In The Creative Zone With Murray Bell
As it so happens, one idea sparked another. Murray Bell, CEO/ECD of creative studio Semi Permanent, interviewed Outerknown's founders Kelly and John about something they don’t normally get to talk a lot about — creativity. From favorite fonts to dream wave pools and sustainable design to the beauty in collaboration. Check out the interview below! And to keep the creative synergy and good vibes going, we had a few questions for Murray too. About his back-to-back global schedule and carving out time for his family in Byron Bay and, every now and then, a surf...
What’s your day-to-day like right now?
I’ve been trying out some new routines lately. At the moment, I’m up and riding my bike to the studio around 6:30am. Shower. Get changed. Get 3–4 hours of thinking, feeling, and working done before the team arrives. Take calls from the U.S. with artists, designers, and brand partners. It’s then mostly meetings and conversations. Lunch on my own at Bills, a local eatery in Surry Hills. Calls, locally and to our partners in Asia. Ride home at 3. Pick up or meet my kids and my partner. (Try and) chill. Maybe surf. Back on calls to Europe from 7–9 pm. Read a chapter or two (usually a biography of someone between Bob Iger to Rem Koolhass). Sleep. Loop. At home on our land in Byron Bay, all work’s done from the deck, and it’s mandatory to get in the water once a day.
How has your family stayed positive this past year?
Firstly, I think it’s important to mention my family’s pandemic experience in Australia has been incredibly mild, thanks to the government’s swift action and Qantas’ (equal parts good and bad) grounding of all flights. I think we’ve really mellowed as a family. We’ve been able to pause and see one another and our little tribe. In 2019 I spent 9+ months on the road, and we had a few very challenging days in the business. When COVID came around, I felt ready for anything. Although I love our friends and broader family deeply, we just focused on each other, and that’s more than enough for me.
Tell us what Semi Permanent’s platform and community is all about.
Semi Permanent is an experience company; we connect the dots between world-class creative talent, the community, and great brands. I co-founded the company 19 years ago, launching the first event in Sydney with our first guest artist, Banksy. Nowadays, we produce and curate Google’s global diversity and inclusion program, Rare; we designed and produced a 5,000sqm Radiohead retrospective; we conceived and created a sport and creativity festival for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and we help Apple with their design team recruitment, among many other things. Our community is not really ‘ours.’ They are each to their own, and all damn inspiring. We just have a knack for talking their language.
How has Semi Permanent adapted to our current, stay-home status?
In the short term, we’ve certainly flipped some projects over to ‘online-only’ experiences, but I’m confident ‘offline’ physical experiences will return, soon. What will stay is our omni-channel approach. I love being able to adapt and flex a project. It reduces the importance of the medium and puts the focus back on the concept.
What’s a project to this day you’re most proud of?
A few years back, we created The Panic Office, a 5,000sqm retrospective of Radiohead and their resident artist Stanley Donwood’s work. I’d kept in contact with the guys for over 10 years, and one day, the idea dawned on me to create an experience that gave the music more context and simultaneously brought light to the visual work that regularly informs the music. We essentially scraped the band members’ hard drives for reference material, photography, notes, sketches and put 2,000+ of them on walls in a custom-built structure. We then had Thom Yorke construct a two-week-long soundscape that was split into three concentric rings of sound. You could stand on the outside and hear the subs, walk in and collect the mids, and stand dead-centre and you would hear the complete track.
What’s your style and what do you gravitate toward? Any Outerknown favorites?
It’s rare to find me wearing two pieces of colour at any one time. Maybe it’s never happened. It makes me feel out of rhythm. I love wearing three shades of white or black, and on certain days a bright hat, jacket, or pair of shoes. I’m feeling a closer connection to clothing these days at my ripe old age. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated them, but I feel a deeper need to connect with the brand’s principles beyond the particular logo or look which, while being visually-minded, is important too.
I’ve been wearing pairs of black APEX Trunks from the second they hit stores and haven’t been surfing in anything else since. The Beach Jeans haven’t left my legs for a week.
Do you have a mantra you’re keeping front and center as we head into 2021?
I certainly don’t live by it, but I love it when I’m reminded of a quote Heath Ledger said: “When anything is blocking my head or there's worry in my life, I just go sit on Mars or something and look back here at Earth.” That rings true to me.
You interviewed Kelly and John in the early stages of the pandemic for something you’re working on. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Any excuse to talk to the guys is fine by me! We’re developing a hotel-takeover concept with a big group of friends and artists, and I felt an insight from the guys about creativity, as opposed to fashion or surfing specifically, would be interesting to screen.