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Return to Whistler, 20 years after Horstman Hut

Australia's best-selling rocker Pete Murray is ready to win over North America



Talk about the intrusive press.

Australian award-winning singer-songwriter Pete Murray is enjoying the warm Mediterranean waters of Majorca, Spain; he's not performing but resting with his partner and children after a European tour in Holland and Britain.

And... and... the Socceroos are playing their final World Cup match against Portugal before heading home.

Enter interviewer with her bad timing. I promise to keep our chat brief but Murray is charming about it.

"I'm working on my tan before coming out there. It's our first time here, the water is crystal clear," he says.

As for the Socceroos, they lost, but there's always the next World Cup.

He starts a brief Canadian tour this week, which includes an evening at the Garibaldi Lift Company on Monday, June 30.

In a 12-year career, the 44-year-old has won an Australian Performing Rights Association award and sold over a million records in his homeland.

But way before that, Murray was another Australian enjoying the Whistler vibe and taking advantage of the accompanying lift pass.

"When I was backpacking around in the '90s, I stopped and worked on Blackcomb Mountain, right at the top (at 2,284m), for three months," he recalls.

"I was at the Horstman Hut, doing repairs and odd jobs for the guys. It has been years since I was back there and I'm really looking forward to looking around. It would have changed so much."

He's pleased to know that the hut is still there — a mountaintop restaurant — and intrigued by a description of the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which he promises to try out.

"When it comes to memories, I remember the centre of town — a courtyard, I guess — where people mingled and met. There were new developments going on, back then, and I am sure they are old news now," Murray says.

"You could see Whistler was growing then... I am going to be shocked when I see it."

One of his fondest memories involves the resort's music scene, though he was not a part of it.

"There were some great little clubs and bars and venues where bands played. I had just started to play guitar back then, too. I picked it up and it's kind of weird to me. I was 22 when I started doing that," Murray says.

Canada lay down a musical legacy for Murray; he discovered Neil Young and followed his own acoustic and rock path thanks to Winnipeg's favourite guitar-toting, expatriate son.

"Lyrics are pretty important to me. You need to have a song that people can be moved by and it's really important to have a connection to it," he says.

But it hasn't always been easy. Well established in Australia, thanks to the album Blue Sky Blue (2011), his band The Stonemasons, and his award-winning best-selling song So Beautiful, Murray hasn't quite cracked North America.

"I always thought that my music would be better suited, outside of Australia, in Canada and the States... to make a long story short, the guy who was backing me (a decade ago) lost his job. And we never got released, so the work has been sitting there, waiting for an opportunity," he says.

Enter more Canadians, namely rockers The Tragically Hip.

The Kingston band's manager, Bernie Breen, met Murray and hooked him up with band members Paul Langois and Gord Sinclair, who invited him over several years ago after listening to and loving his music. The result was a mentorship that is still in place, "which has been really great," Murray says.

An offshoot of the connection has been that Murray was in Canada in 2013, supporting Langois, who was on a solo tour.

Murray adds: "I also met (lead vocalist) Gord Downie at the show I played in Toronto last year, and he was really great and said my lyrics were going around in his head. Having those guys saying those things about your music and lyrics is incredible. It has given me confidence to think that I am free now and independent in North America and I am over here trying to make it happen."

New music is on the horizon, and Murray hopes to get into the studio by the end of the year with a full album. The sound will be a departure for him.

"I'm trying to work with beats and loops a bit more now. It's been interesting instead of getting in studio with a band and telling the drummer, 'here's your verse beat and here's your chorus beat'... I'm finding that it's the dynamics that you put on top of the song that make it work with the different melodies," Murray says. "I'm enjoying that. Even the sounds of the drums... I'm really liking sample drums. It's more interesting for me."

He says that the result is songs "with more of a groove" to them.

But before that, he is pushing himself live.

"It had been shelved for a long time and that has been pretty frustrating for me. I'm starting over. But I'm confident about it; I'm looking forward to it. I just need to get in front of people and impress. That's my job," Murray says.