What would Murray Atkinson tell his teenage self as he started pursuing music more seriously?
“I would slap myself,” laughs the musician, who is carving out a career for himself playing guitar with the Odds, releasing his own music, teaching and writing songs.
After slapping himself, Atkinson, who grew up in Ladysmith and moved back here two years ago, says he would tell his younger self to keep an open mind and pay attention.
“I think when I was a teenager, I was probably pretty close-minded, this is what I wanted to do and this is what I was going to do,” he said. “People, who were usually older and more experienced, I think they could see I was really into what I was doing, so they wanted to offer advice. But sometimes when you’re that into something, you don’t want to hear what it is other people have to say.
“I joined my first bands when I was 18 and was doing gigs, and there were some older, more experienced and schooled guys who would say ‘you’re doing really great man, but you should listen to the blues a little more, listen to the blues and get some R&B in your playing.’ I was playing hard rock, and I was like ‘why do I have to listen to the blues when I’m playing hard rock?’ but as I learned later on in life myself, there are very good reasons for listening to those other kinds of music and getting that bag together, as musicians call it.”
Be open to exploring other types of music is one message Atkinson tries to share with his students when he teaches.
Atkinson is a classically trained pianist, and he’s been teaching piano and guitar since college. He will record his students during their lesson and send them an mp3, and he says that’s a great teaching tool, but it can also open up a new world of possibilities to students when they see how easy recording themselves on the computer can be.
“There’s lots of reasons to learn to play a musical instrument, but in my opinion, the best thing you can do with learning a musical instrument is find a way to be creative yourself on it,” he said. “If you’re going to get into writing songs and stuff, if you can do it while you’re young, that’s fantastic, so I try to encourage that if possible. Kids, if they have the tools at their disposal, they’ll pour that energy into it, and if you’re going to pour your energy into something as a teenager, why not be recording music and writing music.”
Growing up in Ladysmith, Atkinson was surrounded by a musical family, and he learned piano and guitar. He played in the band Playground in the mid-1990s and moved to Vancouver in 1998. While in Vancouver, Atkinson struck up a relationship with ex-members of the Odds, and when the band reunited in 2006, he was asked to help out on guitar. He became a full member of the band and has been performing with them ever since.
Atkinson was the Platinum Award Winner in the CFOX Vancouver Seeds contest in 2007, and he released an album called Salt March under the band name Swan. More recently, he won the Rock/Alt category of the 2012 USA Songwriting Competition in late December.
Atkinson says playing with the Odds has been “a life-changing event, for sure.”
“I’ve been in lots of bands where you have great players but sometimes as people, you don’t want to hang out with them, but the Odds, they’re world-class musicians and also world-class people,” he said.
Playing with the Odds has also given Atkinson some unique opportunities that he likes to call “life experience gigs.”
“I have done more different kinds of gigs with them than with any other band,” he said.
These include two trips across Canada performing on the Christmas Holiday Train, playing at Vancouver Canucks playoff games and performing on Caribbean cruises headlined by the Barenaked Ladies.
Atkinson says he had decided music was going to be his “thing” by the time he was a teenager, although he didn’t know exactly in what capacity that would be. Then he went to music college, and things really started to change as he immersed himself in the musician culture and got more serious about writing songs and recording.
“I don’t ever think I thought of music as a career; it was always something I loved to do, so for me — it was always more about following a passion than creating a career,” he said.
Atkinson will be performing close to home Monday, June 3 as part of the On the Dock concert series at the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island, and he says he loves playing solo acoustic shows like this.
“It’s a different kind of energy and it’s a different kind of vibe, and it’s also a lot more intimate,” he said. “It’s scary for some people I guess to do that, but you can really get inside the sound of it because you can really hear exactly what it is you’re doing. Being that close to the actual sound of it creates its own drive and energy that you kind of feed off of while you’re playing.”
Atkinson is currently working on a followup to Salt March. He’s been writing songs in that hard rock vein and also in different genres. Atkinson and Odds singer-guitarist Craig Northey have started up a writing partnership, and they’ve been writing country music and looking for placements for those songs.
“I’m always writing music in different styles, so I’ve been trying to find placements through online services for those different styles of music because a lot of it is stuff I don’t think I would ever release as an artist, but I want to find a home for it,” said Atkinson. “I’ve also been working on the hard rock material because I just can’t stop.”
Atkinson is also thinking of recording an acoustic album, a concept that has come out of creating acoustic versions of his songs for the Dinghy Dock Pub show.
Atkinson would like to do a School of Rock summer music camp in Ladysmith this year and is currently scouting locations to find a suitable space.
Atkinson will perform June 3 at the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island in Nanaimo at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the Dinghy Dock Pub, from the artists or online.
For information about Atkinson’s lessons or the potential School of Rock this summer, contact Atkinson at 250-924-8502 or firstname.lastname@example.org.