FUTURE PROOF POP
‘I’m a modernist and a futurist’: Róisín Murphy maps out her new musical moves
The years go by in the blink of an eye. It’s been eight of them since Róisín Murphy was last on the phone with this newspaper to talk about a new album.
A lot can happen in eight years. In the Arklow-born Murphy’s case, there were children, a couple of dance singles, some DJing, collaborations with the likes of Fatboy Slim and David Byrne . . . and an EP in Italian.
“What drew me to that,” Murphy says about Mi Senti (2014), a collection of Italian pop songs, “is that I am madly in love with my Italian partner [Sebastiano Properzi], who is a music producer and is steeped in that music, so it’s around me all the time.” Her new album, Hairless
Toys, may be cut from a different cloth than her previous solo records ( Overpowered, Ruby
Blue), but you wouldn’t mistake it for the work of anyone else. A stylish slate of electro, melancholic disco and subtle pop hooks, this palette of sounds allows Murphy to go deep.
When it came to writing, Murphy found herself looking back.
“There is a sort of nostalgia about some of the songs,” she says. “I am officially a middleaged woman now, which gives me this ability to look back and which gives some poetry to the lyrics. I think the richness to the grain of the lyrics is a new thing for me.
“Obviously there’s a push and a pull. On Overpowered, there was a nostalgia for disco and early house music. But I’m a modernist and futurist as well. I do believe, and this is going to sound really pretentious, I know, that humanity will figure it out so I’m optimistic about the future.”
She says her longtime collaboration with Eddie Stevens has a lot to do with how the album turned out in the wash. “What makes the record primarily is the fact that the two people involved in it have a 20-year music history together.
“That’s the main influence on the record, all the time we’ve spent together making music over the years. We didn’t bring in references to the studio. We didn’t do the Pharrell Williams thing of playing a record and wondering how to make it sound like that, which I do sometimes when I’m working, and there’s no problem with that.
“This is what happens when you throw me and Eddie in a studio, two people who have had a shared lifetime of music together and a shared love of Derek and Clive, and see what happens.”
Murphy calls herself a “challenge addict” and the new album presented a few of these.
“I hadn’t sat down with someone at an instrument and just made up a song in an old-fashioned way that much before, and that was a whole new weird challenge for me,” she says. “Coming from someone who started in the business by simply saying something – ‘do you like my tight sweater?’, which lead to Moloko – I like to feel I’m outside my comfort zone because it makes me think I can make an even better record than the one I just made. I’m not someone to sit on her laurels.”
One of the most striking
songs on the new album is Gone Fishing, inspired by Paris Is Burning, Jennie Livingston’s documentary about New York’s flamboyant drag ball culture of the late 1980s. Murphy was drawn to the characters in the documentary for many reasons.
“They were genius performers, just awesome,” she says. “Those performances in the film encapsulate so much of what I try to do as an artist, that sense of having all the flamboyance and sparkle and joy and delight and beauty, as well as this river of complexity and depth and pain and melancholy.
“Those tensions are fascinating to me because I think my performances are about saying a lot of stuff in one moment. When I’m at my best, that’s what I try to do.”
The sessions with Stevens were very productive; in all, 35 songs were written.
“It’s easy to let yourself go when you’re so close to somebody and you trust that person and they crucially trust you,” Murphy says. “You don’t stop and talk about stuff because there’s no need to do that, which often happens when you don’t know someone in the studio. You end up wasting time worrying about the tools you don’t have or the songs you don’t have or what you should be doing.
“With me and Eddie, if something wasn’t quite right in a song, we didn’t talk about it, we got the thing down and we moved on and we knew both of us were experienced enough and talented enough and smart enough to address that when the time was right. It meant we could get stuff down a lot quicker and maintain the energy that was appropriate to that moment and song. It’s an important thing with any kind of creativity because sitting about stressing about what you don’t have is a killer.
“You’ve got to deal with the tools you have in hand. I’m a firm believer in that.”
Toys and dance tunes
Murphy draws an interesting comparison between how she worked on Hairless Toys and her various dance singles over the past few years.
“When the music is so unboxy and it’s not as easy to categorise as the music I made in the last few years, and when you’re working with someone who is a virtuoso musician, you can go deep and wide, you can go left or right or up and down. It becomes more of a landscape rather than the boxy Lego way of working you get with studio boffins, where everything is strictly defined.
“These landscapes of music lent themselves to non-repetitive lyrics which meant I could get more poetic and deeper with the words and the songs. It’s a convergence of many things because of where I am now in my life and the music I was writing to.”
Those one-off singles, such as the recent on the Cross- town Rebels’ label, remain an important part of the Murphy narrative.
“That part of me is just as relevant and I enjoy both sides of the coin when it comes to writing songs,” she says. “It’s more of a disciplined challenge to write dancefloor songs, but I love it as much as I love anything on Hair
Being a Murphy album, the visual element around Hairless
Toys is strong. Much of this came from her musing on a character inspired by the album.
“It was someone from my memory with this vintage, glamorous aesthetic, someone from the 1970s and 1980s in suburbia who’s a perfectionist, someone like my mother.”
This meant eight different looks to go with the album’s eight songs, Murphy says. “What made me pick up a certain look when I was doing this – and I know this sounds really abstract and kind of bullshit but it’s true – was ‘is this hairless toys or not?’ She laughs. “It turns out that slightly ugly, big-collared, brutally minimalist clothes turned out to be the thing which made me have an affinity with hairless toys.
“I was trying to create a look which was very unique and which was not a fashion look, although I didn’t succeed in that because when you look around now, it’s all about big collars. Even with the best will in the world, the intention not to be fashion turned out to be very fucking fashion, and there’s nothing I can do with that.
“I have a little antennae and even when I’m trying not to be, I’m connected with the bloody zeitgeist.”
Hairless Toys is released on PIAS on May 8th. Róisín Murphy plays the Electric Picnic on September 5th
When the music is so unboxy and it’s not as easy to categorise as the music I made in the last few years, you can go deep and wide, you can go left or right or up and down
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“I like to feel I’m outside my comfort zone.”