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Chris Murphy Presents Petrol Records
The first thing that strikes you about Petrol Records’ Australian founder Chris Murphy is his enthusiasm for music. Two decades in the music business and he still remains animated and passionate about making new musical discoveries each day. Here he is telling us about his exciting musical journeys and his new record label, committed to putting out some “seriously good music”.

The Record: Please introduce our readers to the idea behind Petrol Records.
Chris Murphy: Basically what we do at Petrol is have people that travel continuously around the planet, looking and searching for the most innovative and interesting music we can find. It’s a little bit like the old fashioned days of people going around to strange places to find spices or other things…once we find something that’s going on, we send a few people there or do more research and usually find sometimes hundreds of songs and then from there we work for months and months of putting together that music in a way that we think would be best [for] the customer. We’re a little bit different that way from a lot of other labels; a lot of record companies make records for themselves, then they release it and hope a customer may buy it. We make records for our customers, not for ourselves, although I love all the music we release.

TR: Of all your journeys in the search for music, which one stands out for you?
CM: I always have my eyes and ears open for something interesting. I think probably the biggest revelation I have had in the last ten years or so was with Cuba. We kept sending people to Cuba to look for something more modern from there, and they kept coming back to me and saying there’s nothing new in Cuba. They were going to Havana and basically after we [did] this for a few years, someone contacted me and said ‘I want to play you some music I’ve heard in a place called Santiago de Cuba.’ And I said, ‘Where’s that?’ ‘Well, it’s at the bottom of Cuba.’ And I said, ‘Oh I’ve been sending people there for two years and I can’t find any good pieces of music.’ And he said, ‘Well you’ve been going to the wrong place.’
So after I heard all the music ~ which I was pretty excited about to be honest ~ I then gave him enough money to go and build a home studio and from there he recorded about 40 songs of these guys doing this sort of rap/Jamaican dance hall and hip-hop. I then went there myself and that was a big revelation to find this… I mean, I’ve been in the music business a long time, so to find an actual undiscovered pot of musical gold is a pretty exciting thing. I’ll probably be able to do it once in my life; I mean that was a place no one has ever discovered.

TR: Living in the digital era has made the world so much smaller and we are much more exposed to different cultures now… how does Petrol’s philosophy fit in with this?
CM: Well, it’s interesting, I sold my companies in 1995 and retired from [managing] INXS to discover and learn about the digital era because I knew ~ one thing I knew very clearly and I don’t know why I knew so clearly but I did ~ that digital would represent a greater discovery process for people to learn and hear lots of different new music. So I actually got out of the music industry to become a digital radio and digital music operator, and from there, when we were doing our internet radio stations, the popularity of our niche stations was much greater than our mainstream stations. I then realised that there were millions of people around the world that would probably like to have a brand that they could associate with that was classy, a bit more sophisticated… they could sort of become a partner of the brand and learn about a whole diversity of music and quite frankly that’s what we did.
We put our music up on iTunes a few years ago and we became one of the most successful independent labels in the world; all our so-called niche music became very popular, and here we are today! What we were doing got noticed by all the major record companies and so we’re sort of the reverse, we’re sort of a 21st century record company because we became popular worldwide from digital and now through that process all the major labels discovered us and we did a worldwide deal with EMI and now we’re re-launching our CD business all over the world.

Music in India of late has tended to fall into one of three categories: staunch classical, hip-hop-meets-Bollywood, or forgettable Indipop. So how do you reflect the beautiful sounds of India without dipping into the abovementioned categories? If you want to do it right, you do it like Petrol Records has just done. Their brand new release, The Greatest Songs Ever ~ India, features twelve tracks that we must admit we were surprised by (in a good way). Who knew that we could have a soundtrack to our lives that didn’t come blaring out of a taxicab or from the repetitive, three-and-a-half radio stations that are supposed to provide us with good new music?
The album is cool, it’s elegant, and most importantly, it’s an enjoyable compilation of the kind of music that we want to hear more of. We liked it so much that we tracked down the person that put together the compilation. RICHARD BRIDGE talks to us about his process for setting up a Petrol Records soundtrack to India.

The Record: What was the approach you took while putting together this compilation?
Richard Bridge: The focus of the overall brand is that the music has to reflect the essence and the flavour of the country that we’re talking about. With this particular album, the approach I took was geared around trying to get different styles of music on one album. It wasn’t designed to focus on any one particular area of Indian music. We tried to put together an album that fused traditional Indian music with a modern sound. That was one of the major factors as far as my decision making process was concerned. I very much wanted to be able to have old and new sounds together in such a way that [they] actually fused and gelled. That was one of the reasons we included quite a lot of electronica tracks. They are based in traditional Indian music, but also have a very modern element to them.

TR: Is there any one track that would best introduce a new listener to this album?
RB: I think they all have a uniqueness to them. With this album I tried to pick tracks that take you on a journey so it would be hard to single out one track that represents the album because we always try and put together tracks that work together as one piece. It takes you on a journey and although the listener may not be familiar with Indian music it gives you a flavour for it. I say overall, you would have to listen to the whole album but in terms of tracks that I think stand out, I would say maybe the Genesis For Nina track by Ma Faiza and Veet Sandeh. From a personal perspective, that is one of my favourites. I tried to incorporate as many different kinds of Indian music as I could, but all the tracks had to have a certain feel so they gelled well together. It’s very much based on feel, rather than looking for specific tracks or specific artists. It’s based on the essence of what India is about.

You can read the rest of our feature on Petrol Records in the May 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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