’ve written?
Lo-Pro has a song called “We Are The Ones.” Those are probably my favorite lyrics. It’s about how we are the ones to blame and the decline of the Earth.
How do you feel about singing lyrics that somebody else wrote?
I’ve never done it. I’ve always written my own things. When you’re touring, you’re actually trying to sell what you’re singing about. I couldn’t ever relate to what other people wrote. It had to come from me in order to feel like I was singing from the heart. I’ve known plenty of singers that don’t have a problem with it. But the live thing for me was never my favorite part anyway. I really loved creating the music. So I always wanted to do the lyrics. I always felt like that was my job, to do the lyrics.
Encinitas seems like a difficult home base for playing live shows or going on tour. Why do you live here?
Yeah, touring would be easier if I lived on the East Coast. We moved down here from Santa Barbara because Rina got transferred. She has to live here. And yeah, playing live took a hit when we moved down here. But that’s kinda the way my journey was going anyway. We lost our last record deal a long time ago and were winding down.
My writing partner is in Santa Barbara. We’ve gotten way more prolific now that we have a long distance thing. We’re just super focused on writing all the time. I’ve written way more music since I’ve moved here than I ever did up there. Now I’ve got too many projects going on. I make a lot of music. I’m starting to get a little burnt out on it, to be honest. I’ve gone through this before and I just walk away from it for a while. I’m not sure what my plan is yet but I need to get hit with some new inspiration. I’m thankful in a way that music isn’t my career because I’d never want to be stuck writing because I had to.
Obviously I’m not dealing with that as much anymore. It was always weird. But if you make music and put out a record, you’re inviting people in. So you can’t really complain about it. We were lucky; we just had a couple of weird stalker-fans that I had to hide on Facebook. But we attracted some pretty awesome people. It’s a trip.
If you put out a major-label record, that’s always part of the deal. I’m a private person but it stoked me out when people bought my music. I tried to treat it with respect, that they would spend their money to buy my music or buy tickets. I’ve been buying records my whole life and I know what it meant to me. I don’t want to be that guy bitching about his success and loss of privacy. Then you shouldn’t have done it. But I didn’t have to deal with fame in any major levels. I never really got to that level.
Do you ever feel nervous or embarrassed to perform? Is there a particular person in the audience that makes you hold back?
No, for me it’s the reverse. I would get fired up when people would be witnessing my doppelganger. We played a lot of shows in NYC where childhood friends of mine from Westchester would show up. That always stoked me out. It was fun.
Who came up with the concepts and costumes for your music videos?
I actually went to school for film and video. As far as Life on Planet 9, which is kinda my main thing now, we dress ourselves. Actually we always dressed ourselves. But I wish we had gotten a stylist way back when because I see pictures of myself, like with my first band, and I’m like, “Dude, You’ve got a XXL shirt. Really?”
Until recently we didn’t have the resources to make our own videos look good. But I love shooting videos. It’s super fun. I wish we had done way more. Now a buddy of ours has a killer camera so we can actually shoot videos whenever we feel like it. But I feel like that’s a different side of my brain that doesn’t always fire. Every now and then I’ll get an idea and we’ll go shoot something.
How long does it take to make a 4 minute music video?
Usually it’s a day. We did a video for Lo-Pro that was on Fuse for a while. We had a crew come out and travel with us on a bus and shoot for about a week. But for the main part of it, we shot all night long after a show. And we played a show the next night, after shooting the video and screaming all night long.
You don’t just lip sync for the video?
No, ‘cuz when I sing, especially when I had my head shaved, I had a crazy vein in my head that would pop out. All my veins stick out when I sing. I think it would look weird if I were lip syncing or not sweating. So we all went for it. Everyone was playing full-on. We try to do more of a live thing and make it more legit.
When you were on tour, how did it feel physically on your body?
I had a really hard time sleeping on a moving bus. A lot of people get lulled to sleep but I would always wake up thinking I was about to die. The beds are sort of like coffins. Full on claustrophobia. Whenever the driver would hit the breaks and I was asleep, I’d wake up thinking we were going to hit something. So I had a really hard time in that respect.
The last tour I did was the only time I was practicing yoga. That changed everything for me. I was more disciplined about how I was eating and behaving. I practiced yoga everyday. The hardest part was that everything was air conditioned. It was kinda one of those A-Ha moments where if I had had that structure and discipline earlier, I think it would’ve done me a lot of good. When we were in a van for 110,000 miles for our first record (this was in my 20s) and then even when we graduated to a bus (there were a lot of us in it), I did the opposite of yoga. I didn’t eat well or treat myself well.
You mean drinking and drugs?
Drinking. I rarely smoked weed because it’s bad for my throat. And no cigarettes either. I always try to protect my voice. I know a lot of guys who have record deals and do this for a living but they do everything they can to destroy their voices. It’s an ego thing. I never wanted to be that guy. I felt that there were 4 other guys relying on me to take care of my throat. I took that kinda seriously. But it was hard. It’s hard being in a band with a bunch of dudes.
Me and my guitar player did most of the driving because we were the best drivers in the group. It wasn’t until later that we could hire a driver. On the last tour that we did, between the driver and yoga, everything was way better physically for me.
No, I can’t play guitar. And with my writing partner, Neil, really there’s no reason to go solo. We’ve always been on the same page musically. We both evolved in the same direction at the same time. So going solo has never crossed my mind.
[Editor’s Tangent to another published interview with both members of Lo-Pro. It’s a great quote from Neil about their music. He said, “I have a hard time listening to it sometimes. It brings me to that moment, I’ll be sitting there, and I get choked up. I have to shut it off or walk away. I don’t know how many times during the recording process either he’d walk out of the room, or me, or someone would have to leave. There is a lot of heavy shit in there.”]
We’ve always been in very democratic bands. Structurally, with finances, if we succeeded we would’ve just split everything equally. Normally the singer gets most of the money. But by myself I couldn’t make music.
What was your favorite venue to play and why?
We did an acoustic tour right after Rina and I moved here. My phone rang that first weekend. We played a bunch of opera houses. There’s a brand new one in Amarillo, Texas that is freakin’ unbelievable. And we played the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. That was just epic. Elvis was on that stage, freakin’ everybody. That tour was my favorite that we’ve ever done because it was just three of us, totally stripped down, and people loved it. I rearranged everything to sing, not to scream. There were just a few moments when I hit some screams. But it was killer.
Are you parents supportive of your music? Would they be even if you hadn’t been successful?
Interestingly enough, I was in bands in Santa Barbara before we got a record deal and they actually saw a couple of those shows. They were leaning on me to either shit or get off the pot when I was pursuing a record deal. I had set a time limit and I made it by like two months. I signed a record deal before the time that I had set to. I told myself, “Alright, if I haven’t got a record deal by then, I’m gonna stop and just try to do film.” But we never got to the point where I was sacrificing everything. I did make some money. Technically, it was my job. My mom was my biggest fan. She was real close to a lot of mosh pits. She still supports my music even though now I’m not doing it for a living. She drives around listening to my music.
Want more? Check out Pete Murray on Life Outside of Music.