There’s a story that has become a small legend surrounding singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch. Early in his career, back when Murdoch was interviewing management companies, he took his demos to one such firm where the rep proceeded to pop the disk into his computer. That’s when Murdoch first knew something was amiss.
“He had this huge stereo in his office,” Murdoch recalls. “I was like ‘Why is he playing it on those horrible little Apple speakers?’”
As the tune’s first notes emitted from those “horrible little Apple speakers,” the rep proceeded to count the seconds until the first song reached the refrain (about two minutes, 30 seconds).
“Afterwards he told me ‘This is a perfect example of a song that could be really good if you got in with a producer and cut it down a bit,’” Murdoch says.
Murdoch wasn’t biting and he didn’t buy in. That song, “Orange Sky,” remained untouched and since that day, it has been spun by Nic Harcourt on his acclaimed radio show “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” and appeared in films “Garden State” and “Ladder 49” and on the TV programs “House, MD,” “Prison Break,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “The OC.” Murdoch’s 2002 self-produced EP, Four Songs, which includes “Orange Sky,” became the all-time, top-selling album for online music vendor CD Baby. In the summer of 2003 he was invited to play a singer/songwriter festival in Philadelphia. As he broke into “Orange Sky,” the six- to seven-thousand person audience began to sing with him.
In a way, that pro-producer rep was right. “Orange Sky,” was a perfect example. Only it perfectly demonstrated how talented artists can achieve success in the era of iTunes and MySpace without the support of management or a record company.
As one can imagine, the success generated by Murdoch’s EP left record companies clamoring to produce his first full length album. Murdoch turned them all down.
“I wouldn’t say I’m belligerent towards record companies, but they’re not in the same business as I am,” Murdoch says. “It is a business and there are good, upstanding people in it, but their checks are paid by people trading in gold and tobacco and … I don’t know what else.”
So Murdoch continued to go it alone, self-producing Time Without Consequence on his own Zero Summer label and releasing it in June of last year. It includes “Orange Sky,” along with 10 other tracks rife with the Glasgow native’s smooth Scottish baritone vocals and a style that reminds of both Van Morrison and Nick Drake with a little twist of Thom Yorke. Again, TV shows were eager for his work, with “Home” appearing on a Feb. 5 episode of “Prison Break.”
While his lone wolf approach has given him the artistic flexibility he craves, it hasn’t made his work load any easier.
“It’s hard, but this way the music doesn’t suffer. I do,” Murdoch says. “I joke though. I think I’d suffer a lot more if people were trying to take control of my music.”
Murdoch, who grew up between Scotland and Greece, has followed his own path throughout his life. He worked as a ranch hand in Wyoming and Montana after first coming to America at age 17 when he visited Washington, D.C. with his father.
“I couldn’t figure out why the roads weren’t paved with gold and platinum. And what were all those potholes doing here?” Murdoch jokes.
He later attended Duke University, studying philosophy and English. He wasn’t exactly counted among the Cameron Crazies however.
“I was a ghost,” Murdoch says. “I skipped out on graduation. The last semester I started appearing on campus more and people were like, ‘Hey, it’s good to see you … Where have you been?’”
As much as he is comfortable going his own way, and as much as he has been put off by over-involved record companies, Murdoch says he won’t discount the possibility of working out a deal down the road.
“I have met people in music that get it,” Murdoch says. “You just have to be patient and eventually all of the hypesters move along and the people that remain are true believers.”
• Murdoch returns to the District and its pot-hole-filled roads this Sunday, Feb. 11 when he plays The Rock and Roll Hotel. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. For more on Alexi Murdoch, visit www.myspace.com/aleximurdoch.