Monday, April 15, 2024
53.0°F

Piano was Mike Murray’s first instrument, now he’s returning to it for an upcoming album

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | February 22, 2024 12:00 AM

Flathead Valley music fans would most likely recognize Mike Murray with a guitar in hand. The singer-songwriter stays booked and busy, but he’s also been working on a new album featuring piano, an instrument he’s grown to appreciate over the last few years. 

“It’s a very special instrument. I've given that a lot of thought, you know, it's like, you can hit a note on a piano. And it causes this giant wooden structure to resonate and the sustain can just go on for quite some time,” Murray said. 

The Kalispell native has been a performing musician for more than a decade, racking up big performances like Austin’s SXSW and Whitefish’s Under the Big Sky Festival. He released his sixth studio album “The Devil’s Rope” in 2021, and recently signed it to A-Tone Recordings, a label of Extreme Music. According to Murray’s website, Extreme Music is a “poster child for production music,” with his songs having been licensed for TV and film.

Murray started to record a collection of piano songs last spring. After having to pause work on it during his summer gig schedule, he’s been back at it this winter. 

Piano is where it all began for Murray — it was the instrument he took lessons on as a child, but back then, he really wasn’t into it. 

“I spent many, many years without touching a piano, only to sort of come back to it in recent years and really enjoy it, especially writing music on it. So, this will be my first album that primarily focuses on piano as the main instrumentation,” Murray said. 

Murray performs on March 1 for the Daily Inter Lake’s Press Play series.

Growing up in Kalispell with his parents and older sister, it was important to his parents that their children learn music in some capacity, as they believed it was good for a well-rounded education. His sister also took piano lessons, starting around the age of 8 or 9. So, when Murray was old enough, his parents enrolled him in the same lessons. 

“I was sort of your typical boy that loves sports and loves to play outside and do active things. So sitting down with piano for 30 minutes a day felt like torture, so I avoided it at all costs. Then I would get to my lesson totally unprepared and that felt like torture. So it was a vicious cycle,” Murray said. 

He recalls a time his parents sent his grandparents a video of him and his sister playing. His sister sang a beautiful ballad, followed by him sitting down and “mashing something out that’s below average.”

“My grandfather asked my parents, ‘How long has Mike been playing again?’ And my mom said, ‘Oh, three years.’ And I think he said to her, ‘Let the boy quit,’” Murray said with a laugh. 

But his parents were reluctant to let him stop music. His piano teacher also taught drums, so he asked to make a switch. They let him try it out, still taking three piano lessons a month and trying out one drum lesson.

That didn’t last long, Murray loved the drums and took to them very quickly. His parents were happy to support his passion, and soon he had a drum set in his house and began forming bands with friends in middle school.

“That's kind of where everything just went in fast motion from there. I started borrowing guitars, I started writing songs, and then before you knew it, I just couldn't get enough music in my life,” Murray said. 

That still seems to be a theme in Murray’s life, the musician and his bandmates play between 150 and 175 shows a year. This is less than in 2016 and 2017, when they would play between 215 and 220 gigs a year. 

He’s grateful to be able to make a living in Northwest Montana as a musician. 

“The uniqueness is not lost on me. I know there's a lot of places where there just aren't the right set of circumstances to create that vibrant music scene where you can have a lot of musicians, have a lot of venues, but still have this sort of economy that supports live music. It's really wonderful, something I hope is always a part of our valley,” Murray said. 

Music is still a family affair for Murray. His home studio is in his basement, located right underneath his youngest daughter’s room. It’s a balancing act, he says, remembering when he recorded his last album “The Devil’s Rope.” But, his youngest daughter was also content to sit in a baby carrier and listen to him play. 

“She was very much part of that album, and my older daughter will come down here and help me, she'll sing background vocals or help me with percussion or things like that. And my wife's a singer, so sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Hey, Jess, can you come sing a harmony?’ So it inevitably becomes a family experience being in the house,” Murray said. 

He and his wife have signed up his oldest daughter for lessons now, too. Although, Murray said she seems to be liking it a bit more than he did. 

“She’s loved to sing since she can open her mouth, basically. And my younger one, she loves anything her older sister loves. So what we'll see as she finds her own more of her own interest and identity, if that sticks. But, she loves to sit down and mash the piano and sing all the time,” Murray said. 

This, combined with his wife’s love of piano (which she played growing up) eventually led to the family getting a piano for their home. 

“I started sitting down and playing again, and started just really loving it. Because as a songwriter, it's so easy to get stuck in ruts, and I almost always write on the guitar. Often I feel like I'm just doing the same thing over and over again. So the piano was like this whole new world,” Murray said. 

It was a little easier to return to after growing so much as a musician, having a better understanding of music theory and being able to build songs around chords and melodies. He said his new album takes more of an introspective turn, a “spiritual, emotional, deep look at the self in connection to the bigger picture of existence and meaning.” 

“There is one song that is sort of about my relationship with my daughters, not in a very specific way, but more about this relationship with a child and the passage of time, and both the joy and the agony of that,” Murray said. “There's a song about dealing with grief. So it's a very human based recording.” 

Where his last album focused on themes surrounding nature and western landscapes, he said, this upcoming album is more about the “landscape of the human heart.”

“I'm actually working with a couple really fantastic string players, a cellist, a violist and violinist, and we're adding some orchestration to the piano songs. It's really beautiful and exciting, I can't wait to put it out,” Murray said.

Murray performs on March 1 for the Daily Inter Lake’s Press Play series. Subscribers can join for a unique music listening experience at the Daily Inter Lake office by donating to the Newspapers in Education initiative. Concertgoers can bring lunch or purchase one of three lunch options from The House of S&M.

Tickets and lunch are available at flatheadtickets.com or by calling 406-758-4436.

Find out more about Murray’s music at https://www.mikemurraytunes.com.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.