Chet Faker, the hirsute Australian electronic musician whose silky, soulful single “Gold” was recently used in an ad for the new Apple laptop, didn’t know that his first release, a minimalist, unexpectedly charming cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” back in 2011, would lead him to so much success. The throwback ‘90s R&B jam, included on his debut EP Thinking in Textures, has become a staple during live shows, including, recently, a packed house at Manhattan’s Terminal 5, where the mostly white, mostly 20-something crowd went nuts for it during the set. “That song was taken with a sense of irony [that] seemed obvious to me,” he says. “But irony gets lost, especially in the public eye.”
The 26-year-old Faker, whose real name is Nick Murphy, grew up in Melbourne, where his mother introduced him to Motown and jazz. (His adopted name is an ode to the late trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker.) Faker’s mellow, emotive vocals on songs like “Talk Is Cheap” have been compared to James Blake, and his multi-track layering and references to early house music on songs like “1998” are similar to those used by the much-sought-after London-based producer Jamie XX. It’s bedroom music with a palatable jazz-inflected yet danceable sound. Faker’s debut album, Built on Glass, garnered positive reviews from critics last year and positioned him for a career breakthrough, as he found himself playing to audiences as large as 25,000 (at this month’s Coachella festival).
For the next album, currently being recorded at his home studio in Brooklyn, Faker, who typically works with synthesizers and other digital processors, says he’ll be “using a lot of real players to get that human groove that you can’t manufacture.” The goal, he explains, is “a lot of movement, a lot of rhythm, groove-based stuff. I’ve been listening to Fela Kuti and Wonderland, early ‘70s Stevie Wonder, and live Donny Hathaway. [It’ll be] heavily performance-based, with high energy.”
As for his initial claim to fame, Faker says that it’s starting to get problematic: People have been assuming he wrote “No Diggity,” which he thinks is funny but also troubling. “It’s like, one half of me sees the ramifications of that, and it’s disappointing,” he says. “I feel annoyed to be a part of that ignorance, but at the same time, where I was coming from was an honest place. I was just covering a good song. How responsible am I for people’s misconceptions?” There’s a push and pull, Faker says, a delicate trifecta between paying respect, ripping someone off, and allowing for an artist’s creative freedom. He acknowledges the inherent irony of a 20-something white dude covering an all-black R&B group from the ‘90s but denies wittingly using “No Diggity” as a funny way to generate hype. “It was the first track I ever put out. I didn’t know I was going to be at Coachella in four years [and playing] sold-out shows. I didn’t know a lot of things.” Nevertheless, “It’s almost time to put the song to rest.” It’s been a good ride, he says, but now, “I’m just trying to keep my head on what’s in front of me.”
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “No Diggity” was performed during the encore. The song was included in the original set.