It takes talent, time, and tenacity to build a career in the music industry, with songs to write, albums to record, gigs to play, and tours to complete all before turning around and doing it all over again.
But for Kalispell musician Mike Murray, it also takes some literal construction, in this case a tiny recording studio in his backyard, connected to the home he shares with his wife, Jessica, and their 3-year-old daughter, Audrey, via a concrete pathway.
The 42 square feet of space is crowded with equipment, but it proved to be the perfect fit for Murray to record his fourth album, “Difficult Days,” which will be introduced at an official release party on March 2 at the LaSalle Grange Theatre near Columbia Falls.
Well, almost a perfect fit.
“I did the drums in the basement because I couldn’t physically fit them in the studio,” Murray said, laughing.
Coming three years after his 2015 Americana album, “Tumbleweed,” “Difficult Days” is Murray’s fourth solo effort, complemented by three albums he made with bands.
But where the songs on “Tumbleweed” were intentionally written and recorded to give off an Americana feel, this new album was born of a new process. Murray, 33, had intended to follow up his third album quickly, but instead found himself somewhat swamped by its success.
“I was so busy playing gigs that I kept putting the album off,” Murray said.
Then began a series of events that led Murray through some difficult days of his own, but would eventually result in the album that he believes sounds most like himself thus far.
In March of last year, Murray went down to Los Angeles at the request of a talent agency to co-write with other professional songwriters.
“It was nerve-wracking at first,” he said. “But all the writers said the key to quality is quantity.”
The LA songwriters advised that Murray should write as many songs as possible, 100 if necessary, and then eventually pick 10 or 15 of the best to record.
“I started writing like crazy, and then recording demos right away,” Murray said.
Still playing plenty of gigs at the time while also recording vocals for a remote job, Murray’s voice started taking the brunt of it all. He went hoarse, and his voice wasn’t recovering. He stopped recording in the studio but kept playing shows because it was necessary for his income.
But eventually, he was struggling to sing at all. A visit to an ear, nose, and throat specialist showed a polyp on his vocal cords, and the only course of recovery aside from surgery was rest.
Murray was forced to stop singing and even talking; he found himself texting his wife while sitting next to her on the couch.
“It was a really stressful and frightening time,” Murray said. “But I had about 35 songs from that burst of songwriting earlier in the year, and I thought while I’m resting my voice, I could make this album.”
So Murray got to work last September laying down the instrumentals for “Difficult Days,” finishing up in mid-February. His vocal cords healed without surgery, and the album took on a certain edge, a bit more serious and darker than previous records.
Because while Murray was going through his own series of difficult days, so were many of his friends and family, he said. Their experiences are reflected within the songs, which expand across a vast breadth of human emotions. There are songs about the beauty and exhilaration of first love, as well as those about the pain and sadness that accompany heartbreak.
The resulting album holds 14 songs, which Murray arranged in a very specific order. It’s a bit of an old-school approach to recording anymore, he said, because the album is meant to be consumed from start to finish instead of cherry-picking popular songs for downloading or streaming services (though the whole album will be available on major downloading and streaming platforms).
But Murray feels that an entire album encapsulates a moment in time better than one or two songs could.
“Why do we feel this drive to make albums? CDs are almost completely irrelevant, and even downloading a full album is unheard of,” Murray said. “But (a full album) is part of artistic, personal expression.”
Murray has a small Montana tour planned for the album, and the March 2 opening reception will include a concert of all the new songs along with Murray discussing the context behind the album.
While he’s proud of his previous work, Murray said “Difficult Days” represents a new type of recording for him, an experience he went into without expectation or framing, unlike with previous albums.
The result is an honest, personal collection of songs that he says represents him more than anything he’s made before.
“People who know me, they say ‘This is the most ‘you’ thing you’ve done,'” Murray said. “It came very naturally.”
The “Difficult Days” album release party takes place at the LaSalle Grange Theatre on March 2 at 6:30 p.m. For more information on Mike Murray, visit www.MikeMurrayTunes.com.
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