Photos by Durty Harry
If you haven’t heard of Murlo, you should start paying attention. Born Chris Pell, the London-based producer builds sonic landscapes that are a distinctive fusion of bashment, soca, grime, and UK Funky, serving them up with striking self-illustrated artwork and animation. (For a quick introduction, check out Murlo’s Jasmine EP on Mixpak, a collaborative project with vocalist Gemma Dunleavy.)
Murlo made his New York debut earlier this month at the Studios at Tribeca Grand Hotel on a bill featuring Sinjin Hawke, Zora Jones, Dre Skull, Jubilee, and Waffle Crew, warming the dance-floor with dancehall tunes before delving into a mixture of club tracks and his own productions. We got a chance to chop it up with him the week after the gig, following a DJ set and radio interview with his Mixpak family at Red Bull Studios in Chelsea. Dressed in a simple white tee, black sweatpants, sneakers, and a self-designed snapback, Murlo fielded questions on his musical influences, favorite video game soundtracks, and how it feels to finally be doing music full-time.
Mass Appeal: This is your first North American tour. Have you ever been to the States before?
I’m looking forward to seeing America just generally because I haven’t been here that often. I came here a few years ago for some tourist stuff. I’m really excited about seeing the different sides of America and just taking it in and just playing U.K. music.
Have you gone anywhere, so far, that you’ve really enjoyed?
Yeah, well I’ve only been to D.C. and Montreal, and I’ve actually spent more time in airports and stuff [Laughs]. But from outside the window it looks nice. I’m looking forward to getting to kind of rest a little bit ’cause it was a little hectic when I first got here. Now I’m just finding my footing, so I feel a little more at ease and I can take it in.
Are there any potential collaborators you are looking forward to meeting?
Yeah, there are a few people! I’ve wanted to make some tunes with Zora Jones for a while and she’s over here at the moment, so it’s cool if we could sort something out. I’m gonna be working mainly on forthcoming stuff for Mixpak I think, so any collabs I do will be a bonus.
How does it feel doing music full-time now that you’ve quit your day-job?
Great! I didn’t know what to do with myself to begin with, since I’ve been working full-time for so long. I managed to get my hours down, but I was finding myself at home not knowing what to do. I used to spend a lot of time producing during the day and then getting really restless in the evenings, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just got a studio with Deadboy. I am looking forward to actually getting a little bit of… what’s the word? Structure, structure in my life [Laughs].
What was your job before?
I was working in a shop, just retail. I studied at University then I had to get a job and wasn’t able to get out of that loop, of just being able to afford rent and everything like that every day, week, and month. Eventually, as the DJing picked up, I was able to kind of cut the hours down, then finally quit last year.
Were you doing any freelance illustration or design work?
Not really, everything I was doing was kind of a hobby and just for myself. I’ve found a way to intertwine that now.
Where do your visual inspirations come from?
There’s a lot of things really. Obviously, there is cinema, which I draw a lot of inspiration from; I’m particularly into sci-fi and Fantasy. But I just take in everything. I grew up copying from sci-fi books, like stuff from Boris Vallejo, so I’ve taken that with me into my adult life.
Any reason you go with the Roman, Greek influences?
A few years ago, I was playing around with ideas of forgotten statues and busts. I am a big traditional art fan; I love classical sculpture.
Any particular sculptures?
I think that whole antiquity era is great. I visit the London Museum and things like that. ‘Cause it’s quite easy in London to forget that there are all these amazing places you can go for free, so I’ve started getting myself out of the flat and going to these places.
You mentioned getting a studio with Deadboy, do you know when your collaborations and stuff are going to come out?
We’re working on it, we’ve got like four or five tunes at the moment.
I’ve heard the track “Ride With You.”
Yeah, that’s one of them. I think that and “Squeeze” are the couple of tunes we’re thinking about releasing. We’re going to be doing some other stuff as well now that we have space to work. We were making tunes in my living room, and there’s only so much you can really do in a living room. Now we have a space, we can maybe think about vocalists and stuff like that.
After your first project with Gemma, do you have plans to work with any particular vocalists in the future?
Yeah, I’ve kept a list on my desktop for the past couple of years of people I want to hit up and work with. Working with Mixpak is a good opportunity because they work with a lot of artists I love, and I’ve been DJing their tunes for a long time. I don’t want to name any names because I don’t want to jinx it. But, yeah there are a few people I’d love to work with.
You have plans to work with dancehall artists as well, I’m assuming?
Yes, I’d love to do that! Obviously, there are a lot of U.K. artists I want to work with. The U.K. has so many amazing vocalists that are just smashing it.
So no names?
No names yet ’cause I’m not sure what’s going to happen.
Do you play any instruments or have any formal musical training?
No, I picked it up basically. I only made music when I went to Uni, so I was probably about 20 or 22 or something when I started messing about with Fruity Loops and making refixes. But listening back, it’s all out of key and really horribly mixed down. It’s one of those things where you spend so much time you soak it all in eventually. I’m learning kinda to play the piano also, but I can only play one song [Laughs].
What’s the song you can play?
It’s Chrono Trigger’s “Corridors of Time.” I can only play the section with the one note, no chords at the moment.
Where do the inspirations for your melodies come from?
From a few things. I listen to a lot of dancehall, guys like Chimney Records and Equinoxx both produce really amazing stuff. And the same with garage.
Are there any favorite garage tracks you want to reference?
Sticky’s Triplet series definitely had an impact on me. In fact, pretty much his whole back catalogue is amazing. He’s a legend for sure.
During your set on Saturday, you started off with a lot of dancehall before getting into the club stuff. Some people seemed a little put off, like they didn’t expect that.
Really? I mean I’ve always played a lot of dancehall in mixes and radio shows, so thats strange. I don’t play the same set every show, and I usually let the vibe of the club inform what I’m gonna play. I still play a ton of my own stuff but I like to put it alongside stuff I love as well. Guess it comes from me being a DJ before being a producer.
How did you first get into dancehall?
I first got into dancehall back probably about six or seven so years ago when I was at Uni. It was one of those things where like I was listening to a lot of grime and garage and things like that, and it’s very influenced by dancehall and sound system culture. It was kind of one of those things where I’d hear a garage dancehall remix and I’d be like, “What’s this?” Then I’d hear the original in a mix and the ball started to roll. But yeah, I came about it through hearing it in clubs and on the Internet.
Do you have any favorite games?
Growing up, I’d invest the most time in games I could play with my little brother, so a lot of co-op games and football games, but I don’t play those games anymore. I played World of Warcraft and I think that had a big impact on me. I love open world games, anything that creates a world. I got into Guild Wars 2 a little bit and that was cool. The problem with the big MMOs is that they require so much time.
Any particular video game soundtracks that stand out for you?
Yeah, Chrono Trigger is a big one for me, also more recent games like Red Dead really smashed it—it was so cinematic.
The music video for “Jasmine” was very cinematic, with a director, setting, telling a story as opposed to “Into Mist,” which is animation based. Have you thought about fusing the two—art and real life?
Yeah, that’s a good point. I never really thought about it. The thing is that CGI is so far removed for me, I couldn’t imagine it alongside real video aesthetically. I would like to direct something that has more narrative and story. I’ve dabbled a little bit with the “You & Me [TRC vs Murlo]” video, but it’s definitely something I’d like to explore in the future.
The recent Jasmine EP is not your first release on Mixpak, correct?
I have been part of a couple of compilations, and me and Famous Eno released “Ariel” on Mixpak about two years ago. But I mean, Mixpak is a label I’ve been following for years, and when Dre hit me up, I was really excited to work with him.
How many projects are you signed to do?
There’s the Jasmine EP that came out, one I’m working on now, then I’ve got one more after that. So, I think maybe one of them will be a vocal thing and one will be an instrumental thing. The one I’m working on now is definitely an instrumental thing. I just need to refine them and figure out what I’m going to do.
What happened to DJ Sharda?
The thing with Sharda is that it was just a little bit of fun. I think that the music is very similar to the music I make as Murlo anyway, so it didn’t take many people long to sort of catch on [Laughs]. But yeah, I’m going to make some more stuff maybe. I was actually going to release an EP, like a Sharda EP, but it just never happened in the end. But maybe I’ll get those out. I was going to do a vinyl thing, but eh. I’m definitely playing some bassline on the tour, so maybe he’ll make an appearance.
What’s the deal with the adder theme?
Yeah, I’m just into snakes! [Laughs] Nothing particular, not really a concept.
Do you have a pet snake or something?
I want one but I don’t think my girlfriend would be over the moon. I don’t think she’s big on snakes—ha!
Murlo is currently on his North American tour. Check the full list of dates below and find more information on tickets here.