“I’ve just been figuring myself out.” That’s the succinct answer Amelia Murray, better known as Fazerdaze, gives when I ask about where she’s been for the last five years. It’s a loaded question, but a reasonable one.
In 2017, Fazerdaze’s debut album, Morningside, propelled the artist onto the global stage, making her one of the biggest international success stories to emerge from New Zealand in recent memory. As she confides in conversation with Rolling Stone AU/NZ, however, there was a lot going on privately that the rest of the world didn’t know about.
The Difficult Second Album, or Sophomore Slump, has plagued many excellent artists – The Strokes, The Stone Roses – and the unexpected global success of Morningside started to take its toll on Amelia. “I got really tangled up, I think, in the pressure of the second album, and also just really not being in a good place,” she acknowledges. “That resulted in a real loss of confidence in myself.”
Fans only saw the critical acclaim, the global tours, including prime festival slots, but when alone, Amelia was struggling. “I really wasn’t expecting things to take off as well as they did,” she remembers about Morningside. “I don’t know how someone like Billie Eilish or Lorde can cope with things.
“I was caught in this dilemma of being super burnt out and tired from touring and not really allowing myself to ease off because all of my dreams were coming true. I was a shell of a human that was doing really well in the public eye, so there was a real disconnect. I kept pushing and just got really tired.”
Amelia is not unique in this. Here is a short and far from exhaustive list of artists who have cancelled tours for personal reasons this year: Sam Fender, Arlo Parks, Justin Bieber, Animal Collective, Shawn Mendes, and Gang of Youths. There are many, many more.
The times are, slowly but hopefully irrevocably, changing for artists in the music industry. How Amelia could have used this changing zeitgeist when she was battling burnout post-Morningside, but there’s no hint of jealousy in her voice. “I guess us artists are changing our mindsets about what capacities we have and what pace we want to go at,” she says, bringing up a recent Guardian piece that talked about the many artists currently cancelling tours in order to prioritise their health.
“When I read that, I was like, ‘I wish I could have shown that to myself five years ago’, because I felt so ashamed of cancelling my tour. I felt so much shame around my burnout because I could see every other artist touring easily and I was really struggling.”
Speaking with her over Zoom, it’s difficult to correlate her description of her old self with the person talking today. Amelia is pleasingly – almost surprisingly – forthright, attentive and enthusiastic when discussing her life and music. It feels like she’s missed doing press; discussing your own art, when you’re not in the midst of supreme burnout, can clearly be a nice thing.
When Morningside came out, Amelia was 24-years-old; not necessarily young by industry standards, but youthful enough to mean she was unprepared for the intensity of managing a solo project. “I think I didn’t realise how much work it is to create the product and also be the product, and I wasn’t prepared for also being like the CEO that’s leading it all,” she recalls. “I was quite overwhelmed. It’s so much more work than what people see, for every artist. You only see the tip of the iceberg.”
“There’s so much I want to tell you but I’m also like, ‘you’re a journalist!’” Amelia exclaims. Perhaps she’s holding back some things, but she doesn’t mind opening up about her past troubles with a record label after Morningside. “I did have one (record label) but it didn’t work out,” she concedes. “I was in a really bad spot when I was working with that label, and I guess I wasn’t a strong enough artist to say no to things and put boundaries in place.”
That’s why she resolved to change her outlook. “One thing I learned was that I have to be strong with who I am so that I can go into situations and lead them,” she says firmly. “I had to learn what my ‘yes’ was and my ‘no’ was, rather than have all these competing voices in my ear getting me more confused.”
Amelia begins to play with her pigtail – she does this frequently – and looks away. “It was a really uncomfortable five years,” she adds. “I was embarrassed for not having music out, and that in itself was something I had to work through.”
That meant removing her sense of self-worth from the Fazerdaze project, and finding a degree of healthy separation. It’s easier said than done. “It felt like Fazerdaze was the entire identity of Amelia Murray, and if I didn’t have Fazerdaze it was like, ‘who am I?!’”
When I insist that she’s actually managed her career – and herself – in the right way, she tentatively agrees. “I think I needed to. It’s not like I intended to take this long, I just didn’t have anything clear to say or put out into the world. If I don’t have that, I’m just making noise in a noisy world (a few artists would do well to note this considerate viewpoint). I really didn’t want to be taking up space if I wasn’t delivering something that felt grounded or worthwhile.”
Amelia rushes to note how aware she is that she’s living a “privileged” life – she does this several times throughout our conversation – but it shouldn’t matter.
“Selena Gomez wasn’t sure she was ready to tell this story,” was the indicative Rolling Stone headline for a recent interview about the pop star’s new documentary, in which she reveals her myriad battles with bipolar disorder, tabloid pressure, and even a life-threatening illness over her career.
In the same time period, Selena released over five albums, went on a gruelling world tour, starred in an acclaimed comedy series, and hosted her own cooking show. No one should have been undertaking such a workload while going through so much privately; in this industry, particularly at the level of Selena and Amelia, you’re nothing but a commodity.
Which brings us to Break!. Amelia finally revived the Fazerdaze project this year, releasing a five-track EP in October. It was completed during a three-month lockdown in New Zealand, while Amelia was living alone for the first time following the dissolution of a lengthy relationship.
A full album remained out of reach, but a small EP was the ideal release in the meantime, a peace offering of sorts to her patient fanbase. “I think Andy Warhol said something along the lines of ‘make so much art that when people are busy deciding whether it’s good or not, just go make art,” Amelia says.
The actual quote, after a quick online search, isn’t far off that: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
That Warholian attitude is displayed all over Amelia’s EP, with the five songs allowing her to subtly experiment with her traditional sound. “I had to learn to trust whatever it is that I’m making, trust that it’ll make sense,” she explains,” and not try to control or judge it so close to finishing it.”
That also meant not worrying about what her fans thought about her returning with just an EP. Was their reaction positive? “I’m not sure,” she says with a nervous giggle. “I think they’re just happy that I’m making music again. I’m choosing to think that they’re just happy to see that there’s more coming. I think for a while they were just wondering if I’d ever make music again! I was too.”
Did she struggle with imposter syndrome coming into Break!? “I had a bit of that, and just a real hangover from vulnerability,” Amelia remembers. “I don’t think I really realised how much that stuff got to me. I was like, ‘maybe if I can just write phenomenal, perfect art, then I’ll be protected from that.’ It’s never that easy.”
That’s a suffocating way to think about art, I counter. “I don’t know when I acquired and internalised that belief but I did, and it was really hard to then be creative,” she replies. The Break! EP, then, is an imperfect creation, but intentionally so. “It’s gritty, it’s angsty, and it’s just me untethering myself from anybody else’s opinions.”
Amelia clearly changed a lot as a person between Morningside and now, but what about as a musician? She hesitates. “That’s a good question. I think I kind of went full circle. I think I thought ‘I’ve got to reinvent the wheel, I’ve got to do everything different,’ but how I was doing it before – just strumming the guitar in my bedroom – was actually a really great process.”
That’s why Break! was mostly recorded alone in her bedroom again, accompanied by infrequent trips to a local studio. “Now I’m learning to do a hybrid thing where I go into the studio, don’t get creatively overwhelmed, and then I leave and get out of there back home to my process,” she says. “I don’t spend hours and hours in a studio tracking and trying things because obviously that’s expensive, and I also get overwhelmed by all the options.
“I keep it pretty simple for myself. I think if anything I’ve just become more confident and conscious about my process. I have a bit more respect for my process, whereas I think before I was just doing it apologetically, whereas now I’m like, ‘this is how I work and this is how I roll with it.’”
Morningside, in particular the massive hit “Lucky Girl”, saw Fazerdaze lumped into the burgeoning bedroom pop scene of the time, alongside names like Gus Dapperton, Mac DeMarco, and Rex Orange County.
Returning after such a lengthy absence, Amelia could have played things safe. She could have made a Morningside-lite record, another collection of amiable bedroom pop songs to remind fans of what made them like her music in the first place (it’s interesting to note that the trio of Dapperton, DeMarco and Rex are far from their 2017 peaks, for various reasons); she could have chased the current trend by making a pop-punk album, regressively trying to make up for lost time.
In the end, Break! is a little bit of everything, a “mish-mash,” as Amelia calls it with a timid smile. “With all of these songs I was just like, ‘what are they?!’ They’re just so strange, but something I had to learn was to stop trying to control my output while I’m creating. I had to let whatever needed to come out, come out.”
The breadth of styles within the five songs is notable: there’s the grungy ‘90s-indebted title song; there’s the mellow dream pop of “Winter”; other songs are drenched in fuzzy guitars and distorted vocals.
“This EP was just about allowing anything and everything to come to the surface,” Amelia says. “I think that’s why it sounds pretty varied. There’s definitely time and space for a refined body of work, but I needed to go through this EP as a creative, to just be like, ‘I can make whatever comes through me, just let it be, see it through to the end and not judge it.’”
In a recent conversation with Rolling Stone AU/NZ, The Beths’ Liz Stokes praised the strength of New Zealand’s music community, noting “there’s a real DIY ethos in the music industry.”
For Amelia, it’s no different. Struggling in the aftermath of Morningside, she was able to turn to several fellow musicians for advice. She specifically names Buzz Moller of Auckland indie-pop band Voom as being a particularly supportive companion (Fazerdaze features on Voom’s new single, “Magic”).
“He’s like 60-years-old but I became really good friends with him,” Amelia says. “I would come to him with my unfinished songs, and he was just so non-judgemental of me when I was in such a broken, lost place.
Crucially, Moller offered help whether Amelia was “doing really well or at the bottom of the heap.” “He’s actually avoided the music industry whereas I walked straight into the fire of it (laughs). He was just off on the edges, far enough away from the drama of it all that he could just be my friend. He could just sit down with me and play guitar.”
And on those trips to the studio to record Break!, she was often joined by her friend, the audio engineer Emily Wheatcroft-Snape, who would then give her the stems to take home to her “safe place.” For Amelia, Fazerdaze 2.0 has been about surrounding herself with the right people.
Amelia’s debut album took its name from the Auckland suburb where she lived while recording it. Its follow-up isn’t explicitly named after a place, but it may as well be: Amelia moved to Christchurch in April, following her breakup, craving a break from the claustrophobic Auckland music scene. “Suddenly the city felt a bit too small,” she says solemnly. “I needed a fresh start.”
Christchurch immediately offered that. “It was a really hard year last year, so coming here and meeting new people and keeping a low profile has felt really good,” Amelia adds. “It felt really necessary, really healing. I’m kind of loving being anonymous.”
How long that anonymity lasts remains to be seen. Talk turns to the future, and Amelia assures me that it definitely won’t be another five years before we hear from her as Fazerdaze again. “I’ve been working on this other body of work, and there’s such a vision with it,” she reveals, adding that she can’t talk too much about it at this moment. “There’s a lot of stuff coming next year.”
Not that she’ll be making the same mistakes as before. “I’m just easing back into the Fazerdaze project again,” she says assuredly. “I’m careful to go at my own pace. “The second half of next year is looking pretty busy, but that’s all I can say right now.”
We’re about to end the Zoom call when one more question comes to mind: what does Amelia hope listeners will gain from her new EP? She already has her answer ready. “It’s actually ok to give up sometimes, and I think that’s something I hadn’t been taught. I thought I just needed to work harder. But Break! is about realising it’s completely fine to give up and change what you’re doing.
“It’s about the honesty of letting things unravel if they need to. Once you let go of those constructs, that’s when you’re in a place of truth. It might look messy and it might be an ugly process, but it’ll be a place that you can rebuild and renew.” Unburdened from relationships, untied from place, unshackled from art, Amelia sounds healthily poised heading into the new Fazerdaze era.
Fazerdaze’s Break! EP is out now.