She was young, ambitious and wildly successful, then she disappeared. Tony Stamp finds out where Fazerdaze went and how she's coming back with new EP Break!.
A few minutes into Break!, the title track of the first Fazerdaze release in five years, the music cuts out and her voice softly says “I’m not ok”. It’s a moment that’s fleeting, but revealing, although its creator didn’t intend it as such.
Sitting in her Christchurch flat, sipping green tea, she says, “My art is constantly teaching me things. There’s always lessons in the lyrics that I don’t know what they’re about when I’m writing, but they start to reveal themselves to me a few months if not a year later.”
Fun and frothy though it may be, the Break! EP is full of clues that she wasn’t, in fact, ok.
When you Google her name, the first suggestion is ‘What happened to Fazerdaze?’. Amelia Murray was barely out of her teens when she released her first EP in 2014, and three years later, her debut album Morningside - a 10-song blast of dreamy guitar pop released on Flying Nun - drew glowing reviews from international press, and led to performances around the world. When she stopped releasing music, and eventually stopped performing, people noticed.
Now 29, she’s back, and even when dredging up some painful memories, her turn of phrase is poetic. It’s somewhat surprising to hear her talk about her anxiety: if you were going to describe Murray with one word it would be ‘chill’, down to her outfit (Chuck Taylors, jeans, Huffer shirt).
But then you notice the occasional deep intake of breath, and a habitual tugging at her ponytail. Especially when she’s answering certain questions, like why did she hit pause on her career?
“It was less of a decision and more of a necessary thing. I just wasn’t really prepared for the workload and the change of lifestyle that the success of Morningside gave me. I got really burnt out and tried to keep going, because my dreams were coming true.
“My body and my creativity shut down. It felt like five years of nothing flowing for me - personally and creatively. It was a rough time for me, but also necessary, because of what I learned in that period. It felt like I needed to find myself again, as cliché as that sounds.”
In a round-about way, it's why the walls of her flat are empty and the living room barren save for a couch, a stack of books, and as you’d expect, an acoustic guitar. She moved to Christchurch, and into this place, earlier this year, after growing up in Wellington and spending 10 years in the music industry hub of Auckland.
“Christchurch felt like a clean slate for me. I didn’t know the city before the earthquakes, but the strength and the restructuring and the rebuilding is quite inspiring for me… having to go through a restructuring and rebuilding in my own life, it feels really good to do it here.”
Her voice cracks during that last part. There’s a sizable pause as she collects herself before finishing the sentence.
Making the Break! EP was part of Murray’s new direction, even if she didn’t realise it at the time.
“Some of these songs I wrote quite a while ago, while I was in a relationship, and while I had certain people around me, and I couldn’t understand why I was writing these very angsty songs, like I almost didn’t want to admit it to myself. I think my subconscious was much further along processing than my conscious brain.”
It’s true that the Fazerdaze found on Break is angrier, brattier and more defiant than we’ve heard before. Detours are made into riff-heavy krautrock (‘Thick of the Honey’, co-written by Bic Runga), and sample-based trip hop (‘Winter’), alongside slabs of distorted guitar and anthemic choruses (‘Break!’, ‘Come Apart’). On ‘Overthink It’ she even veers close to a rap delivery.
“I feel like people expect Fazerdaze to be a bit more pretty and dreamy, and this EP has a lot more anxiety and unrest in it. I think it was the space I needed to allow myself to feel more ugly feelings.
“It really was like, the pressure of everything in my life is too much, and I’m going to tell you about it, and I’m going to draw boundaries, and I’m going to sever ties, and I’m going to make some big, bold calls, and I’m going to stop trying to be subtle about things, and I’m just gonna break.”
Does ‘Break’ refer to a breakup, or maybe a breakdown? There’s some truth to both (prior to her move she left a long-term relationship), but it’s more a reference to prior bad habits, she says.
“It implies a sense of rigidity, that I used to have, with being really fixed in the way I thought, in the way I approach things. That wore me down, and I had to learn to break, and rebuild from the space of brokenness."
She says she had to make a massive pivot in her life. “The way I had to get myself out of situations that weren’t good for me was to cry for help.”
Hence the exclamation point at the end of Break!
“I feel like I’ve been someone who’s pretty strong and resilient and I persevere with things, and I push myself really hard, and to sing the lyric ‘I’m just gonna break’, it just felt so real when it came out of my mouth. It was me dismantling this idea that I have to keep going, and I have to be strong, and I have to make everything work.
“It felt really good to just throw my hands in the air and be like ‘I’m done’.”
That musical line in the sand transferred into real life, and led Murray to change hers completely.
The EP almost forced itself into being; she was working on something she only refers to as “a body of work”, and Break! was “this side thing that kinda happened on its own”.
The response from her online fanbase has been enthusiastic. When she resumed posting on Instagram just under a year ago, she was met with screeds of comments reading “I miss you”.
It’s testament to the strength of the Fazerdaze name that so many were waiting for her to reappear, and behind the scenes, that strength led to her signing to the American label Section One, who will release Break!
Is she ready to deal with another release cycle? Surely the demands of an international label will be even greater?
She trusts her label to let her decide what she does and doesn’t do, she says.
“I think the tension that there is between a record label and an artist can be really healthy, and can push me in healthy ways to get my music out to the world, when I naturally just want to hide away from everyone and disappear.
“There’s a lot of mutual respect, and we come at things from quite different angles, but I feel able to say no, as opposed to saying yes to please them, or no in a reactive way. I feel a bit more mature this time.”
Murray also has friends behind her who want her to succeed. She mentions a string of other musicians who have helped and supported her during the last five years - lending her gear, mixing her music, helping manage her career. She wants to succeed again now too, and is resuming chasing her dream, even if that means doing less, counterintuitively, than she used to.
What does she do now to maintain her mental health, to avoid reaching another breaking point?
“I do a lot of yoga, I have to do it every day, and that helps me a lot. Something that helps me a lot is to surround myself with people who put Amelia first, and care about me as a person before Fazerdaze.
“I think where I went wrong was I surrounded myself with people who only cared about how well my project was going, or not going. Just having really good human relationships, where I feel really backed, no matter how good or bad things go.”